FBI, ATF battle for control of cases | MassCops

FBI, ATF battle for control of cases

Discussion in 'Federal Agencies' started by Big.G, May 11, 2008.

  1. Big.G

    Big.G In Tactical Mode....

    Cooperation lags despite merger five years ago

    By Jerry Markon
    Washington Post Staff Writer
    updated 11:36 p.m. ET, Fri., May. 9, 2008

    In the five years since the FBI and ATF were merged under the Justice Department to coordinate the fight against terrorism, the rival law enforcement agencies have fought each other for control, wasting time and money and causing duplication of effort, according to law enforcement sources and internal documents.

    Their new boss, the attorney general, ordered them to merge their national bomb databases, but the FBI has refused. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives has long trained bomb-sniffing dogs; the FBI started a competing program.

    At crime scenes, FBI and ATF agents have threatened to arrest one another and battled over jurisdiction and key evidence. The ATF inadvertently bought counterfeit cigarettes from the FBI -- the government selling to the government -- because the agencies are running parallel investigations of tobacco smuggling between Virginia and other states.

    The squabbling poses dangers, many in law enforcement say, in an era in which cooperation is needed more than ever to prevent another terrorist attack on U.S. soil. Michael A. Mason, a former head of the FBI's Washington field office who retired in December from a senior post at FBI headquarters, said outside intervention might be needed.

    "A lot of these things require a little adult supervision from the Justice Department or Congress, which will resolve a lot of the food fights these two agencies find themselves in," he said. Mason said that although both agencies "have in their hearts the safety and security of this country," he worries about a potential attack "where the ball got dropped, and it's not going to matter whose fault it was because information wasn't passed or shared."

    ATF's transfer from the Treasury Department to the FBI's home at Justice after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks was supposed to eliminate long-standing tensions between two proud and independent entities, "We thought we'd get more cooperation from two agencies that ought to be cooperating in the war on terror," Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) said of the 2002 law that created the Department of Homeland Security and authorized the merger.

    But the transfer, thrown together in the final stages of the largest government reorganization in a half-century, proved to be a merger in name only. ATF came under the Justice Department seal yet maintained its offices and headquarters. Little thought went into melding the distinctive cultures.

    "It was all slapdash," said a Justice Department official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not an authorized spokesman. "One day you wake up, and ATF is part of Justice."

    The new law not only failed to repair clashing jurisdictional lines, it also expanded ATF's role in domestic terrorism cases, bringing that agency into conflict with the core mission of the post-Sept. 11 FBI.

    Officials from both agencies acknowledged occasional tensions and said they are working hard to protect Americans and ensure smooth relations. They provided numerous examples of cooperation, including the response to bombings in Iraq, the recovery efforts after Hurricane Katrina and the investigation of the Virginia Tech massacre led by state and university police.

    But law enforcement sources describe an unyielding struggle for control of explosives, arson and tobacco investigations that has played out in recent months at the government's highest levels. A dispute over ATF's role in explosives cases, sources said, has helped delay a White House-ordered national strategy to protect the nation from terrorist bombs.

    "Everything that we're doing, they're doing," said one ATF agent not authorized to comment. "It's just a constant battle."

    'Sour relationship'
    More than 30 ATF agents arrived at the smoldering Pentagon the day after Sept. 11, 2001, to help with the largest criminal investigation in the nation's history. The FBI commander threw them off the site.

    Although Arlington County had authority over the scene for the first 10 days after the attacks, the two federal agencies fought over who would take the eventual lead in the investigation, recalled Arlington Fire Chief James H. Schwartz, the incident commander.

    The ATF backed down, but before assuming control, the FBI again excluded some ATF agents from the site. Several frustrated ATF agents cut a fence to get closer and were ejected by U.S. marshals, Schwartz said.

    "The American people are not being best served by this sour relationship and by the lack of efficiency," Schwartz said. "I think there's a huge risk there, especially when you look at it through the lens of terrorism."

    ATF spokesman Robert Browning said ATF commanders told him the fence incident did not happen.

    The clash at the Pentagon laid bare problems between the two agencies that had been brewing for years.

    The ATF, which now has about 2,500 agents, was historically part of the Treasury Department -- it became an independent agency within Treasury in 1972 -- because it collected tobacco and liquor taxes. It has gradually acquired jurisdiction over firearms, explosives and other related crimes.

    The FBI, which today has more than 12,000 agents, has prided itself on fighting violent crime since the 1930s.

    The competition between the FBI and ATF bred mutual suspicion. ATF agents, many of whom are former police or military officers, have long resented their FBI colleagues, who until the mid-1990s were usually higher paid.

    "We fashion ourselves as federal street cops, and we don't try to make things larger than they are," said one ATF agent. "Their job is to see a bigger picture, a global connection."

    As Congress debated the Homeland Security Act of 2002, an FBI memo surfaced that hinted at problems to come. It derided ATF agents as poorly trained and lacking "strategic vision." Although it was discounted by FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III, many in the ATF were outraged.

    The new law turned the rivals into Justice Department siblings but might have deepened their estrangement.

    It's unclear who conceived the transfer, but then-ATF Director Bradley A. Buckles recalled that the Justice Department "seemed like a natural home for us" because ATF had become primarily a law enforcement agency.

    Grassley saw a way to heighten collaboration against terrorism. "I was well aware of the conflict between ATF and FBI, but I thought it would all be put to the side once they got under the same department," he said.

    The Bush administration's first proposal left ATF in the Treasury Department. What ensued was "a mad scramble," Buckles said. "We were just a loose piece that they hadn't figured out what to do with."

    With little fanfare, the final bill transferred ATF's law enforcement functions to Justice while leaving tax-collecting employees at Treasury. But the agents who became part of the Justice Department on Jan. 24, 2003, didn't really move at all. Their supervisors stayed the same, as did their work.

    A few things did change. Congress added the word "explosives" to the name of ATF, which had been the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.

    And the law spelled out that in addition to violent crime, ATF could investigate acts of "domestic terrorism."

    Less than two months later, in March 2003, a North Carolina farmer drove his tractor into a pond on the Mall, keeping police at bay for 47 hours as he threatened to set off bombs. The FBI and ATF both asserted jurisdiction, even though the U.S. Park Police was the lead agency, sources said.

    It was becoming clear that the lack of planning would have consequences. Who would control explosives cases? How involved would the ATF be in fighting terrorism? When is a bombing considered terrorism?

    Within days of the tractor episode, ATF fired a shot in a long series of battles at Justice Department headquarters, documents show. Emboldened by its new name, ATF sought to become the department's primary responder to all of the nation's estimated 3,500 annual explosives incidents and to coordinate the on-scene investigation even for domestic terrorism.

    The FBI, which had always taken the lead on terrorism, fought back. Other disputes flared: Who would train bomb-sniffing dogs and bomb squads, and what would be done about competing ATF-FBI "bomb data centers" -- vast databases used in explosives investigations?

    An August 2004 memo from then-Attorney General John D. Ashcroft decreed that the bomb data centers and most explosives training would be consolidated under ATF and that the agency would train all Justice Department bomb-sniffing dogs.

    On the core issue of explosives, Ashcroft said that if a bombing was terrorist-related, the FBI-led Joint Terrorism Task Force for that area would control the investigation. If it was not, the ATF would take charge, unless the case involved areas such as civil rights that are traditional FBI turf.

    The memo left it up to the task forces to determine terrorist links. In practice, it has meant that both agencies descend on the same crime scenes, often at the same time.

    Continued: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/24549241/page/3/
  2. mpd61

    mpd61 Retired Fed, Active Special

    Kinda reminds me of back when the FBI was trying to tackle the U.S. Marshals when Christopher Boyce escaped federal prison and went on the run in the 80's. Even the White house got involved I read. USM caught Boyce just as he was preparing to flee to Russia in a fishing vessel he purchased with cash from bank robberies. They caught him in Washington State. That case helped justify keeping the USM service autonomous within the DOJ
  3. Inspector

    Inspector Subscribing Member

    USM makes more arrests than all other Fed agencies because most arrests don't grab the headlines. Certain Feds don't want to dirty their suits chasing down parole violators and other less glamorous offenders.
  4. 94c

    94c Subscribing Member

    The Marshalls are more like a warrant squad. They don't investigate any crimes. The ATF and FBI at the local level are completely funny to watch.

    They don't even have blue lights to stop the felons they are chasing.
  5. Kilvinsky

    Kilvinsky I think, therefore I'll never be promoted.

    Let's see, ATF, Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and they've always been responsible for explosives though the name doesn't reflect that. Hmmm, why not give any and all explosives investigations to THEM. I'm sure there's PLENTY of crime to go around and the FBI can easilly find something ELSE to burden themselves with.

    Cooperation, not competition is going to keep this country safe.

    "A lot of these things require a little adult supervision from the Justice Department or Congress, which will resolve a lot of the food fights these two agencies find themselves in," he said. Mason said that although both agencies "have in their hearts the safety and security of this country," he worries about a potential attack "where the ball got dropped, and it's not going to matter whose fault it was because information wasn't passed or shared."

    Right on target.
  6. mpd61

    mpd61 Retired Fed, Active Special

    "Your ignorance makes me ill and angry"
  7. MPD703

    MPD703 Subscribing Member

    OH man....here we go. THis is a bit like the MSP v. local debate/flames. Each federal LE agency has some specialization. FBI tries to do it all and when in doubt everyone in the press talks about the FBI no matter who worked the case.

    As far as USMS they are more like a warrant squad. They do not do a lot of criminal investigations - looking to solve the crime and ID the suspect, but do a huge number of fugitive cases and forfeiture cases. The bulk of the work load is security and dealing with prisoners.
  8. Inspector71

    Inspector71 Duke of Campus Police

    Come on, Not even close. 94C just doesn't like anybody else:eek:
  9. Kilvinsky

    Kilvinsky I think, therefore I'll never be promoted.

    This is the truth. My cousin was a Marshal and did love the job, to a degree. He wanted more to do so he's now with the ATF and working a lot more.

    This is no slam at the USMS, it's a great organization, but as stated, each Federal agency does have specialization and concentrates on that. The FBI does do it all, though Lord knows, maybe it SHOULD relinquish SOMETHING for the sake of saving the lives of United States citizens.

    I had a professor at Massasoit. (Woody, you may know who I mean, but I'm drawing a blank on his name.) He was great, really knew his stuff and despite being the root cause of RUINING my handwriting while trying to take notes, could be very entertaining. He was a retired ATF agent, but dammmit all, he just couldn't sing the praises of 'the bureau' enough, almost to the point of some of us wanting to get up and scream, "HEY! GIVE THE ATF A LITTLE CREDIT WILL YA!?!?!?!"
  10. mpd61

    mpd61 Retired Fed, Active Special

  11. Kilvinsky

    Kilvinsky I think, therefore I'll never be promoted.

    THAT'S THE GUY! His class was always good but like I said, I blame him for my now inability to even print all that neatly. I even tried taping his class and then transcribing the notes. Oy. He had some great stories and was definately a terrific instructor.

    I graduated in 1991, we just missed each other. It only took three colleges and 12 years to finally get my associates degree. If I go back to school in the near future, with my track record, I'll get a bachelors degree by 2031!

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