After running nearly 40 undercover storefront stings in the last five years, the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives says no such operations are now underway and improvements in oversight have been made in the wake of botched operations nationwide, reports the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Deputy ATF Director Thomas Brandon testified yesterday before a U.S. House Judiciary’s Subcommittee and acknowledged significant deficiencies in undercover storefront stings. He said there was no justification for having the wrong people charged, as happened in Milwaukee, or the lack of outside cover teams to ensure armed felons didn’t leave.
He called locating an undercover gun-buying operation in Portland, Or., across the street from a middle school “a mistake” and said it “wasn’t great judgment” for agents there to pay two teens to get tattoos depicting the fake storefront’s logo of a giant squid smoking a joint. Brandon told the subcommittee, chaired by Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI), that undercover storefront stings remain a “valuable investigative technique” when managed properly. The hearing was one of two planned on flawed storefront operations nationwide uncovered by a Journal Sentinel investigation. Sensenbrenner called the Milwaukee sting an “abysmal failure.” “To say that the operation was extremely flawed would be a vast understatement,” he said. “This doesn’t appear to be one operation gone bad but a systemic problem plaguing the ATF.”