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      Reverse Undercover Sting

      The art of the deal-recycling drugs the DEA way!
      Bob Pilgrim

    Trading the hot summers of the canyons of New York for those of the art deco environs of Miami, Frank White and agents in his group were able to turn one of the most important marijuana brokers in the Dade County area into a productive informant. He facilitated the drug trade by bringing buyer and seller together for a commission. He had learned his nefarious trade and developed his contacts from his mentor, whom he found murdered and nailed, crucifixion style, to the front door of his house.

    Now dubbed the DEA, Frank's group devoted countless hours to devising plans and strategies on how to best employ this informant. As a result of this collective brainstorming and out-of-the-box thinking, his crew designed and perfected the "reverse undercover sting," which had never been attempted before by his agency.

    This was an extremely dangerous and risky operation. To give his undercover personnel heavy credibility, Frank obtained five tons of marijuana that was seized from a previous bust and was no longer needed for trial. This load was used as a prop to wet the appetites of the dealers when they came to examine it prior to purchase. If they were happy, they would complete the transaction, load it in their trucks and depart. After they had driven a safe distance from the undercover (UC) agents, vehicle stops would be executed and the dealers arrested. Frank had complete confidence in his team, because they had safely made hundreds of collars, seized tons of dope and were stuffing the prisons with narcotics violators.

    They got off to a very impressive start. During the first 48 hours of the operation they took down twelve bad guys and seized $700,000. On day three it got even better with thirteen arrests and the confiscation of one million dollars. However, it was now time to move to a new location.

    In their first arrest at the new warehouse in south Miami they "scored" 50,000 Quaaludes, $90K and the two brothers trying to barter for the weed. The sting was working out too well to be true-no resistance, no casualties-but that was about to change.

    An undercover agent informed the team that he had negotiated with an apparent "high roller" to purchase the whole 15,000 pounds of hemp for a million cash. Their established SOPs kicked in and they prepared for the arrival of these "heavy hitters." All the arrests had been mobile takedowns, so a rental truck was purposely selected to hold the load. In case things went sideways, its tank was only partially full with fuel and was rigged so it could not exceed 50 MPH. In addition, an outer perimeter containment team of marked police vehicles took up blocking positions after the dealers were in the warehouse.

    Frank and his crew were providing inner perimeter security for the UC agents conducting the transaction. Shortly after the three dealers arrived, they revealed their true intentions. Rip-off! Suddenly, the sultry tropical air was ripped by a thunderous full auto burst from a DEA M16 carbine followed by the reverberating blast from one of the robber's shotguns. The agent emptied his magazine and both antagonists missed. Before Frank could close in, things got interesting when the rental truck containing the marijuana created its own splintered opening through the locked warehouse door and careened toward Frank's overwatch position. Barreling down the road was 15,000 pounds of narcotics-loaded truck. In a classic game of "chicken" Frank drove his sedan head to head at the rental vehicle, intending to force it off the road.

    In the rapidly closing DEA sedan was Paul, the agent who had shot and killed the two assassins that had murdered Frank's close partner Frankie T. This was before DEA developed SWAT-like tactics, which was another of Frank's innovations when he served in the Oakland, California office. Even though the truck seriously outweighed them, the bad guy blinked, swerved off the road and bogged down in the grass on the north side of the macadam. Frank was pumped and aggressively leapt from the car and rushed the passenger side of the truck. Peripherally, he saw Richie, a team member closing in on the driver's side. Looking up he saw the driver with a black pistol in his right hand. Fearing a developing crossfire, he yelled to Richie to, "Get down, get down." The gunman also heard the warning and pointed what turned out to be a Browning High Power at Frank's head. At that "Kodak moment" his front sight became his sole focus and his assailant's face became a blur. With a two-handed! hold, Frank immediately triggered seven 230 grain .45ACP FMJ rounds from his 1911 through the truck's side window, As he fired, he was acutely aware of glass shattering and showering the ground. The big GM went to slide lock and Frank sought a modicum of cover by sliding down the side of the truck. Leaning against the panel he looked down at the ground to see if he was changing color as he slammed seven more FMJ rounds into his pistol. Satisfied he was still in one piece, his attention was diverted by a series of shotgun blasts and he saw his teammate's tremendous muzzle flashes as they poured slugs and buckshot into the cab of the truck. He was so close that he could hear and feel the heavy lead slam into the truck's sheet metal. Fortunately the lead projectiles penetrated and there was no spalling or ricochets, so he remained unscathed. Because of the high volume of fire, Frank thought the gunman was still in the fight. Still fearing for his and his team's safety, he uns! uccessfully tried to open the truck's door with his left hand. He held his pistol in a close combat retention position and, with the image of the gunman indexing him with his 9 millimeter still firmly planted in his mind, Frank vaulted up onto the running board, grabbed the door handle with one hand and with the other, again fired at the drug dealer.

    Like maniacs, the other two subjects tore out of the warehouse parking area and disappeared, northbound on Dixie Highway into the night. Their car was found abandoned miles away.

    When the smoke cleared and the autopsy was completed, Frank learned that his first magazine had actually ended it before the gunman could fire and that he had hit him twelve times. In addition to the Browning, two other fully loaded pistols were recovered from the truck.

    LESSONS LEARNED:

    * Always retain keys to undercover vehicles or render them temporarily inoperable.

    * Be prepared for the unexpected; have a containment plan and the assets to enforce it.

    * Drug enforcement officers and agents providing security should be capable of conducting emergency hostage rescues of undercover agents should they be abducted.

    * Full automatic fire, even at close ranges, frequently results in waste of ammo and potentially creates more problems than it solves.

    * Plan and rehearse vehicle stops.

    * Have on scene vehicles of sufficient size and weight to block/stop vehicles you could encounter.

    * Pre-planning and preparation is always preferable to hasty and reactive counter actions. However, they have a chance to succeed if they are executed aggressively and with determination. They usually rely on someone's initiative and although frequently dangerous in execution, violence-of-action often succeeds in overcoming resistance. However, the inclination to "attack-attack-attack" will eventually lead to tragedy.

    * Although initiative and aggressiveness linked to surprise and speed can reverse tactical setbacks, the immediate assault of a vehicle not containing hostages should be a tactic of last resort.

    * As soon as you determine you are faced with a deadly threat, do not hesitate-engage. If you don't, you die.

    * Carry a minimum of three magazines and position them so they are quickly accessible. Practice reloading by feel or keep the gun up at eye level, so you can keep your eyes on the threat. Frank carried six.

    * Practice shooting with one hand while holding on for balance with the other.

    * Do not "area shoot." Pick out an exact spot on your target's body and place your shots there. Practice being able to identify your front sight under all conditions. As soon as you reference it-shoot.

    * When faced with imminent deadly force do not focus on your assailant's weapon. If you do, you will hit his hands. In this situation, body shots will not guarantee shutting him down and frequently he will be able to return your fire even when hit. Practice headshots to stop hostilities instantly.

    * Although you will tend to tunnel in on the threat, be aware of the location of friendlies to avoid potential fratricide-inducing crossfires.

    * Test your ammunitions performance on various common obstacles including vehicle glass. A substantial number of police shootings involve motor vehicles. Although Frank's team knew that buckshot would not consistently penetrate a vehicle's door, the tactical situation dictated that they try to engage the gunman through the truck's elevated door.

    * When possible, hand pick your team. You must have complete confidence in each member and an intuitive connection with each other. Mutually shared danger has a way of weeding out the phonies and more often than not they select themselves out of the group. Uncontrolled fear is a great leveler.


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