ICE agents accused of snooping databases Drug cartels make corruption ‘easy’
At least a half-dozen federal immigration agents have come under investigation since 2012 for snooping into law enforcement databases — computer misconduct ranging from “self queries” to accusations that one of them tried to use the databases to warn drug smugglers if they were under investigation.
The information, gleaned from highly redacted records obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, includes the investigation of one Customs and Border Protection officer tied to a “drug-trafficking organization that has utilized compromised law-enforcement officers in the past.”
Border analyst James Phelps, a professor at Angelo State University, estimates that as many as 300 law enforcement officers are under investigation for corruption near the border. He also said that having an insider with access to a law enforcement computer makes it easier to lure the next corrupt officer.
“How do you corrupt someone like that? It’s real easy,” Mr. Phelps said. “You offer them more money in a weekend than they make in an entire year.”
“If you can get a hold of a person’s driver’s license, you can find out everything — the works,” he said. “If the cartels can identify an agent by name and find out where they live, they can come and make an offer,” Mr. Phelps said. “Take our money and turn a blind eye, or we kill your mom. Down in Mexico, the cartels have no problem doing that, and that’s where you have a lot of agents fail.”
Customs and Border Protection did not respond to messages seeking comment Wednesday or Thursday. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials were unable to discuss specific cases summarized in records obtained by The Times.
“ICE agents and officers are held to the highest standards of professional and ethical conduct,” ICE spokeswoman Gillian Christensen said. “The agency does not tolerate misconduct, and reports of any such actions are swiftly investigated and dealt with appropriately.”
The Times obtained the information as part of an investigation of computer misuse among federal employees.
The majority of cases at other agencies reveal misdeeds like looking at pornography in the office, but the computer misconduct at ICE and CBP largely stemmed from improper access to electronic law-enforcement records.