Obscure federal agencies triggered a firestorm of conspiracy theories this week after they put out orders for thousands of rounds of deadly hollow-point bullets.
But the agencies, most recently the Social Security Administration, are trying to put a damper on the speculation -- noting the ammunition is "standard issue" and simply used for mandatory federal training sessions.
"Our special agents need to be armed and trained appropriately," said a message on the official blog for Social Security's inspector general office explaining the purchases.
The bullet purchases drew widespread attention as the website Infowars.com published several stories on them that were linked off the widely read Drudge Report and other sites. Infowars.com catalogued a string of recent purchases -- first by the Department of Homeland Security, then by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and then the Social Security Administration.
The Social Security Administration solicitation, posted Aug. 7, called for 174,000 rounds of ".357 Sig 125 grain bonded jacketed hollow point pistol ammunition."
Infowars.com speculated that the purchases were being made in preparation for "civil unrest," imagining a scenario of economic collapse where seniors could cause "disorder" if denied their Social Security benefits.
But the Social Security Administration statement, posted Thursday, noted that their agents need firearms and ammo in the course of training, investigations and responding to threats against offices and employees.
"As we said in a recent post, our office has criminal investigators, or special agents, who are responsible for investigating violations of the laws that govern SSA's programs," the office said.
The agency said it has 295 special agents across 66 offices in the country. "These investigators have full law enforcement authority, including executing search warrants and making arrests," the statement said.
As for concern about the type of bullets -- hollow points, which expand upon impact -- the statement said the type is "standard issue" and is used during "mandatory quarterly firearms qualifications and other training sessions."
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA, found itself scrambling to respond to a similar report this week about an order for 46,000 rounds of ammo. Though the agency initially indicated it was for the National Weather Service -- leading to questions about why the National Weather Service could possibly need so many bullets -- a spokesman clarified the bullets are actually meant for the NOAA Fisheries Office of Law Enforcement. A "clerical error" resulted in the order saying the ammo was for the weather service.
Spokesman Scott Smullen said the error's been fixed in the bidding system. He, too, said the ammo is "standard issue" and will be used by 63 enforcement personnel at NOAA during qualifications and training sessions.
"NOAA officers and agents enforce the nation's ocean and fishing laws to ensure a level playing field for fishermen and to protect marine species like whales, dolphins and turtles," he said.
According to NOAA, the specialized agents are supposed to have 200 rounds in their "duty bag," and qualification and training requires another 500-600 rounds per agent.