Before Fast & Furious: Five ethically questionable undercover operations by US law enforcement

  1. FBI Agents Authorize Burglary Spree as Part of Sting: In the last 1970s and early 1980s, a group of FBI agents in Kentucky allowed Delane “Red” Colvin to conduct a series of burglaries of at least $45,000 worth of truck parts as part a planned sting operation against buyers of stolen goods that never happened. They also planned to allow him to steal millions of dollars worth of coal-moving equipment and even promised him immunity, but this operation never took place. The executive director of a government watchdog group declared that the FBI agents essentially started a “one-man crime ring” (Associated Press, 16 May 1985).
  2. Cops Allow Informant to Sell 13 Pounds of Cocaine on the Streets of Cleveland: From June through July 1985, Cleveland narcotics officers allowed a big time drug dealer turned informant Arthur Feckner to operate a “safe house” in the city’s East Side so he could sell drugs to pay off a $560,000 debt he owed one of his contacts in Miami. After paying off the debt, Fecker was utilized by Cleveland police and the DEA to launch a sting operation against his wholesaler in Miami. The Miami bust took place on 27 August and was considered a huge success, with six dealers arrested and 46 kilos of cocaine recovered. However, news of the Cleveland police’s deal with Feckner leaked out in 1986 and triggered outrage from the black community where he operated from (it should be noted that Feckner was white and only received 5 years in federal prison for selling 13 pounds of cocaine). Five members of the Cleveland narcotics unit that performed the operation were indicted in Cuyahoga County for allowing and partipating in the drug sales. Eventually Judge Michael J. Corrigan ruled that “even if the officers knowingly conspired with Feckner to sell drugs, the sales would be legal under Ohio law if they were done for a law enforcement purpose.” Predictably then, the officers were acquitted (United Press International, 21 April 1988; Los Angeles Times, 14 June 1989).
  3. CIA “Anti-Drug Program” Sends a Ton of Cocaine to the US: Beginning in the mid-1980s, a joint effort between the CIA and the Venezuelan National Guard to infiltrate Colombian drug gangs resulted in a plan to “allow hundreds of pounds of cocaine to be shipped to the United States through Venezuela in an operation intended to win the confidence of the Colombian traffickers. … The cocaine would enter the United States without being seized, so as to allay all suspicion. The idea was to gather as much intelligence as possible on members of the drug gangs.” The CIA and Venezuelan agents collected more than 3,000 pounds of the drug and stored it “in a truck at the intelligence agency’s counter-narcotics center in Caracas. Most of the cocaine was flown to the United States in a series of shipments during 1990.” The lid was blown off the operation when US customs seized a 1,000 pound shipment at Miami’s international airport and learned that it was sent by the Venezuelan National Guard. No one from Venezuela or the US was ever indicted in the affair despite the fact that “the cocaine wound up being sold on the streets in the United States” (New York Times, 20 November 1993).
  4. FBI Sends Money to Hamas Leaders: From 1998 through 1999, the FBI sent funds to suspected Hamas members “to see if the militant Palestinian group would divert it from charitable purposes to terrorist attacks.” The operation was launched from the FBI’s Phoenix office and had the consent of Israeli intelligence. One of the FBI’s assets was an Arizona businessman and convert to Islam named Harry Ellen, who ran a charitable foundation that worked in Palestinian territories. Ellen would later testify to an immigration court that his FBI handler actually desired “the transfer of American funds to some of the terrorist groups for violent purposes.” Despite this, it does not appear that any of the money went towards violent activities. On one occasion Ellen received between $3,000 and $5,000 from the FBI and was told to give the money to senior Hamas leader Ismail Abu Shanab, who would later be assassinated by the IDF on 21 August 2003. According to Ellen’s testimony, Abu Shanab instead forwarded the money to orphanages and health care centers (Associated Press, 7 October 2003).
  5. ICE Informant Takes Part In Gruesome Murders in Mexico: Guillermo Ramirez Peyro (AKA “Lalo”) was an informant for the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) that received more than $220,000 for his work as a spy inside the Juarez cartel. While he was on the US payroll, he played a role in as many as 12 murders that took place inside a house in Ciudad Juarez that became known as the “House of Death.” After taking part in his first murder in August 2003, ICE informed higher-ups in the Justice Department including US Attorney for Western Texas Johnny Sutton. Despite the risk that Lalo would probably be involved in more murders in the future, the Justice Department and Sutton allowed the ICE to retain Lalo as an informant and refused to go after the Juarez cartel henchman who ordered the murder. It was not until early 2004 that the Mexican government and other US agencies such as the DEA were informed about the House of Death and its US informant/mass murderer. Much pressure was placed on Sandy Gonzalez, the Special Agent in Charge of the DEA office in El Paso, to keep quiet and she eventually was forced to resign. A general media blackout on the case spared Sutton and other Justice Department officials from becoming scandalized (Narco News, 22 April 2004; Observer, 3 December 2006).
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