The federal agent who blew the whistle on the Fast and Furious scandal is suddenly unwelcome at the very Border Patrol agency he sought to protect.
For months, John Dodson, a special agent at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, has been his agency’s liaison to U.S. Customs and Border Protection in a local office in Arizona.
He also had been widely saluted by border agents and their families for first revealing that weapons that ATF knowingly allowed to cross into Mexico were showing up at murder scenes on both sides of the border.
One of those scenes was the December 2010 fatal shooting of U.S. Border Patrol agent Brian Terry, whose family has publicly thanked Mr. Dodson for coming forward.
But Mr. Dodson was abruptly moved aside Tuesday from his CBP liaison role just hours after it was disclosed in The Washington Times that he had sought the help of the American Civil Liberties Union in his fight to publish a book on the Fast and Furious case.
The ACLU is a frequent legal nemesis of law enforcement, intervening in lawsuits over the privacy and rights of people under investigation. The ACLU has raised concerns about the militarization of police units funded by the Homeland Security Department, the parent agent for the Border Patrol.
“Going to the ACLU was seen as a real poke in the eye of law enforcement, along with wanting to do a tell-all book while still on the job. This was viewed by CBP as crossing the thin blue line,” one law enforcement official told The Times.
A Homeland Security official said Thursday night the request to remove Mr. Dodson from the local CPB office was made by local CPB officials and caught supervisors in Washington by surprise. “This decision was made by agents in the Arizona Joint Field Command (JFC), without consultation or awareness of the command office’s leadership, or Customs and Border Protection headquarters,” the official said, speaking on the condition on anonymity because a personnel matter was involved. “Arizona JFC leadership will be reviewing the decision.”
Mr. Dodson was preparing to head to his post at the Border Patrol agency office in Tucson, Ariz., Tuesday morning when he was informed by an ATF superior in Phoenix that he was no longer wanted at the border office, three law enforcement officials told The Times, speaking only on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the news media about the matter.
The Border Patrol agency told ATF superiors that “they didn’t want the distraction” of Mr. Dodson working at their office now that a controversy had erupted over his book, one official said. Another official said CPB officials called ATF late Monday and requested that Mr. Dodson be removed from the liaison post because he was “no longer welcome,” and that Mr. Dodson was called the next morning and told by ATF that he was being reassigned to a new job in the field.
Officials for CBP, ATF and Homeland Security declined to speak on the record about the matter. Many of their press offices are closed during the government shutdown.
Mr. Dodson declined to comment, and ACLU officials did not immediately return a call seeking comment.
Mr. Dodson’s removal from the CPB liaison post is the latest adverse action to his career since he became a whistleblower in spring 2011 and disclosed to Congress and the news media that ATF supervisors had approved letting semi-automatic weapons fall into the hands of straw buyers and cross the border into the hands of Mexico’s drug gangs in a bungled gun case code-named Fast and Furious.
The tactic known as “gun walking” has since been banned by ATF.
Before Mr. Dodson blew the whistle, he was a highly rated ATF agent assigned to an elite team working on border gun-running cases.
On Monday, The Times was the first to report that ATF was blocking Mr. Dodson from publishing a book for pay, claiming his retelling of the Mexico “gun-walking” scandal would hurt morale inside the embattled law enforcement agency. The Times also disclosed that Mr. Dodson was receiving help from ACLU in the case.
The gun-walking strategy — part of an undercover case called Fast and Furious — violated ATF’s long-standing policy to interdict weapons from straw buyers.
In all, officials permitted more than 1,700 semi-automatic weapons to flow through the hands of straw buyers for the Mexican cartels, with many crossing the border.
Senior ATF officials hoped to trace the guns to crimes, then make a bigger case against the Mexican druglords. The strategy, however, backfired when hundreds of the weapons began showing up at crime scenes on both sides of the border, including Mr. Terry’s murder. Mr. Terry’s family issued a statement Monday supporting Mr. Dodson anew and asking that his book be allowed to be published.
The Justice Department initially denied that guns knowingly had been allowed to flow across the border, then months later reversed course and admitted the tactic had been used for more than a year. The change in the story led to allegations of a cover-up.
The revelations exploded into public in spring 2011, catapulting Mr. Dodson and other ATF field agents who had objected into dual investigations by Congress and the Justice Department inspector general.
President Obama and Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. both claimed they knew nothing about the strategy until the controversy erupted, but the president has invoked executive privilege to block Congress from seeing certain documents, thus thwarting the completion of that probe. A court recently ruled in favor of Congress in the ongoing legal dispute.
Both the congressional and inspector general investigations concluded that the gun-walking tactics were poorly conceived and put lives in jeopardy. The fallout forced the ouster of numerous top officials, including the U.S. attorney in Phoenix, Dennis Burke, and the acting director of the ATF, Kenneth Melson.
The ATF, under new director B. Todd Jones, said it has imposed sweeping procedures to ensure gun-walking doesn’t occur again.