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Column: Ex-ATF Official Says System of Presidentially Appointing an ATF Director Isn’t Working

James Cavanaugh was an ATF agent and supervisor for 33 years before retiring in 2010.

James Cavanaugh/atf photo

By James Cavanaugh
For ticklethewire.com

Since 2006 the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco Firearms and Explosives has been without a confirmed director to lead its critical missions for America.

I spent more than 33 years in ATF and I have worked for every director and acting director that the Bureau has ever had. They were good men, all (unfortunately we never had a woman).

Today, as the men and women of ATF face great challenges in the field, they also face some of their greatest criticisms. Now, more than ever, ATF needs a permanent director. Unfortunately, we’re not likely to get one under the current system: The Presidential appointment.

It used to be the director was appointed by the Department of Treasury or the Justice Department. That changed and the position was then supposed to be filled by presidential appointment.

The change was done for the right reasons: Respect for position and the agency, plus it was supposed to give ATF more equal footing in the law enforcement community.

Unfortunately, the change has not worked well. We need to go back to the umbrella agency – in this case the Justice Department — appointing an ATF director. It’s the only way we’ll get the permanent director we need.

Let’s face it. St. Peter himself could not get confirmed by presidential appointment as the Director of ATF in these times. I don’t fault lobby groups and political leaders for their concern and views on such matters. The difficulties in getting a presidentially appointed director are monumental based on the political realities of the country. Andrew Traver, who heads the Chicago ATF, was nominated by President Obama last November to become the new director, but his confirmation was stalled in the Senate, the result of strong opposition from the NRA.

Official Washington is obsessed with titles and the supernumerary trappings of power.

Presidential appointments allow access to that certain club of the political world. Anyone who holds a presidentially appointed position should be proud of that appointment.

Nevertheless, a presidential appointment is not required to be a strong and effective leader. And isn’t what this is all about?

Leaders earn and gain their real power not from certificates or anointments, rather from three things: Their integrity, their willingness to accept responsibility and their experience and competence to do the job.

So, in essence, the most effective way to get that leader is to keep it where it had been for the many decades: In the career civil service and in the career Senior executive service. The Justice Department can choose a very able person from that system to head up the agency.

I believe the director of ATF should be an ATF Special Agent, one who has sat out all night in the rain on a surveillance, worked on difficult bombings and arson cases, made undercover buys from violent felons, worked with victims of violent crime, talked to gun and explosives dealers and understands their issues, obtained and served dangerous search warrants, testified many times as a witness, worked with informants, heard shots fired in anger, and listened to the hate filled rants of Klansmen and militiamen neo-Nazis.

In other words,  a  leader who understands and has experienced the unique challenges that ATF faces.

Let’s fix this now.

Boston Columnist Says FBI Needs to Let Other Agencies Help Restore Public Confidence in Whitey Bulger Case

Updated Bulger photo/wbur

By Kevin Cullen
Boston Globe Columnist

For the past 23 years, Whitey Bulger was the FBI’s worst nightmare.

Now he’s their prisoner.

It was hard to find anyone in the Boston Police Department, the State Police, or the US Drug Enforcement Administration who truly believed the FBI wanted to find Bulger. He was the FBI’s prized, if highly overrated, snitch, and he had murdered many while the FBI protected him and compromised other investigations that other law enforcement agencies mounted against Bulger.

Bulger used to have the FBI in his pocket; now all he has in that pocket is the potential for revenge, should he choose to exact it. He has told friends — indeed he has even told corrupt FBI agents — that the FBI reneged on their deal to let him run his venal little empire as long as he fed them crumbs on the competition.

The obsession with the details of Bulger’s arrest is understandable. But the bigger picture is this: there has been a carefully constructed narrative, one of damage control for the FBI and Justice Department, which is now at risk. It was a narrative that held that Whitey Bulger was protected by a rogue FBI agent, John Connolly, and a rogue FBI supervisor, John Morris, both of whom had been dealt with: Connolly was given a life sentence and sent off to prison, and Morris was given immunity and sent off to disgrace.

To read the full column click here.

ATF Hosts Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Pride Month Program at HQ

Rep. Barney Frank

By Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com

ATF had a gathering at headquarters in D.C. the other day that wasn’t  typical of the ones you see in federal law enforcement.

The agency on Wednesday hosted its first Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Pride Month program at its headquarters, with Acting Director Kenneth Melson providing remarks along with Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass), an openly gay Congressman.

ATF billed the event as a celebration “in recognition of the accomplishments and contributions of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans to ATF and the nation, and to promote awareness of the LGBT culture.”

“ATF works to ensure sexual orientation discrimination and prejudice are not tolerated in our workplace,” said Melson. “ATF is an equal employment opportunity environment where effective and equitable participation is encouraged.”

2 Men Charged With Plotting to Attack Military Processing Center in Seattle

By Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com

Two men who converted to Islam were arrested Wednesday and charged with plotting to kill recruits and employees at the Military Entrance Processing Station in Seattle, the U.S. Attorney’s announced Thursday.

Abu Khalid Abdul-Latif, aka Joseph Anthony Davis, 33, of Seattle, and Walli Mujahidh, aka Frederick Domingue, Jr., 32, of Los Angeles, were charged in a criminal complaint with buying machine guns to carry out the attack, authorities said. They also planned to use grenades.

Authorities said the FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force  began “monitoring” the two as the plot was developing “to prevent the attack and protect the public.” They said the guns provided to the men “were inoperable”.

“The complaint alleges these men intended to carry out a deadly attack against our military where they should be most safe, here at home,” U.S. Attorney Jenny A. Durkan said in a statement. “This is a sobering reminder of our need to be vigilant and that our first line of defense is the people who live in our community. We were able to disrupt the plot because someone stepped forward and reported it to authorities.”

Authorities first became aware of the plot when a man, who had been approached about participating, tipped off Seattle police.

The tipster than agreed to work with authorities, and the FBI began monitoring their activies, videotaping and recording conversations.

“Driven by a violent, extreme ideology, these two young Americans are charged with plotting to murder men and women who were enlisting in the Armed Forces to serve and protect our country. This is one of a number of recent plots targeting our military here at home,” said Todd Hinnen, Acting Assistant Attorney General for National Security. “The threat was averted by the combined efforts of the federal, state and local law enforcement officers that make up the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force.”

Bulger Makes Court Appearance: Feds Found $800,000 in Calif. Apt. And About 30 Guns

ATF’s Acting Chief Ken Melson Strongly Resisting Stepping Down

Ken Melson/atf photo

By Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com

Replacing Ken Melson, acting head of ATF, could get a little messy.

The Los Angeles Times reports that Melson is “strongly resisting pressure” to step down over the controversy surrounding ATF’s “Operation Fast and Furious”, a flawed program that encouraged gun dealers to sell to straw purchasers with the hopes of tracing them to the Mexican cartels.   ATF lost track of some weapons that showed up at crime scenes.

The paper reported that  Melson is eager to testify to Congress about the extent of his and other officials’ involvement in the operation.

The LA Times said Melson doesn’t  want to be “the fall guy” for the program

“He is saying he won’t go,” one source told the paper.  “He has told them, ‘I’m not going to be the fall guy on this.’ ”

A second source told the paper: “He’s resisting. He does not want to go.”

Andrew Traver, head of the Chicago ATF, has been nominated by the White House to become the head of ATF. But his nomination has been stalled in the Senate because of fierce opposition from the NRA, which insists he’s too anti-gun rights.

Traver met Tuesday with Attorney Gen. Eric Holder. Reports predicted that Melson would be pressured to step down and Traver would become acting director pending the outcome of the confirmation process.

OTHER STORIES OF INTEREST

Congressional Probe into Controversial ATF Gun Program Heads to Mexico

By Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com

The bad publicity for ATF and its “Operation Fast and Furious” program continues to flow.

The Los Angeles Times reports that a congressional investigation, headed by Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), chair of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, is moving Friday to Mexico to probe further into the problematic operation. The Mexican government is said to be livid over the program.

The paper reported the investigation moves south in wake of a new report that two AK-47s sold in Arizona as part of the sting operation were found at the scene of a shootout with the suspected killers of a well-known Mexican attorney.

Operation Fast and Furious has caused a stir inside the Beltway. Some politicians have called for the head of ATF to step down.

The operation in question encouraged Arizona gun dealers to sell to straw purchasers, all with the hopes of tracing the guns to the Mexican cartels. ATF lost track of many of the guns, some which ended up being used in crimes.

The LA Times reported that the Congressional delegation hopes to draw the Mexican government further into the investigation.

To read more click here.

More Details Emerge in Mobster Whitey Bulger Arrest: Bulger Had Plenty Weapons and a “Very Substantial Amount of Cash”

By Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com

More details began to emerge in the Wednesday night capture of Boston mobster James “Whitey” Bulger in Santa Monica, Calif., including the fact the apartment  he was living in with his girlfriend had a variety of guns and a “very substantial amount of cash.”

Richard DesLauriers, head of the Boston FBI, said at a press conference broadcast on MSNBC’s website, that a tip was generated directly from a media blitz this week that focused on Bulger’s girlfriend. The blitz included public service announcements on tv in 14 cities where Bulger, 81, who had been on the lam for 16 years, and his girlfriend, 60, were thought to have ties.

Bulger is accused of killing 19 people and there was a $2 million reward that was offered for information leading to his capture.

DesLauriers said just after 8 p.m. on Tuesday, California time, a tip came into the Los Angeles FBI office. The office passed it on to the Boston FBI command post, which analyzed the tip and found it to be “credible and promising.”  The Boston office then directed the FBI fugitive task force in LA to conduct a surveillance in Santa Monica.

Just after 4 p.m. on Wednesday, the FBI task force began conducting a surveillance on an apartment where agents suspected Bulger and his girlfriend Catherine Elizabeth Greig lived. They were going by the aliases Charles and Carol Gasko.

At 5:45 p.m., agents, using a ruse, lured Bulger out of the home and arrested him without incident.  Agents then went into the home and arrested the girlfriend Catherine Elizabeth Greig, DesLauriers. The Boston Globe reported that Bulger had stashed away hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash in the apartment along with more than 20 firearms.

U.S. Atty. Ortez speaks at press conference/doj photo

DesLauriers said the FBI never gave up.  He said the bureau followed up every lead and tip and when the leads ran out, agents didn’t just sit back and wait for the phone to ring.

“Although there were those who have doubted our resolve at times over the years, it has never wavered,” he said.

He said the tip came in a result of  a media blitz which focused on the girlfriend, Greig.  Authorities did not say specifically whether the tip that came in identified her or Bulger or both.

Watch Press Conference

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