Whistleblowers to Corrupt ATF Head: Don't Threaten Us

Katie Pavlich

7/20/2012 8:00:00 AM - Katie Pavlich

Late Wednesday evening, Chairman of the House Oversight Committee Darrell Issa and Senator Chuck Grassley sent a letter to Acting ATF Director Todd Jones asking him to clarify the following remarks:

“… if you make poor choices, that if you don’t abide by the rules, that if you don't respect the chain of command, if you don’t find the appropriate way to raise your concerns to your leadership, there will be consequences. …”

"Disciplinary process."
 

 

Issa and Grassley aren't impressed. From the letter they sent him:

If courageous whistleblowers within the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF/Agency) had  not come forward to Congress, the tactics used in Operation Fast and Furious might never have come to light. By providing Congress key information about the shortcomings of Fast and Furious, these whistleblowers put their careers on the line to prevent reckless operational tactics from ever being employed again and to make sure the family of murdered Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry got the whole truth about their son's death. On numerous occasions, we have stressed to ATF and the Department of Justice the importance of protecting whistleblower disclosures and preventing retaliation against whistleblowers.

We recently reviewed a video message you sent to ATF employees on July 9, 2012. In this message, entitled "ChangeCase #8: Choices and Consequences," you stress to ATF employees that "if you make poor choices, that if you don't abide by the rules, that if you don't respect the chain of command, if you don't find the appropriate way to raise your concerns to your leadership, there will be consequences..." The essence of whistleblowing is reporting problems outside of an employee's chain of command when the chain of command has failed to address them. In fact, for a disclosure to be legally protected, it is often necessary for the employee to report the wrongdoing to someone other than his or her supervisor.

Your ominous message--which could be interpreted as a threat--is likely to have a major chilling effect on ATF employees exercising their rights to Contact Congress. Therefore, it needs to be clarified.

You must remind ATF employees about their right to talk to Congress and provide Congress with information free and clear of agency interference or retaliation.

ATF whistleblowers Jay Dobyns and Vince Cefalu are also hitting back against Jones' remarks. Both Dobyns and Cefalu, agents with more than 20 years of experience in the bureau, expressed concerns about unethical behavior to their superiors and nothing was done. Cefalu founded CleanUpATF.org back in 2009 in order to give ATF agents across the country an anonymous place to expose corruption within ATF without fear of retaliation. His website is where Operation Fast and Furious was first exposed. Dobyns worked undercover for two years within the Hells Angel gang, risking his life for ATF, and is now being punished by the bureau for speaking out against supervisors who ignored death threats against himself and his family.

"Many ATF agents have confronted the corruption and abuses for years. We provided documentary evidence to the Attorney General, Office of the Inspector General, Office of Special Counsel and members of Congress in writing. We were ignored until people died. We are still being ignored by Mr. Jones and a handful of his executive staff. Most, if not all of the agency's failures could have and should have been prevented. It's a sad day for the future of a great bureau," Cefalu tells Townhall.

"I adhered to all the demands that Jones insists on the Changecast #8 following ATF’s ignoring death and violence threats against me and my family (multiple and over the course of years) – chain of command, ombudsman, internal affairs, internal grievance. I was ignored for years but ultimately did receive a whitewashed internal investigation that resulted in the Deputy Director advising me that ATF did nothing wrong. Only then did I blow the whistle to the OIG, OSC and Congress. They investigated the identical allegations and found that ATF was entirely in the bad and corrupt. Those conclusions were delivered to the President and Attorney General Holder. They were delivered before Fast and Furious started and named the identical people responsible for Fast and Furious. The wrong doer’s were defended and protected. ATF’s first act of retaliation against me for that was to recall the backstopped identifications that ATF themselves issued to me and my wife to protect our personal information. I was forced to expose all of that information, previously concealed, to public databases. Four months later my home was burned to the ground in an arson with my family inside and narrowly escaping. The next act of retaliation was when the Fast and Furious ringleaders (again, pre-Fast and Furious mind you) ignored all the evidence and advice of investigators and tried to frame me as the arsonist, and thus someone willing to murder his family. Further, they have lied under oath about their actions. ATF and our attorneys got their backs. I again followed Jones’s Changecast #8 instructions – chain-of-command, Ombudsman, internal affairs, grievance – and I was again told ATF did nothing wrong. In fact the Deputy Director and ADFO received my personal message/complaint to them and were told by ATF’s attorneys not to address my complaint and not to have any contact with me. The wrong doer’s were again defended and protected and again, this was before Fast and Furious! Thus, my lawsuit. Thus, contact with the media. Thus, my national interviews. For those who want to say that they don’t agree with my public argument, learn the facts, that I did follow all of the internal mechanisms and got zero attention. Walk a step in my shoes let along a mile. Mine has never been about airing ATF’s dirty laundry. It has only been about that when following the Changecast #8 demands you will get no action or attention regardless of the circumstances, regardless of how serious or grave. You will be ignored," Dobyns says.

"Look, it is a historically established, unassailable fact, repeatedly validated ad nauseum, that the senior management of ATF is corrupt, and that it is official Bureau policy to viciously smear and ultimately annihilate any "field"-level employee who does not put his head down and toe the company line. This latest video from B. Todd is just a natural, entirely consistent cog in ATF's continuum of ruling through fear and intimidation, even in the face of direct Congressional warnings prohibiting such conduct. ATF's repressive, lawless, self-serving management culture is imprinted in the agency's DNA. It would be essentially impossible to alter such an insidiously virulent corporate inertia without implementing a wholesale cashiering of virtually all of the organization's top, mid-level, and in some cases, even lower management. What ATF did to Jay Dobyns, among others, is a national disgrace, in addition to being flagrantly unethical, unlawful and inexcusable. I believe it perfectly fair and accurate to say that there are at least 5 ATF executives who should, if there is any justice in this nation, serve substantial jail sentences for perjury, obstruction of justice and other serious criminal offenses in direct connection with the events giving rise to the lawsuit filed by Dobyns. The thing is, Dobyns already has far more irrefutable evidence than he needs to prevail, and if ATF/DOJ Legal is stupid enough to go to trial, Dobyns is going to win a huge judgement, and ATF will once again be humiliated in the national media.
They can't even do the wrong thing right," an administrator wrote on CleanUpATF.org.

Cefalu sent certifed mail letters as "requests for immediate and sweeping oversight of the U.S. Department of Justice and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives," to multiple members of Congress on his own dime about ongoing corruption and whistleblower retaliation within ATF and the Department of Justice, nothing was done. The letter was signed by 16 ATF agents including himself. UPDATE: Cefalu sent the letter in 2007 and 2009 to ATF Acting Director at the time Kenneth Melson and sent it to Attorney General Eric Holder's electronic suggestion/complaint box on DOJ.gov.

These are just some of the many examples the letter outlined:

The following are examples of practices which have now divided this Bureau and are the motivation for this direct action:

Multiple findings of discrimination against senior ATF managers which have gone completely undisciplined or disciplined in a manner not consistent with the standards applied to the line agents and employees.

False documents and testimony submitted by or ignored/supported by ATF Chief Counsel’s office to include falsification of evidence and perjury. Failing to comply with Open Records Act and lawful court ordered demands for documents and testimony. The refusal by ATF Chief Counsel’s office to provide truthful and factual counsel to the Executive staff continues to create costly litigation for the employees and wasteful litigation and costly settlements for the Bureau. The consistent failure of ATF counsel to report significant violations of policy and law by ATF managers to appropriate authorities i.e. OPSRO and the OIG, allows the patterns and practices to continue.

The use of internal affairs to conceal ATF manager’s ethical and/or criminal violations regularly includes lackluster investigations and/or only cursory investigations when Senior management officials are implicated. The failure to pursue allegations against ATF managers when they are supported by documentary evidence is common practice. Refusal to open investigations against ATF managers is the standard response. It is common-place to withhold or delay OIG findings or interviews related to senior managers when discipline or more severe consequences would be warranted. Chief Counsel’s Office, Internal Affairs, ELRB and senior management facilitates the timely retirement from the Bureau of managers who are known to have committed significant violations of policy or law. This effectively shields them from perjury or sworn testimony harmful to the Agency. Internal Affairs conducts hyper-aggressive investigations related to whistleblowers and or EEOC complainants. OPSRO fails to conduct transparent investigations for the purpose of covering up gross mismanagement and abuse of authority by senior managers. The obstruction of justice and perjury by senior ATF managers has been ignored.

ATF EEOC Directorate blatantly and willfully disregards statutory timelines (often in excess of 300 days) creating artificial delays within the process and forcing unnecessary litigation and litigation expenses to complainants causing a Bureau wide chilling effect on potential complainants. With the support and guidance from Chief Counsel’s office, the EO office and the Agency withhold evidence or deny its existence until such evidence has been proven to exist by the complainants. Management witnesses are thoroughly interviewed while witnesses identified by the Complainant are ignored or retaliated against later. Reports of Investigation are improperly documented. The no fear act is ignored and manipulated within the Bureaus hierarchy.

Multiple violations related to the validated threats against Special Agents have resulted in extremely expensive and unnecessary litigations at taxpayer’s expense. In these instances, the Bureau’s history of retroactively attempting to destroy the agent’s reputation and discredit the agent’s honorable service were employed through Chief counsel, Personnel Office and Internal Affairs. Personal attacks on the professional contributions as well as psychological attacks were employed. Multiple and punitive transfers to create hardship upon these agents when complaints were logged destroyed not only the agents but their families. Families have been splintered through multiple punitive transfers, health complications are created within the families and often financial devastation is the result.

Counsel’s office has consistently stated this strategy is the Bureau’s position to supervisory classes to send a message and discourage complaints. The agency failed to act, acted in bad faith and in several cases ignored policy and safety procedures knowingly. When the threatened agents challenged ATF management, they launched a campaign of personal and professional attacks and retroactive destruction of the complainant’s reputation to discredit the complaints. In most cases no negative documentation existed prior to the complaints. The devastation to the families is undeniable. An attack is carried out against an agent and the Agency does not respond with even one agent. The Special Agent in Charge ensures no ATF assets are directed at investigating or protecting the Agent’s family. A veiled attempt to name the Agent as a suspect was undertaken by management as a matter of reprisal for his prior whistle blowing activity.

The Bureaus second most powerful manager Deputy Director Edgar Domenech, himself filed a whistleblower complaint and publicly stated that the Bureau of ATF has a propensity for reprisal and he “knew” such actions would result in career suicide. This institutional pattern of fear does not create a transparent law enforcement agency and blatantly violates the No Fear Act. It should be noted that there are many dedicated and professional managers within ATF who have or have wanted to act ethically and professionally, only to suffer the same abuse as the field agents. Supervisors are transferred back to headquarters, demoted or their successful careers impeded at the hands of vindictive senior managers. It is unconscionable that such courageous Agents and Supervisors should be governed by such a hostile and pervasive institutional mandate of fear.

It is important to point out that ATF field agents have very little confidence in the decisions being made by ATF supervisors/those in command. A recent internal ATF survey showed ATF has an "honesty and integrity" problem. The survey also showed agents do not believe ATF as a bureau has effective or fair leadership.


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It has been well documented that ATF and the Department of Justice have a habit of retaliating against whistleblowers exposing corruption. In the case of Operation Fast and Furious, retaliation against whistleblowers has been rampant. Since the scandal broke more than 18 months ago, ATF Special Agent John Dodson, Peter Forcelli and Vince Cefalu have faced harassment from inside the agency for their efforts to expose the truth about the lethal scandal and for "jumping their command chain" to do so. Chairman of the House Oversight Committee Darrell Issa and Senator Chuck Grassley have repeatedly warned ATF and DOJ not to retaliate against whistleblowers, reminding officials whistleblower retaliation is against the law. Issa took things a step further in November 2011 by introducing legislation to bolster the Whistleblower Protection Act.

 I write to request your assurance that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) will not retaliate against witnesses who have provided information to this Committee. I make this request in light of the fact that on June 15, 2011, in a hearing before the Committee entitled "operation Fast and Furious: Reckless Decisions, Tragic Outcomes," three veteran ATF special agents gave testimony highly critical of the ATF. They should not face reprisals of any kind for their testimony. No other ATF employees who cooperate with Congress should face retaliation either.

The Committee relies on whistleblowers to conduct unvarnished and thorough oversight. Witnesses who choose to cooperate with the Committee must be confident that they can provide information without fear of punishment.

 



Three weeks ago we learned an ATF supervisor allegedly wanted to "f--k these guys" and take whistleblowers exposing the scandal down.

In an eye witness account, ATF Chief of Public Affairs Scott Thomasson was none too pleased allegations of gunwalking during Operation Fast and Furious had gone public in the Spring of 2011. He allegedly stated, "All of these whistleblowers have axes to grind. ATF needs to f--k these guys," and "we need to get whatever dirt we can on these guys and take them down"

When Thomasson was asked about the allegations against him of whistleblower retaliation were true, he allegedly said he "didn't know and didn't care," according to Oversight Committee investigators. Grassley and Issa are concerned because two of the main Fast and Furious whistleblowers were placed under Thomasson's supervision. Thomasson was part of crafting the response to Grassley's initial inquiry about gunwalking allegations in early 2011. The official response to Grassley's inquiry came in the form of the infamous February 4 letter flat out denying gunwalking tactics were used that was so full of falsehoods and misleading statements, it was withdrawn.

Just last week Jones said ATF was "moving on from Fast and Furious." Moving on because the scandal has been exposed in full? No. Moving on because all subpoened documents surrounding Fast and Furious have been turned over to Congressional investigators? Nope. Moving on from Fast and Furious because Jones just threatened to retaliate against ATF agents who dare "jump their command" to express concerns? That's what it looks like.


Also, Jones is misleading the country when he says Americans aren't talking about Fast and Furious. A recent CNN poll showed 53 percent of voters approved of contempt charges against Attorney General Eric Holder due to his stonewalling of Congress over the issue. A staggering 69 percent of voters believe the Obama administration should answer all questions about the scandal and that President Obama's assertion of executive privilege in this case was inappropriate.