It's Official: The ATF and FBI Don't Get Along
By Theo Emery
Oct. 24, 2009
In April 2005, sheriff's deputies reached a suburban Seattle home in time to prevent a firebomb from detonating. But there was nothing the sheriff's department could do to defuse another volatile situation at the site: a feud between the explosives teams that showed up including the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF).
The attempted arson was the apparent handiwork of the Earth Liberation Front, a designated domestic terrorist group. But trouble at the scene emerged when FBI and ATF explosives experts seemed to believe their own agencies should head the investigation, recalls Sergeant John Urquhart, a spokesman for the King County sheriff's office. "It was clear that there was something going on. There was tension between the groups of ATF agents and FBI agents," Urquhart tells TIME. (See pictures of crime in middle America.)
That fight for jurisdiction was a "low point" for federal agents in Seattle, part of a long-simmering national rivalry that has festered since Congress moved the ATF from the Treasury Department to the Department of Justice (DOJ) after Sept. 11, according to an audit of explosives investigations that was released on Friday by the DOJ's Office of the Inspector General. Acrimony between the agencies has been common knowledge for years, but the report represents the most comprehensive public accounting to date.
The audit found that the conflict has led to confusion at crime sites, arguments in front of state and local investigators, tit-for-tat recrimination and even a threat from the FBI to arrest an ATF agent. Each agency trains separately and has its own explosives database and lab. Agents race to explosions to claim the lead in investigations, and some managers are unclear about jurisdiction. According to the audit, two ambiguous memos in 2004 and 2008 failed to clarify the relationship. "These disputes can delay investigations, undermine federal and local relationships, and may project to local agency responders a disjointed federal response to explosives incidents," the report said. (See pictures of the Branch Davidian siege at Waco and other cults that went wacko.)
The impact of the bickering is more than unseemly public flare-ups, mixed signals and muddled investigations; the conflict could hamper the government's ability to effectively protect against terrorism, the report said...