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Tipsheet

New Inspector General Report Shows How Thousands of Guns and Parts Were Stolen From ATF

(AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

According to a recent Department of Justice Inspector General investigation, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms failed to follow proper security protocols for seized firearms and parts at the ATF National Destruction Branch (NDB) facility in Martinsburg, West Virginia, leading to thousands of guns and parts being stolen by a security guard. 

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"We found that NDB staff does not consistently adhere to established operating procedures in place to mitigate risk of firearms being lost or stolen. Specifically, we observed NDB staff: (1) propping open doors into secure areas of the facility solely for the sake of convenience, (2) allowing visitors to enter the facility through doorways other than," the investigation found. "The main entrance and drive their cars into the facility to unload firearms, and (3) permitting unauthorized individuals to access NDB vault storage spaces. Failure to strictly adhere to established operating procedures not only undermines the NDB’s security protocol, but unnecessarily places firearms in NDB custody at risk of loss or theft."

ATF failed to properly log and track firearms under Bureau custody, including guns from the fatal Operation Fast and Furious. 

"Prior to our audit, the NDB did not adequately track the keys used to unlock shipping cases containing firearms slated for disposal. While the NDB had an inventory and a check-out log for its padlock keys, we found that the key log was not properly updated when keys were removed from the storage area," the investigation found. "The NDB uses a log to track these firearms held in long-term storage; however, we found that the NDB does not track firearms stored in its vault on a temporary basis. The NDB should know the whereabouts of all firearms in its custody and should track firearms held both in long-term and temporary storage."

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"While the NDB has implemented improved controls over firearms at its facility, we found certain overarching ATF policies that are not addressed in current NDB Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) and not evident in current NDB operations but would further mitigate the risk of firearms in NDB custody being lost or stolen without detection," the IG found. "Specifically, the NDB stored firearms in its custody, including evidence from the ATF’s 'Operation Fast and Furious' investigation, on top of its temporary vault instead of inside its more secure vault. These items are stored in shipping cases that are accessible using one of the many ladders kept in the same area of the facility. We found that this practice was inconsistent with ATF policy."

For three years, lax security measures and violations of standards led to thousands of guns and parts being stolen from the facility. Those firearms, including machine guns, were illlegally sold off. 

Christopher Lee Yates, a former contract security guard at a U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) facility, was sentenced today to 168 months incarceration for stealing firearms from the government. 

Yates, age 52, of Martinsburg, West Virginia, pled guilty to one count of “Possession of Stolen Firearm” and one count of “Theft of Government Property” in April 2019. Yates was a contract employee at the ATF’s National Disposal Branch in Martinsburg, West Virginia. From 2016 to early 2019, Yates stole thousands of firearms, firearms parts, and ammunition. Yates sold much of the property to others across the country. The crimes caused ATF to issue more than 1200 referrals across all 25 ATF field divisions in 49 of the 50 states, District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. To date, ATF has recovered 4,625 pieces of the stolen firearms and parts, including 4,000 firearms parts, 3,000 of which of were slides, and at least 15 rifles, 80 handguns, including ATF duty weapons, 10 to 15 AR-style lower receivers, and four machine guns.

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DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz provided a number of actions for ATF to take in order to avoid the situation from happening again. 

During Operation Fast and Furious between 2009 and 2010 ATF, under direction from the Department of Justice, purposely sold thousands of AK-47s and other firearms to Mexican cartels and allowed them to be trafficking into Mexico. They then lost track of the firearms until they showed up at bloody crime scenes. One of the firearms from the operation was found at the scene where Border Patrol BORTAC Agent Brian Terry was murdered in 2010. Hundreds of Mexican citizens were killed as a result of the operation and a .50 caliber rifle, which was deliberately sold by ATF, was found in the hideout of Sinaloa drug kingpin El Chapo Guzman in 2016. 

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