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Tag: ATF

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.

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.”

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.

Column: Traver Likely to Become Acting Chief of ATF; Not Likely to Get Confirmed

Allan Lengel

By Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com

Andrew Traver, the man the White House nominated last November to head up ATF,  is in Washington Tuesday to speak to Attorney General Eric Holder Jr.

His arrival comes in the midst of a major controversy — or screw up as some might say — involving ATF’s “Operation Fast and Furious”, which encouraged gun dealers to sell to “straw purchasers” — all with the hopes of tracing the guns to the Mexican cartels.

What’s expected to happen is that Traver, who heads up the Chicago ATF office,  will be appointed acting director of ATF, replacing the acting head Kenneth Melson, who will likely be pressured to resign.

After that, what’s also likely to happen is that Traver will never be confirmed. I could be wrong. But the NRA has launched an aggressive campaign to block his confirmation, claiming he’s very anti-gun rights. The confirmation has been stalled in the Senate.

The Obama White House doesn’t seem to have the appetite for a fight like that. And it’s  not likely to want to spend it’s political capital on Traver — at least not until the 2012 election is over.

So Traver will remain acting chief, certainly past the election. Should Obama win re-election, then he might go for a recess appointment, or just let Traver remain as acting.  Or maybe he’ll find someone who is more acceptable to the NRA, though I think that’s not likely — not if you’re looking for someone to aggressively enforce gun laws.

Unfortunately, acting directors never have the same clout,the same sway as a permanent director.   And just  in case they still have a shot at confirmation, they have to be extra careful as to what they say or what initiatives they launch or who they appoint to executive spots. They can become overly cautious. That can be very stifling and bad for the agency.

But politically, they never want to give Congress ammunition to sabotage the confirmation.

As for Meslon. Well, he was decent guy and a smart one at that. But agents thought the ex-federal prosecutor didn’t really understand the agency culture and the agents’ mindset.

As one veteran ATF agent told me: “A lot of guys thought he wasn’t the best fit. He was a nice man, but at times he could be arrogant. I don’t think he intended to come across that way. I kind of feel sorry for him.”

White House Likely to Replace Head of ATF

ATF's Kenneth Melson /fbi photo

By Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com

The Obama White House  had no intention of keeping Ken Melson, acting head of ATF.

In fact, last November it nominated Andrew Traver, head of the Chicago ATF office, to become the permanent head of the agency.  But the confirmation process seemed to hit a big bump as the pro-gun lobbying groups attacked him, claiming he was hostile to gun owners.

But things may be changing.

Wall Street Journal reporters Evan Perez and Devlin Barrett report that the Justice Department is likely to soon oust Melson. The move would come as  the agency is coming   under sharp attack by some Congressional members for a questionable ATF operation known as Fast and Furious, which encouraged gun dealers in Arizona to sell to straw purchasers — all with the hope of tracing the guns to Mexican drug cartels.

Problem was, agents lost track of the guns and authorities say some of the guns were linked to the murder of Border Patrol agent Brian Terry late last year.

The Journal reported that  Traver is set to travel to Washington on Tuesday to meet with Attorney General Eric Holder and Deputy Attorney General James Cole.

The Journal said the administration is trying to figure out whether it should name Traver acting director or name someone else as “acting” in the interim  while Traver awaits  Senate action.

ATF spokesman Scot Thomasson told the Journal : “Acting Director Kenneth Melson continues to be focused on leading ATF in its efforts to reduce violent crime and to stem the flow of firearms to criminals and criminal organizations. We are not going to comment on any speculations.”

OTHER STORIES OF INTEREST

FOREIGN CORRUPT PRACTICE ACT STORIES OF INTEREST

Report Says ATF Agent Predicted Death and Congressional Inquiry After ATF Launched Controversial Gun Program; Agents Worried Guns Might be Linked to Gabrielle Giffords Shooting

atf file photo

By Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com

One ATF agent told Congressional investigators  that someone was going to die  from ATF’s controversial gun-walking program dubbed “Operation Fast and Furious”, and he predicted the program would become the subject of a Congressional inquiry.

That prediction by agent Larry Alt was noted in a  51-page report released Tuesday Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) and Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Ia.).

It detailed critical comments from four ATF agents made to Congressional investigators about the gun-walking program. The agents worked on the controversial operation that encouraged gun dealers in Arizona to sell to straw purchasers, all with the hopes of tracing the weapons to the Mexican cartels. Some of the guns ended up being used in crimes including in the murder of U.S. Border Patrol agent Brian Terry, authorities have said.

Agents told how they raised grave concerns about the gun program, and were distressed about it all,  but were told to back off.

One agent, John Dodson said, according to the report, that a supervisor was downright giddy that the guns were linked to crimes, saying the supervisor thought it was proof they were on the right track.

“Whenever he would get a trace report back . . . he was jovial, if not, not giddy, but just delighted about that, hey, 20 of our guns were recovered with 350 pounds of dope in Mexico last night. And it was exciting. To them it proved the nexus to the drug cartels. It validated that . . . we were really working the cartel case here,” Dodson said.

The report, released on Tuesday, was part of a blitz this week by Rep.  Issa  and Sen. Grassley to find out information about the ATF program, and to apply more public pressure on the Justice Department and ATF to come forward with information.  Issa, chair of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, held a hearing on the issue on Monday and has scheduled another hearing for Wednesday morning.

“ATF agents have shared chilling accounts of being ordered to stand down as criminals in Arizona walked away with guns headed for Mexican drug cartels,”  Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) said in a statement about the report.“With the clinical precision of a lab experiment, the Justice Department kept records of weapons they let walk and the crime scenes where they next appeared. To agents’ shock, preventing loss of life was not the primary concern.”

“These agents have risked their lives working for the ATF and they’ve risked their careers by coming forward to speak the truth about a dangerous strategy that was doomed from the start,” added Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Ia.),. “The report shows the street agents’ perspective on this risky policy to let guns walk. It should help people who are wondering what really happened during Operation Fast and Furious understand why we are continuing to investigate.”

The report, which is highly critical of the Department of Justice, concluded: “Despite mounting evidence to the contrary, DOJ continues to deny that Operation Fast and Furious was ill-conceived and had deadly consequences.”

The report also said that the shooting of  Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords created a “state of panic” within  the group conducting the operation because it initially feared a “walked” gun might have been used.

Agent  Dodson was also  quoted as saying about the operation:

“But every day being out here watching a guy go into the same gun store buying another 15 or 20 AK-47s or variants or . . . five or ten Draco pistols or FN Five-sevens . . . guys that don’t have a job, and he is walking in here spending $27,000 for three Barrett .50 calibers at . . . walks in with his little bag going in there to buy it, and you are sitting there every day and you can’t do anything, you have this conversation every day.”

“And quite frankly, it is unfathomable to me how both sides or any person isn’t completely livid about what we have been doing here. I cannot see anyone who has one iota of concern for human life being okay with this…,” he added.

The Justice Department on Wednesday pointed to a comment from Atty. Gen. Eric Holder Jr. when first learning of ATF agents’ concerns about the controversial proogram:

“Fighting criminal activity along the Southwest Border – including the illegal trafficking of guns to Mexico – has been a priority of this Administration and this Department of Justice.

“The Attorney General takes the allegations that have been raised by some ATF agents about the Fast and Furious operation seriously, which is why he has asked the Inspector General to investigate the matter. The Department has also made clear to law enforcement agencies and prosecutors working along the Southwest Border that under no circumstances should guns be allowed to cross the border into Mexico.”

Read Report

OTHER STORIES OF INTEREST

Rep. Issa’s Committee Probing ATF Released Sealed Document in Criminal Case

By Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com

In their apparent zest to learn the truth about a controversial ATF program “Operation Fast and Furious”, and generate public pressure,  staffers working for House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) may have gone too far — at least according to committee member Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.).

The website Talking Points Memo (TPM) reported that Cummings fired off a letter Monday to Rep. Issa saying the committee improperly disclosed a sealed document which could have compromised a criminal investigation.

Cummings letter said Justice Department officials met with committee staffers on May 5 and told them they had wrongly released the document sealed by a federal judge.

“Your staff stated that they were unaware that the document was under seal when they disclosed it to the press, but they discovered the breach soon afterwards,” Cummings wrote in the letter to Issa, according to the website.

“At the conclusion of that meeting, and at the request of the Department, your staff seemed to agree that consultation would help avoid such mistakes in the future.”

TPM said an Issa spokeswoman did not respond for comment. TPM noted that the letter came after Cummings warned at a hearing on Monday that there was a “dangerous potential to compromise criminal prosecutions” when congressional committees looked into active investigations.

“Some committees have conducted investigations during open federal prosecutions, but in these relatively rare cases, committees have consulted meticulously with the Department to ensure that their actions do not negatively affect ongoing prosecutions,” Cummings said.

“For example, they have reached agreements to consult with the Department before publicly releasing documents or reports, to refrain from obtaining documents relating to certain sensitive sources or methodologies, and to secure limited information against public release.”

Interestingly, TPM noted that back in 2007 Issa argued that the Oversight Committee should hold off investigating Blackwater until the State Dept. finished its probe. The Dems had pushed for the investigation.

“We’re supposed to allow the administration to do its investigation and then we do oversight,” Issa said at the time, according to TPM. “We’re not investigators.”