A long-standing battle between the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives over who controls investigations of bombings is a serious problem that has caused law enforcement delays and duplication of effort, according to a top Justice Department official who is trying to resolve the dispute, says the Washington Post. Acting Deputy Attorney General Gary Grindler, in an internal memo, said it is “critically important” that the two agencies share information so key intelligence is not lost. He designated the FBI as the lead investigator for explosives cases linked to terrorism, while the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives will control all other bombing inquiries.
The Aug. 3 memo – which highlights a rift in which FBI and ATF agents have occasionally battled over jurisdiction and evidence, and even threatened to arrest each other at crime scenes – has triggered new resistance within ATF. The memo creates broad categories of explosives cases presumed to have terrorist links, such as those targeting courthouses, schools, shopping malls or any “tourist attraction.” The result, some ATF agents fear, is that the FBI will grab high-profile investigations by claiming a terrorism nexus and marginalize the ATF’s explosives expertise. “It’s very disheartening,” said one ATF agent, who was not authorized to speak publicly about internal matters. “They won’t hesitate to throw that memo in our face.” Other agents said there will be further delays as the FBI decides whether bombings are terrorism-related – and then hands over some cases weeks later to ATF agents who must retrace the FBI’s steps. The agencies use different techniques to investigate bombings. “Everyone will have to wait for the FBI to make a decision,” said one ATF agent. “This gives one agency – the FBI – the ability to control everything.”