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‘Gunwalker’ Whistleblower: ATF Director ‘Horribly Irresponsible’

Says Vince Cefalu: "[Director Ken Melson is] not taking responsibility for what he's done. At the end of the day he made decisions on behalf of ATF and people died for it." Update: Someone in Congress funded Gunwalker via the stimulus bill.

by
Patrick Richardson

Bio

July 7, 2011 - 5:33 am

One of the original whistleblowers on Operation Fast and Furious — which allowed thousands of guns to cross the border into Mexico — said Acting Director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) Ken Melson’s testimony before congressional investigators on July 4 was nothing but “smoke and mirrors.” ATF Special Agent Vince Cefalu continued:

At this point he’s doing what anyone would do, he’s saving his own ass.

Cefalu is one of the founders of CleanUpATF.org, a message board dedicated to addressing abuses within the ATF. He is one of the most vocal critics of the heads of the organization.

Cefalu was served with a notice of termination just one day after Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), who is chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, and Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA), ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, sent a letter to the ATF warning them against retaliation towards agents who come forward to testify about the operation.

According to a release from Issa’s office, Melson secretly talked to House and Senate investigators with his personal attorney present — former United States Attorney Richard Cullen — and did so without the knowledge of the ATF or the Department of Justice.

Per the letter sent to Attorney General Eric Holder by both Issa and Grassley:

[Melson’s] interview had originally been scheduled through the Justice Department to occur on July 13 in the presence of DOJ and ATF counsel. As you know, however, under our agreement Department witnesses who choose to attend a voluntary interview with their own lawyer are free to exercise that right rather than participate with counsel representing the Department’s interests.

Cefalu questioned the presence of Melson’s lawyer:

Why would he need an attorney, why would you need all this protection if it doesn’t happen (that ATF retaliates against whistleblowers)?

According to Cefalu this is an attempt by Melson to avoid responsibility for the operation which led to the deaths of Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry, Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agent Jaime Zapata, and more than 150 Mexican nationals. New reports now say that guns from Fast and Furious are being found in Arizona, having come full circle from the operation which was based in Phoenix. Said Cefalu:

He’s horribly irresponsible. He’s not taking responsibility for what he’s done. At the end of the day he made decisions on behalf of ATF and people died for it.

Cefalu said the operation was never about actually arresting cartel members for arms trafficking, it was about headlines for the ATF and its upper echelons, more budget, more gun control, and more media attention for ATF:

There’s no Mister Big in Mexico, there’s no … Iron Pipeline. It doesn’t exist.

When everybody is screaming terrorism and counterterrorism no one wants to talk to anyone but the FBI. If there’s gunrunning on the border and thousands of guns flowing into Mexico it’s more headlines for ATF.

It’s fame and glory and grabbing headlines.

Cefalu said the operation was akin to the DEA deciding to track the flow of drugs in a major city by putting tons of high-quality heroin on the streets, then waiting for a rash of overdoses to see which part of the city had the most drug activity.

Meanwhile, emails have revealed that high-level officials within DOJ were aware of the operation, which Attorney General Eric Holder has repeatedly said he only found out about when the story broke.

According to the emails, Assistant Attorney General (Criminal Division) Lanny Breuer, Melson, Acting Deputy Director of the ATF William Hoover, DEA Administrator Michele Leonhart, and Director of the FBI Robert Mueller were all aware of the operation.

It defies belief that Holder was unaware of the operation, and it is highly unlikely that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Homeland Security Chief Janet Napolitano were unaware of an operation that had both national security and international relations implications. It seems increasingly likely there will be multiple resignations as a result of this investigation and possibly criminal prosecutions.

Update: Someone in Congress funded Gunwalker via the stimulus bill.

Patrick Richardson has been a journalist for almost 15 years and an inveterate geek all his life. He blogs regularly at www.otherwheregazette.com, which aims to be like another SF magazine, just not so serious.
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