OV-10 “Bronco” Warplane (courtesy richard-seaman.com)

Of all the federal agencies that shouldn’t exist, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (and Really Big Fires) tops the list. Not only are they redundant, they’re redundant. There’s nothing they do that the FBI couldn’t do. Does, in fact. (Hence the two agencies’ constant turf wars.) Did I forget to mention Waco, Ruby Ridge, Fast and Furious or that the ATF paid a mentally handicapped teenager to get a neck tattoo of a giant squid smoking a joint? My bad. In terms of wasted money, yeah, that too. Last year, the ATF pissed away $1.179 billion. Previously, on Who Wants to Fund Jack-Booted Thugs?, the ATF bought and then ditched six drones. Before that, 22 warplanes. No really. The NRA-ILA tells the tale . . .

Fairfax, VA –– Everyone likes the song that begins “Off we go, into the wild blue yonder.” Maybe the BATFE likes it a little too much.

Days after the BATFE had its ears trimmed by Congress after trying to ban M855 ammunition, a D.O.J. Inspector General audit has revealed that over the last few years, the agency spent hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars trying to achieve one of its long held ambitions, a private air force, of sorts.

Long held, indeed. In 1995, a mere two years after the then-BATF’s deadly debacle in Waco, Texas, the agency acquired 22 OV-10 “Bronco” warplanes from the military. Though designed to carry machine guns, missiles, rockets, and bombs, nine of the planes in the BATF’s squadron were “being used for surveillance and photography,” while the rest were for spare parts, the agency said.

The following year, NRA learned that the military had transferred the warplanes to the BATF through a dummy salvage corporation and a fictitious outfit called American Warbirds, Inc., which had offices in an unmarked building occupied by the BATF near Washington, D.C.

Why the BATF needed the sneakily-acquired aircraft, equipped with Forward-Looking Infrared television and ground-mapping radar, was never made clear. In any case, the OV-10s, reportedly, were eventually transferred to the Department of State, ending the agency’s airborne dreams.

Or so we thought at the time.

The recent audit found that “between September 2011 and September 2012, ATF’s UAS (Unmanned Aircraft Systems) program spent approximately $600,000 to purchase three different types of rotary-wing UAS with a total of six UAS vehicles.”

Supposedly, the BATFE never used the drones in law enforcement investigations, because they suffered “mechanical and technical problems significant enough to render them unsuitable for deployment on ATF operations.” In 2014, the BATFE’s Special Operations Division, which is responsible for undercover operations security and specialized deployments, suspended the drone program. The agency’s expensive toys were thereafter given to the Navy.

However, the audit determined, “less than a week after ATF suspended its original UAS program, an ATF unit, the National Response Team (NRT), purchased five small commercial UAS for about $15,000” to “help document fire and explosion scenes.” Those drones, too, have been grounded until the NRT receives “further guidance regarding their use.”

Additional details about the audit’s findings were reported by the Washington Examiner on Wednesday. On the heels of having its funding called into question over the M855 episode, the revelation of BATFE’s waste of Americans’ money on drones that, perhaps thankfully, didn’t work, cannot bode well for the nation’s most chronically problematic law enforcement agency.

About:
Established in 1975, the Institute for Legislative Action (ILA) is the “lobbying” arm of the National Rifle Association of America. ILA is responsible for preserving the right of all law-abiding individuals in the legislative, political, and legal arenas, to purchase, possess and use firearms for legitimate purposes as guaranteed by the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Visit: www.nra.org

51 Responses to ATF’s Secret Air Force Revealed

  1. Why worry about a grounded squadron when your tax dollars are being spent on third party pass through databases recording details of warrant less traffic stops.

  2. Gov departments are like cancers. They grow and grow consuming everything they can until the host dies.
    That is their only reason for being. Top priorities for every employee are to keep their job and to keep the department alive.
    If their job is redundant or unnecessary it is their duty to cover that up. If their department is stagnant or under threat of cut backs it is their duty to manufacture reasons to grow it.
    Why does the ATF need an airforce? To grow. To consume. To kill the host.

    Nefarious conspiracies may be at play the simple fact that bureaucracy exists solely to justify itself is more than enough cause to hate bureaucracy.

    • That is about as spot on of an explanation of gov’t agencies that I have read; I could not have stated it any better myself.

    • You’ve hit the nail precisely on the head.

      This is exactly why I call the bulk of our modern day laws as “crimes against bureaucracy.”

      Fined for failing to fill out a form or not filing it out correctly? The only victim is the bureaucracy that is so offended that one could do such a thing.

      Really. Here in NC a couple of years ago, they were contemplating a law that would make it a $10,000 fine for failing to keep a log book of certain things in your own (private) boat’s maintenance. In-Sane. (Thankfully, it got trounced).

      But, that’s really all CCW’s are in the grand scheme. A piece of paper to satisfy the bureaucracy. The permit does not really say anything at all about who you are or how safe you will be with firearms. It just means you satisfied some bureaucratic requirement to get the permit, and if you don’t have it…the only real “victim” is the government office you so seriously offended by ignoring their requirements.

      This is what our society has become: Vogon-like worship of bureaucratic process to the complete detriment of individual liberty.

      • And yet the SecState can flout, with impunity, all federal record keeping and electronic security rules and regs.

        Who’s says there is no American nobility?

    • It’s the full Parkinson’s Law at work: any bureaucracy will expand regardless of whether it accomplishes anything or the area of its jurisdiction is growing or shrinking. With any acquisition of new personnel, the work load will be expanded to keep them all busy; with any expansion of duties, the personnel force will expand not to suit the new duties but the keep the power of the existing bureaucrats distributed as before. And any time new funding is bestowed, the money will be spent more to increase the prestige of those in control of it than to accomplish the task for which it was designated.

      There’s an unnamed corollary: the difficulty of disbanding an existing bureaucracy is proportional to the incompetence of the second-rank bureaucrats.

    • Well said.
      You provide a modern view of what the Founders cataloged as one of the “abuses and usurpations” of King George III in the Declaration of Independence.

      “He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance.”

      The Founders did not intend to replace one bureaucracy with another any more than they intended to replace one tyranny with another.

    • I like to make a finer point that is more direct.

      The making of a law converts a Right into a Crime. Perpetual Lawmaking results in all Rights becoming Crimes, and all citizens, criminals.

  3. I actually remember the Bronco dust-up, I was working in Dallas at the time and one of the local radio talk-show hosts was all over it. The Bronco, altho officially designated as an “observation” aircraft, served as a COIN-type aircraft in Vietnam, with provisions for underwing rockets and bombs and machine guns. A lot of people wanted to know what ATF wanted with an aircraft like that. Certainly glad they don’t have them now.

  4. No, no no… ATF initiates violence then goes to FBI when the op goes tits up. FBI then does the “really big fires” while assuring ATF that they really are the tacticool badasses they think they are.

  5. Love me some OV-10A, but they’d better have removed the rocket pylons and dualM-60C sponsons cause seriously.

    I want one so bad though.

    • I looked it up, cause it’s a cool airframe, but found that only 300 of these were ever built, with only a few still flying, or nearly flying, today. A horrible shame that they ended up at BATF, instead of the civilian market. You certainly would have one of the most unique airframes at any airport. Like a personal mini P-38 Lightning. The violent days of prohibition and bootlegging are over, and so should the BATF. A federal agency for alcohol and tobacco? How does anyone support this….and say it with a straight face?

      • Dear out fang I worked this aircraft for 20 yrs. First and foremost the days of bootlegging are over rofl. I reside in the Northwest of Georgia Alabama and Tn. Moonshine is big business here. Untaxed Liquor s a multimillion dollar business worse than drugs. and twice as violent. Todays headline for the Rome Ga newspaper was 580,000 gallons of shine seized only after 2 cops where two were wounded and 2ssuspects killed and 3 wounded.
        this happens all time in Nw Ga, Ne Alabama TN and North Carolina. They a so not over
        As far as Government Agencies and the Military. There has from the beginning of time been issues not readily available to the public does not necessarily make it a conspiracy /

    • “Love me some OV-10A…”

      They really are neat planes.

      If you want to fly one, your best bet is to hook up with the folks that have the wildfire contracts out west. They use them as spotters for the air tankers water bombing the fires.

  6. My old man flew these in Viet Nam. I’m pretty sure no civilian agency needs air to ground capability.

    • Where does “need” come into it? Do you “need” a shotgun? Do you “need” a flamethrower? Probably not, but you “want” one, don’t you?

      • I do conservation work. One part is eliminating invasive species. Given that the current population of the most prominent one is producing new seeds at the rate of an estimated 1.2 billion per year in a thirty-acre area, and the seeds can remain viable in the soil for fifty years, I’ve decided I NEED a flamethrower.

      • But why does a governmental agency need these? Agencies don’t operate under the auspices of what they “want” or we would be screwed.

        • I beg to differ. Agencies at all levels are made of human beings, who are flawed and have wants/desires that have little to do with good governance.

          For example, you say agencies don’t operate on the basis of “want”. Then why does the police department in a town of 15,000 have an MRAP? Did they “need” it? No. They wanted it, for whatever stupid reason; much like when a guy jacks up a truck so high it won’t fit in his garage even though the truck will never see mud.

          Another example. Waco. The ATF didn’t “need” to assault the place. They could easily have arrested Koresh while he was buying groceries. But the ATF had too many toys and too much time on their hands, so they assaulted the place. They wanted to do that. Why? Because they could.

          Its the same reason they got the airplanes and the drones. They wanted to be like the cool kids in the FBI/CIA/etc. so they blew their lunch money on some toys. No “need” to it, just a bunch of wannabes.

      • Well there ya go. The ATF needs them to observe the next time they publicly murder a group of people and burn the evidence to the ground.

  7. Sounds like there’s a bit of momentum after m855. I’d love to see it keep going. Keep pushing until they’re nothing but a bad memory. Make an example of them- you overreach and it will cost you- This is how I like to see my NRA dues spent.

  8. Wow, those drones must have been really crappy. To be deemed too unreliable for one of the ATF’s ridiculously slipshod operations is a scathing criticism.

  9. We really don’t need a competent agency doing the F Troop’s job. First we have to fix the laws, then get rid of the F Troop.

  10. As long as there is an NFA, there will be a need for a bunch of administrative types to issue the stamps. The ATF can do that, probably as well or better than any other group of federal paper pushers. Everything else they do must go.

    • Give the paperwork to the IRS, fold the street agents into Customs, DEA, or FBI, and give managers screener jobs at TSA. No one gets hurt.

      • The IRS seems perfectly capable of pushing paper and collecting taxes on NFA items. Only took a week to get my tax refund and they’ve got to go through like 200 million or so, right? ATF buckled under 60k and a year backlog. “Moms” demanded prohibition and we got rum runner gangsters and the ATF “untouchables.”

      • ATF used to be part of the IRS, collecting taxes and licensing fees and such on the A, the T, and the F. Agreed; it should be brought back into the purview of the IRS and all of its law enforcement powers returned to the FBI.

  11. I did not realize ATF had anybody on the payroll that had the intelligence required to earn a pilots license.

    • “I did not realize ATF had anybody on the payroll that had the intelligence required to earn a pilots license.”

      They contract out on an as needed basis.

    • No, “prohibited” from having armed fixed wing aircraft.

      Prohibited is in quotes since I am aware of no federal statute stating it.

  12. The BATFE exemplifies the warning about creating Gov’t programs in the first place; they are damn hard to get rid of not unlike laws. A complicating issue is in the name alone as many, do to the name, believe no one else can or does the work the BATFE does.

    But first, let battle against installment of LORETTA LYNCH! Se GOA website, Please.

  13. Those bastards overstepping their “role” again. Shut the damned thing down NOW please. I would not doubt that they have similar programs that exist but are run through the “secret office” just down the street from our fiends at ATF. (No misprint) Gov is out of control now….time WE the people start electing some real Americans to office.

  14. Overlapping agencies? It’s the American way. Here in Cook county,Il we have county,state, city and township “services”,taxes and PO-leece. Oh yeah federal too…unlike some of you I don’t think we have any real momentum. One school shooting/terrorist, change in SCOTUS or a WORSE president…

  15. If the ATF needs an Air Force, then I need to be able to go down to my LGS and procure something that would be able to bring one of those units down without a $200.00 stamp.

  16. They need to trim that agency down to just fire investigation. They need to focus on the one thing they do well assist in fire investigations. Turn the rest over to the FBI.It will never happen gov agencies hate with a passion change. They love expansion. kinda bi-polar isn’t it.

  17. I remeber a few years ago politicians going on TV and saying the US gov would never use drones against Americans on Ameerican soil. I knew then it was a lie because a politicians mouth was moving.

    • Wow, my lack of proof reading and typing fast on my phone makes that comment atrocious.
      I do apologize.

  18. I’ve heard even in my part of the world, while the FBI, Secret Service, and even the IRS would like to take over the BATF’s responsibilities, NO-ONE wants to employ their agents as they are held in such low regard. The only agency with a lower reputation than the BATF is the TSA (Taking Sense Away).

    Being the Democrat’s Stasi is the BATF’s method of surviving and staying relevant once they have been retasked into a “war” against legal gun owners. Forget pursuing criminals as they are the street enforcers of the Nomenklatura (Russian for “The New Ruling Class”).

  19. While I embrace the impetus of the article, and am a bit shocked at the scope of the drone/aircraft endeavor of the ATF (though I shouldn’t be), I do take issue with one thing.

    This:
    “…the agency acquired 22 OV-10 “Bronco” warplanes from the military. Though designed to carry machine guns, missiles, rockets, and bombs…”

    I find this quotation deeply hypocritical. We hate it when disarmament extremists frame AR-15s as “weapons of war, designed to kill” etc. etc. The “wartime” design of the aircraft, like firearms, is largely irrelevant; a good tool for the job is a good tool–I use duct tape for many things not related to ducting. Yet, we will nail the ATF to the wall for using a marking/forward observation aircraft (hence the O in the designation) for its purpose of observation, however enhanced.

    I do not agree with the ATF’s use of the aircraft or its shady means of obtaining it. However, like firearms, its presence is not indicative of ill-intent. The presence of a government agency committed to infringing on our rights is ill intent. THAT has contaminated and accentuated the dishonest use of this classic airframe, but I’m digressing here — we should not use our enemies’ flawed logic, lest we volunteer to place our points within a disintegrating framework.

  20. That’s right…there’s no where…I repeat, no where, to trim money from the federal budget….even the documented fraud and waste can’t be trimmed.

  21. Supposedly, the BATFE never used the drones in law enforcement investigations, because they suffered “mechanical and technical problems significant enough to render them unsuitable for deployment on ATF operations. — Read as WE CRASHED THEM SCREWING AROUND… while using Alcohol,drugs and firearms in an improper manor.

    More of my &$^#*$&$(* damm hard earned money paid to the USG pizzed away on more BS.

  22. Stick with the devil you know: seriously, if the ATF folded tomorrow, the FBI would feel obligated to monitor our access to firearms. Considering the FBI’s past, I have concerns as to their intentions to protect the public.

  23. Be careful what you wish for. If gun regulations come under the purview of the FBI, they are a lot less accountable than the ATF is.

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