The federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, & Explosives is very proud of its hot new venture: using "fake drugs, big bucks to snare suspects." USA Today reports:

The U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the agency in charge of enforcing the nation's gun laws, has locked up more than 1,000 people by enticing them to rob drug stash houses that did not exist. The ploy has quietly become a key part of the ATF's crime-fighting arsenal, but also a controversial one: The stings are so aggressive and costly that some prosecutors have refused to allow them. They skirt the boundaries of entrapment, and in the past decade they have left at least seven suspects dead.

The USA Today story, which includes video clips as well, documents just how much time and effort goes into setting up fake drug crimes rather than actually uncovering, stopping, and solving actual drug-related crime.

The arrests don't come cheap. A single case can go on for months and require dozens of federal agents and local police officers.

Former ATF supervisor David Chipman, who left the agency last year, said the public deserves to know more about how the ATF is using its resources. "There are huge benefits, and there are huge downsides," he said. "Do you want police to solve crimes, or do you want them to go out and prevent crimes that haven't occurred yet? What are the things you're willing to do so that your kid doesn't get shot?"

The story discusses in detail the case of William Alexander, a low-level crack dealer and beauty-school dropout, who got snared in the ATF's sting operations. It's a depressing read from multiple angles, none more so than this: If federal law enforcement agents think instigating and then prosecuting fake crime is more important than reducing the real thing, we're pretty screwed as a country.

Read the whole thing.

More Reason on ATF - which somehow not only managed to avoid total dismantling after Waco and tons of other disasters but actually increase its purview to include "explosives."