House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa is warning the Bureau of Alcohol, Firearms, Tobacco and Explosives (ATF) not to retaliate against whistleblowers who contradicted initial blanket denials by the Justice Department over “Operation Fast and Furious” in testimony to Congress.
A June 21 letter from Issa to William Hoover, deputy director at ATF, lists a series of accounts from whistleblowers recounting fears they would face retaliation.
ATF agents testifying before the Oversight Committee at a June 15 said that retaliation was common at the agency for officials who did not toe the company line.
But a deputy for Attorney General Eric Holder said the Justice Department would never strike back at whistleblowers. “The Department of Justice will not, would never, retaliate against whistleblowers,” Assistant Attorney General Ronald Weich said.
In his June 21 letter, Issa tells another story, recounting testimony from four agents saying ATF is “a very retaliatory agency,” in the words of an unnamed “Special Agent Number 3.”
Another agent said he feared being deemed “retroactively incompetent” for coming forward given ATF’s “long and rich history of retaliation.”
Issa says in the letter that one agent who testified to Issa has already faced a suspicious inquiry from ATF’s internal affairs office for “what appears on its face to be a months-old de minimis infraction.”
At issue in Operation Fast and Furious is an apparently reckless investigative strategy by ATF to allow illegally purchased assault weapons and military-grade sniper rifles to “walk” into criminal networks.
Four agents testified in transcribed interviews with Issa’s investigators they were routinely instructed not to intercept weapons they believed to have been purchased illegally for use by Mexican drug cartels.
The agents said the strategy was completely baffling, serving no apparent purpose. Numerous weapons monitored by the operation turned up at the scenes of violent crimes, including two AK-47 rifles found at the murder of Border Agent Brian Terry.