Thursday, July 19, 2012

A Barely Veiled Warning To Whistleblowers?

US Attorney for Minnesota and Acting Director of BATFE, B. Todd Jones, has been distributing a number of videos called "Changecasts" to BATFE agents and employees telling how he plans to run the agency. His Changecast #8: Choices and Consequences sent out July 9th is below.

The Washington Guardian reports that ATF agents have interpreted it as a warning to the field.
“Choices and consequences means simply 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,” Acting Director B. Todd Jones told the employees in a video distributed July 9 by email and closed-circuit TV and obtained by the Washington Guardian.

The 3 minute, 22 second videotape was the last of eight “Changecasts” that Jones distributed to ATF employees in recent weeks to describe how he planned to run the agency, improve morale and instill a new culture in the aftermath of one of the agency's worst scandals.

ATF officials in Washington and rank-and-file agents told the Washington Guardian that the tape was interpreted by many as a warning not to pursue the path of the Arizona agents who went outside the agency in 2011 and reported concerns to Congress about the bungled Fast and Furious gun probe that let semiautomatic weapons flow to Mexican drug gangs.
Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), Chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, and Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Ranking Member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, reacted strongly to reports of this video and the implied message. They are demanding that Jones provide them a clarification of the intent of his statements by July 25th.
WASHINGTON – Sen. Chuck Grassley and Rep. Darrell Issa today urged the acting director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) to clarify his remarks to employees about reporting concerns within the agency. Grassley and Issa expressed concern that the remarks are likely to chill whistleblowers from reporting legitimate problems and undermine a necessary function for making improvements. The concern is significant because whistleblowers recently put their careers on the line to expose the operational tactics in Operation Fast and Furious that might have led to the murder of Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry.

In a video message released to ATF staff on July 9, 2012, ATF Acting Director Todd Jones says, “… 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. …”

Grassley and Issa wrote to Jones, stating that the essence of whistleblowing is reporting problems outside of an employee’s chain of command, and whistleblowers were instrumental in exposing the shortcomings of the government’s botched gun-walking operation, Fast and Furious. Grassley and Issa wrote to Jones, “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.”

Grassley and Issa also wrote, “On numerous occasions, we have stressed to ATF and the Department of Justice the importance of protecting whistleblower disclosures and preventing retaliation against whistleblowers.”
Their full letter can be read here.

Jones has been doing a dog and pony show along with the Changecasts at various BATFE offices around the country. Agents have been strongly encouraged to attend and to submit questions in advance. Originally they were told that everything would be on the table. A post by whistle-blower Vince Cefalu at puts the lie to the "everything on the table" discussions.
As you may know, our new Acting Director Mr. Jones and select staff are traveling the country holding Town Hall meetings for what they have said is an effort to encourage and improve communication, as well as get input from all of us. And as some of you know, I have had a public presence in questioning and pointing out significant and dangerous practices by management of ATF, and have been used as a public face for other ATF personnel who wanted to remain anonymous involving cases and initiatives which have gone horribly wrong and in more than one instance cost innocent lives. We all know we cannot stand by and let ATF disintegrate, and Congress apparently now knows it too.

You need to know that when the Town Hall was scheduled to come to the San Francisco Field Office, I contacted San Francisco Management staff to advise I would like to participate. We had all been advised in writing by one of the ASAC’s that “All active employees (which I am) are encouraged to attend.” I was also advised that all questions and concerns must be submitted in writing ahead of time, so that ATF would have the questions or concerns by close of business one week in advance. So I submitted my questions. I drove (on my own dime) over 200 miles to attend. At close of business on July 10, (the night before) I was advised I would not be allowed to attend. You may want to know about this action by ATF against one of ATF’s so-called “whistleblowers.” I have said nothing publicly.
As to the theme of the Changecast - Choices and Consequences - it has provoked some discussion on CUATF as well. You may remember that a BATFE confidential informant with a history of violence against women in the Seattle area was arrested for raping and abusing an 18-year old girl. That informant had been ultimately approved by Seattle SAC Kelvin Crenshaw. While the first-level supervisor resigned, Crenshaw is still on the job.
"Choices and consequences" my ass Mr. Jones. Do you have any idea how disingenuous you sound given that YOU BROUGHT KELVIN BACK TO WORK AS A SAC????? Or weren't Kelvin's choices deserving of any consequences? I cannot wait to see you attempt to explain that one while at the same time trying to justify letting your managers suspend every agent who sneezes. Especially those agents involved in exposing your regime's nasty antics. And by the way Mr. Jones, you may want to ask Julie Torres what comments she has made about going after the CleanUp posters. I'm thinking that's probably not going to look too good in the light of day either. Bummer huh Jones?
Finally, Agent Jay Dobyns who became a whistle-blower after he was hung out to dry, his home burned, and his family threatened by the Hells Angels with no protection whatsoever from BATFE, had this to say, in part, about the Changecast and the disfunctional management culture at BATFE.
I saw the Changecast from Acting Director Jones when it was posted. Perception is reality and the perception is that if you don't play by the rules they are coming after you. I agree with that. Trust me, I fully understand ATF consequences. I have suffered under both justified and unjusitified consequences in my 25 years. When I had it coming I took it like a man and didn't make excuses or perjure myself to avoid them. When they weren't justified I didn't roll over and play coward like they wanted me to.

The problem is the whistleblowers I know have all played by the rules and presented complaints to first, second and third level supervisors, the Ombudsmans office, Internal Affiars, the EEOC, the OIG and OSC, Congress and finally the media. None that I am personally aware of immediately jumped tough and put themselves in front of a reporter or camera. What Acting Director Jones does not discuss is the utter lack of interest when whistleblowers follow the rules. He talks as if the process is balanced but the truth is it is a one-way street. You get NO attention or concern until an executive is embarrassed in the media. Not even an acknowlegement of a complaint beyond a boilerplate email - thank you for your interest; we are very concerned; blah, etc.

Lump the Changecast message with the institutional history of ATF retaliations (still ongoing). Then add in guys like Thomasson who openly state their intent to trainwreck whistleblowers (when interviewed on his statement claimed that he "did not know and does not care"). Take the managers in Phoenix who attacked and derailed the lives of honest agents like Forcelli and Canino and have not been held accountable (Thomasson's plan being enacted). And then top it off with a "no oversight" policy for the Office of Chief Counsel who has an undeniable track record of whistleblower ambushes. What does that leave you?
An agency where the fear of speaking the truth will leave you in such a demolished state of career, reputation, family and finance that any agent with a brain cell is going to shut up, keep their heads down, let someone else get their head chopped off, and continue to work on (more like survive) in a culture where no one of influence is willing to hear the truth. ATF's acomplishments have historically been made in spite of our executives, not because of them. Is every executive bad? No. Come on. No one is saying that. But the ones who are, they're out of control bad and the good ones don't do a damn thing to reign in their peers for fear that someday the dirty boss could be their boss and the retaliation could come down on them. ATF executives are masters of playing it safe.

While B. Todd Jones will deny that he intended for his Changecast to be seen as a threat to whistle-blowers at BATFE, the message to the field and to management has come across loud and clear - shut-up. As David Codrea's National Gun Rights Examiner column from Monday makes clear, it is working as other potential whistle-blowers have refused to come out due to fear of retaliation.


  1. If Mitt Romney becomes President, we will need to measure his true grit on 2A - in large part - in how he handles the nightmare that is ATF. They need a complete overhaul to be customer-centric (on the service/FFL/NFA, etc. side) and to become more transparent on the enforecement side. They need strict guidelines to work under, and a GC/IG that is tuned into the rights of the people they lord over.

    I don't want happy talk from Mitt about hunting and the like. I want changes in places like ATF that cause long-term effect within the tentacles of government. I want organizations whose management - from top to bottom - refuse to take the view that civilian gun owners are just "criminals we haven't caught yet."

    This is an acid-test for Mitt, as much as any Supreme Court nominee. More so, because 99.9999% of government regulation and action will never get near the big court. Real change will come from the thousands of civil servants who go to work every day, implementing the demands of their managers.

    That needs to be our test. Not only of President, but also of our legislative. If we fix the minions, we'll never need the court.

  2. John,

    Until Sen Grassley gives Mr Todd a call and asks him, verbatim, 'Who the fuck do you think you are?' (trust me, he won't) there will be no change in the way the ATF works.

    As Maj H.G Duncan said, "All this tact and diplomacy has made liars of us all." God help us.