Mex­i­can car­tels’ corruption of U.S. bor­der agents up sharply

The Washington Times Weekly - - Geopolitics - MARIEKE VAN DER VAART

Corruption on the U.S. side of the Mex­i­can bor­der rose sharply in re­cent years as drug car­tels tar­geted bor­der agents as part of il­licit drug and hu­man traf­fick­ing, se­nior Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials told a Se­nate hear­ing on June 9.

Cus­toms and Bor­der Pro­tec­tion (CBP) Com­mis­sion Alan Bersin said the over­whelm­ing ma­jor­ity of bor­der pa­trol of­fi­cers and agents are hon­est, “but the re­al­ity is that CBP em­ploy­ees have been and will con­tinue to be tar­geted by crim­i­nal or­ga­ni­za­tions or may other­wise seek to ex­ploit their po­si­tion of pub­lic trust for il­licit gain.”

Charles Ed­wards, Depart­ment of Home­land Se­cu­rity acting in­spec­tor gen­eral who ap­peared with Mr. Bersin, said corruption has come in the form of mon­e­tary bribes, sex­ual fa­vors and other gra­tu­ities to bor­der agents to ig­nore traf­fick­ing, pro­vide in­for­ma­tion or as­sist traf­fick­ers.

“Gangs such as Los Ze­tas are be­com­ing in­volved in­creas­ingly in sys­tem­atic corruption to fur­ther alien and drug smuggling, in­clud­ing smuggling of aliens from des­ig­nated spe­cial-in­ter­est coun­tries likely to ex­port ter­ror- ism,” Mr. Ed­wards said.

The two ap­peared at a hear­ing of the Home­land Se­cu­rity and Gov­ern­men­tal Af­fairs sub­com­mit­tee on disas­ter re­cov­ery and in­ter­gov­ern­men­tal af­fairs.

Over the past six years, 127 CBP agents were ar­rested or in- dicted for corruption, the of­fi­cials tes­ti­fied. In­ves­ti­ga­tions of ad­di­tional com­plaints rose to more than 4,500 cases last year.

The hear­ing fo­cused on the in­crease in these cases and the need for greater co­op­er­a­tion be­tween the DHS in­spec­tor gen­eral and CPB, which in the past have not closely co­op­er­ated.

“As we con­tinue to see suc­cesses in our ef­forts to se­cure our nation’s borders, our ad­ver­saries con­tinue to grow more des­per­ate in their at­tempts to smug­gle hu­mans and il­le­gal con­tra­band into this coun­try,” Mr. Bersin said. “Our most valu­able — as well as in some rare cases our most vul­ner­a­ble — re­sources are our em­ploy­ees.”

The is­sue of corruption has slowly come to light in re­cent years as a re­sult of sev­eral high­pro­file cases of U.S. of­fi­cers who were caught help­ing car­tels smug­gle il­le­gal con­tra­band and hu­mans across the bor­der.

Last year one CPB of­fi­cer, Martha Gar­nica, was sen­tenced to 20 years in prison af­ter a sting op­er­a­tion showed her in­volve­ment with a Mex­i­can crime syn­di­cate called La Linea. And her

Over the past six years, 127 CBP agents were ar­rested or in­dicted for corruption, of­fi­cials tes­ti­fied. In­ves­ti­ga­tions of ad­di­tional com­plaints rose to more than 4,500 cases last year. In 2010, the in­spec­tor gen­eral opened 870 in­ves­ti­ga­tions re­lated to CPB em­ploy­ees, a 48 per­cent in­crease from the pre­vi­ous year’s 595 cases. The cases in­cluded in­ves­ti­ga­tions into CBP em­ployee corruption, civil rights abuses, and sus­pi­cious ac­tiv­ity, said Charles Ed­wards, Depart­ment of Home­land Se­cu­rity acting in­spec­tor gen­eral.

story was not an iso­lated case.

Also in 2010, the in­spec­tor gen­eral opened 870 in­ves­ti­ga­tions re­lated to CPB em­ploy­ees, a 48 per­cent in­crease from the pre­vi­ous year’s 595 cases. The cases in­cluded in­ves­ti­ga­tions into CBP em­ployee corruption, civil rights abuses, and suspi- cious ac­tiv­ity, Mr. Ed­wards said.

As a re­sult, Congress passed the Anti-Corruption Bor­der Act last year to put mea­sures in place that would check new em­ploy­ees’ in­tegrity. Un­der the act, the CBP must run back­ground checks and poly­graph tests on ev­ery new em­ployee. So far, the or­ga­ni­za­tion has a back­log of 15,197 cases that need to be com­pleted. Mr. Bersin said the CBP was on track to catch up with all cases by 2013.

Ini­tial re­sults were a cause for concern, Mr. Ed­wards said, not­ing that re­cent poly­graph tests showed that up to 60 per­cent of CBP em­ploy­ees showed de­cep­tion when asked ques­tions about hav­ing a crim­i­nal record.

The Depart­ment of Home­land Se­cu­rity has strug­gled with tar­get­ing corruption be­cause of con­fu­sion within its or­ga­ni­za­tional struc­ture. The 1978 In­spec­tor Gen­eral Act gave the in­spec­tor gen­eral au­thor­ity for hold­ing the agency ac­count­able.

Mr. Bersin said the con­fu­sion of­ten led to “out­right con­fronta­tion” be­tween CPB and the IG of­fice.

Un­der Home­land Se­cu­rity Sec­re­tary Janet A. Napoli­tano, re­la­tions be­tween the two of­fices im­proved, but both Mr. Ed­wards and Mr. Bersin said more work re­mains.

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