Ah Spring. That time of year when a senior ATF agent’s thoughts turn to CYA. And so it is with little surprise that we report to you, gentle reader, that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (and sometimes Really Big Fires) summoned all the head cheeses to D.C. for a circle-the-wagons confab earlier this week. We can now report that what spooked the ATF spooks was a report that the Phoenix office Special Assistant Agent in Charge, George Gillett, is cooperating with Senator Charles Grassley’s investigation into Operation Fast and Furious. Or the Gunwalker Project. Or whatever they’re calling it this week inside the Beltway. (My guess would be “Operation Step in a Steaming Pile,” but that’s only a guess.)

Well, Land O’ Goshen, said meeting was suddenly – and inexplicably – canceled. But wait (as they say on infomercials), there’s more!

Special Assistant Agent Gillett has been placed on 30-day leave and they are shuffling the deck (chairs) in middle management. Thomas Brandon has been named the temporary head of the Phoenix office. William Newell (former head of the Phoenix location) has been summoned to the woodshed (D.C.) to prep for his anticipated pantsing and turn as a lord high privy toast rack, courtesy of Sen. Grassley. Special Agent Jim Needles has also been summoned to Washington, possibly as a tag-team partner to Newell.

But the real puzzler: the word on the street has it that after Newell gets called in on the carpet, the ATF bigwigs plan to send him back to Phoenix to oversee the anticipated prosecution of those involved in the gun smuggling debacle.

It is to laugh. The guy’s a material witness, and may well be implicated in the scandal as one of the people that ordered/facilitated/looked the other way regarding the entire mess. And THIS is the guy you want to put in charge of the prosecution? That makes no sense at all.

Unless, that is, that you figure the higher-ups want someone who’s nuts are in their wringer – someone who will be willing to firewall them off from trouble, and find a few peons to pee on so the media can get their pound o’ flesh. Add to this the stonewalling that Grassley’s office is getting from AG Holder and ATF’s Acting Nero-in-Charge, Kenneth Melson, and you’ve got all the cast assembled for one fine bit o’ mendacity.

Pass the popcorn. This is getting good.

9 Responses to ATF Reshuffles the Gunwalker Deck.

  1. Nothing Newell here. The poloticians that screw up stay in power so why wouldn’t they keep someone who screwed up in that position. As for pantsing, No. He’s going to slob knob and kiss @$$ to keep his job by hanging those who followed his orders. DENIAL! DENIAL! DENIAL!………………………………………………….ETC.

  2. ATF will never ever admit they did anything wrong. Ever. Until a judge really has their gonads squeezed they are self proclaimed angels. So the idea of putting the fox in a position of authority over the hen house makes perfect sense. The dogs don’t want us to know anything about there dirty work. that’s an agency that deserves total defunding.

  3. Brad, I keep asking this question on different gun blogs, but it seems like it’s the 800 # gorilla in the room. I have seen a couple of times in the gun rights examiner articles, and Michelle Malkin mentioned it on Fox News, that this all started back in 2008 under President Bush. But no one seems to want to address this, and all of the distain for allowing this to happen falls under President Obama and his DOJ. So what gives, did this start under President Bush or not? And if so, why not the outrage at all parties involved, whether they be left or right? What happened was stupid and wrong, and innocent lives were lost, including a border agent of the United States. Let’s get all of the truth!

    • taurus609 you forget that Fox news and other elements in the conservative right have selective amnesia when it comes to the actions of the George W. Bush administration. Just to list a couple the bailout was under George Bush October 08, the patriot act passed after 9/11 which took away a lot of rights from the average citizen and gave corporate America a boondoggle to stick it to taxpayers in the name of national security. Blackwater and other security agencies working in Iraq and Afghanistan under contract get money from the U.S. i.e. me and you. Thanks to hear from you soon.

      • That’s not entirely true. Glenn Beck spent a good portion of every broadcast, railing against the fiscal policies of the Bush Administration, as well as their national security foibles. He actually got a lot of heat from supporters of the GOP for going after Bush in the way he did.

    • Excellent point. And I don’t have a definitive answer for you – yet. But I’ll do my best to get one.

      I’m not one of those who’s in lock-step with the GOP. I think BOTH parties have screwed us over, in the name of amassing/retaining power. I think that a lot of the mistakes that Bush made have “come home to roost” under Obama (TARP being one of them). That doesn’t absolve Obama (he’d have done the same thing) but it DOES make Bush complicit. The thing to remember is that corruption and wretched excess knows no party affiliation, nor do the GOP or the Dems have the market cornered on coverups. ALL corruption needs to be exposed – remember, we still don’t have any answers on why Border Patrol agents Campion and Ramos were railroaded, and that happened under Bush.

      • Personal opinion, but I think they were railroaded to appease the Mexican Government, and to get the hispanic vote. I can’t for the life of me, understand how and why that happened, so that’s my speculation.

    • The BATF while a government agency, is not under direct daily command of the president, nor would we expect the president to have direct daily micro manager status over every individual agency in the government as there is simply not enough hours in a day to do so.

      Question is, how many of those in control of the fiefdoms within the BATF are old appointees and disciples of anti gun persuasions, or is a history of criticisms and crimes by the BATF a better example of their, BELIEFS?

      Criticism

      ATF during the 2010s
      2011, January. William (Bill) Newell, Special Agent in charge of the Phoenix ATF Office was quoted by ABC News in May 2008 “When 90 percent-plus of the firearms recovered from these violent drug cartels are from a U.S. source (a false statement according to the Department of Justice Office of the Inspector General), we have a responsibility to do everything we can to stem the illegal flow of these firearms to these thugs.”[14] Nevertheless, under Operations “Fast and Furious”, “Too Hot to Handle”, and “Wide Receiver”, indictments filed in federal court show that the Phoenix ATF Office, over protests from the gun dealers and some ATF agents involved, and without notifying Mexican authorities, allowed and facilitated the sale of over 2,500 firearms (AK-47 rifles, FN 5.7mm pistols, AK-47 pistols, and .50 caliber rifles) destined for Mexico.[15][16][17][18][19] Many of these same guns have now been recovered throughout Mexico,[20] and one specific gun is alleged to be the weapon used by a Mexican national to murder Customs and Border Protection Agent Brian Terry on December 14, 2010. ATF denied all allegations.
      2011, January. ATF Special Agent Clifford Posey of the ATF Norfolk, Virginia Field Office was charged and plead guilty[21] to stealing cigarettes and guns in ATF custody. The indictment charged that Posey falsely submitted receipt and release reports to the ATF regarding firearms claiming that several stolen firearms had been returned to the rightful owners or destroyed, when in fact he had them.[22] Posey was immediately placed on unpaid leave.[23]
      2010, May. Former ATF agent Brandon J. McFadden was charged with conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine, cocaine, and marijuana; possessing methamphetamine with intent to distribute; possessing a firearm during a drug trafficking offense and money laundering. McFadden entered a plea of guilty to conspiring to distribute more than 50 grams of methamphetamine. McFadden also acknowledged that he abused his position of trust with ATF in order to help his drug trafficking offenses.[24]
      2010, October. ATF agent Steven Campbell of Cleveland, Ohio, was arrested, charged and convicted with stealing money from a house during a drug raid. Agents confronted Campbell, who was handcuffed and later searched. Bundles of money were found in both of Campbell’s front and back pockets and a sweatshirt pocket. Money also fell out of each of his pant legs.[25] Campbell was immediately put on unpaid leave, and has since been fired.[citation needed]
      2010, October. Nine-year veteran ATF Agent William Clark, was charged with second-degree murder and tried in a 2008 killing of his neighbor Marcus Sukow in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Clark previously intervened in arguments between the couple, but this time, Clark emptied his gun on Marcus, shooting him once in the back and four times in the chest. Defense lawyers made a motion to dismiss the charges on a technicality that the proper procedure was not followed in identifying the body of the shooting victim. The judge dismissed the case with prejudice, meaning he cannot be tried again.[26] The original judge on the case, Brenda Hollar, was forced to recuse herself due to her bizzare courtroom behavior and improper outside discussions of the case with prosecutors.[citation needed]
      [edit]ATF during the 2000s
      2009, December. Russell Vander Werf, Director of Industry Operations (DIO) for Houston ATF (responsible for overseeing inspection of all federal gun and explosives licensees in the area), was arrested while in New Orleans, after damaging a hotel room in Metairie, LA. Damage consisted of disabling the fire alarm and replacing a bedroom door with a piece of plywood with a circular hole cut in the middle, wrapped in gray duct tape (known as a “glory hole)”. The hotel manager had received a call reporting numerous young men entering and exiting the room and “sex noises” coming from the room. Vander Werf admitted that he put the plywood on the door and disabled the fire alarms. ATF confirmed Vander Werf was in the New Orleans area on official business.[27] It has been confirmed that on or about Valentine’s Day, 2011, Russell Vander Werf is being reassigned to ATF Headquarters in Washington.[28]
      2008. Over a 59 month audit period (between 2002 and 2007), in a report dated September, 2008, the Department of Justice, Office of the Inspector General, determined that 76 firearms and 418 laptop computers were lost, stolen or missing from ATF.[29]
      2008, January. Miami ATF sixteen year veteran Senior Special Agent Arnold Smalley III, was arrested and charged with hitting a woman with his car, knocking her down, and leaving the scene of an accident after attempting to run her down again. Smalley was arrested a few blocks away. Smalley claimed the woman jumped on his hood and fell off, police said.[30] All charges were dropped.[citation needed]
      2006. ATF mismanagement and Misconduct by Carl J. Truscott, Director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. An investigation by the Office of the Inspector General (OIG), Oversight and Review Division, revealed that Carl J. Truscott, Director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), mismanaged government funds, committed travel abuse, engaged in improper hiring practices, and created a hostile work environment.[29] Truscott, who had been a Secret Service executive before being named ATF Director, was reported to OIG for investigation by an anonymous letter.[31]
      2002, September. Indianola, Iowa. The chief of the ATF Iowa Field Office, Jon Carl Petersen, was investigated for drunkenly threatening a group of nine teenage pranksters with a loaded gun after chasing them down in his government-owned Jeep Cherokee. Reports showed that police received several calls about a man threatening a group of teenagers with a gun. He was charged with public intoxication and taken to the Warren County Jail. He was released the next day on his promise to appear in court.[32] He was acquitted at trial.[citation needed]

      [ATF during the 1990s

      Two incidents in the early 1990s involved both the ATF and Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Hostage Rescue Team (HRT) and brought criticism to both ATF and FBI.
      1990. The Ruby Ridge Siege began in June 1990. Randy Weaver was pressured by Kenneth Fadeley, an ATF informant, to shorten the barrels on two shotguns and sell these to Fadeley. Weaver maintained the barrels were a legal length, but after Fadeley took possession, the shotguns were later found to be 1/4″ shorter than allowed by federal law, requiring registration as a short-barreled shotgun and payment of a $200 tax. ATF filed firearms charges against Weaver, but offered to drop the charges if he would become an informant. Weaver refused. At his later trial, these charges were determined to be entrapment and Weaver was acquitted. However, Weaver missed a February 20, 1991 court date because U.S. Probation Officer Richins mistakenly told Weaver that the trial date was March 20, and the US Marshals Service (USMS) was charged with bringing Weaver in. Weaver remained with his family in their mountain top cabin. On August 21, 1992 a USMS surveillance team was involved in a shootout that left US Marshal Bill Degan, Samuel Weaver (14), and his pet dog dead. FBI HRT laid siege to the cabin; the next day, Lon Horiuchi, an FBI HRT sniper, opened fire on the Weavers, killing Weaver’s wife, Vicki, and wounding Weaver and a family friend. A subsequent Department of Justice review and a Congressional hearing raised several questions about the actions of ATF, USMS, USAO and FBI HRT and the mishandling of intelligence at the USMS and FBI headquarters.[33] The Ruby Ridge incident has become a lightning rod for legal activists within the gun rights community.
      1993. The second incident was the Waco Siege of the Branch Davidian religious sect near Waco, Texas on February 28, 1993 when ATF agents, accompanied by the press, conducted a raid to execute a federal search warrant on the sect’s compound, known as Mt. Carmel. The Branch Davidians were alerted to the upcoming warrant execution but ATF raid leaders pressed on, despite knowing the advantage of surprise was lost. The resulting exchange of gunfire left six Davidians and four ATF agents dead. FBI HRT later took over the scene and a 51-day stand-off ensued, ending on April 19, 1993, after the complex caught fire, possibly as a result of the HRT’s introduction of flammable tear gas into the compound. The followup investigation revealed the bodies of seventy-six people including twenty children inside the compound. Although a grand jury found that the deaths were suicides or otherwise caused by people inside the building, accusations of excessive force by law enforcement persist.[34] Shortly after the raid, the bureau’s director, Stephen E. Higgins, retired early from his position.
      Timothy McVeigh cited these incidents as his motivation for the Oklahoma City Bombing, which took place on April 19, 1995, exactly two years after the end of the Waco Siege.[35]
      1994. Two ATF supervisory agents, Phillip J. Chojnacki and Charles D. Sarabyn, who were suspended for their roles in leading the botched raid and despite a Treasury Department report of gross negligence, were reinstated in December, 1994 with full back pay and benefits (with a demotion), and had the incident removed from their personnel files.[36]

      ATF during the 1980s

      Complaints regarding the techniques used by ATF in their effort to generate firearm cases led to hearings before Congressional committees in the late 1970s and 1980s. At these hearings evidence was received from citizens who had been charged by BATF, from experts who had studied the BATF, and from officials of the Bureau itself. A Senate Subcommittee report stated that, based upon these hearings it is apparent that ATF enforcement tactics made possible by current federal firearms laws are constitutionally, legally, and practically reprehensible.[37]
      The Subcommittee received evidence that BATF primarily devoted its firearms enforcement efforts to the apprehension, upon technical malum prohibitum charges, of individuals who lack all criminal intent and knowledge. Evidence received demonstrated that ATF agents tended to concentrate upon collector’s items rather than “criminal street guns”.[37]
      Beginning in 1975, Bureau officials apparently reached a judgment that a dealer who sells to a legitimate purchaser may nonetheless be subject to prosecution or license revocation if he knows that that individual intends to transfer the firearm to a nonresident or other unqualified purchaser (Straw purchase). This position was never published in the Federal Register and is indeed contrary to indications which Bureau officials had given Congress, that such sales were not in violation of existing law. Rather than informing dealers of this distinction, ATF agents set out to produce mass arrests based on “Straw purchase” sale charges, sending out undercover agents to entice dealers into transfers of this type.[37]
      In hearings before BATF’s Appropriations Subcommittee, however, expert evidence was submitted establishing that approximately 75 percent of BATF gun prosecutions were aimed at ordinary citizens who had neither criminal intent nor knowledge, but were enticed by agents into unknowing technical violations.[37]
      The Firearm Owners Protection Act of 1986 addressed some of the abuses noted in the 1982 Senate Judiciary Subcommittee report.

      ATF during the 1970s

      1973. Denver, Colorado. ATF Inspector Calvin D. Rahn and immediate supervisor Karl Terlau were indicted and convicted of theft of firearms from ATF custody. These guns were part of a questionable ATF seizure from an individual at a Denver area gunshow. Rahn and Terlau conspired in 1971 to take a quantity of the firearms for themselves. Terlau admitted he later sold a number of these to Lakewood Pawnbrokers in Lakewood, Colorado. Some of the guns were recognized by local collectors which lead to the indictments. Court documents indicate the investigation was “far from extensive”.[38]

      Then again, actions do speak louder than words.

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