Acting Director Regina Lombardo: We are resilient. And I think that the oath that I took, that you took, we take that serious – to protect and serve. So resilience comes through every adversity and challenge we ever had through the 80’s, through the 90’s and today. We have come back stronger and wiser and more focused and I think it’s because of the people. It’s because of the love of the agency and the people who work for the agency.
Host: Welcome to The Justice Beat where we sit down with top leadership to chat about the department’s mission, activities, and priorities. Today, we welcome the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, or as you probably know them ATF. This law enforcement agency is responsible for investigating and preventing federal offensives that are related to firearms and explosives, acts of arson and bombings and illegal trafficking of alcohol and illegal products. ATF also regulates the sale, possession and transportation of firearms, ammunition and explosives and interstate commerce. In today’s episode, we have a conversation with Regina Lombardo, the Acting Director of ATF, about the bureau’s history, the role ATF plays in not only law enforcement, but also regulation and how technology has changed the way ATF completes their mission. Acting Director Lombardo also shares her personal experience serving as the special agent in charge at the ATF field division during the 2016 Pulse Night Club shooting. Tom Chittum, Assistant Director of Field Operations for ATF leads the conversation. Here’s Tom.
Assistant Director of Field Operations Tom Chittum: The mission of the Department of Justice is to prevent crime and enforce the law and today we will talk about how ATF contributes to that mission- whether through solving bombings or arsons, or using state of the art crime gun intelligence tools to stop the next shooting. I’m Tom Chittum the Assistant Director of Field Operations at ATF. With us today is Regina Lombardo, she’s the head of ATF. AD Lombardo has been a special agent with the ATF for 30 years. She is the first female to lead the ATF. She is the highest-ranking female in federal law enforcement today and perhaps most importantly she was one of my first supervisors when I came to ATF over 20 years ago. Welcome.
Lombardo: Thank you, Tom. Great introduction, not quite 30 years, but I’m coming up on 30 years soon. So it’s been quite interesting to be sitting in this seat let alone starting back in the early 90’s.
Chittum: Time certainly flies. We have a lot to talk about today, but first I’d like to start by asking you two personal questions. First, why did you choose a career with ATF 30 years ago, or almost, and what have been some of the most memorable moments you have had as an ATF agent?
Lombardo: Well, I’m going to take a deep breath on that, I think when I was first time I was asked that question I had to really give it some thought because my path is what I would consider pretty untraditional. I came from a large Italian family ran some businesses, and it was something that I never even dreamed about but just like many people who will come into our lives – I had a few good mentors who said why don’t you consider going back and getting your degree and perhaps even pursuing a different career other than what I was doing. I think it was really the mentors in my life that opened me up to who ATF was or what ATF did. I was fortunate to be awarded an internship in at the federal law enforcement training facility. And I think it was really there that I saw, for the first time, who ATF was and it was really their reputation and what I saw and who they were by the instructors that said hey those are ATF agents, right there, I said I want to be one of those. I want to be an ATF agent. I don’t know if it was the connection that I felt with the people, the humility that I saw, the esprit décor. But they always were together fighting hard to get through the academy, it’s really tough so, I think it was really their mission too – not a lot of women, at that time, really was that focused on wanting to work with bombs and guns and explosive cases. So, I think it was the challenge too. To see if that is something that I could do so, and so I have to say I realized that there is more to life than baking bread and slicing salami and I thought I can maybe take a shot at this.
You ask me the most memorable which brings such a smile to my face because, you know, memorable is, you know I want to keep it to what’s always brought a smile to my face and that has to be the times of my early days in Miami when we worked together. And even the years before we called “running and gunning,” right? I was a street agent for 10 years. I had a lot of fun undercover work, South Beach, Miami. I rode a Harley, it was fun, it was great. I made so many cases I pretty much camped out at the U.S. Attorney’s Office. It was one case after another, after another. I think that was probably my most memorable times and then of course became a supervisor and ran a home invasion group, right? With 11 cops and yourself right, those early days, and I think you can - and you’re smiling too, because we worked around the clock at times and we worked so hard, but we laughed and we joked and we had fun. I almost never felt like it was really working and I’ve had some ups in my career. That was probably the most memorable because it was fun, and I think my time in Canada too, but that has to bring the biggest smile to my face. That would be the most memorable.
Chittum: I spent a lot of time thinking fondly back to the good old days and I really had a good time there. Thanks for sharing that.
Lombardo: You’re welcome.
Chittum: So, speaking of history, ATF has an incredibly interesting and unique history. We’ve talked about it our history and the issues we deal with are tied to significant American events. Would you mind talking a little bit about how ATF became the agency it is today?
Lombardo: We have such a fascinating history that I don’t think most know how far back we go - back to the 1700’s. But I think, I know you are such a history buff you study ATF’s history and you study history and you also are the one that does the tour for many VIPs that come to our beautiful building so, I think if you wouldn’t mind you can share some of the history of ATF that I know you so passionately speak about.
Chittum: Well I have missed giving the tour lately, I always do enjoy it. ATF’s headquarters is a unique building in of itself. Of course, we have a lot of exhibits that are museum quality and tell an interesting tale. Some of the most notable events in American history also shaped ATF. Of course prohibition and the rise of organized crime leading to the first federal gun law, the national firearms act. And the political assassinations of the 60’s leading to the gun control act. Each step of the way, as the country pivoted it added a new dimension to ATF. The interesting thing is when you look back at it a lot of our history seems to be tied to revenue collection, but the reality is there was always an underlying current of violent crime and that’s where we are today.
Lombardo: I think for me, for me, seeing the history evolve from the different types of laws that were passed, has shaped us. Has shaped what we bring to the American people. We are one of the smaller agencies, federal law enforcement agencies under the Department of Justice, but I think we have one of the most vital missions that’s for sure.
Chittum: We’ve talked about this many times, history does repeat itself and so you see those continuing patterns. Talking about evolving missions, in the last 20 years through deliberate training and tragically too much practice, ATF has become adept at responding to critical incidence, whether it’s mass shooting scenes or other mass casualty events like explosions. You were present for the response to the Pulse Nightclub shooting in Florida where many people were killed by an active shooter. Would you mind talking a little bit about what ATF’s role is in responding to events like that, some of your personal experiences with them?
Lombardo: I think when we as an organization really started to see mass shootings – looking back on Columbine, at the time we had not seen the type of magnitude, right, and the types of weapons that were used. And looking back, we’ve really pivoted as an organization and started to ask the question, how do we bring value to our state and local partners when there is a mass shooting? How do we, as ATF, help enhance the investigation? So, I think we started to pivot many years ago, to a point where it’s unfortunately become, I don’t want to say automatic, but we have created new SOPS- Standard Operating Procedures for mass shootings. When we deploy, how often we respond is really every one.
So, with that, when I was fortunate to find my way back to the Sunshine State in Florida and I was the Special Agent in Charge of the Tampa field division. You quickly realize that all the training and everything that you shared and talked about you may have to respond to a critical, but you never really think that it’s going to happen so quickly on your watch. But that day was very symbolic for me, it was June 12th, it was very symbolic because at that time I was actually in Fort Meyers at my parents, my family, and we were actually doing a memorial service for the loss of my brother. And that day, was the day, it was 7:00 in the morning and I received a text message from the Director at the time, Tom Brandon that said I need you to respond to Orlando. At the time, now I’m looking at phone and I’m getting other calls and my phone was blowing up and it was very difficult because I was at a family event that was very powerful to me. My brother had died of AIDS and he was an activist, so at the time the Pulse was a gay nightclub so there was all sorts of emotions floating around in my head. I was feeling very heavy, but I knew that I needed to be out there and I knew that’s where I needed to go. I can recall even hearing the name Omar Mateen coming across the phone to me and writing down at the funeral home that name and the rest was so surreal. I got back in the car, and I drove, thunderstorm and all, almost 5 hours to, and I arrived at a horrific scene. I didn’t think that the scene would be as it was because I think there were several people who were running from the gunfire that was able to leave the scene and so you l had bodies that were still laying in the street when I pulled in and parked. I remember trying to get out of my car - quickly shutting the door - getting back in because I had to take a deep breath because I had memories dancing in my head of what I just left - my family, all sorts of things happening inside my heart, but I knew I just needed to get out there. My role there was when I arrived was to partner with Chief Mena and the FBI and Orlando police department and Florida department of law enforcement. It was there that we showed up with our mobile command vehicle. And that vehicle has an opportunity for us to work inside, invite our partners in to strategize and to figure out what type of weapons that were used, if there was ballistics, firearms, ammunition left at the scene, to do the casings and shell casings and what we call NIBIN. We worked with our state and local partners pulling videos and at the time the scene was so big that we literally had to corner it off and ask for all federal agencies that were out there to process the scene outside of the nightclub. So, our role, I would say, was to bring that aspect and I’d say stay tight on what we do well. Stay focused on ATF’s role, which is to - what is the source of the weapons, how many weapons that were used? It was very difficult because at the time when the suspect Omar Mateen was shot they believed that he was lined with explosives. Because when he was killed and he laid back there was an exit sign that lay on top of him and they thought perhaps it was explosives so we couldn’t process the scene quickly. That scene took about 3 weeks to even become manageable. We were able to be on the ground with our state and local partners, with the FBI’s response team, their evidence recovery team, and we stayed focused on the firearms aspect. But we also shifted to whatever they needed. Whether we had another threat that we had to deploy additional resources. And at that command center you’re making those decisions, you’re meeting with your Governors, you’re meeting with your state and local Chiefs of police, county, Mayors and you’re really trying to come up with one message as to how? What firearms were used, were they lawfully purchased? You know, we have the White House asking us what type of ammunition was used - and those are reports, and I can remember, you helped me at the time, you were at headquarters, and you were helping me to write the reports that were needing to be filtered in to the Department of Justice, which would ultimately go over to the White House. So, that’s our role, we need to be able to share that information and say this is the type of weapon, this is the type of ammunition, this is where that person purchased the weapon and are there any other additional members, associates that are acquiring additional weapons? So those were all the leads that we were running around the clock 24-7. I don’t think I slept for probably 5 days. The press conference was probably one of my worst, I think, I was so sleep deprived and tired, but I also knew that our mission was to be there and to bring value to those types of investigations. Be no better partner to the FBI if its terrorist related, be no better partner to the state and locals for whatever that is. As we evolve from Pulse, that’s our SOP. That’s what we do around the country. Pulse took place in Orlando, back, you know years back where we were just starting our virtual response teams. Our virtual command post, things that we are now doing automatic. Today, same. We do the same today. We perfect it, even getting a little bit more and more focused, I think, on how we’re responding to critical incidences. That’s a big role for ATF. And I know that you yourself have been a Special Agent in Charge out in the field, have had to respond to critical incidents, so I think you can sympathize with where we were and where we are today.
Chittum: I remember when I was a young agent here and one of the old timers said that it was hard to imagine a serious violent crime that didn’t involve shooting, burning or blowing something up. So I think that’s part of the reason that ATF is so frequently called to respond to incidents like that.
During your comments you mentioned some unique tools that ATF has and I think that’s a good opportunity to transition to talking about ATF’s focus on crime gun intelligence and how it is revolutionizing the way that we, and law enforcement generally, investigate gun crime. Can you tell me a little bit about how ATF’s tracing center, our national integrated ballistic information network or NIBIN, and our crime gun intelligent centers, and other tools, come together with our people and not just to solve crimes but to prevent future ones.
Lombardo: So crime gun intelligence has really revolutionized the way that we work. [MK(1] We have that unique capability of tracing weapons, and sometimes I have to go back to 101 of what that means, which is really identifying the last known purchaser of that firearm. So when we say tracing, we’ve been tracing for many, many years. We are the only agency – that’s our unique capability- is to trace that weapon that’s recovered in a crime. A firearm gets recovered in a crime, ATF recovers that information: - make, model serial number, and we take it back to where did that last lawful purchase occur. Our crime gun intelligence centers are made of the tracing of that weapon, which tells us the source, right. And now we’ve been doing that for years, but now we’ve evolved to National Integrated Ballistic Information Network. What’s that? I always say it’s a big, long word for ballistic imaging. Now we have the capabilities through technology of looking at a shell casing that we recovered from a scene that is almost like a DNA thumbprint in that shell casing. There is one unique identifier on that shell casing that comes from a specific firearm. Now that we are able to revolutionize how we’re looking at the data from the shell casings, the DNA as we would call it, the thumbprint, is to use that information now to connect shooting scenes. We have devices and technology that allows us to do that now. So, the two main support pillars in our crime gun intelligence centers are tracing and NIBIN. Tracing tells us the source of the weapon, NIBIN tells us the shooter. Sometimes I refer to it as tracing tells us the birth of that firearm from cradle to grave, the birth and the death, and NIBIN tells us the life of crime that it led, right. So those are the two main things that we talk about crime gun intelligence. All of that today is really what we’re focusing on around the country. So police departments, state and local law enforcement departments are asking ATF to partner to be able to, 100% shell collection from the field, looking at all the data taking all those shell casings in and to disrupt that shooting cycle. I know that you over saw field operations, firearms operations, really NIBIN the whole entire program is really under your leadership. So, I know you’ve made some recent changes to that – with our National Correlation Center and how that works, feel free to share a little bit about what direction you’ve led the field operations in that role.
Chittum: Well, like you and I have talked about a lot of times, it’s not the hammer that builds the house, it’s the carpenter. And so, with all of these tools, they’re useless to us unless we train people to use them. Of course we’ve contributed a lot of effort to training our own agents on using and understanding crime gun intelligence. We also put a lot of effort in training our external partners. Making sure that people understand the real value of this, and I really do think it has revolutionized gun crime investigation. It allows us with greater precision to focus on those people that are pulling the triggers and the people that are arming them.
We talk a lot about ATF’s law enforcement mission, but I think it’s important to remember that ATF also has a regulatory mission. ATF, of course, regulates the licensed firearms industry and the explosives industry, as well. Can you talk a little bit about how important ATF’s regulatory function is and how our industry operations investigators or IOI’s, as we call them, what role that they play in our overall mission protecting the public?
Lombardo: That is one of the evolving positions in our organization, I believe. So, we also, yes, we enforce the federal gun laws, but we also regulate. Regulating, what I would say, is looking at the firearms industry to make sure that they are in full compliance. That they are in compliance with the law, with the constitution. [MK(2] I look at them as partners, as well. To look at the overall industry because right now there is so much new technology and new development of types of weapons that we’re seeing in the streets every day. And so, to always try to use the laws that we have in place, many of the laws are what 80-year-old laws, and looking at how do they fit into new technology today. Looking at our cadre of responsibility, the workforce that we have, the investigators. They are the ones that go out to the – we call them FFL’s–federal licensed firearms dealers, to the gun shops, and look to make sure that they are in compliance, that the person who is going into buy that firearm has passed a background check, has been, is a lawful purchase, that that person is not prohibited. [MK(3] So their role has to really been to do the inspections, mitigate the risks, to make sure that they are in compliance, but we have really evolved their role as well because they are not just going into gun shops and inspecting or making sure that they are abiding by policies and law - lawful purchase. They’re investigators now, so they are working with the special agents and responding to what we call FFL burglaries. When we have a dealership that was broken into or, you know, we have quite a few of those around the country. They are the ones that go out there and make sure, work with our agents to look at their inventory to see what was stolen. And those are 100% response. Our team goes out every time we have a burglary or a robbery of a dealer or a gun shop that’s a potential firearm that’s being put on the street that could be used to kill a police officer, or a child or an innocent victim. So we take that seriously when we say 100% response to FFL burglaries, and our IOI’s, we call them, our Industry Investigators, are part of the team that go out. I always say that we need to make sure that we are aligned with our industry, listening to what their issues are and challenges. Very, very challenging but I always say we focus on crime guns. And that is really what has made us, I think even more today, very focused on our mission with the industry, is we’re looking to make sure that firearms do not go from lawful purchase to use in a violent crimes or to unlawfully being used. I know that you oversee a lot around the field, the industry, I know you recently had quite a few challenges yourself. Is there anything that you’re willing to share on some of the challenges that you’ve had to show that this is a big part of what ATF does?
Chittum: Well I think you highlighted well, that of course we have a mission and an obligation to hold the industry to account, to the law. But what we found was in many ways they can also be valuable partners to preventing gun crime. Whether that’s detecting potential firearms trafficking schemes and reporting those to us, whether it’s taking voluntary steps to secure their inventory and so I think we’ve seen that the industry can be a valuable partner at preventing firearms trafficking. I’ve said at many speaking engagements that I look at the firearms industry as the first line of defense against gun crime. We talk about the importance of people but there are challenges with that right the technology that ATF uses is great but without capable talented people it is just equipment. Can you talk about some of the challenges that ATF faces in recruiting, hiring, retaining and promoting great employees. And what are some strategies for addressing that?
Lombardo: The challenge has been something unique especially in the last probably few years. Where we look to find the best, right, we look to hire those who, what I believe has a sense of calling. So I’m looking and[MK(4] our strategy to recruit is looking at the type of thinking today from millennials to X &Y generations. What motivates them, what inspires and motivates them to want to come into federal law enforcement or to be a part of ATF, and I have to tap into that. Whether it’s hey do you want to make an impact in your country when it comes to regulating law or enforcing the gun laws? So looking at trying to do a lot more social media, looking at new platforms to capture a bigger audience. Because I do think that there is a lot of talent out there. I believe in diversity, not black, white, male, female, but diversity in skill set. Looking to see what skills that are out there. Do we look at people who have backgrounds in technology that worked for different corporations? We have a hard time trying to break away from, you know change our culture from they have to have been in law enforcement or they have to have been a state of local police officer or federal or - I think that we can integrate both. I think that looking for different types of skill sets around the country. So I started what I call #SHEISATF, very proud of that. It’s an opportunity for me to inspire and motivate young women to potentially want to take my spot one day. That’s ultimately what I go around speaking about and mentoring is – don’t question your ability to lead. Especially young women who want to be a part of it, but have a fear or have a little bit of resistance because they are not sure what we do. And so I go out sometimes people don’t realize that I sit where I live and I try to recruit people that I come into walks of life that may have prior law enforcement, and I tell them how great the mission that we have, what we do. So, the challenge has really been because every other agency is sort of in the, you know, we are all looking for the best we can possibly bring on. So for me, I have to figure out what is it that makes us so unique, and so, hey I want to be a part of that, like I did. What spoke to me that made me say I want to be a part of them? So I think that getting out and showing who we are, what work we do, what type of people we are, we have a lot of humility we possess amazing characteristics, virtues so that’s the challenge and then once we do bring them on, I look at how do we develop our leaders? Identify talent, like yourself, early on and grow you, grow to be the next level of leadership. I always say we don’t develop leaders just to become good leaders, we develop leaders to become a great organization. So that’s what the challenges have been recently. The most recently with COVID not allowing us to do the volume of polygraphs or background investigations so now we’re looking to try to catch up a little bit, but I’m trying my hardest to be that role model for young women and young men and sometimes speak to them sometimes directly. I love going down to the academy and setting the tone of what it means to be an ATF agent or what it means to be any employee. I do all of the onboarding. I welcome them to ATF. I want them to hear from me and that helps with retention. I hope that kind of answered some of what you asked me.
Chittum: We have talked about the changing nature of criminal investigations. There was a time when you and I were new agents that an agent could work a case soup to nuts, by his or herself, but it has changed and it really does require team with a lot of people from different backgrounds and different skills. Not just agents, but intelligence analysts, firearms technology specialists, and so our recruitment efforts are much broader than they used to be.
We talk a lot about ATF’s firearms mission, and of course it probably makes up the bulk of our focus. But we have a very significant critical role to play in arson and explosives investigations. Would you mind talking a little bit about ATF’s arsons and explosives or A&E mission?
Lombardo: Yes, our A&E mission, I’d have to say is one of the soft spots. You’re right, we do probably 80% of our work has been firearms. But even most recently, it’s definitely shifted. It’s arsons right now, especially with the civil unrest, we’ve had what, close to what 900 arsons around the country. Explosives cases probably closer to about ninety. But the arson investigators are certified fire investigators, we’re called the best in the world. Our certified explosives specialist, best in the world trained. They bring such a unique capability to ATF we enforce the explosives and arson laws and most of the time our agents, not just the agents, but the team is made up of chemists, engineers, schematic drawers – it’s a team that responds to, even dating back to the Oklahoma bombing, we responded to that as a national response team, still to this day, that team exists and it’s even getting more focused highly trained using more technology, and that’s the teams we have across the country and we deploy when we have a big explosive incident like the World Trade Center. Let’s say the most recent, West Texas fires and not just the big scenes, but also some of the commercial fires, that’s our jurisdiction. I don’t think a lot of people realize that. With the civil I think they played a key role especially out in St Paul where we had 2 national response teams deployed where our team went out after the civil unrest settled. We were able to bring in our investigators and they are really sifting through the rubble sometimes looking at where that fire started. Take for instance here in D.C., St. Johns church where we had fires here in DC. Our team of investigators and national response team, they go in they look at where the origin of that fire is and now we’re using technology to really, really drill down on who was at the scene, who, what phones were at the seat of the blast, whether it was a vehicle or whether it was a police department. So there’s lots of things that we’re doing in the A&E world. Our cadre is highly trained and I want them to be the best possibly trained. The best trained that they can possibly be, in their craft; whether it’s certified explosives specialist, certified fire investigator and they are very protective of their work. But I think we are the best in the world at what we do when it comes to explosives, we partner so much with the FBI on their mission because they have a vital mission there. But if it’s criminal it’s ATF, if it’s terrorist related, it’s the FBI. So many of those cases overlap. That’s where our relationship building and showing up at the scenes and really working through those are really what makes us good partners.
Chittum: (34:32) Yeah, I agree and I don’t think I have ever seen our relationship better with the FBI than it is now. You’ve heard me say that even after being an ATF agent for 20 years, I have never been more proud to say that than I have in the last few months. Part of it is because of our response to the riots and national civil unrest. At the height of them we were facing a significant number of commercial arsons, gun store burglaries, we tell people that ATF is not trained or equipped for riot control, but we’re uniquely capable of responding to crimes associated with those riots. Do you mind to talk a little bit about how you think that may change ATF’s future in terms of dealing with all of the national unrest that we’ve seen?
Lombardo: We’ve always maintained our role when there was civil unrest in other cities not just during this time. Even Milwaukee a few years back, Baltimore not so long ago, but what we bring to… the order that we bring is the investigative piece. The investigative piece of the fire arms that were used during the civil unrest, looking at prosecuting those who were unlawfully possessing those firearms or unlawfully acquired those firearms. I think for us, as an agency, this is really one of the times where we have been asked to stretch, really go out and work with all federal, state and local together and we did. We have seen more federal license firearm burglaries hits during that week, two weeks. The burglaries, the arsons, the explosives, we’re going to continue to play our part, which is to investigate, investigate those crimes. And that’s what’s really, really for me, where we delivered, I think. We were asked to probably deliver, you know, additional special agents, additional analysts, additional resources and we did. Looking to the future, I think that’s going to always be what we’re going to be asked to do, which is firearms violations, explosives, that’s all our core mission.
Chittum: That was really, I have said that it was the largest critical response that in ATF history. And we talked earlier about how good we’ve gotten to responding to critical incidences, that’s usually only one or two at time but this was really on all fronts across the country. I think it illustrates the team approach. We have used a lot of digital forensics and technology specialists and pulled out surveillance videos to hold people accountable for the violent crimes they committed during these riots. At this point, ATF has seen well over 100 federal arrests for crimes that arose from those. But we almost never do it alone and ATF has long been proud of our relationships with our law enforcement partners, especially at the state and local level. Would you mind talking about some of the unique capabilities that we bring to support our state and local partners and some of the training that we offer?
Lombardo: You and I grew up task force, my whole life, I think my whole career has been task force. Where we worked everyday side by side together with our local partners and we like to think that we offer them a unique opportunity to work together with us, but also offer them training too. We do all sorts, not just law enforcement training even our labs we do serial number restoration training for them. We do our SRT teams, our special response team – we train together. Our National Correlation Center now is training how do they correlate ballistics and imaging to help them. I always say teach a man to fish. So, I think we pride ourselves on our partnership, and I think what we have been told by our state and locals is, we ask them how do we bring value? What do you need from ATF? Ninety nine percent of the time we hear we want NIBIN, National Integrative Ballistic Information capabilities and tracing, NIBIN and tracing. That has been a key for us. I grew up Task Force so I’m a big proponent in bringing Task Force officers to work with ATF. Or, if not, and you want ATF agents to go to your office and work together in partnership. That’s, I think, as Tom Brandon said it best, “no better partner” – we strive to be. That is still our mantra.
Chittum: We almost always do it better when we do it together. Speaking of partners, you mentioned, I think in your intro, that you had spent some time in Canada. Most of the time when we talk about partnership it’s with federal, state or local partners, but ATF also plays an important role in international partners. Would you mind talking a little bit about ATF’s international mission and your personal experience working outside the United States?
Lombardo: That is another big smile on my face, I have to say. After 14 years in the Miami field office, everybody thought I was crazy to want to go to Toronto, Canada. So I opened up our first office in Toronto. I have to say that it was pretty surreal, I worked part of the embassy. But it was there that I learned how to work with being ambassador and being diplomatic. Those are the skills that you learn, when you’re a guest in another country. So I quickly realized that the U.S. was the number one source for Canadian firearms that were being recovered in crimes in Canada. I wanted to be able to facilitate cross border partnerships. Cross border weapons enforcement opportunities are trafficking cases quickly set up pretty much what we’re doing today, which is how our Crime Gun and Intelligence Center, but I created that in another country. So my office was in Toronto. The Embassy was in Ottawa, and it was there that I created that Standard Operating Procedure to be able to recover a firearm in a shooting in Toronto or a search warrant, and trace that weapon back to the U.S. and then facilitate a cross border investigation. That’s basically the foundation. And then low and behold a 3 to 5 year commitment while I was there I got so involved and so entrenched and committed that I wound up staying for 7, and it was really hard to turn that corner and want to come back because I had such autonomy to build and grow and develop so I created a whole SOP between how we investigate crimes between two countries. Now, what we’re doing up in Canada, we don’t have the same volume that we have in Mexico. Now we are doing even more in Mexico where we’re Operation South Bound, which is what we’re doing to help with cutting down that pipeline of weapons being used in crimes in Mexico, the cartels. So, I got my experience there and I’m hoping we can do a little bit more south that we do in the north. Still the soft spot in my heart is the time I spent in Canada, yes.
Chittum: At the start of 2020 you and I talked about leading change, using this new decade to bring about important change, and looking towards the future. But of course we face some challenges that we did not anticipate like COVID. Would you mind talking a little bit about how you face these challenges and what you think the future holds for ATF?
Lombardo: I can say never did I ever imagine when I said I would be leading change taking this new positon as the head of ATF. I love change, I feel like I’m a change agent. I’m excited for the future, I’m looking at all sorts of new things that we’re doing. I’m super, super excited about the recruitments, bringing on new workforce. Again, I take everything in a very holistic approach, nothing is just one dimensional with me. I know you’ve worked with me for a long time so I thrive on change and it makes me just keep going.
Chittum: We didn’t really miss a beat, I think, when COVID hit. ATF pivoted. We continued to carry out our mission critical functions. And got a little bit better at working remotely that allowed us I think to manage the significant increase in work that we faced during the riots. I think this is a good place to end, but before we go I’d like to ask if there’s one more thing that you’d like everyone else to know about ATF.
Lombardo: Well, I’ll wrap it hard by saying we are resilient. And I think that the oath that I took, that you took, we take that serious – to protect and serve. So resilient because through every adversity and every challenge we’ve ever had, through the 80’s, through the 90’s, and today, we have come back stronger and wiser and more focused, and I think it’s because of the people. I think it’s about the love of the agency and the people who work for the agency. So we are a resilient agency with a very vital mission.
Chittum: Director Lombardo I appreciate you sharing and being so open.
Lombardo: Thank you
Chittum: Thank you for your time.
Lombardo: Thank you, I appreciate it, Tom.
Host: ATF was created more than 100 years ago, to serve as the federal agency responsible for investigating criminal activities and organizations. ATF is still upholding that mission today. Thank you to Acting Director Lombardo and Tom for sharing what ATF and D-O-J is doing to make our neighborhoods safer. To find out more about the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives go to ATF-dot-gov. Follow them on Twitter and look for the hashtag she-is-ATF. Thank you for listening and please stay tuned for more from the Department of Justice. Visit justice-dot-gov-slash-podcasts to subscribe.