ATF Receives Letter from ACLU After Censorship of Fast and Furious Whistleblower

Posted: Oct 07, 2013 9:55 AM

Editors note: A previous version of this story stated the ACLU is suing ATF over censorship of Fast and Furious whistleblower John Dodson, that is inaccurate. The letter the ACLU sent is request, not a lawsuit. We regret the error.

The Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms has received a letter from the American Civil Liberties Union after censoring ATF Special Agent and Operation Fast and Furious whistleblower John Dodson. Dodson is expected to publish The Unarmed Truth: My Fight to Blow the Whistle and Expose Fast and Furious in January 2014, but has been told his manuscript doesn’t meet ATF’s “outside employment guidelines.”

“The backstory of how Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry was killed by guns under ATF surveillance ignited national debates over gun policy, border security, whistleblower protections, and the techniques deployed in Operation Fast and Furious. Agent Terry's death and the law enforcement techniques it helped to expose attracted attention from the press, Congress, and the Justice Department Inspector General's office. But now that one of the agents involved in the operation wishes to add his version to the public record on Fast and Furious, he has been forbidden from doing so by the very agency that sparked this national policy debate. We believe that both the procedures used to support ATF's publication denial, as well as the prohibition on Agent Dodson's manuscript itself, run afoul of constitutional protections for public employees,” a letter from ACLU Attorneys Lee Rowland and Mike German to ATF Deputy Director Thomas Brandon states.

After drafting a manuscript detailing Operation Fast and Furious, Dodson submitted a request for outside employment on his own time, that request was denied by Deputy Ethics Official Greg Serres in August 2013. Dodson was told supervisors can deny outside employment “for any reason.” The reasons given to Dodson specifically relating to his manuscript included predictions of “negative impact on morale” and a “detrimental effect [sic] on [ATF] relationships.”

“The denial letter states that ATF rules allow supervisors to refuse outside employment requests ‘for any reason’ (emphasis in denial letter). This policy grants supervisors in the chain of command boundless discretion to censor employee speech and deprive employees of the opportunity to understand- much less challenge- acts of censorship. Nor does this policy limit the reasons for denying a publication request to legitimate employment-related injuries; it grants supervisors the discretion to censor critical speech simply because it annoys the supervisor or embarrasses the ATF. In short, this ATF policy empowers supervisors to deny employees' requests to speak, write, or teach for ‘any’ reason, or for no reason at all. Its unlimited scope is constitutionally impermissible,” the letter from the ACLU states, further adding ATF’s outside employment standards do not meet Supreme Court standards.

Although the book is set for publication, is already on Amazon and has backing from Chairman of the House Oversight Committee Darrell and Issa and Ranking Member of the Judiciary Committee Chuck Grassley, Dodson has been told by ATF supervisors “there will be consequences” if he moves forward. Dodson has been at the center of media reports about the lethal operation in which the United States Government knowingly allowed thousands of high powered firearms to be illegally purchased and transferred to Mexican narco-terrorists south of the U.S. border, resulting in the 2010 murder of Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry and the murders of hundreds of Mexican citizens. Dodson went public as a whistleblower in March 2011 during an interview with CBS News’ Sharyl Attkisson.

“Operation Fast and Furious has been widely publicized and the involved agencies heavily criticized in both the media and Congress,” Rowland and German wrote. “It is difficult to imagine how further public scrutiny, even if it prolongs official embarrassment, could outweigh Agent Dodson's interest in giving his view on the controversy.”

The intimidation and retaliation against Dodson up to this point from the Department of Justice and ATF for exposing Operation Fast and Furious has been fierce and calculated. Dodson has been screamed at by supervisors in front of other agents for speaking out, reassigned and even had his weapons taken away while on duty without cause. Dodson was punished for “jumping his chain of command” by telling the truth about an operation that has left hundreds of people dead. In an effort to deny the operation’s existence, Dodson was smeared by former ATF Acting Director Kenneth Melson when he told the Baltimore ATF Field Division in early 2011 that Dodson was simply a “disgruntled” employee and eluded to him being a nutcase. Senior officials in the Department of Justice have repeatedly implied Dodson is a liar. In an effort to silence him, Dodson was put under the control of ATF Public Affairs Chief Scott Thomasson, who made it clear in witness accounts he didn’t care if gunwalking allegations were true, he wanted to “f*&%” Dodson and other whistleblowers, regardless of the wrong doings of the bureau as a whole throughout the operation. After being put under internal investigation by ATF, Dodson was cleared of any wrongdoing earlier this year.

The ACLU is urging ATF to approve Dodson's request for outside employment and to rewrite its outside employment policies in compliance with the First Amendment.

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