End FBI-ATF Rift, Senators Urge
Saturday, May 17, 2008; Page A03
Battles between the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives threaten national security and are reminiscent of the poor information-sharing that failed to detect the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, two U.S. senators said in a letter urging Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey to fix the problems.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) and Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), the lead Republican on the committee, said they are "greatly disturbed" by FBI and ATF squabbling that has continued since the agencies were merged under the Justice Department five years ago to coordinate the fight against terrorism.
The agencies have fought each other for control, wasting time and money and causing duplication of effort, according to law enforcement sources and internal documents.
"The lack of coordination poses a direct threat to our national security," the senators said in the letter, which cited an article in The Washington Post that detailed FBI and ATF disputes. "This is reminiscent of the substantial evidence indicating the attacks of 9/11 might have been prevented had the FBI and CIA shared information."
The letter, dated Thursday and released yesterday, calls on Mukasey to tell the Judiciary Committee the "full extent of the disputes between the FBI and the ATF and the steps you are taking to resolve these continuing turf battles." It asks the attorney general "to ensure that resources are not wasted on duplicative programs."
"As Chairman and Ranking Member of the Justice Department's primary oversight committee, we cannot accept the status quo," the senators wrote.
Justice Department spokesman Brian Roehrkasse said the department would review the letter. He also said the FBI and ATF share the same goal of protecting Americans and investigating crime.
"In the five years since they've been in the Justice Department, they've worked together to build a unified law enforcement response to threats presented by criminals and would-be terrorists and are only continuing to improve this coordinated response," Roehrkasse said.
He added that the Post story cited "anecdotal instances" of FBI-ATF problems and "largely ignored the volumes of joint successes" between the two agencies.
An ATF spokesman declined to comment yesterday.
FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III, asked about relations with the ATF after speaking yesterday at a National Press Club luncheon, said "there had been issues over a number of years between ourselves and ATF. That has been reduced dramatically over the last couple of years . . . There are a couple of issues that have to be resolved, and they're on the table to be resolved."
The FBI has refused to consolidate competing FBI-ATF bomb databases and most explosives training under the ATF, even though a 2004 memo from then-Attorney General John D. Ashcroft ordered the agencies to do so. The ATF had long trained bomb-sniffing dogs; the FBI started a competing program.
Mueller did not respond directly to a question about those issues.
According to law enforcement sources and documents, the FBI and ATF have been battling for control of explosives, arson and tobacco investigations, a dispute that has contributed to a delay in a White House-ordered strategy to protect the nation from terrorist bombs. The problems have extended to some crime scenes, where agents have threatened to arrest one another and fought over jurisdiction and key evidence.
FBI and ATF officials have said that agents work together smoothly every day and that problems arising from strong personalities on both sides are invariably worked out.