Around the middle of January, I kept seeing a meme getting passed around that listed the last several presidents and their biggest controversies. I don’t remember all of them, but the basic gist was that Republican presidents have been riddled with controversial policies and/or behavior (Watergate, Iran/Contra, Iraq, the entirety of Trump’s presidency…). What stood out to me, though, was that the most controversial part of Obama’s presidency, according to this meme, was that he wore a tan suit once.
Even though this was just a meme, it annoyed me. It doesn’t matter how bad Donald Trump was – and he was very bad – that doesn’t give Obama a pass. There was a lot to criticize about his time in the White House.
Starting in 2009, the Department of Justice, ATF, DEA, and FBI sought to bring down arms trafficking on the US-Mexican border. Spearheaded by special agent Bill Newell of the Phoenix ATF, this became known as the “Fast and Furious” ATF gunwalking scandal. The way it worked was reasonably simple: the ATF would encourage gun shops to sell guns to “straw purchasers” – people with clean records who would buy guns only to turn around and sell them to criminals who would then smuggle them into Mexico. The ATF would track these guns, build up a case against the drug smugglers, and then – at the end of it all – make arrests.
The problem with this is that the guns need to be recovered – otherwise, the government is simply facilitating the smuggling of guns to narco-terrorists on the US border.
And, as it turns out, the ATF did a terrible job recovering these guns.
And what happens when guns get into the hands of bad guys? People die.
In December of 2010, a border patrol agent named Brian Terry was murdered by suspected illegal immigrants who were carrying two of these guns.
Prior to the death of Brian Terry, John Dodson (an ATF agent in Phoenix) had been raising objections to the operation, and he had been receiving substantial push-back from his supervisors. According to him, they were trying to fire him, and succeeding in getting him reassigned. The death of Brian Terry is partially what spurred him into coming forward and blowing the whistle.
I’m somewhat torn about this book. Dodson is a 20 year ATF veteran, and as near as I can tell, he still works for the agency. He isn’t like Edward Snowden. He didn’t break an important story and then abscond to a foreign country. He isn’t like Chelsea Manning, either. Dodson didn’t dump a large pile of classified information without first considering whether or not he should. Dodson was torn over whether or not he should do this, and when he finally did – he was very careful about what he shared, and with whom he shared it. And – most importantly, I think – he stood and faced the consequences.
There’s real heroism, here.
With that said – I don’t think I like John Dodson.
I mean – he’s an aggrieved party, here. Much of the book seems like it was written by a man who could finally tell the world how shitty his co-workers were. And though I largely agree that the actions of the ATF were, in fact, quite shitty – this never feels like anything but a disgruntled person patting himself on the back for not being as terrible as the people around him.
Again – I think he’s probably right to not respect his co-workers. Were I in his shoes – I’d probably also look down on them for funneling guns to narco-terrorists. So I’m not really sure what I expect him to sound like. I guess I was hoping for a more detached account.
But I guess it wouldn’t be much of a memoir, then.
As an example, I felt an undercurrent of disregard for the Obama administration throughout this book. He makes no specific claims against Barack Obama or Eric Holder apart from the general claim that wiretaps would’ve had to be approved pretty high up the ladder, but you get the feeling that he’s trying to imply something in between the lines. And there are several digs at Democrats for “playing political games” over this controversy (which I don’t know that he’s entirely unfair about). But he’s also adamant that he’s non-partisan, here. It doesn’t feel entirely honest.
I feel like I’m kind of all over the place, here. Generally, I liked the book. If you want to know more about the Fast and Furious controversy – this is a great place to start. But I have some reservations about John Dodson – even though I’m largely sympathetic to his motivations.