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Should the Government Stop "Sting" Operations?


The defense bar and "civil rights" groups have been complaining for years about the government's use of "sting" operations.  Typically such operations are used to catch drug pushers; the pusher thinks he's selling to your garden variety addict, who instead turns out to be a DEA or FBI undercover agent.

The characteristic objection to sting operations is that the govenrnment shouldn't be using stealth and deceit.  Often the objections are bound up with more general complaints about the fact that drugs are illegal at all.  One often hears as well the criticism that stings are entrapment.

In an ideal world,  I too would have heartburn about the government's using deceit.  But an ideal world doesn't contain the sorts of people I spent years dealing with in the US Attorney's Office.

In particular, it doesn't contain folks like this, who, very fortunately, was arrested today as a result of a sting.  Perhaps those up in arms about operations like this will reconsider, although I concede that this is more likely to happen if they had been planning a trip to the Capitol Visitor Center.


He is an illegal immigrant. One wonders why he wasn't simply arrested and put on the next flight.

Hey Bill, isn't all the controversy over Fast and Furious an example of folks on the right complaining about the government's use of "sting" operations?

I agree with complaints that F&F was an example for a sting gone very wrong and apparently doing more harm than good, though this just for me reinforces my fear that there is always a risk that DOJ can produce more harm than good with some stings (though your link rightly highlights that more often stings will produce more good that harm).

This is the main reason I am troubled at times by the F&F controversy --- it seems the right wants to attack DOJ for even doing a sting at all. But perhaps you (and federalist) have a different view here. Just curious.

Very odd post, Doug. First of all, opposition to F & F is pretty much unanimous, and very few on the right appear to hang their hat on the appropriateness of stings in general. Rather, since all are in agreement that F & F never should have gotten off the ground, the right has focused on Holder's intransigence at holding people accountable, the false statements to Congress (which has been admitted by DOJ) and the retaliation against whistleblowers. Other right wing opinionmakers have charged that F & F was designed to ratchet up gun control.

What's interesting is that the "main reason" you are troubled is that the right wants to attack DOJ for even doing a sting. Other than libertarians, there aren't too many attacks on stings per se, but rather an operation that let automatic weapons leave the country without any sort of controls whatsoever. One would think that a law professor would be more troubled by the carnage this botched operation has wrought. And one would think that a law professor would be troubled would be the obvious harm done to whistleblowers and DOJ's false statements provided to Congress. But I guess that's secondary to the fact that the right is attacking poor Mr. Holder.

I almost forgot about a DOJ supervisor actually taking the Fifth. One would think that a law prof would be upset about that as well--but nah, the real issue is that those meanie right-wingers are beating up on poor Eric Holder.

I guess perspective gets lost in the ivory tower.

Hi Doug,

I don't think those on the conventional Right (Reagan/Bush) have a problem with stings. There are several reasons there's been a good deal of unhappiness about F&F, however, and you put your finger on the main one in your second paragraph: It's a sting that got flubbed.

It might conceivably have been a good idea to send guns into Mexico, although the risks are obviously enormous. Perhaps someone at DOJ thought the amount of intelligence they would get out of it was worth those risks, and/or underestimated how risky the risks actually were. But that became a moot and disastrous point when DOJ lost track of the weapons once they crossed the border. What this meant was (1) we weren't going to get any intelligence at all, and (2) we had just armed some of the most violent and sadistic men in this hemisphere.

In other words, I do not read the Congressional criticism from the right (although not exclusively from there) as merely the opportunistic expression of an underlying angst about sting operations that was there all along.

Of course now, as is so often the case in Washington, the focus has shifted somewhat away from the underlying SNAFU to the fact that DOJ has (admittedly) supplied misleading information to Congress, and that the lower lever people seem to be falling on their swords (or maybe being pushed on their swords) for the benefit of the higher level political appointees.

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