420 Million Cigarettes Went ‘Missing’ Following Unauthorized ATF Raids


An internal audit at the U.S. Department of Justice has found that the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) lost track of $162 million in profits from unauthorized sting operations and misplaced 420 million cigarettes (that’s 21 million packs of smokes.)

The audit finds that ATF agents, on multiple occasions, took it upon themselves to initiate investigations without approval, illegally confiscating cigarettes to perpetuate sting operations by having them resold to unsuspecting targets through informants.

In one instance, “approximately $15 million of cigarettes were sold in an 18-month period, and a confidential informant for the investigation was allowed to keep more than $4.9 million of the $5.2 million of gross profit generated without submitting adequate documentation supporting his expenses,” according to a DOJ spokesman.

In reality, the overall numbers are likely much higher. The DOJ audited only specific time periods and focused only on specific ATF investigations that took place between 2006 and 2011.

New ATF director B. Todd Jones has said the agency has adjusted it internal guidelines since the 2006-2011 period covered by the audit. But, as Time’s Alexander Aciman points out, that “raises the question of why nobody was curious about what the ATF was doing for 5 years.”

According to the Washington Post, an operation comically named “Fast and Furious” that was meant to track gun traffickers selling arms to Mexican drug cartels ended with the ATF having no clue where 2,000 weapons went.  The report managed to pinpoint some of the ATF’s expenses, which included a quarter of a million dollars used to rent a fleet [of] vehicles for which there was no documented justifiable excuse or purpose.

It’s puzzling to see these scandals come to light through internal audits. One has to wonder how corrupt Federal agencies really are, when they come forward with disclosures that only invite questions about how much more they’re getting away with.

Ben Bullard

Reconciling the concept of individual sovereignty with conscientious participation in the modern American political process is a continuing preoccupation for staff writer Ben Bullard. A former community newspaper writer, Bullard has closely observed the manner in which well-meaning small-town politicians and policy makers often accept, unthinkingly, their increasingly marginal role in shaping the quality of their own lives, as well as those of the people whom they serve. He argues that American public policy is plagued by inscrutable and corrupt motives on a national scale, a fundamental problem which individuals, families and communities must strive to solve. This, he argues, can be achieved only as Americans rediscover the principal role each citizen plays in enriching the welfare of our Republic.

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