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Archive for August, 2011

Column: Did Washington Not Understand ATF’s Operation Fast and Furious?

Allan Lengel

By Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com

After talking to some folks and watching the latest Congressional hearings on ATF’s Operation Fast and Furious, I’m beginning to think the Rep. Darrell Issa and Sen. Chuck Grassley aren’t going to find what they’re looking for — that is:

Who at the Justice Department gave the Ok for the operation — at least knowingly? The two politicians have been hammering away at that, trying to find out the answer during Congressional inquiries.

The reason I say that is because the sense I’m getting — and granted I could be wrong —  is that William Newell, head of the ATF Phoenix division during the operation, was briefing folks on Operation Fast and Furious directly or indirectly at the Justice Department and the White House.

Problem was, those folks didn’t really understand the full scope of the operation. And consequently, Newell figured he had the full blessing of Washington, when in fact, Washington didn’t understand fully what it was blessing him with.

For those of you who haven’t been following it closely, the operation encouraged gun dealers in Arizona to sell to straw purchasers or middlemen, all with the hopes of tracing the guns to the Mexican cartels. ATF lost track of some guns, and some surfaced at crimes scenes on both side of the the border.

So in the end, the real question, perhaps to be answered, isn’t who blessed the operation in Washington, but rather why folks in Washington didn’t understand what Operation Fast and Furious was all about.

I’m just sayin.

OTHER STORIES OF INTEREST

D.C. Judge Orders Sprint to Pay Terrorism Victims’ Families $610,000

Judge Lamberth/court photo

By Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com

U.S. District Chief Judge Royce Lamberth of D.C. is trying to deliver justice on the world stage in the terrorism arena.

The Blog of the Legal Times reports that Lamberth on Wednesday ordered Sprint Nextel Corp., to pay more than $610,000 it owes to an Iranian state telecommunications agency directly to the families of victims of a 1996 terrorist bombing in Saudi Arabia.

The legal blog reported that the families, plaintiffs have been trying without any success to collect a more than $591 million default judgment since 2006.

The legal blog reported that Sprint had objected. But Lamberth made the ruling based on a 2008 law that allows victims to seize cash destined for a country or state-owned agency in a terrorism case.

Read order

ATF Agents See Director’s Departure as a “Fresh Start”

Ken Melson/atf photo

 By Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com

Many ATF agents on Tuesday welcomed the news that acting Director Ken Melson was stepping down, saying his departure marked a step in the right direction in trying to revive a demoralized agency.

 

“I think everyone knew this was coming,” said one veteran ATF agent, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “It’s a breath of fresh air. It’s a fresh start. That’s the general sentiment.”

 

Melson’s departure seemed to break the paralysis that the department seemed to be in after taking regular beatings in the media and on Capitol Hill over “Operation Fast and Furious”, an ATF program out of Arizona that encouraged gun dealers to sell to straw purchasers or middlemen, all with the hopes of tracking the guns to the Mexican Cartels.

 

Melson was never going to become the permanent director. The White House nominee for the spot, Andrew Traver, who heads up Chicago’s ATF, had problems getting confirmed. So Melson remaining in that spot only accentuated how problematic things had become and how politically weak ATF was.

 

On Capitol Hill, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) and Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Ia.) led the charge, and began investigating the Fast and Furious program. Melson remained silent during most the controversy, which angered some within ATF. Melson eventually spoke to Congressional investigators and complained that the Justice Department had muzzled him and prevented him from even explaining to his troops what was going on with Fast and Furious.

 

Tuesday’s announcement gave hope to agents, including one who said morale was the lowest it had ever been — even lower than in the wake of Waco.

 

“There is cautious optimism,” said the agent. “We can move forward. ”

 

The agent said he had heard good things about the new acting director , B. Todd Jones, the U.S. Attorney in Minnesota.

 

“I’m hearing positive things about him,” he said. “He’s pro-ATF.”

 

The agent added that Melson stepping down was a good start, but “more needs to be done.”

 

Another agent called Melson’s departure “bitter-sweet”, saying “he’s a very personable individual, a good leader.”

 

“But I can only look forward,” the agent said.

 

Interestingly, Melson will return to the Justice Department where he once headed up the U.S. Attorneys’ Offices around the country. In recent times, during the Fast and Furious operation, he seemed to develop a distrust for the Justice Department, according to one source.

 

Melson will head over to Justice as a Senior Advisor to the Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Legal Policy (OLP) where he will specialize in forensic science policy issues at the Department of Justice

Melson had complained to Congressional investigators that he had been muzzled by the Justice Department and kept from communicating to the troops about the Fast and Furious controversy.

According to his testimony provided to investigators and released by the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, Melson said:

“Part of the problem, and one of the things that infuriated me was that I have not been allowed to communicate to the troops about anything. So, for example, earlier on, I wanted to do a broadcast that just talked about the case because everybody was wondering what’s this case about? What are you doing at headquarters?

“How come you were not issuing press releases and how come you were not ordering press conference ad pushing back and things like that? And I was told not do do that. Then after we wanted to do several things to talk to our people about what this case was about, what it wasn’t about, and you know, where were were going and the fact that we were cooperating as much as we could with the committee and with the Department, but we were restrained from doing that.”

First Black Secret Service Agent Charles Gittens Dies at Age 82

By Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com

Being the first is always worth noting.

And that’s what Charles L. Gittens was — the first black Secret Service agent. He became an agent in 1956 and retired in 1979, the Associated Press reported.

AP reported reported that Gittens died on July 27 in Maryland. He was 82.

According to an obituary in The Herald-Sun of Durham, N.C., Gittens was first assigned to the Charlotte, N.C., office and he worked in New York City office investigating counterfeiting and bank fraud.

He was fluent in Spanish and worked in the San Juan, Puerto Rico bureau and the D.C. office in 1969.

AP reported that after retiring in 1979, he worked for the Justice Department investigating war criminals.

AP reported that Danny Spriggs, vice president of global security for The Associated Press who had been a Secret Service agent, called Gittens “just an outstanding guy.”

“He went out of his way to mentor and give counsel and advice to young African-Americans who were coming up, especially those like myself who were coming up through the ranks.”

“The guy was always physically fit. He looked like he came out of the gym. His whole persona was one of professionalism: no nonsense guy.”

Feds Bust Missouri Priest for Child Porn

By Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com

The feds have busted a Roman Catholic priest in Missouri on charges of producing and possessing child pornography after he allegedly took photos of girls ages 2 to 12 on church property over a six year period, including in the choir loft.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Kansas City charged Shawn Ratigan, 45, of Independence, Mo., in a 13 count indictment on Tuesday.

“When a person who has been placed in a position of trust exploits and victimizes children, he victimizes the entire community,” U.S. Attorney Beth Phillips said. “Today’s indictment sends a strong message that we will not tolerate this criminal behavior.”

Ratigan, 45, was the parish pastor at St. Patrick’s Catholic Church in Kansas City, Mo., and more recently served as chaplain to the Franciscan Sisters of the Holy Eucharist in Independence.

FBI Arrests Philly Man for Threatening to Shoot Sen. Lieberman

Sen. Lieberman/senate photo

By Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com

A Philadelphia man has been charged with threatening to shoot Sen. Joe Lieberman, NBC Connecticut reported.

Authorities alleged that Dmitry Dyatlov, 23, a U.S. citizen who came from Uzbekistan in 1998, wrote on a blog: “Actually, there is , at least, one Jew, who we absolutely must shoot in the face (many times), ASAP: Joe Lieberman.”

The station reported that FBI agents went to his apartment on Aug. 2 after being alerted of the posting by the U.S. Capitol Police.

The station reported that a co-worker alerted authorities to the blog post after Dyatlov stopped showing up for work as a Information Technology specialist with Accenture Consulting.

He was detained after a detention hearing Tuesday, but was expected to be released on a tether, the station reported.

OTHER STORIES OF INTEREST

Now Here’s a Sterling Resume; 55 Defendants in Omaha Had 2,637 Previous Contacts With the Law

By Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com

Talk about sterling resumes.

ATF, along with local law enforcement in the Omaha, Neb., area announced Tuesday charges against 55 defendants who have a total of 2,637 previous contacts with law enforcement, 255 arrests, 52 felony convictions and 151 misdemeanor convictions.

ATF said the seven-month undercover investigation targeting violent crime in Omaha resulted in the seizure of more than 70 firearms and illegal drugs with a street value of over $50,000. Some of the drugs seized included PCP, methamphetamine, crack cocaine, marijuana and prescription narcotics.

“Today marks a significant step in ridding our community of felons, firearms and drugs but there is still much work to do,” said U.S. Attorney Deborah R. Gilg. “The joint federal/local task force members are to be commended for their outstanding work.”

Unabomber Auction Produces $225,000 for Victims

By Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com

The recent auction that sold off belongings of Unabomber Theodore Kaczynski –including his journals and sun glasses — is paying off for the victims of his evil deeds.

The Los Angeles Times reports that checks totaling $225,000 from the auction were sent to four victims. A federal judge in Sacramento ordered the disbursement last week.

The LA Times reported that the online government auction, which ended June 2, included the typewriter Kaczynski used to compose the manifesto he sent to the New York Times and the Washington Post. That sold for $22,003.

His hooded sweatshirt and sunglasses depicted in an FBI sketch of the Unabomber suspect sold together for $20,025, the paper reported. And his personal journals sold for $40,676.

The paper reports that Kaczynski is currently serving a life sentence in a federal prison in Colorado after mailing homemade explosives that killed three people and wounded 20.

According to the LA Times, the money was dispersed as follows:

  • Susan Mosser, widow of advertising executive Thomas Mosser, who was killed in 1994; $185,177.23.
  • Connie Murray, widow of Sacramento forester Gilbert Murray, who was killed in 1995; $33,648.05.
  • Gary Wright, who was injured by a 1987 bomb; $3,545.47.
  • Lois Epstein, the wife of University of California, San Francisco physician and researcher Charles Epstein, who was severely injured by a 1993 bomb; $3,364.81.