ATF agents involved in Milwaukee’s infamously botched Operation Fearless have been under much scrutiny following an investigative report by the Journal Sentinel last year. While some of the agents responsible have been disciplined following a review, not everyone agrees the disciplinary action was appropriate.
According to James Burch, the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives assistant director for governmental affairs, seven agents involved in the Milwaukee sting operation were reviewed by the ATF’s Professional Review Board. However, of those, the board suggested a reprimand for only one agent and issued a “memorandum of caution” for another three.
The first agent’s punishment was eventually reduced to “memorandum of caution,” the lowest disciplinary action issued by the board. Essentially, they were all cleared of any wrongdoing. Some ATF officials, who did not want to be identified, call the actions of the board a “slap on the wrist,” and not likely to have any effect on the careers of the agents involved.
The agents are accused of using “rogue tactics” to execute their operations, as well as providing misleading information, fundamentally making the operations appear to be more successful than they actually were. They allegedly targeted underage teens and mentally challenged people, only to turn around and arrest them for illegal activities encouraged by the agents.
Following the arrests, the agents proclaimed the operations to be successful in removing “violent criminals” from the streets. However, the fact that those targeted were “violent criminals” was questioned, with some believing that these individuals were more unlucky than they were violent.
In addition, many of the firearms which were taken off of the streets during these operations, were the same firearms that had been sold to the individuals by undercover agents to begin with.
“For street crime in the federal system, we want cases to take us beyond the immediate person into a more significant, dangerous group,” said defense attorney and former head of the organized crime unit of the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Milwaukee, Rodney Cubbie, last December. “It seems like these cases stop with the particular individual. That is a waste of federal resources.”