(NOTE: This letter was edited from its original posted form before mailing to Mr. Traver. The section on R.A. Bear was changed to reflect a more perfect understanding of the actual circumstances of the onset of the ATF's tail-chasing for Mr. Bear. See "The True Story of the Life of 'R.A. Bear': Inception & impregnation into the minds of the ATF via a highly placed snitch named Dan Shea of the NFATCA.")
An open letter to Andrew Traver on the occasion of his appointment to be Director of the ATF.
As the Internet commentator who scooped the rest of the media by announcing your pending appointment back in early July (obviously my sources within and without the ATF are far better than theirs), I would like to take this opportunity to discuss with you some unfortunate truths of the situation you will find yourself in when you take your seat as Director. You will by now have become familiar with my reputation as seen from the perspective of your former superiors on the fifth floor at ATF headquarters and Eric Holder and company at Main Justice. They do have their own opinions, informed mostly by their long, expensive, frustrating and ultimately futile search for a stuffed child's toy named R. A. Bear. You mustn't let all of their prejudices cloud your own judgment. For example, it is a demonstrated fact that my mother and father really were married.
But as "Uncle" Ho Chi Minh once cautioned, "Cherish your enemies for they teach you the best lessons." Try to think of me, for now at least, as your kindly, avuncular Uncle Mike, here to mentor you, to play Devil's advocate as it were, through the opening moves of the toughest job of your life. It is also in some ways the far most dangerous job you have ever undertaken -- and I mean that in all the senses of that word to every American all over the country. So I fervently hope that you will be smart enough to recognize the truth, regardless of whose mouth it comes from.
I'm sorry the administration apparently feels the need to sneak you in the back door by way of a recess appointment, but I'm sure that by now you're becoming aware of the many scandals that the boys at Main Justice don't want you asked about under oath -- and all it takes is one Senator who isn't on board to upset the entire apple cart.
This is not your fault, of course, though I understand that Main Justice was a bit concerned about a few specific details of your career at the long scandal-plagued Chicago Field Division.
No matter. You've jumped the bar and made it -- you are now the latest Acting Director of the ATF, if you keep track of them as they go by, as I do.
I always pay avid attention to the matter of who sits in your chair because up until now -- and at least until the IRS begins enforcing the "Health Care" mandate -- it has been the ATF of all the three-letter federal law enforcement agencies which has demonstrated by its mission and past talent for misadventure (Randy Weaver, Waco, David Olofson, etc.) the greatest aptitude for triggering the next American civil war. I have always taken a keen interest in understanding things that can make me suddenly and unexpectedly dead through no particular fault of my own save ignorance. For the same reason I keep track of neighborhood crime statistics, earthquake fault lines, tornado warnings, the behavior and habitat of poisonous snakes and the approximate location at any given time of my ex-wife so that I may give all of them a wide berth.
But of all of these threats to my existence it is the ATF which has drawn my consistent attention as the greater danger to my life, liberty and property.
Me and Paul Helmke. He tells me all his deepest, darkest secrets -- indirectly.
You know, Paul Helmke of the Brady Bunch is telling his citizen disarmament acolytes that you're "one of us" (them) and that they have every expectation that you are going to use the regulatory power of your new office to focus the entire weight of the ATF to enforce their agenda, even if it means bending or even breaking the law. You are, in their words, "going to push the outer edge of the envelope." Given your previous enthusiastic cooperation with the virulently anti-firearm rights Joyce Foundation, I can understand how they might think that even absent any back-channel conversations with you. They did their very best behind the scenes to get you where you are today so I can also understand how you might feel grateful enough to respond to their dangerous siren song.
And make no mistake, it IS dangerous -- very dangerous. As I wrote Eric Holder some time back when one of your agency's vindictive "economic Wacos" was threatening to turn deadly, there will be no more free Wacos. Don't take my word for it, but check with your analysts and with those of the FBI and CIA. Ask for a complete briefing paper on the Three Percent and the concept of "One Hundred Heads" introduced unexpectedly by an anonymous Marine Corps scout-sniper friend of mine.
These are unprecedentedly dangerous times and your agency has through arrogance, incompetence and both accidental and willful misadventure advanced its own front lines to the crumbling edge of an abyss. The advocates of citizen disarmament, wrongly believing that they have no skin in the game (that is, that they personally risk nothing by your obedience to their agenda) will be urging you to jump into that abyss, at the bottom of which is a ghastly civil war.
Please believe me when I say that it is in the vital interest of every American -- you, me, our children, everybody -- that you do not.
And it certainly need not come to that. Actually, you may be the right man in the right place at the right moment in history to avoid senseless, even unintended, violence on a vast scale.
Just as it took Nixon to go to China and Bill Clinton to accomplish welfare reform, you could take advantage of your unique position to reform the more dangerous habits of your agency.
Look, you know the culture and belief system of your agency as well as I know the culture and belief system of my friends. We call yours, with some justification we believe, "jack booted thugs." You call us "gun worshippers," "gun queers," "barrel suckers," and worse. We don't believe your agency has a constitutional basis to exist. Y'all don't believe that we have a right to question anything you order us to do, no matter how ill-considered, inconsistent or even malevolent it may be. Your employees, especially those of the Chief Counsel's Office, think it perfectly appropriate to misuse the power of their office to wreak havoc on innocent people's lives and families because of their political opinions. My folks think your folks could teach cockroaches some lessons about photo-phobia.
Mind you, even our folks understand that there are honest ATF street agents who chase real bad guys who commit real crimes. In fact, our understanding of your agency is far more informed and nuanced than you give us credit for, or indeed, far more than yours is of us. The ironic thing to those street agents is that they have as much trouble with the senior executive service (especially the Chief Counsel's Office) as they do with hardened criminals on the street and the sort of paperwork-chasing, agenda-driven investigations they are ordered into are really areas that they would prefer not getting into, for they believe such anti-firearm tail-chasing discredits the entire agency.
As the last election and numerous recent polls have demonstrated, belief in the legitimacy of the federal government and its power over the average citizen is at a modern nadir. Is this the fault of the people or the federal bureaucracy?
But it is not necessary to agree on the answer to that question to mutually understand that if the system is perceived by some to be illegitimate and hopelessly corrupt, that these people will take decisions based upon that belief -- decisions that could well lead to violence.
If as a result of studying recent outrages such as the railroading of David Olofson or the punitive "economic Waco" your agency has inflicted for years on Georgia firearms designer Len Savage in retribution for his testimony as an expert witness on behalf of defendants targeted by the ATF, we conclude that the agency is out of control and that -- even in federal court -- the rule of law no longer protects us, then surely you can understand our indifference to the notion that your position protects you.
In my own case, it was Special Agent Jody Keeku's framing of David Olofson which brought me off the benches and into the arena. If now your agency dislikes the results of my renewed attention to the darker recesses of their dungeons they have only Keeku and themselves to blame. To quote the American philosopher Frank Zappa: "Do you love it? Do you hate it. There it is, the way you made it." The Law of Unintended Consequences may be a bitch, but it is iron-clad and not subject to appeal or repeal, nor can it be manipulated, as your Chief Counsel's Office is so fond of doing, by unethical ex parte communication with federal judges.
And if the Founders' rule of law no longer obtains and it is merely naked power we are talking about -- that is to say, the law of the jungle -- then the hunter becomes the hunted and vice versa. Absent a mutual belief in the potency of the rule of law, the hitherto "law abiding citizen" must believe that such a corrupted system is merely a confidence game at his expense and if the law no longer protects him, then he must make his own arrangements. For if, after studying the Olofson case and others, we believe we no longer have the possibility of a fair trial in federal court, we still retain the right to an unfair gunfight with the ATF agents sent to our homes to arrest us on false charges.
That is where we are today. The question is, are you, Mr. Traver, going to reverse your agency's criminal drift under the shadow rule of the Chief Counsel's Office and execute the actual law in daylight under transparent rules and unambiguous regulations with verifiable testing procedures or are you going to embrace the Brady's citizen disarmament agenda and potential future violence?
Only you can answer that question.
On the off chance that you remember the oath you took to the Constitution when you first entered the service -- on the possibility that the law means more to you than an agenda provided to you by your putative sponsors -- in the hope that you are actually as honest and straightforward as you believe yourself to be -- I offer you below the results of my two decades study of the ATF. Just because I believe that your agency should be abolished doesn't mean that it is going to happen anytime soon. I live in the real world and see it with attentive eyes. So I offer these fixes in the interest of correcting the worst abuses of an agency I don't think should exist in the further interest of avoiding or at least postponing violence.
Even if you decide not to do a thing about any of these scandals, however, you should still study the list and possible solutions below. For even if you have no intention of correcting them, you will one day be called to testify under oath about them. Trust me. As sure as God made little green apples, the cockroaches of your agency are no longer in a position to avoid the antiseptic qualities of bright sunshine.
"Dans ce pay-ci, il est bon de tuer de temps en temps un admiral pour encourager les autres." "In this country it is good to kill an admiral from time to time, to encourage the others." -- Voltaire's Candide.
1. Deal with the Chief Counsel's Office incompetent shadow management of ATF. To paraphrase Shakespeare, "first thing you do is fire all the lawyers." For more than a decade the CCO has run ATF as a sorry parade of temporary management came and went. When a new acting director would come in, he would first turn to the guys who "knew stuff" at that rarefied level of ATF headquarters, the Chief Counsel's Office. Problem was, and is, they are not beyond setting up acting directors for a fall to further their own power and agenda (just ask poor Ken Melson) . Simply put, they don't like the competition that a director, a real director, gives them. You may simplify your life by firing anyone even tainted by the present CCO mafia and get some competent attorneys in there who feel bound by the law rather than an agenda. Being loyal to their oaths and to your direction wouldn't hurt either. In any case, the sight of incompetent and/or malevolent CCO lawyers being frog-marched out past the ruins of their government careers will certainly "encourage the others." Morale among the street agents will soar.
2. Once you have the CCO saboteurs out of the way. you can begin to deal with the sorry regulatory mess the ATF has been. First, understand that NONE of the databases your agency relies upon is without huge errors. The National Firearms Registry, the NFRTR, is particularly vulnerable to court challenge as demonstrated in the recent Freisen case. How is it, one must ask, that your agency continues to make new additions to the NFRTR every month when not a single new automatic weapon has been manufactured or imported since 1986? The answer of course is that the NFRTR is hopelessly faulty, and the additions that the ATF discovers in the process of inspections merely paper that over. YET PEOPLE GO TO PRISON BASED IN PART UPON THE NFRTR EVERY YEAR. How you fix this scandal absent another amnesty I do not know. It is your call, but you will continue to waste money on worthless prosecutions based upon it -- and wreck innocent lives -- if you continue to embrace the utter failure represented by the NFRTR.
3. If the ATF is to be an actual "law enforcement" agency, the rules and regulations must be both transparent and unambiguous and supported by verifiable testing procedures. As it stands, the ATF under the shadow rule of the CCO mafia has none of these. Part of this is the ambiguity of the laws you are called to enforce but most of it is simple bureaucratic inertia combined with the CCO desire to be able to argue either way in court, depending upon which they believe will be more likely to convict. The Firearms Testing Branch ought to promulgate clear written procedures that they can defend logically in court with scientific videotaped evidence that can be verified by independent experts. And their word, once given, should not be subject to tampering by enforcement agents, such as happened in the matter of David Olofson, when SA Jody Keeku sent his rifle, which had been determined to be a malfunctioning semi-automatic rifle by FTB back for "further testing" under conditions that guaranteed uncontrolled and dangerous full auto fire. Absent any effective challenge or verification, testing becomes subject to mere agenda-driven opinion and agency convenience, yet through its unchallenged presentation in court becomes law without any basis in demonstrable fact. This is a perversion of science, logic and law. To the extent that you let this scandal fester, the ATF will continue to be despised as a mere force operating under color of law and not a law enforcement agency. Happily you have the perfect man to accomplish this in Deputy Director Melson, for forensics testing and standards are his main meat. Absent the malevolent meddling of the current CCO mafia and given the clear authority to do so, he could probably set this part of your house in order without too much trouble.
4. More so than the NFRTR, the contradictory regulatory Gordian knot that the agency has tied itself in over definitions and lengths of destructive devices and pistol grip shotguns will have to be dealt with. Should you do an amnesty followed by a demand of forfeiture or registration of millions of hitherto unregulated shotguns currently in the hands of law-abiding citizens? Boy will that make a whole bunch of NRA members mad. The NRA management might even be forced out of its symbiotic, go-along to get-along mindset. And if you don't? Why, the Brady folks who now shower you with kisses will cover you with curses, because for them it is not about the law but the agenda -- their agenda. Either way you go, you will discredit your agency with SOMEBODY. Good luck with that.
5. Critics of the agency's missteps are not "enemies of the state." People who try to defend themselves against baseless charges are not legitimate targets for regulatory retribution. You should put a stop to all "economic Wacos" now in progress and forbid any more manipulation of enforcement to avoid embarrassing questions or even uncomfortable legal blow-back for CCO misdeeds. Stop the Don Corleone culture and attempt to make whole the damage it has inflicted on their victims. It is not a crime to be an effective expert witness against the ATF in federal court, nor should gun dealers be targeted for their political opinions. Until the law becomes more important than the agenda to the ATF, your agency will continue to pose a danger to itself and to the peace of the country.
6. The street agents are smarter than the muckety-mucks of the senior executive service, regardless of their pay grade. When the ill-considered Waco raid's cover was blown, it was a street agent who warned that the raid shouldn't proceed. He was ignored, to great loss of life. No one was inconvenienced for that deadly blunder, nor did their ATF careers suffer, unless you count the conscientious agent. To the extent that you give the street agents your own personal leadership and your own personal accountability, your people will take care of you. This is Leadership 101 and common sense, but it has been sorrowfully scarce in all of your recent predecessors. You should also understand that almost all whistleblowers are not bureaucratic traitors but merely honest folks trying to save the agency from the darker demons of the senior executive service's nature. Figure out a way to expedite the resolution of their complaints instead of trying to hide them and you'll be the darling of both parties on the Hill. It may run contrary to all agency history and bureaucratic reflexes, but it is nonetheless true.
ATF "Person of Interest": CPT R.A. Bear, Intelligence Officer, Dogtown Rangers Militia, in one of his many disguises.
7. The cultivation and pressuring of informants, including those at the highest levels of industry associations such as the NFATCA, is doing your agency more harm than good when it is driven not by actual police work in furtherance of the law but by the desire on the part of CCO to root out and make unwarranted criminal cases against people they view as "poisonous weasels." This agenda-driven corruption of the process opens the ATF up to self-discrediting errors such as that represented by R.A. Bear. As best I understand the beginning of the story, the CCO wanted to "get" an honest man whose only "crime" had been to defy them in court. To that end they put pressure on all their snitches to come up with anything. One highly-placed informant, apparently on the hook legally and under pressure himself from the ATF, gave them a name: R.A. Bear, the stuffed child‘s toy of the daughter of another man who the informant despised. What consideration the informant got for providing the name is unknown except to him and your agency. From that point Mr. Bear took on a life of his own, a process which I was honored to assist in. We gave him friends, a life history, we paged him at gun shows and machine gun shoots and, on the orders of the CCO, your agents scurried hither and yon, chasing each and every clue and always coming up empty. CCO lawyers demanded to know about him in discovery depositions, always to be told truthfully under oath, "I know of no such person as R.A. Bear." Now, one day soon, R.A. Bear will be present at a congressional oversight hearing, with full explanation from other witnesses under oath as to how he came to be the focus of an ATF bear hunt. If you want to prevent another such long, expensive, foolish and utterly self-discrediting trackdown at taxpayer expense, you should buy stuffed toy bears and send one each ATF employee this Christmas, as a reminder that when their agenda gets in front of the law and even common sense, you are not going to reward them for it.
8. Finally, your agency and other agencies in the federal government pay the Southern "Poverty" Law Center big bucks for "hate group" orientation. Stop it. They are by now very rich liars for money ($200M plus in assets and the 2009 IRS paperwork of SPLC indicates even a Cayman Islands account), and although they have provided political cover to your agency at critical points in the ATF's history, such as the Good O' Boys Roundup scandal, they are so factually challenged that any "intelligence" they provide nowadays is worthless. You are paying good taxpayer money to propangandize your employees with their agenda. And, as my Michigan farmer Grandpa used to say, they "don't know shit from shinola." I ask you, if we were actually as morally contemptible, intellectually challenged and cartoonish as they portray us with their conflationary propaganda -- or even if we really were just "gun queers" and "barrel suckers" -- could we have successfully made R.A. Bear real and had your agency chasing a stuffed child's toy for the better part of two years?
This gets back to old Uncle Ho's adage, "Cherish your enemies for they teach you the best lessons." The old murdering communist is burning in Hell, but he was right about that. If we are to avoid unwanted violence during your tenure as ATF Director, it is important that we see each others positions clearly and move, when we move, slowly and carefully. And keep your hands where we can see 'em.
Remember in every decision you make that there are now no more free Wacos and the Law of Unintended Consequences still trumps every best-laid plan.
But if you can get your traditionally agenda-driven cowboy agency actually under control and operating according to law, it will go a good way to minimizing the chance of an accidental discharge leading to the next American civil war.
With hope, but not much faith, I look forward to your tenure as ATF Director.
You're going to need it.
In fact, we all are.
The alleged leader of a merry band of Three Percenters.