ATF tries to block book by Fast and Fu­ri­ous agent

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - BY JOHN SOLOMON

The Bureau of Al­co­hol, To­bacco, Firearms and Ex­plo­sives is block­ing the main whistle­blower in the Fast and Fu­ri­ous case from pub­lish­ing a book for pay, claim­ing his retelling of the Mex­ico “gun-walk­ing” scan­dal will hurt morale in­side the em­bat­tled law en­force­ment agency, ac­cord­ing to doc­u­ments ob­tained by The Wash­ing­ton Times.

ATF’s dis­pute with Spe­cial Agent John Dod­son is set­ting up a First Amend­ment show­down that is poised to bring to­gether lib­eral groups like the Amer­i­can Civil Lib­er­ties Union and con­ser­va­tives in Congress who have cham­pi­oned Mr. Dod­son’s pro­tec­tion as a whistle­blower.

The ACLU is slated to be­come in­volved in the case Mon­day, in­form­ing ATF it is rep­re­sent­ing Mr. Dod­son and fil­ing a for­mal protest to the de­ci­sion to re­ject his re­quest to pub­lish the al­ready writ­ten book, sources told The Times, speak­ing only on the con­di­tion of anonymity.

The bat­tle also could have reper­cus­sions on Capi­tol Hill, where the two lead investigators who helped un­cover the Fast and Fu­ri­ous scan­dal, Sen. Chuck Grass­ley, Iowa Repub­li­can, and House Over­sight and Gov­ern­ment Re­form Com­mit­tee Chair­man Dar­rell E. Issa, Cal­i­for­nia Repub­li­can, had writ­ten a fore­word to the book, the sources said.

ATF of­fi­cials de­clined Sun­day night to dis­cuss Mr. Dod­son’s spe­cific mat­ter, cit­ing per­son­nel pri­vacy. But the of­fi­cials said it was pos­si­ble for an agent to be re­jected for pub­lish­ing a book for pay but get per­mis­sion to pub­lish it for free. No manuscript for any Fast and Fu­ri­ous book has re­ceived ap­proval for un­paid pub­li­ca­tion, how­ever, the of­fi­cials said.

Mr. Dod­son was the first ATF spe­cial agent to go pub­lic in 2011 with al­le­ga­tions that his su­per­vi­sors had au­tho­rized the flow of semi-au­to­matic weapons into Mex­ico in­stead of in­ter­dict­ing them, touch­ing off a scan­dal that top­pled most of the top lead­er­ship of ATF in Wash­ing­ton and Phoenix. The con­tro­versy also led to an­gry re­crim­i­na­tions in Mex­ico, which dealt with a wave of vi­o­lent crime linked to the weapons, and high-pro­file con­gres­sional hear­ings that em­bar­rassed the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion.

Mr. Dod­son be­gan pen­ning a book late last year about his role as the cen­tral whistle­blower in the case and in June sought for­mal per­mis­sion for out­side em­ploy­ment that would al­low him to en­gage a publisher and pub­lish the book.

Doc­u­ments show that one of Mr. Dod­son’s su­per­vi­sors in Ari­zona, As­sis­tant Spe­cial Agent in Charge Car­los Canino, re­jected his re­quest July 19 and was backed in the de­ci­sion by the agent in charge of the of­fice, Thomas G. At­te­berry, four days later.

Their re­jec­tion made no claims that the book would re­lease sen­si­tive or clas­si­fied in­for­ma­tion or com­pro­mise on­go­ing law en­force­ment pro­ceed­ings.

Rather, the su­per­vi­sors of­fered a dif­fer­ent rea­son for their de­ci­sion. “This would have a neg­a­tive im­pact on morale in the Phoenix [Field Di­vi­sion] and would have a detri­men­tal ef­fect on our re­la­tion­ships with DEA and FBI.”

The ATF gen­eral coun­sel’s of­fice sub­se­quently sanc­tioned the de­ci­sion, all but killing the book project.

“An em­ployee’s su­per­vi­sory chain may dis­ap­prove any out­side em­ploy­ment re­quest for any rea­son, at any su­per­vi­sory level,” ATF at­tor­ney Greg Ser­res wrote Mr. Dod­son on Aug. 29, un­der­lin­ing the word “any” for em­pha­sis. “The Of­fice of Chief Coun­sel can­not ap­prove out­side em­ploy­ment re­quests in lieu of the su­per­vi­sory chain’s dis­ap­proval.

“There­fore, your re­quest to en­gage in out­side em­ploy­ment is de­nied,” he said.

Sep­a­rately, a top ATF of­fi­cial has been re­view­ing Mr. Dod­son’s manuscript for any con­cerns about sen­si­tive or clas­si­fied in­for­ma­tion, po­ten­tially leav­ing open the pos­si­bil­ity a process by which it could be pub­lished for free, a se­nior law en­force­ment of­fi­cial told The Times.

The gun-walk­ing strat­egy — part of an un­der­cover case called Fast and Fu­ri­ous — vi­o­lated ATF’s long-stand­ing pol­icy to in­ter­dict weapons from straw buy­ers.

In all, ATF of­fi­cials per­mit­ted more than 1,700 semi-au­to­matic weapons to flow through the hands of straw buy­ers for the Mex­i­can car­tels, with many cross­ing the bor­der.

Se­nior ATF of­fi­cials hoped to trace the guns to crimes, then make a big­ger case against the Mex­i­can drug lords. The strat­egy, how­ever, back­fired when hun­dreds of the weapons be­gan show­ing up at crime scenes on both sides of the bor­der, in­clud­ing at the De­cem­ber 2010 mur­der of U.S. Bor­der Pa­trol Agent Brian Terry.

The Jus­tice Depart­ment ini­tially de­nied guns know­ingly had been al­lowed to flow across the bor­der, then months later re­versed course and ad­mit­ted the tac­tic had been used for more than a year. The change in story led to al­le­ga­tions of a cover-up.

The rev­e­la­tions ex­ploded into pub­lic in spring 2011, cat­a­pult­ing Mr. Dod­son and other ATF field agents who had ob­jected into dual in­ves­ti­ga­tions by Congress and the Jus­tice Depart­ment in­spec­tor gen­eral.

Pres­i­dent Obama and At­tor­ney Gen­eral Eric H. Holder Jr. both claimed they knew noth­ing about the strat­egy un­til the con­tro­versy erupted, but the pres­i­dent has in­voked ex­ec­u­tive priv­i­lege to block Congress from see­ing cer­tain doc­u­ments, thus thwart­ing the com­ple­tion of that probe. A court re­cently ruled in fa­vor of Congress in the on­go­ing le­gal dis­pute.

Both the con­gres­sional and in­spec­tor gen­eral in­ves­ti­ga­tions con­cluded that the gun-walk­ing tac­tics were poorly con­ceived and put lives in jeop­ardy. The fall­out forced the ouster of nu­mer­ous top of­fi­cials, in­clud­ing the U.S. at­tor­ney in Phoenix, Den­nis Burke, and the act­ing di­rec­tor of the ATF, Ken­neth Mel­son.

The ATF, un­der new di­rec­tor B. Todd Jones, says it has im­posed sweep­ing pro­ce­dures to en­sure gun-walk­ing doesn’t oc­cur in fu­ture cases.

The book dis­pute with Mr. Dod­son, how­ever, is not the first First Amend­ment con­tro­versy to erupt in the af­ter­math of the scan­dal.

Last year, Mr. Jones raised alarm in Congress and in­side his own agency when he re­leased a video­taped mes­sage that warned agen­cies that there would be “con­se­quences” if agents blew the whis­tle on wrong­do­ing out­side their chain of com­mand.

The mes­sage led to claims that whistle­blow­ing would be chilled, and ATF sub­se­quently clar­i­fied Mr. Jones’ re­marks to em­pha­size that the agency would not in­ter­fere with le­git­i­mate whistle­blow­ing ac­tiv­i­ties.


ATF Spe­cial Agent John Dod­son warned his su­pe­ri­ors of the Fast and Fu­ri­ous in­ves­ti­ga­tion, “I think it’s go­ing to end bad. Are you pre­pared to go to an agent’s fu­neral?” He tells the story in a newly pub­lished book.

New ATF Di­rec­tor B. Todd Jones says his agency has im­posed sweep­ing pro­ce­dures to pre­vent gun-walk­ing.

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