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ATF threatens French-style firing squad for agents who leak secrets

October 16, 2013

After months of anguished debate over mass shootings, gun control and Second  Amendment rights, the Justice  Department finds itself on the defensive after a training manual surfaced  that suggests federal agents could face a firing squad for leaking government  secrets.

The online manual for the Bureau  of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives — complete with a photo of a  turn-of-the-century firing squad — was obtained by The Washington Times from a  concerned federal law enforcement official, and it immediately drew protests  from watchdogs who said it showed a lack of sensitivity to gun violence and  the continuing hostile environment toward whistleblowers.

Stephen Kohn, executive director of  the National Whistleblower  Center, said the DOJ has forgotten about the  protections of the First Amendment, which covers leaks to the media, and that  the photo could scare its employees into self-censorship.

The photo “would have a chilling affect on legitimate speech. And some  of the rhetoric used against whistleblowers could be construed as inciting to  violence because they’ve turned up the rhetoric,” Mr.  Kohn said.

Justice Department officials said the photo was included as a joke and that they were unaware it  was viewed as offensive by agents. They plan to remove the entry, but not until  the government shutdown is ended and federal officials return to work, said Richard Marianos, the special agent in  charge of the Washington division of ATF.

The photo was embedded in the annual Introduction to National Security  Information online course for the ATF, the main  federal law enforcement agency investigating gun violence and illegal gun  trafficking.

Richard Roberts, a public  information officer for the International  Union of Police Associations, said his opinion is that the photo is nothing  more than a humorous attempt to underscore a serious point.

“During many years of law enforcement experience, I can attest to the  fact that law enforcement personnel often use gallows humor as a release from  the grim realities of the profession,” he said.

But watchdogs raised immediate concerned that the image may have  an unintended chilling effect on DOJ employees, as  the agency has often been criticized for its handling of  whistleblowers.

While the DOJ may be making light of a  serious policy,Mr.  Kohnsaid the photo was hypocritical, unconstitutional and  unprofessional.

“The government leaks information all the time and they get away with  it,” Mr. Kohn said. “They don’t go after  leaks that they support. The government leaks, and when it is officially  condoned they do not investigate or prosecute.”

A major incident that Mr. Kohn referenced was the case of former U.S. Attorney Richard Convertino, who was  removed from his position in Michigan by the DOJ after the DOJ leaked negative information about  him.

“It significantly harmed his reputation, turned out not to be true, and  we filed a privacy act lawsuit in 2003 and we are still fighting with the Justice Department to try to find out  who the source of that leak was,” Mr. Kohn said. “They have used well over $1 million of taxpayer resources to cover up a  DOJ employee who violated the law when he leaked  information to defame a whistleblower and that’s one of the biggest problems  with this whole campaign against leaks.”

Mr. Kohn said the DOJ has forgotten about the protections of the First Amendment, which covers leaks  to the media. There is also Supreme Court precedent in the case of Pickering v.  Board of Education which established the constitutional right of public  employees to provide information to the news media, he said.

“This is a campaign to silence and intimidate whistleblowers and what  is the most troubling part of this aggressive campaign, is that the justice  department has completely ignored the first amendment,” Mr.  Kohn said.

A law enforcement official told The Washington Times that the training  materials were assembled for ATF and that the photo  appears on a slide deck that was put together by contractors in 2007. The photo  has been included in the manual since March 2008.

ATF will be reviewing the materials in the  training documents. It’s the latest controversy for the law enforcement agency,  which has suffered significant repercussions from the ill-conceived Fast and  Furious operation that knowingly allowed semiautomatic weapons to flow across  the U.S. border and into Mexico’s violent drug wars.

Credit To:  Kellan Howell / The Washington Times


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