Note: As often stated before, a civil servant, a GS1 to a GS21.5
does not make these policy decisions.
Then-ATF chief blamed subordinates for Fast and Furious
Richard A. Serrano Tribune Washington Bureau Arizona Daily Star |
Posted: Monday, December 26, 2011 12:00 am | Comments
WASHINGTON - In a confidential deposition with congressional
investigators, the then-head of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco,
Firearms and Explosives blamed agents, field supervisors and even his
top command for never advising him that for more than a year, his
agency allowed illegal gun sales along the southwestern U.S. border.
The deposition, which was taken in July and was recently obtained by
the Washington bureau, shows that Kenneth E. Melson was irate. Even
his chief intelligence officer at ATF headquarters was upset with the
operation, dubbed Fast and Furious, but did little to shut it down,
Melson complained. "He didn't come in and tell me, either," Melson
said. "And he's on the same damn floor as I am."
But B. Todd Jones, Melson's replacement as acting director of the
agency, said in an interview that Melson allowed overzealous field
agents and supervisors to go beyond approved tactics.
Pointing out that the ATF has had five acting directors in the last
six years, Jones said the resulting weak management structure has
given some field agents a license to operate independently of
"There was a vacuum. Fast and Furious went off the rails, and there
were plenty of opportunities to pivot so none of this would happen,"
Under the program, devised to help agents follow weapons from gun
stores to Mexican cartel leaders, about 2,000 firearms were lost. Two
were found after the killing of U.S. Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry
last December. Hundreds more were recovered after violent crimes in
"Anybody, including Mr. Melson, who waits for things to happen or
waits for information to come to them, that is something I personally
am not a believer in," Jones said. "I'm a believer in management by
walking around. If you're not hearing it, you seek it out. And there
are a lot of ways to do that other than sitting in your corner office
waiting for memos to come in."
Melson was transferred to a lower-level job at the Department of
Justice on Aug. 30. Jones, the U.S. attorney in Minnesota, was
appointed by Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. as the new acting
At Holder's request, the Justice Department's inspector general began
investigating Fast and Furious in February, a month after the
controversial operation in the ATF's Phoenix field office came to light.
Jones expects the inspector general's report early next year. He said
he will immediately refer it to the ATF's Office of Professional
Responsibility for recommendations on job terminations or
suspensions. "We sure will" be making some quick personnel decisions,
Jones has visited about a fourth of the ATF's 25 field offices and
has brought in six new top managers. He said he is also working
closely with Justice officials who oversee the ATF. "It's been tough
on people, tough on morale. And yet I think we are pulling the car
out of the ditch."
In his deposition, Melson said that the lack of management oversight
went beyond his own agency to the Justice Department.
Once Fast and Furious broke into public view, Melson said, Justice
officials strenuously objected when he wanted to disclose everything
to Congress. "We were floating the idea and asking them to allow us
to do that," he said. But he said he was told "it is a long-standing
policy of the Department of Justice that we don't talk about ongoing
Justice officials said they were never told about the Fast and
Furious tactics and cite ATF internal emails as evidence.
Hours after Terry was killed south of Tucson, David J. Voth, the ATF
group supervisor for Fast and Furious in Phoenix, sent an email to
lead Agent Hope A. MacAllister. He titled the email, "no more rose
"If you have not heard, a Border Patrol agent was shot and killed
here in Arizona," he told her. "The trace came back to Fast and
Furious...Ugh...! Call as soon as you can, things will most likely
"I'm a believer in management by walking around. If you're not
hearing it, you seek it out. And there are a lot of ways to do that
other than sitting in your corner office waiting for memos to come in."
B. Todd Jones, Kenneth E. Melson's replacement as acting director of
the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives
Read more: http://azstarnet.com/news/national/govt-and-politics/then-