Pictured: tobacco and firearm. (c) 1962 Eon Productions Ltd.

I’m a bit of a gamer at heart. When I was a child, I loved to play those old-school text adventures from Infocom. Today there’s a smorgasbord of opportunities to play role-playing games with heavy story content. One of my favorites in recent years was 2010’s underrated Alpha Protocolin which the main character was a spy for an ultra-secret government organization.

In the game universe, it was so secret that spies had to find ways to pay for their own weapons, travel, and equipment, that way pesky oversight could be avoided. They called it “the yellow brick road.” It was really a game mechanic to give the player a way to switch alignments between the various competing organizations in the game painlessly.

Unfortunately, a few agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives appear to have taken Alpha Protocol less as an underappreciated game that should have won an award for its use of “Turn Up The Radio” during a fight, and more as a how-to guide for a stroll on their own yellow brick road.

Matt Apuzzo reports in the New York Times that ATF agents, “not authorized by Justice Department rules,” were using a “web of shadowy cigarette sales to funnel tens of millions of dollars into a secret bank account.” This operation, relying on “phony shipments of snack food disguised as tobacco” gave the BAT-men “an off-the-books way to finance undercover investigations and pay informants without the usual cumbersome paperwork and close oversight, according to court records and people close to the operation.”

Who likes having to deal with all that paperwork? It just gets in the way, right? As does that pesky Bill of Rights.

Although gun owners tend to associate the ATF with the ‘firearms’ part of their name, the org’s mandate extends to tobacco, too. The operation apparently grew out of investigations of cigarette smuggling both internationally and between the several states and Indian Reservations, all of which have their own different tax schemes for the product. This op got going as part of an anti-smuggling effort. After all, how better to catch smugglers than to pose as one yourself?

Obviously, things got a little out of hand. This particular story broke because members of the Raleigh, North Carolina-based U.S. Tobacco Cooperative filed a lawsuit against the BAT-men, alleging that they’d been swindled out of $24 million.

At this point, details are sketchy. In his article, Mr. Apuzzo noted:

It is unclear how broadly the A.T.F. adopted this practice, at what level it was approved, and whether it continues. Nearly all references to the A.T.F. have been blacked out of public court records, and most documents are entirely sealed.

The ATF operation (centered on an organization called “Big South”) appears to have been well-financed. “Its assets included more than two dozen vehicles, including expensive S.U.V.s and a fleet of Mercedes, B.M.W., Audi, Lexus and Jaguar sports cars.”

People who’ve been paying attention to the ATF over the years cannot be terribly surprised by this. As RF reported last year, firearms supplied by the ATF to drug cartels as part of the disastrous Obama-era Fast and Furious program are tied to at least 69 killings and 20 mass murders in Mexico. That op was supposedly intended to stop smuggling, too.

At best, this tobacco smuggling scheme, viewed in context with Fast and Furious, suggests a Bureau with overzealous agents who are unwilling to be constrained by laws and oversight in their pursuit of lawbreakers. At worst, it implies that there there’s a not-insignificant number of agents who are willing to go rogue for their own personal gain.

Certainly, news of this isn’t going to make it any easier for gun owners — already suspicious of the ATF — to have confidence in the organization going forward.

 

 

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52 Responses to 2Fast 2Furious for the ATF? Agents Smuggled Cigarettes to Create Off-The-Books Slush Fund

  1. “When I was a child, I loved to play those old-school text adventures from Infocom.”

    A number of those games, like Zork have been ported to modern PCs.

    If you want it old-school, a bunch of the others will run on Z-80 emulators.

    If you loved the old coin-op upright and cocktail video games, Google MAME, the platforms it can run on include Palm OS, if you have an old one in a drawer somewhere…

  2. The ATF employees committed a large number of federal and state crimes during the course of this investigation because they didn’t have an approved Attorney General Exempted Operation (AGEO). This would have given them the authority to move the cigarettes, charge fees which could be used to fund the operation and launder the criminal proceeds.

    Only the Attorney General or the Deputy Attorney General has the authority to grant these exemptions to the law and clearly this was not the case.

    I doubt any charges will be filed which is the norm regarding the ATF.

    • “Only the Attorney General or the Deputy Attorney General has the authority to grant these exemptions to the law and clearly this was not the case.”

      Well, sure, but any agent, even the newest hire, has the authority to completely ignore any regulation enforced by ATF, without further authorization from anyone. You are considering restrictions on actions made by lower class individuals, also known as “citizens”.

    • Don’t be too hard on the BATFE, they were managed by Obama, Geithner and Holder, who established a culture of ignoring rules and laws to suit their agenda. The BATFE were probably certain that the Clintons, with their own brand of lawlessness, would be running the show at this point.
      The new sheriff should straighten this out…. maybe.

  3. Don’t shut em down! Then I’ll have to buy my 5.56 ammo retail…………. wait until THAT story breaks….the whole dam thing is dirty.

  4. “Finding our own way to pay the bills without going through congress” –Things that should be illegal as hell under the Appropriations Act if they aren’t already. This Iran-Contra style bullshit is only the faintest shade lighter than outright treason. If Trump or his men have any stones, they’ll tear through the Bureau’s management like a bag of leaves over this kind of stuff; it’s gotta be just the tip of the iceberg, so in all likelihood they’re facilitating illegal activity in every area of their jurisdiction while skimming off the top in a similar manner. Just like a corrupt Port Authority.

  5. Alpha Protocol is also the first game to, and for some inexplicable reason still pretty much the only game to, feature the semi-auto M&P.

  6. Agents going rogue? They haven’t been playing enough Tom Clancy’s The Division. If they had they’d know to keep that shit inside the Dark Zone.

  7. Well, in case it wasn’t clear, stuff like this is why they Could Not Have an A G that might do the job. It ain’t just the foot soldiers. It’s the people who knew… RICO much, guys?

    Sessions is interesting given his time in congress. He’s potentially able to work reforms with the administration, and legislative branch. Restructuring the B A T F (and really big fires, gun running n now smuggling, money laundering n fraud) takes sopport in tbe admin and legislature.

    Poor oppo party. Hey, it’s a scandal during the bad guys’ administration! Right in law enforcement, in the exec branch. Woo-hoo!

    Wait, what? It happened during the prior admin? And The Orange Crush is driving the investigation, bigly-even? And his A G guy we opposed n stalled with every trick we could manage is on point?

    There’s no way for the chatter-bots to play this that doesn’t help The Ego In Chief, dirty up The Lightbringer, and suck up a bunch of media cycles. They just do not get that they are driving this administration they want to see fail into a corner where it cannot help succeeding.

    They keep doing it. Sad!

    • Legality, in progressive dystopias, is up to whomever gets to interpret the law.

      Which, in practice, means that those things that benefit institutions and people the progressives favor, are legal. Those that don’t, aren’t.

  8. The BATF (henceforth referred to as “F-Troop”) have such a bad reputation that while everyone from the FBI to the Secret Service would like to take over their role, NO-ONE wants to take on the former F-Troop agents.

    Only TSA agents have a worse reputation.

    • Um, the Secret Service…the same guys, on Obama’s watch, who attended private prostitute parties in foreign countries (supposedly while there for Presidential pre-trip security planning) hosted by drug cartels…the same organization of cowboy Agents who chased a potential evil doer through the White House gates, while drunk as skunks, tearing up multiple vehicles and barricades, the same Secret Service who had numerous documented incidents of Agents drunk and partying while on Obama Protection Detail…and you think these bozos will straighten out the BATFE??

      • It’s actually more likely that that was a cover story for Obama’s lackeys. But, if it is true, they deserved it (R&R) after what that Criminal-in-Chief put them through…

  9. >>>This operation, relying on “phony shipments of snack food disguised as tobacco” .<<<

    How demonized have we made snacks that they have to disguise it as tobacco to smuggle it.

  10. It’s a tax agency for alcohol, tobacco and firearms. If some of them “funded operations” with off-the-books tobacco, you can bet it’s going on with the other two convenience store items as well.

  11. This is pretty much standard fair. And you can bet other agencies are doing it to as other agencies have been caught doing it. Remember when the CIA got caught selling drugs in LA? It’s always going to happen even if the Secret Service or the FBI take over the ATF. Other countries do it too. It is human nature. Not-so-bad cops use seized funds and guns to further law enforcement activity; bad cops use seized anything to enrich themselves. Make no mistake about it – seized anything will not go unused.

    • Um, the Secret Service…the same guys, on Obama’s watch, who attended private prostitute parties in foreign countries (supposedly while there for Presidential pre-trip security planning) hosted by drug cartels…the same organization of cowboy Agents who chased a potential evil doer through the White House gates, while drunk as skunks, tearing up multiple vehicles and barricades, the same Secret Service who had numerous documented incidents of Agents drunk and partying while on Obama Protection Detail…and you think these bozos will straighten out the BATFE??

  12. Iran-contra
    Fast & Furious
    Afghanistan-Moderate Rebels
    I truely believe that the increase in opium production in Afghanistan is related to our current heroin epidemic. Just as they did with crack to fund the Iran contra crap. Off the books rogue intelligence agents and whole agencies.

  13. How much of these ATF payouts to “informants” was a way to pay themselves?

    Think about it. This entire thing was off the books with no oversight. An ATF agent could say that he paid $20,000 to an “informant” for information on a cigarette smuggling ring … when in reality there was no informant. Rather, the ATF agent simply pockets the cash and there is no that anyone will ever know about it.

  14. After all the illegal sh*t this alphabet soup agency has done over the past decades, is anyone really surprised at more of the same?

  15. What can we expect? It’s a glorified tax collection agency. In a proper, sane and free world, the BATF would be the name of a store selling alcohol, tobacco and firearms, with the only tax being collected is a sales tax and no paperwork or ID required to by any item behind the counter; including suppressors, select fire firearms and no restrictions on barrel length.

    Bad
    Attitude
    Towards
    Freedom

    Brutalize
    Assault
    Terrorize
    Firebomb

    Black
    Attired
    Terrible
    Fiends

    Bastards
    Always
    Throttle
    Freedom

    Buttboys
    Asswipes
    Tools
    Fu&@kers

  16. “the A.T.F., which has been buffeted in recent years by the botched gun-tracking operation known as Fast and Furious”

    The NYT articles continues to push the myth that Fast & Furious was a “botched” operation. It wasn’t. There was never a part of the operation designed to actually track the guns once they crossed the border. Recall that there was ZERO coordination with Mexican authorities (“hey, watch out for this guy coming into Mexico who has some weapons” would have been helpful). Instead it was only “let’s see where the guns turn up”. In contrast, the Bush-era Operation Wide Receiver (which the media endlessly and falsely compares F&F to) was coordinated with the Mexican authorities and actually used tracking devices in the weapons that were “walked” across the border. It had limited usefulness, but at least it was a legitimate attempt to track walked guns. Fast & Furious’ only goal was to try to make the Obama talking point about “80% of guns in Mexico come from the US” a reality.

  17. So we essentially have CRIMINAL elements in our own government. The kind that engages in illegal gun-running, getting border-patrol agents killed, etc… Safe to say if the American people knew the full extent of the crimes committed by government officials and agencies, things would get ugly.

  18. If memory serves (and it might not), the death toll attributable to the Fast and Furious BATF guns hit 500 many years ago.

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