Book Review: The Unarmed Truth

Screen Shot 2013-12-09 at 12.35.09 AMJohn Dodson’s The Unarmed Truth is a hell of a book. For one thing, it’s the book that ATF Director B. Todd Jones pulled out all the stops to get pulped prior to publication. That fact alone, that a censorious bureaucrat tried to ban the book, should make you want to read it.

Dodson should need no introduction: he’s one of the ATF agents who blew the whistle the the ATF’s delivery of uncounted thousands of guns directly to agents of Mexican drug cartels — guns which have killed several American agents, and hundreds of Mexican cops and civilians. As Dodson points out, we only know the last crime any of these recovered guns was involved in; God alone knows how many other robberies, assaults and murders it was used in before its last rodeo. For anyone who wonders what the hell actually happened? or even what does a conscientious ATF agent do? this is the one book to start with. Indeed, the full title of the book only begins to describe it: The Unarmed Truth: My Fight to Blow the Whistle and Expose Fast and Furious.

If you’re looking for an overview of Fast & Furious, a rehash of the media and blogosphere reports, Katie Pavlich’s book works, but if you want the inside story, Dodson’s The Unarmed Truth is the one you need.

One of the amazing stories in the book has nothing to do with Mexican gun trafficking, but describes how Dodson, banished from the international-trafficking Group VII (because of his criticism of gun-walking as a technique) and farmed out to FBI, stumbled over a Nigerian international case. Did you ever wonder what happens to the multiple-purchase reports that ATF gets on handguns? Here’s what Dodson, working for the FBI, did.

I started by reviewing the ATF multiple sales report system, which keeps track of who buys more than one handgun during a single transaction, and looking for discrepancies and odd patterns of gun purchases in Arizona. There was one that stuck out to me. A Nigerian-born man who was a permanent resident in the United States had purchased fifteen Jimenez pistols. There were multiple reports on him. It was hard to argue that he bought fifteen of the same guns because he was an avid collector— of Jimenez pistols, no less.

Jiminez380coverTo those of you unfamiliar with Jimenez pistols, they are extremely cheap (in both senses) pocket pistols made in the USA, often with gaudy, shiny finishes, that sell for very little money. They are extremely common recovered crime guns; their compact size and low cost appeals to people who want small handguns and are both price-sensitive and quality-blind. This set includes criminals as well as to people who are not well off but seek a handgun for self or home defense. Dodson decided to “knock-and-talk” if the buyer was willing to talk to him. He was, and the Nigerian immigrant turned out to be an extremely avid collector of Jimenez pistols: 

He didn’t show a hint of nervousness as he brought me over to the boxes and started opening them. Inside each were bundles of clothes: jeans, shirts, and dresses, as well as towels, all tightly rolled and taped. Inside some of these rolls were the guns, but not only the original fifteen pistols I knew about. There were another twelve that I didn’t know about and twenty-two tactical shotguns, all wrapped up tightly inside. The way they were packed alone was tantamount to trafficking. “They’re being shipped tomorrow,” he volunteered. “No,” I said. “No, they’re not.”


Group VII supervisor David Voth, whom Dodson describes as, in military parlance, “a rock,” (a reference to his cognitive ability or lack thereof), and the rebarbative Hope McAllister, not only didn’t want the case, but expressed a preference for seeing these guns too walk to their criminal destination in West Africa. Dodson, with Voth’s approval, handed the case over to ICE, earning the enmity of gunwalking proponents ASACs George Gillett and Jim Needles. 

So take any description of gunwalking as being localized to one operation, Fast & Furious, with a grain of salt. The Nigerian case shows that it was a default mode for at least one large borderlands field office, and the 49 guns that Gillett, Needles, Voth and McAllister were ready to let walk in that case are probably the tip of a substantial gunberg.

Another revelation is that one of the things that drove Dodson to reveal the ATF managers’ systematic cooperation with the Mexican cartels was a Washington Post news story co-written by Sari Horwitz. Horwitz is an anti-gun Democrat, and a favorite stenographer for ATF HQ leaks; in this 13 Dec 2010 story, Horwitz and James Grimaldi, channeling “Gunwalker Bill” Newell and other ATF HQ potentates, seemed to indicate that the ATF, far from seeking Mexican cartel targets, was setting up the dealers the ATF had asked, and in some cases threatened, into cooperating with ATF-planned and -managed gun walking. 

Another Horwitz-Grimaldi article also shows that the official count of walked guns has to be low; they note that FFL Lone Wolf Trading refused to sell to suspected straws and reported them to the ATF, until ATF agents directed Lone Wolf’s owner Andre Howard to let the guns walk. Soon 1,515 guns from Lone Wolf — almost all of them ATF-walked examples — turned up at crime scenes. Lone Wolf, the Post writers type for the ATF, was only 8th on number of crime guns traced; if the other 7 also let just 1500 guns each walk, the total gun count is at least 12,000. How many of those guns were actually walked by the ATF is uncertain, but #8 crime-trace-gun vendor Lone Wolf and #3 J&G Sales both were only selling to cartels’ straw buyers under ATF direction.

Sitting there in my FBI cube, I couldn’t believe what I had just read. A lot of things clicked into place. More thoughts raced through my head. Worries were swimming through my conscious. Those numbers are only so high because these gun stores are helping us, I thought. I know the people quoted in that article attacking the guns stores— and I know they’re briefed on this case. And I know that they know J& G and Lone Wolf were only selling to straw purchasers because we told them to.

It was clear that Newell and other ATF leadership were going to frame the gun dealers for what went wrong. It was still only a matter of time before a Border Patrol agent or local cop was killed with Operation Fast and Furious weapons. What they said in the press wouldn’t change that. Or was that what they were waiting for? I didn’t know what to think, what to do, or who to talk to.

Here’s a little factoid: when an American agent was killed in Juarez, Dodson noted that the Phoenix ATF managers were nervous:

Assholes all around Phoenix ATF slammed shut that day; everyone was on pins and needles. At one point, I even heard it said: “I hope they never solve that, or at least I hope they don’t recover any guns.”

He doesn’t say who it was that wanted the murder to stay unsolved, because it probably was committed with an ATF-walked gun. The guns weren’t recovered, and so ATF dodged those bullets (even if the poor fellow in Juarez hadn’t). ATF wasn’t that lucky, if that’s the word, on December 15th. Two days after Newell planted the article blaming the gun dealers in the Washington Post, Border Patrol agent Brian Terry was murdered with an AK. Two AKs were recovered at the scene. Both had been walked by ATF’s Phoenix Group VII, along with hundreds of other guns through the same straw purchaser, and thousands of other guns — maybe tens of thousands — in all. 

Initially, Newell and Gillett tried to keep that fact secret — even from their own agents and the investigators of the Terry homicide. 

Dodson first contacted the Washington Post reporters, Horwitz and Grimaldi. He misunderstood their function — they were allies of the ATF managers, not reporters interested in the truth. They did not follow up with him (and they may have leaked his identity to ATF brass).  That’s how he came to contact bloggers David Codrea and Mike Vanderboegh. Ultimately, Dodson realized that whether or not he tipped off Congress or reporters, guys like Newell, stung by the Terry case proving the truth of Dodson’s and his friends’ long, lonely criticism of the tactic of gun walking,

Dodson does not make a dime from this book. The agency which promoted most of the supervisors and managers who ran the harebrained gunwalking schemes, and even let one draw his ATF salary while working fulltime in a foreign office of a bank, has been merciless to whistleblowers and gunwalking critics like Lee Casa, Larry Alt, and Dodson. ATF cannot prevent him from writing a book, but they can deny him royalties. 

Three last revelations from the book:

Item: Dodson actually had an attorney he hired, one Joy Bertrand, leak confidential information for her own purposes.

Item: ATF Acting Director Ken Melson used to have websites and publications critical of ATF blocked from the bureau’s intranet. Apparently a big office hangs loose on a small man.

Item: And you know the “seized weapons” at ATF press conferences? They’re a Potemkin show:

At the press conference, the usual “display weapons” were laid out. These were weapons that had been in our vault at Division for who knows how long. They were not seized weapons from the raid that day, or even from the case. They were completely out of the legal system from age-old cases already adjudicated. It was just all part of the show. The weapons were big, and on the blue ATF tablecloth the guns seemed important. The camera-wielding reporters ate it up, never looking hard enough to realize they were filming the same weapons over and over and over again.

This is a book you must read to understand Fast and Furious and the other gunwalking campaigns, which may still be ongoing in ATF. You need to read it if you’re an FFL, to see how cooperating with the ATF made honest FFLs a link in the chain of hundreds (at least) of murders, and how they were nearly repaid by indictment. (One story that Dodson does not tell is how a timid FFL, asking for anything in writing about their gunwalking policy from Voth, US Attorney Dennis K. Burke, and Assistant USA Emory Hurley, was turned down — Hurley’s ham-handed approach warned him he was being set up, before the set-up became obvious in the Horwitz/Grimaldi articles). You need to read it if you’re a federal agent — your agency will look 100% better to you, unless, of course, you’re an ATF agent, in which case you’ll be shaking your head.

1 thought on “Book Review: The Unarmed Truth

  1. Aesop

    My Outrage Meter regarding the BATFE melted down long since.
    I can only echo the hoarsely spoken sentiments of Henry Fonda’s Lt. Col. Kiley in the penultimate scene of Battle Of The Bulge:
    Burn it! Burn it all!

    If there are any agents there who still have enough conscience to be shaking their heads at the agency’s institutional corruption and uninterrupted incompetence, their unmitigated optimism puts Pollyanna to shame.

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