A government agency is blocking publication of a book about the controversial Fast and Furious gun-tracking program, setting up a First Amendment showdown that could unite the American Civil Liberties Union with congressional conservatives.
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives says if the book, "The Unarmed Truth," written by ATF agent and Fast and Furious whistleblower John Dodson, is published for profit, it will hurt morale within the agency, reports The Washington Times.
The ATF refused to comment Sunday night on Dodson's case specifically, but an official told the Times it's possible for an agent to be rejected for publishing a book for pay while still getting permission to publish it for free. However, the official said the agency has not approved any manuscripts having to do with the failed Fast and Furious gun-tracking operations that resulted in a congressional investigation.
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Dodson's book reportedly gives the first inside account about how the program, which began under the George W. Bush administration and continued under the Obama administration, helped sell nearly 2,000 guns to Mexican drug cartels. Dodson is working with Simon & Schuster publishers, but federal law prohibits actual publication of the book without government approval.
Dodson, who is still a special agent in Arizona, started writing the book last year and in June sought permission from the ATF to seek out a publisher. But according to documents obtained by The Washington Times
, his request was denied by his superiors in Arizona, who said it would have "a negative impact on morale in the Phoenix Field Division and would have a detrimental effect on our relationships with DEA and FBI."
Lee Rowland, an attorney with the ACLU, which is now representing Dodson, charged in a letter to the ATF delivered Monday that the agency, in denying Dodson the right to publish, had granted "supervisors the discretion to censor critical speech simply because it annoys or embarrasses the ATF," Fox News reported.
"Given the national importance of both the Fast and Furious operation and ATF practices more broadly, ATF faces an extremely high burden in demonstrating that its interests outweigh Agent Dodson's right to speak — and the public's right to hear — his views about Operation Fast and Furious," her letter continued.
Dodson went public in 2011 with allegations that ATF supervisors approved the flow of weapons into Mexico in a plot to nab high-level criminals. The resulting controversy led to congressional hearings, and the two lead investigators, Iowa Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley and House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa of California, have written a foreword for Dodson's book.
The book, if published, could add to ongoing arguments over the Fast and Furious operations. The fallout from the scandal forced out U.S. Attorney Dennis Burke in Phoenix and acting ATF Director Kenneth Melson. The ATF director, B. Todd Jones, has imposed procedures to keep future Fast and Furious-style operations from occurring again.
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