Moving The Deck Chairs On The Titanic

The new Acting Director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearm, and Explosives announced a reshuffling of headquarters staff in a press release today. There are some demotions such as William Hoover and Mark Chait and a lot of lateral transfers.

ATF Acting Director Jones Announces New Staff Assignments

WASHINGTON – The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) Acting Director B. Todd Jones today announced key staff changes aimed at refocusing the bureau’s direction on its core mission.

“I have assembled a team to move ATF forward in its mission to fight violent crime and protect the American people, and to ensure that an experienced and strong staff is in place to implement that mission,” Jones said. In addition, he thanked all newly reassigned ATF officials for their service and praised their flexibility and willingness to take on the tasks at hand.

Jones was appointed by U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder recently to lead ATF following the departure of former Acting Director Kenneth Melson. The leadership change followed the reassignment of several other ATF officials within the agency following concerns raised about Operation Fast and Furious, a firearms trafficking investigation out of Phoenix now under review by the Office of the Inspector General (OIG). While today’s changes are geared toward refocusing ATF under a new acting director, additional staff reassignments may be warranted at the conclusion of the OIG’s report.

Under the changes announced today by Jones, ATF executive staff will be reassigned as follows:

  • Thomas Brandon will become Deputy Director. He most recently served as Special Agent in Charge of the ATF Phoenix Field Division. Prior to that assignment he was the Special Agent in Charge of the ATF Detroit Field Division from January 2008 to August 2011.
  • W. Larry Ford will become Assistant Director of the Office of Field Operations. He most recently served as the Assistant Director of the Office of Strategic Intelligence and Information. Prior to that assignment he was the Assistant Director of the Office of Public and Governmental Affairs from December 2004 to August 2010.
  • Gregory Gant will become the Assistant Director of the Office of Public and Governmental Affairs. Most recently he was assigned to the Office of Public and Governmental Affairs as the Deputy Assistant Director. Prior to that he was the Special Agent in Charge of the ATF Atlanta Field Division from August 2008 to August 2011.
  • James McDermond will return to Assistant Director of the Office of Strategic Intelligence and Information, the position he held before most recently serving as Assistant Director of the Office of Public and Governmental Affairs. He was the prior Assistant Director of the Office of Strategic Intelligence from 2004 to August 2010.
  • Julie Torres will become the Assistant Director of the Office of Professional Responsibility and Security Operations. She most recently served as Deputy Assistant Director of the Office of Field Operations – East Region. Prior to that she was the Special Agent in Charge of the ATF Miami Field Division April 2004 to June 2008.
  • Theresa Stoop will become the Assistant Director of the Office of Human Resources and Professional Development. She most recently served at Special Agent in Charge of the ATF Baltimore Field Division from November 2008 to September 2011. She had also served as Chief of Staff for a prior ATF director.
  • Mark Potter will become the Assistant Director of the Office of Management. He most recently served as Deputy Assistant Director of the Office of Field Operations – West Region. Prior to that he was the Special Agent in Charge of the ATF Philadelphia Field Division March 2003 to July 2011.
  • William Hoover will become Special Agent in Charge of the ATF Washington Field Division. He had served as Deputy Director from May 2009 to September 2011. Prior to that he was the Assistant Director of the Office of Field Operations.
  • Mark Chait will become special agent in charge of the ATF Baltimore Field Division. He had served as assistant director of the Office of Field Operations from May 2009 to September 2011. Prior to that he was deputy assistant director of the Office of Field Operations – Central Region.
  • Vivian Michalic will become the Deputy Assistant Director of the Office of Management and will remain the Chief Financial Officer for ATF. She was the Assistant Director of the Office of Management from September 2010 to September 2011, and had served previously as the Chief of Staff for a prior ATF director.
  • Melanie Stinnett will become Deputy Chief Counsel of ATF. Most recently she served as Assistant Director of the Office of Professional Responsibility and Security Operations. Prior to that she was Assistant Director of the Office of Management and chief financial officer from January 2006 to May 2010.

Not all of these choices are being received with happiness at CleanUpATF.org. For example, whistleblower Special Agent Vincent Cefalu had this to say about Larry Ford, the new Asst. Dir. of the Office of Field Operations.

He has to know that W. Call me Larry Ford was run out of PGA because no one on the hill would talk to him and his credibility is shot in Congress. Factor in his multiple signed lies to Congressional inquiries, and the fact that he was THE Assistant Director of Intel at the MOST critical stages of Fast and Furious and didn’t utter a peep.

UPDATE: Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) released a statement on the reshuffling last night.

“The reassignments are positive, especially in the case of Tom Brandon who I hope can help lead this agency out of its troubles. But, I caution that rearranging the chairs on the deck, won’t make Fast and Furious go away. I also question the timing of this announcement. There is a lot of effort at the Justice Department to spin the fact that the Attorney General was less than candid before the House Judiciary Committee, and what better way to make that go away than a bureaucratic shuffle. There are a lot of questions that remain to be answered and actions that need to be explained.”

I Can’t Believe An ATF Official Actually Said This

Julie Torres is the Deputy Assistant Director for Field Operations (East) with ATF. On Monday she sent out an open letter to all Federal firearms licensees regarding the September 11th anniversary.

The letter warns FFLs to exercise “increased awareness and vigilance” as September 11th approaches. While ATF has no specific threat information, they obviously believe that gun shops would be targets for terrorists seeking weapons.

After giving links to publications on safety and security and after reminding dealers that they have a legal obligation to report losses to both local law enforcement as well as ATF, Ms. Torres includes this statement:

Any time you spot suspicious activity associated with your Federal firearms license, please contact your local ATF field office immediately.

In light of the behavior of ATF officials in Project Gunwalker I find this highly ironic. Dealers did contact ATF immediately in both Texas and Arizona when they were faced with dubious buyers making suspicious purchases. They were ordered by the ATF to let those sales go through even though they were going to what obviously were straw purchasers.

So, Ms. Torres, you may want to reevaluate your choice of words in the future. Or better yet, cooperate with the dealers when they are asking you for permission to reject suspicious sales.

ATF Acting Director Todd Jones Interviewed By Minnesota Public Radio

The new ATF Acting Director B. Todd Jones was interviewed by Minnesota Public Radio today. Jones, who is also the U.S. Attorney for the District of Minnesota and who will continue in that position, was asked if he would like be considered for the position on a full-time basis. He gave an emphatic no in response.

Jones says he plans to take the pulse inside the agency, refocus its energy on law enforcement priorities, and bring stability to the agency.

“They haven’t had a confirmed director at ATF in almost six years,” Jones said. “I will be the fifth acting director at ATF and that lack of stability takes its toll on an organization and I go into this knowing full well that there’s a lot of work to do.”

The full interview can be heard by clicking on the embedded link below.

Melson Out At ATF

The Department of Justice released this just a bit ago announcing that Kenneth Melson is being reassigned outside of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives and that the U.S. Attorney for the District of Minnesota B. Todd Jones is being appointed the Acting Director. At the same time, DOJ has announced that Dennis Burke, the U.S. Attorney for the District of Arizona is leaving. More on that in another post.

It is interesting to note that Todd Jones will serve as both U.S. Attorney for Minnesota and as Acting Director of ATF. I would have thought they would have learned their lesson about a part-time Director after the experience of Michael Sullivan as both U.S. Attorney in Massachusetts and Acting Director of ATF. They didn’t seem to work out too well.

Department of Justice Announces New Acting Director of ATF and Senior Advisor in the Office of Legal Policy

WASHINGTON – The Department of Justice today announced the appointments of U.S. Attorney for the District of Minnesota B. Todd Jones to serve as Acting Director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) and ATF Acting Director Kenneth Melson to become Senior Advisor on forensic science in the Office of Legal Policy (OLP).

“As a seasoned prosecutor and former military judge advocate, U.S. Attorney Jones is a demonstrated leader who brings a wealth of experience to this position,” said Attorney General Eric Holder. “I have great confidence that he will be a strong and steady influence guiding ATF in fulfilling its mission of combating violent crime by enforcing federal criminal laws and regulations in the firearms and explosives industries.”

Jones will continue to serve in the capacity of U.S. Attorney when he assumes the role of ATF acting director on Aug. 31, 2011.

A veteran of the Justice Department, Jones has served as U.S. Attorney for the District of Minnesota under two presidential administrations. He first served from 1998 to 2001. He was nominated again in 2009 by President Obama and has been in that role since being confirmed that year.

In 2009, the Attorney General appointed him to serve as chair of the Attorney General Advisory Committee (AGAC), a group of U.S. Attorneys appointed to advise the Attorney General on policy, management and operational issues affecting U.S. Attorneys’ Offices throughout the country. Jones previously served as a member, vice chair and chair of the AGAC from 1999 to 2001.

During his several years as a federal prosecutor, Jones conducted grand jury investigations and has been the lead trial lawyer in many federal prosecutions involving drug trafficking, firearms, financial fraud and violent crime.

Throughout his career, Jones has served as a partner with Robins, Kaplan, Miller & Ciresi (2001-2009); a partner with Greene Espel, PLLP (2001; 1994-1997); First Assistant U.S. Attorney for the District of Minnesota (1997-1998); and Assistant U.S. Attorney (1992-1994).

Following admission to the Minnesota bar, Jones went on active duty in the U.S. Marine Corps, where he served as both a trial defense counsel and prosecutor in a number of courts martial proceedings.

Jones received his B.A. from Macalester College in 1979 and his J.D. from the University of Minnesota Law School in 1983.

Melson will join OLP on Aug. 31, 2011, in his new role as senior advisor where he will focus on issues relating to policy development in forensic science.

“Ken brings decades of experience at the department and extensive knowledge in forensic science to his new role and I know he will be a valuable contributor on these issues,” said Attorney General Holder. “As he moves into this new role, I want to thank Ken for his dedication to the department over the last three decades.”

He is a past president and distinguished fellow of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences, and currently participates on behalf of the department on the American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors/Laboratory Accreditation Board. He has been an adjunct professor at George Washington University for almost 30 years teaching both law and forensic science courses.

Melson was appointed acting director of ATF in 2009. Prior to that, he was director of the Executive Office for U.S. Attorneys and served several years in the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia.

Melson received his B.A. from Denison University in 1970 and his J.D. from George Washington University in 1973.

CNN also has a report up on this move which repeats the info from the DOJ release and adds some old info about Project Gunwalker.

Politico is also reporting on this move and have a reaction from Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), Chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, who has been spearheading hearings into Project Gunwalker.

In a statement Tuesday, Issa said “the reckless disregard for safety” by the Justice Department “certainly merits changes” in personnel.

But the committee will continue to investigate Fast and Furious “to ensure that blame isn’t offloaded on just a few individuals for a matter that involved much higher levels of the Justice Department,” Issa said. “There are still many questions to be answered about what happened in Operation Fast and Furious and who else bears responsibility, but these changes are warranted and offer an opportunity for the Justice Department to explain the role other officials and offices played in the infamous efforts to allow weapons to flow to Mexican drug cartels.”

Splitting Hairs

In an article posted yesterday evening, Richard Serrano of the L.A. Times writes that the ATF is denying that William McMahon, William Newell, and David Voth were given promotions.

The federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives said Wednesday that three supervisors in its controversial Fast and Furious gun-trafficking investigation were transferred to lateral jobs, not promoted.

“They did not receive salary or grade increases, nor did they assume positions with greater responsibility,” the agency said in a short statement.

The Times reported Tuesday that William G. McMahon, William D. Newell and David Voth, three key supervisors in the Phoenix-run investigation that went awry, were promoted to management positions at the ATF’s Washington headquarters.

This is splitting hairs. Both McMahon and Newell have Senior Executive Service status and I’m guessing that Voth is a GS-14 at the minimum. The base pay for SES positions is $119,554 and the bottom rate for a GS-14 is $84,697. This does not take into account the extra amount GS-14s get paid for being located in Washington, D.C. as opposed to the boondocks.

If you or I had so royally screwed up in our jobs that people got killed, we would have been fired if we were lucky. If we weren’t lucky, we’d be looking at either a lawsuit or jail time.

So Explain To Me The Rationale Behind The Multi-Rifle Reporting Requirement In The Southwest

Mike Vanderboegh pointed out a story from McAllen, TX this morning.  It featured comments by Special Agent in Charge Robert R. Champion made to the KRGV.com. In it he said:

“You have guys that are money man, one guy is in charge of getting the straw purchasers,” he says.

Champion says the ATF is now seeing a change in the way the cartel operates. Instead of buying weapons locally they’re getting them from all over the country and using the drug routes in reverse to get them back to Mexico.

“The straw purchasers will come back to the guy that gave them the money. He accumulates the firearms. Another individual comes as the transporter to pick up the firearms and move them to different locations,” says Champion.

Champion then adds that “the ATF can’t do much to stop the transport” once it is in the smuggler’s hands.

If the theory behind the new ATF reporting requirement for sales of certain semi-automatic rifles that went into effect on August 14th in the four Southwestern border states was that the straw purchases were happening there and the reporting requirement would let ATF intercept these illegally purchased firearms quicker, then doesn’t what SAC Champion has to say undercut the entire rationale?

I have been told by drug enforcement detectives working here in western North Carolina that most of the meth sold here comes from Mexico by way of Atlanta. They rarely find meth labs anymore. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand that the same route drug traffickers use to bring the meth to the mountains can also be used to bring a truckload of AKs back to a safe house in McAllen or DelRio or Brownsville. With meth being an equal-opportunity drug, the traffickers could just as easily use Joe Bob or Earl or Bubba instead of one of the local Latinos to make the straw purchase at Pawn World.

Moreover, doesn’t concentrating so-called enforcement in one area or region just encourage the traffickers to spread out and get more discrete about it? In other words, by focusing on McAllen or Phoenix or other Southwestern areas, hasn’t the DOJ and ATF just pushed the crime to other areas of the country?

It would be nice if the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee brought SAC Champion in to testify about trafficking in his neck of the woods. He might have learned a thing or two about gun walking while he was a Group Supervisor earlier in his career in Phoenix. And while they are at it, they might want to ask him about his role in the botched raid in Waco.

This Will Give The Authors Of The ATF Shotgun Importability Study The Vapors

The bureaucrats of the ATF’s Firearms and Explosives Industry Division released a report in January concerning the importability of certain shotguns.The study contended that certain shotguns would not meet the sporting test for importation despite being used extensively in USPSA and IPSC competitions.

Following this review, the working group determined that certain shotgun features are not particularly suitable or readily adaptable for sporting purposes. These features include:

(1) Folding, telescoping, or collapsible stocks;
(2) bayonet lugs;
(3) flash suppressors;
(4) magazines over 5 rounds, or a drum magazine;
(5) grenade-launcher mounts;
(6) integrated rail systems (other than on top of the receiver or barrel);
(7) light enhancing devices;
(8) excessive weight (greater than 10 pounds for 12 gauge or smaller);
(9) excessive bulk (greater than 3 inches in width and/or greater than 4 inches in depth);
(10) forward pistol grips or other protruding parts designed or used for gripping the shotgun with the shooter’s extended hand.

Although the features listed above do not represent an exhaustive list of possible shotgun features, designs or characteristics, the working group determined that shotguns with any one of these features are most appropriate for military or law enforcement use. Therefore, shotguns containing any of these features are not particularly suitable for nor readily adaptable to generally recognized sporting purposes such as hunting, trap, sporting clay, and skeet shooting.

The Tromix Mini 12-gauge Saiga AK Shotgun reviewed in the video below has at least five of the “evil” characteristics as determined by the ATF study and it has a short barrel to boot. Oh, the horror!

If you want Tromix Lead Delivery Systems to build one of these for you, you’ll have to pony up at least $1385 (probably more) plus your own Saiga 12. You will also have to wait until 2012 to take delivery as they are booked up for custom builds through the end of 2011.

Despite all the NFA crap that would come with this shotgun, I’d still wouldn’t mind having one. They look like a fun gun to have.

Report From This Week’s Firearms Industry Conference

The 2011 Firearms Industry Importer, Exporter and Manufacturer Conference is currently being held in Reston, VA. The conference started yesterday and ends today. It is sponsored by the NSSF, the FAIR Trade Group (firearms importers), and the National Firearms Act Trade and Collectors Association. This conference brings together experts from ATF with those in the firearms industry. The topics are heavy on compliance rulings, tax issues, and regulations.

I received an email yesterday with an update on what was discussed with emphasis on how it will impact you and me.

First, ATF made a public announcement of Ruling 2011-4. This ruling says that you can turn a pistol into a rifle and then back again into a pistol without violating the National Firearms Act. However, you still cannot turn a rifle into a pistol without ATF’s permission or it will be considered a NFA item. This ruling is not yet up on the ATF website.

Another issue discussed was armor piercing ammunition. Most of the discussion centered on bronze/brass bullets such as those made by Elite Ammunition. The ATF is taking the position that these are armor piercing. However, the NSSF aggressively questioned this stance and ATF concedes that they may need to look at the policy, develop variance policies, and draw up a FAQ on it.

David Codrea, the National Gun Rights Examiner, has run a series of columns this week pushing the ATF Firearms Technology Branch on the potential redefinition of .50 BMG AR uppers as firearms. From my correspondent:

FTB stated that no reclassification has been made and no .50 uppers have been classified at all. Rather, one manufacturer has been requested to submit one of their uppers for evaluation. The reason given was “police concern”, specifically foreign police agencies (or agency).

On a more technical issue related to the industry, brokers who never physically handle a firearm will, nonetheless, be required to have a FFL. This involves brokers who pay one party for a firearm, sell it to another, and never takes possession of it. This would also apply to firearms that never enter the United States if the broker was located in the U.S.

The ATF reiterated their position that all loaded large bore ammo (above .50 caliber unless exempted) is considered explosive for destructive devices. This means that if you have a .577 Nitro Express you are OK because it is considered a non-NFA Curio and Relic. However, if you have a Swiss Solothurn 20mm (see John Ross’ Unintended Consequences), ammo for it is considered explosive.

Regarding the multiple sales of certain semiautomatic rifles in the Southwest border states, ATF is taking the position that rifles equipped with a “bullet button” will not be exempted from the demand letters. The announced requirement applies to semiautomatic rifles in a caliber greater than .22 that have detachable magazines. While California law holds that rifles equipped with a bullet button are not considered to have detachable magazines, ATF is choosing to ignore that.

Finally, it was reported that there was no real movement on a few other issues: the shotgun importability study, a Firearm Technology Branch procedures manual, and the elimination of the requirement for a Chief Law Enforcement Officer signoff on NFA items.

My thanks to Andy from CVAA for the report on the conference.