A top Justice Department official scolded the ATF and the FBI for allowing the turf war between the two federal agency to continue, saying that squabbles in the wake of explosives incidents leave local responders confused about who’s in charge as they work to defuse live bombs.
But Acting Deputy Attorney General Gary Grindler told ATF Deputy Director Ken Melson and FBI Director Robert in a memo obtained by TPMMuckraker that he thinks he’s worked out a solution on which both sides can agree.
A report earlier this year by the Justice Department’s Office of the Inspector General found that agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the Federal Bureau of Investigation fought over who was in charge at the scene of explosive incidents.
Under the new protocol laid out by Grindler, the FBI will take the lead in all cases where there is a link to either domestic or international terrorism. ATF had argued that it should have lead-agency jurisdiction for explosives investigations with a link to domestic terrorism, but Grindler decided to only give them jurisdiction in explosives incidents with no connection to any type of terrorism.
ATF will be the lead agency for all explosives incidents where there is “no credible nexus to international or domestic terrorism,” wrote Grindler. The recommendations are the result of meetings between Melson, Mueller, Grindler and senior leaders from both ATF and the FBI, according to the memo.
“We cannot afford to let any uncertainty about roles and responsibilities interfere with a timely and effective response to explosives incidents,” Grindler wrote.
Inspector General Glenn Fine told Congress in February that agents would often race to the scene of an incident in the hopes of calling dibs on a case. Some agents acknowledged to Fine that they believed “possession is nine-tenths of the law.”
Grindler acknowledged that prior efforts to remedy the long standing issue “through protocols and Attorney General memoranda have failed to achieve sustainable, clearly defined lines between ATF’s and FBI’s jurisdiction.”
But the current situation “must be remedied,” wrote Grindler. “Of paramount importance is the need for clearly defined roles and immediate, real-time sharing of information between all relevant law enforcement components so that there is never an incident where actionable intelligence does not get into the right hands because of concerns about which agency will be the lead.”
ATF recently planned to take on a less prominent role in terrorism cases, giving the lead role to the FBI. Discussing a new strategic plan for the organization earlier this year, an ATF official admitted that the agency went through a period “terrorism envy” after Sept. 11, and said ATF’s efforts were best used in the area of violent crime.
Grindler ordered the agencies to jointly finalize a training plan by Nov. 1 and implement it by January. The existence of the memo was first reported by ABC News.