The controversy surrounding Operation Fast and Furious, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives’ (ATF) plan to allow firearms to cross the Mexican border in the hope of tracking down drug lords, continues to haunt the agency. The White House has said it will not comment while the official investigations into the operation are being carried out by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee and the Justice Department Inspector General, but rumors are circulating that the embattled agency could be brought down in the aftermath.
“Now, with ATF Acting Director Kenneth Melson hobbled by the scandal over Operation Fast and Furious and by indications he’s at odds with senior Justice Department officials, many are saying a breakup of the storied agency could just be a matter of time,” POLITICO reported, citing interviews with “former ATF employees and advocates on both sides of the gun control debate.”
The real issue with ATF is that it lacks a permanent Director, the article read: “The agency… has been without a permanent director for nearly five years.” Appointees to the position that need be approved by the Senate are not, as each has been heavily opposed by the National Rifle Association (NRA).
“I think something like (a break-up of the agency) is likely to happen,” Paul Helmke, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence told the news site. “Unless they take some action to give it a director, it’s inevitable it’s going to have to get to that stage. It cannot continue the way it’s going now… Right now, ATF is so weak it’s amazing.” Helmke went on to say that Congress seems to “like a weak ATF.”
The Congressional investigation has revealed the agency’s lack of communication with other, related government agencies, such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). Melson testified that ATF did not know that some of the Operation’s targets had dealings with FBI agents.
“We have very real indications from several sources that some of the gun trafficking ‘higher ups’ that the ATF sought to identify were already known to other agencies and may have been paid as informants,” House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) and Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) wrote Tuesday in a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder, the article reported.
“I don’t think (ATF) should exist. The investigations should be subsumed within the FBI, and the licensing could be done by Treasury, which is a tax-collecting agency,” Jim Kessler of Third Way, a centrist Democratic group, told POLITICO.