How Did ATF Lose 420 Million Cigarettes?

Friday, September 27, 2013
Illegal cigarettes confiscated by ATF (photo-ATF)

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) is in trouble again, this time for losing more than 400 million cigarettes.


ATF agents failed to properly account for 2.1 million cartons containing 420 million cigarettes as part of the agency’s undercover operations, according to the Department of Justice’s Office of the Inspector General (IG). The missing cartons had a retail value of $127 million.


The IG’s office also reported that ATF paid an informant more than $4.9 million without requiring him to account for his expenses.


“We found a significant lack of oversight and controls to ensure that cash, cigarettes, equipment and other assets used…were accurately tracked, properly safeguarded and protected from misuse,” IG Michael E. Horowitz said in his report (pdf).


The mistakes were discovered after the inspector general’s office reviewed 20 undercover operations targeting cigarette smugglers that generated $162 million in income for ATF over a five-year period.


Like the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Drug Enforcement Administration, ATF is allowed under the law to use proceeds generated from certain investigations to make up for gaps in the agency’s budget.


When asked about the millions of missing cigarettes, ATF spokeswoman Ginger Colbrun told The Washington Post that the inspector general’s numbers were wrong. Colbrun insisted only 447,218 cartons were unaccounted for, not 2.1 million, after ATF conducted its own internal probe of the matter.


ATF has been under fire during the past few years for having lost more than 2,000 guns that it used as part of a Mexican drug cartel sting operation called “Fast and Furious.”

-Noel Brinkerhoff


To Learn More:

ATF Lost Track of 2.1 Million Cartons of Cigarettes in Sting Operations, Report Finds (by Sari Horwitz, Washington Post)

ATF 'Lost 420m Cigarettes' in Churning Investigations (BBC News)

Audit of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives’ Use of Income-Generating, Undercover Operations (U.S. Department of Justice, Office of the Inspector General, Audit Division) (pdf)

Is This the Most Bungled ATF Sting Operation Ever? (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

ATF Program Let Hundreds of Guns go to Drug Cartels (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

Largest Seizure of Illegal Cigarettes in History (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)


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