Posts Tagged ‘ATF’
Thursday, December 23rd, 2010

An agent with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives pleaded guilty on Wednesday to stealing cash during an Oct. 18 drug raid in suburban Cleveland, Scripps Media reported.

Steven Campbell was part of a task force that raided a home in Lyndhurt. The drug suspect told agents he had a couple pounds of marijuana in a blue bag in the garage and between $45,000 and $50,000 under a dresser, Tickle the Wire reported. Campbell, along with at least one DEA agent, found the cash. Campbell began stuffing fistfuls of cash into his pockets, an act that an agent witnessed and told another agent about.

When confronted, Campbell said the only money he had was his personal money. After resisting a search, Campbell was handcuffed. Before ATF agent Ed Dabkowski could search Campbell, the cash fell out of Campbell’s pockets. It was estimated that he took more than $46,000.

The case was prosecuted by the U.S. Attorneys office for the Eastern District of Michigan because the the Northern District of Ohio is recused from the case.

Detriot U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade said, “Just as we hold public officials accountable for wrongdoing, we hold federal agents accountable as well.”

Wednesday, August 4th, 2010

Inspector General Glenn A. Fine (photo by Ryan J. Reilly / Main Justice)

A sense of complacency about potential terrorist attacks involving weapons of mass destruction has developed in the federal government following the Sept. 11 attacks, Justice Department Inspector General Glenn A. Fine told members of Congress Wednesday.

An Inspector General’s report issued last month found that most DOJ agencies were unprepared to respond to a WMD attack and only the Federal Bureau of Investigation has taken appropriate steps to prepare for a potential attack. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) had been in charge of coordinating the department’s response, but many other parts of DOJ were not even aware that ATF was supposed to lead the effort.

“Our report identified significant deficiencies in the department’s preparations to respond to a WMD attack,” Fine told members of the Senate Judiciary Committee Wednesday. “These deficiencies could have disastrous consequences because the use of a weapon of mass destruction poses a serious potential threat to the United States.”

Sen. Benjamin Cardin (D- Md.), who chaired the hearing, called the findings for the Inspector General’s report disturbing.

“We know that terrorists are training every day to launch another attack in the United States, and [the] first line of defense must be to disrupt and prevent a successful terrorist attack,” Cardin said. “But we also have to make sure we are ready and prepared [for] a terrorist attack at home, whether it is from a chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear weapon.”

Cardin said he was concerned that the ATF — the lead agency on DOJ’s WMD response — had made so little progress in preparing for an attack. The hearing came the same day at a new name emerged as a possible candidate to take over ATF.

“There’s a lot of things going on in the Department of Justice,” said Cardin. “But I really want to focus in on how we’re going to implement this.”

Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) — the only other senator to attend the hearing — said the depth of the department’s commitment to the issue was “highly questionable.”

Fine said he believes the Justice Department is taking the report’s findings seriously and taking steps to remedy the deficiencies.

Associate Deputy Attorney General James A. Baker. (C-SPAN)

Associate Deputy Attorney General James A. Baker, who also testified Wednesday, called Fine “dogged”and said he expects the Inspector General’s office will hold DOJ’s feet to the fire.

Baker said Acting Deputy Attorney General Gary Grindler and others in DOJ leadership were not happy to read the results of the report and had prioritized the issue.

“The Acting Deputy Attorney General has been clear: The crush of other business is no excuse. The Department must review and resolve the issues identified by the Inspector General,” Baker testified.

Grindler established the Emergency Preparedness Committee, which Baker chairs. That committee, said Baker, has been meeting all summer and will issue a final report by Oct. 10.

Attorney General Eric Holder said shortly after the report was issued that the Justice Department would deal with the issue “very quickly.”

Responsibility for the government’s WMD response is dispersed among too many agencies, said Randall J. Larsen, chief executive officer of the WMD Center, a non-profit research organization he founded with former Sens. Bob Graham (D-Fl.) and Jim Talent (R-Mo.).

He noted that more than two dozen officials had a piece of the WMD puzzle. Larsen suggested that the Vice President should be designated as the point person for coordinating the government’s response.

“There’s no head coach,” Larsen said. “Nobody is in charge.”

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Wednesday, August 4th, 2010

The Justice Department is proposing new regulations aimed at cracking down on the diversion of legal tobacco products onto the illegal market. The new regulations would expand a cigarette trafficking law, the Contraband Cigarette Trafficking Act, to cover smokeless tobacco, set up new reporting requirements and lower the minimum number of cigarettes required for a shipment to constitute illegal smuggling.

(photo by Flickr user jpaudit / Creative Commons)

Organized crime and international terrorist groups including Hezbollah and al-Qaeda have links to illegal tobacco trafficking, according to investigations by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) and other law enforcement agencies.

ATF would have an expanded mandate under the new rules, which were proposed in the Federal Register last week. The proposed rules would impose new reporting requirements on companies that have delivery sales of more than 10,000 cigarettes.

They also would make it a crime for any person knowingly to ship, transport, receive, possess, sell, distribute, or purchase in excess of 10,000 cigarettes without paying state taxes. The previous definition of contraband cigarettes applied to purchases of more than 60,000 cigarettes.

The regulations would extend the law to apply to contraband smokeless tobacco, defined as any quantity above 500 single-unit consumer-sized cans or packages. Smokeless tobacco seized under the law could be either used in law enforcement operations or destroyed under the new guidelines.

The regulations would allow state and local governments or anyone with a federal tobacco permit to a bring civil lawsuit against companies and distributors who violate the law.

According to the Justice Department, billions of dollars in tax revenue are lost each year because of illegal tobacco trafficking. Since the enactment of the Contraband Cigarette Trafficking Act in 1978, cigarette smuggling has grown in complexity. Smugglers are not only crossing state borders, but international borders as well, ATF said.

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Thursday, May 27th, 2010

Wednesday wasn’t a good night for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. Several frustrated agents presented the agency as a place where speaking out against wrongdoing can be career suicide in a segment titled “ATF Under Fire” which aired on the CNN show Anderson Cooper 360.

Headquarters of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (photo by Ryan J. Reilly).

CNN’s report aired longstanding complaints about retaliation within the agency at a time when violence and gun trafficking on the Mexican border is a major focus for lawmakers.

The star of the segment was California-based ATF agent Vince Cefalu, a 24-year veteran of the force, who told CNN he gets paid $150,000 per year plus benefits to do nothing all day. He claimed that he was blacklisted after he reported an illegal wiretap plan on a 2005 racketeering case. ATF disputed Cefalu’s illegal wiretap claims and said he has had performance issues.

The network gave a video camera to Cefalu and asked him to document his work over five days. Footage showed he spent his time watching television, surfing the Internet, making personal phone calls and grabbing lunch at Taco Bell. His do-nothing job is punishment, he said, for speaking out against ATF.

Hiram Andrades, a supervisor in ATF’s Washington field office who has a pending discrimination complaint, said that working at ATF is “almost like being in an abusive relationship, actually. It’s almost like domestic violence, really. It’s just you think things are going to improve with each director, you think things will get better and improve, but they don’t.”

Andrades said the type of retaliation at ATF “isn’t good for the agency, it’s distracting and it’s not good for the American people. We need to make better use of our tax dollars. We need to use it for the mission versus this kind of stuff.”

“It appears that complaining at ATF can be career suicide,” said CNN correspondent Abbie Boudreau.

Acting ATF Director Kenneth Melson, in an interview with the network, disputed that there was a systematic retaliation problem within the agency. “I will not stand for retaliation against people who are abiding by our orders and reporting violations of law or regulations.”

Since fiscal 2005, ATF paid $1.6 million to settle discrimination claims, more than the $1.3 million paid out by the much larger Federal Bureau of Investigation, according to CNN.

CNN also reported that ATF Associate Chief Counsel Eleanor Loos told supervisors at an Atlanta meeting that she considers the Equal Employment Opportunity process a “bitching platform” for employees and bragged that the process could be dragged on for three years. The statement was obtained from ATF supervisor Rafiq Ahmad, but ATF spokesman Scot Thomasson told CNN that the comments were taken out of context and that Ahmad was presenting them in a slanted manner.

The White House has struggled to find a permanent chief for the agency, which hasn’t had a permanent director since 2006. ATF’s unpublished strategic plan for fiscal 2010 through 2016 layout plans for it to focus on violent crime and leave terrorism investigations to the FBI.

CNN host Cooper added that Cefalu had received calls from two investigators at ATF headquarters in Washington once previews for the special began airing. A follow-up segment on ATF will air on CNN Thursday night.

Read a print version of CNN’s segment on ATF on their website. Video segments are embedded below.

Monday, May 3rd, 2010

The Justice Department and the Drug Enforcement Administration will play a big part in the Obama administration’s plan to reduce the impact of illegal drugs on the America, according to a draft copy of the 2010 National Drug Control Strategy produced by the Office of National Drug Control Policy.

According to a draft version of the plan obtained by Newsweek, the Justice Department will head up several initiatives aimed at addressing drug trafficking on the Mexican border, combating doctor shopping and working with international partners to stop drugs from entering the U.S. (The link to the PDF of the draft version of the plan was pulled from Newsweek’s website, but a copy is embedded below.)

Under the plan, the Justice Department and the Drug Enforcement Administration will assist states with addressing doctor shopping — where patients seek prescriptions from several different doctors — and shutting down pill mills, which dispense prescriptions with little medical oversight. The agencies also are charged with cracking down on several rogue pain clinics in Houston, Los Angeles and Southern Florida.

According to the plan, DOJ, FBI and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) have produced a large volume of information about Mexican-based drug-trafficking organizations, but the information resides in different databases. Under the plan, the Justice Department will work with other agencies to make sure information from federal databases is accessible to state and local law enforcement officers who work on drug trafficking issues along the border.

The Office of National Drug Control Policy’s plan calls for the full implementation of the Southwest Border Counternarcotics Strategy, issued in June 2009, which was produced by the Office of the Deputy Attorney General and the Department of Homeland Security. The plan calls for increased coordination with local and state agencies, intensified efforts to stop the flow of weapons and money from the U.S. to Mexico and close collaboration with the Mexican government.

Additionally, DOJ’s Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, which administers juvenile mentoring grants, will conduct a new mentoring training initiative for the children of incarcerated parents, specifically aimed at those with drug and alcohol problems. The plan also calls on the Office of Justice Programs to promote diversion strategies, which send drug offenders to alternative programs for substance abuse treatment.

The draft version of the plan, obtained by Newsweek, is embedded below.

National Drug Strategy v2

Tuesday, April 20th, 2010

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) plans to add iPhones to its fleet of communications devices on a trial basis, and may also use products that are “kind of in the blurry zone between a laptop and a more traditional cellular device” such as an Apple iPad or Dell Mini5.

Rick Holgate, the ATF chief information officer, said many ATF agents are mobile and his office supports more than 6,500 laptops — about half with cellular broadband cards — 1,800 BlackBerrys and 180 handheld devices running mobile Windows, reports Federal News Radio.

According to the news report, Holgate says ATF just finished a three-month pilot in which 150 employees used Windows mobile devices to access real-time streaming video. And now, he wants to move to a second test using Apple iPhones.

Many agencies are looking at the iPhone, but it does not meet the federal cybersecurity standards. Holgate says ATF will use the iPhone on its unclassified network.

Over the next year, Holgate said he would like to standardize and reduce the number of total devices but not the capabilities of the devices.

“Over the long term, we want to have a more rational and cost effective set of mobile capabilities,” said Holgate. “Right now we have a lot of laptops, lot of cellular broadband cards and lot of BlackBerrys. And in some cases, the same person has all three of those. It’s a pretty costly model for that one individual and it comes at the expense of someone else potentially not having that type of capability.”

Sunday, April 18th, 2010

Kenneth Melson testifies at a hearing on the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives's budget in March (photo by Ryan J. Reilly).

During a time of increased gun-related violence on the Mexican border, the White House cannot find anyone to fill the position of director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

White House officials say they are having a tough time filling the role because a nominee would likely face opposition from the gun lobby, including the National Rifle Association, reported Newsweek .

In fact, Kenneth Melson, the acting director of ATF, was recently demoted to deputy director because the law limits how long acting chiefs can run federal agencies. Critics say the lack of a permanent director has made the ATF more cautious in its investigations of gun-trafficking rings and firearms dealers, according to Newsweek.

“The message that’s sent to the employees is, ‘You don’t matter,’” said Jim Cavanaugh, who recently retired as the agent in charge of the Nashville office.

But Melson disputed the notion that ATF has backed off big cases. He said the lack of a permanent head hasn’t had “any impact” on the agency’s operations. “I emphatically deny that the agency has stood still,” said Melson.

Main Justice reported last month that an unpublished strategic plan for the agency for the next seven years gives the agency a less prominent role in investigating terrorism – leaving the issue primarily to the FBI. Instead the agency intends to focus on combating violent crime.

Wednesday, April 7th, 2010

Justified began airing on FX this year (FX).

Two new television shows center on Justice Department agencies, and several other productions are in the works. But the degree to which agencies cooperate with the productions varies.

CBS’ “The Line,” set to air this fall, centers on a Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives agent played by Dylan Walsh. Actor Terry Kinney recently joined the production and will play a bank robber who is a poet, philosopher and sociopath.

ATF spokeswoman Ginger Couden said the bureau is not working on “The Line” and that it was not officially approached to work on the production. The ATF does, however, work with a number of production companies that make documentary series about the work of ATF agents, she said.

Justified,” which began airing last month on the FX network, has a “badge agreement” with the U.S. Marshals Service, which allows the show to use the service’s official logo, according to spokesman Jeff Carter.

He said the U.S. Marshals Service has no editorial control over the content of the show, but that a retired deputy U.S. marshal is acting as a technical adviser to the program.

The service also has a badge agreement with “In Plain Sight,” which is entering its third season on the USA network. Carter said the U.S. Marshals Service has worked on a variety of entertainment projects recently, including the documentary-style program “Manhunters,” which airs on A&E. The Marshals have some control over the content of the documentary.

The U.S. Marshals Service also is helping with several movie productions, including “True Grit,” a remake of the 1969 film of the same name that will star Jeff Bridges. A U.S. Marshals Service historian is working with the production crew of that film.

This story has been updated.

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Sunday, March 28th, 2010

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives is getting back to basics and will emphasize its core mission of combating violent crime, conceding the lead role of investigating and stopping terrorism to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, according to an unpublished draft of its new strategic plan.

Headquarters of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (photo by Ryan J. Reilly / Main Justice).

The draft plan, which covers fiscal 2010 through 2016, will focus on ten areas including criminal groups and gangs, and illegal fire arms trafficking, among others.

The previous strategic plan — which covered fiscal 2004 to 2009 — contained a mission statement that said the bureau’s work would seek to “prevent terrorism, reduce violent crime and to protect the public in a manner that is faithful to the Constitution and the laws of the United States.”

But under the new plan, the ATF is taking on a less prominent role in investigating terrorism - leaving the issue primarily to the FBI - as it instead refocuses on combating violent crime.

“The terrorism police in the United States are the FBI, rightfully so, that’s where they should be focused,” said an ATF official who spoke on condition of anonymity because the plan has not yet been finalized. “We believe that our position, the way we best serve this country, is by impacting violent crime.”

The ATF will continue to assist the FBI by providing explosives expertise in, but not leading, investigations that are classified as “terrorist bombings.” That includes incidents tied to recognized terrorist organizations including domestic terrorism such as acts by animal- or environmental-rights extremists. According to ATF, 99 percent of all bombings in the U.S. are not tied to terrorist organizations and fall under its jurisdiction.

“We have a definite role in terrorism and national security, we regulate the tools of the trade,” said the ATF official. “But is our primary mission terrorism? No, it’s not.”

ATF went through a period “terrorism envy” after Sept. 11, the official conceded.

“But our responsibility, post 9/11, is really in the violent crime area,” the official said. “The entire focus of this plan is around reducing violent crime in America and protecting the public from incidents involving guns, explosives and fire.”

To demonstrate the changed focus, ATF has changed its slogan to “At The Frontline Against Violent Crime.” Previously, the ATF billed itself as “on the frontlines in our nation’s war against terror.”

But conflicts between the FBI and the ATF remain ongoing.

A DOJ Inspector General’s audit report issued last October found that the FBI and the ATF were not coordinating their efforts.

In testimony before a House panel last month, Inspector General Glenn A. Fine said the agencies’ explosives investigators would race to the scene of an incident in the hopes of “calling dibs” on a case. As some agents acknowledged to Fine, they believed “possession is nine-tenths of the law.” The Deputy Attorney General is meeting this month with working groups from both agencies to resolve the conflicts.

Priorities Include Gangs, Bombs and Gun Trafficking

The draft of the plan, in the final editing stages, lists ten core functions of the bureau. ATF’s strategic leadership team prioritized six of those core functions under the new plan. Four of the prioritized core functions are mission activities - criminal groups and gangs; explosives bombs, and bombings; illegal firearms trafficking; and fire and arson. Two others are management priorities in the areas of workforce and modernization.

Core functions not listed as priorities under the new plan are alcohol and tobacco; firearms criminal possession and use; firearms industry operations; and explosives industry operations.

Main Justice reported earlier this month that ATF had not yet published a strategic plan, which was supposed to go in to effect at the start of the fiscal year on Oct. 1, 2009. According to ATF officials, over the past two years the bureau has been implementing the strategic goals, even though the plan has not yet been publicly released.

Several trends and new threats have emerged since the last strategic plan, according to the report. The Internet has raised new issues for ATF because it makes it easier for trafficking guns and also makes it easy to access information about building bombs.

“A common trend emerging in explosives and bombing incidents is the increased use of [Improvised Explosive Devices],” according to the report. “The Internet has made the knowledge available to a broader range of the public than ever before, including those who would use that knowledge to commit violent crimes. Many of the materials required to produce an explosive device are common household goods, available with minimal or no regulation.”

ATF plans to prevent such incidents involving homemade explosives by partnering with various law enforcement agencies and preventing the misuse of the materials used to make homemade bombs. They will focus on the means of acquisition and distribution of such materials, according to the strategic plan.

The economic downturn may lead to an increase in arson for profit because small business owners and individuals may be under financial pressure and intentionally burn their properties to collect insurance, according to the plan.

In addition, the trafficking of firearms from the U.S. to Mexico is an increasing problem. ATF has requested to make permanent the new offices it established along the border using stimulus funds as part of the Gunrunner Project.

Measuring Performance Indicators

The new strategic plan is designed to be easy for the average citizen to read and comprehend, the ATF official said. Under the new plan, instead of technical definitions, the congressional budget submissions would read more like report cards with various assignments that add up to an overall grade. A performance index will weight each performance indicator in relation to one of the ATF’s 10 core functions.

“Anyone can look at these and say, okay, these are pretty straightforward statements,” the ATF official said.

According to the draft, the ATF’s Strategic Leadership Team “may change which performance indicators are included in the index at any time, but recognizes that such changes may positively or negatively affect the index.”

The official said the indexed approach is of interest to the Office of Management and Budget and the Justice Department.

A draft of the plan is available below.

ATF Strategic Plan FY 2010-2016 (Draft)

Thursday, March 4th, 2010

The nation’s law enforcement agency responsible for investigating and preventing the unlawful use, manufacture, and possession of firearms and explosives is operating without a strategic plan in place for fiscal 2010. Meanwhile, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives is requesting funding for fiscal 2011 based on a seven-year plan that is still undergoing internal evaluation.

ATF Deputy Director Kenneth E. Melson testifies on the ATF budget for 2011 (photo by Ryan J. Reilly).

Even though ATF’s strategic plan for 2010-2016 was supposed to be in place at the beginning of fiscal 2010 — which began on Oct. 1, 2009 — the bureau has requested $1.16 billion for fiscal 2011 based on the yet-to-be-released goals of that plan.

In broad terms, the 2011 budget proposal presented to Congress in February says that the strategic plan for 2010-2016 is built around the priorities of dealing with illegal firearms trafficking, criminal groups and gangs, explosives, bombs and bombings, fire and arson. Management priorities include the workforce and modernization.

The budget proposal seems to signal that there will be significant changes in the strategic plan — several outcome measurements are set to be discontinued in fiscal 2011, according to the budget proposal. Only a draft version of the strategic plan, not available to the public, has been written so far and is still being finalized, according to an ATF spokeswoman.

But Kenneth E. Melson, the deputy director of the bureau, told Main Justice that the changes signaled in the budget request are just changes in the way ATF plans to measure its performance, and that the new strategic plan would not be a “dramatic change in direction or priorities.”

Meanwhile, Melson was on Capitol Hill Thursday to present the bureau’s fiscal 2011 budget request to House appropriators. Testifying before the House Commerce, Justice and Science Appropriations Subcommittee, Melson advocated making permanent the outposts established with funding from the 2009 economic stimulus package to combat firearms trafficking along the Mexican border. He answered questions on the agency’s budget request for fiscal 2011 and highlighted some of the successes of “Project Gunrunner,” which was set up to combat firearms trafficking along the Mexican border.

As part of the stimulus package, ATF was given more than $10 million to establish additional Project Gunrunner teams in New Mexico, California and Texas. As of mid-February, 190 special agents 145 industry operations investigators and 25 support staffers had been assigned to four Southwest border states as part of Project Gunrunner, an effort that begin in 2006.

House Appropriations Hearing Highlights

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Rep. John Culberson (R-Texas) questions Melson (photo by Ryan J. Reilly).

Gun Enforcement Strategy. Rep. John Culberson (R-Texas), a strong supporter of gun owners’ rights, asked Melson if the Obama administration had passed down any instructions regarding the regulation of firearms.

“At this point we have not received any new direction from them to change our manner of operation,” said Melson.

ATF/FBI Coordination. Under questioning from subcommittee Chairman Alan Mollohan (D-W.Va.),  Melson spoke about the problems of overlap between the FBI and ATF that were highlighted in a recent report from Department of Justice Inspector General Glenn A. Fine.

“I always have a concern — and I hope I’m not speaking out of school – about duplication of responsibilities, because then you do get these, sometimes, clashes of personalities and agencies who may do the same thing in a particular jurisdiction,” said Melson.

Melson also said he was satisfied that the FBI and ATF were making the Gang Intelligence Center a success, but said there was always room for improvement.

Other Budget Questions. Representatives highlighted another problem the ATF is dealing with — converting its paper records to digital form. A manual search for gun records can take several times longer than a digital trace, said Mollohan, because specialists have to search through microfilm records.

“In essence what you’re going through is the microfiche, and you may have a roll that has three or four hundred firearms on it and you literally have to go through, scroll through, and look for a particular firearm. I was absolutely appalled and depressed at what they are going through out there. Literally you see pallets of these records come in, and they’re just absolutely overwhelmed.”

How does your budget address that?” asked Rep. Mollohan.

“Right now, we would be struggling severely to change that,” said Melson.

Another continuing problem is the backlog of pending regulatory actions at ATF, which ATF says is due primarily to a staffing shortage among regulation writers, said Melson.