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BATFE "Air Force" Grounded Again

Friday, March 27, 2015

BATFE "Air Force" Grounded Again

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.

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