1997 Congressional Hearings
Intelligence and Security

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MAY 14, 1997

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Chairman Grassley, Senator Biden, and Members of the Caucus:

I appreciate the opportunity to appear before the Caucus on International Narcotics Control today to address some of the critical issues associated with the threat to federal law enforcement posed by drug-related corruption along the border between the U.S. and Mexico. You have asked me to assess the threat to law enforcement officials from corruption, and how federal agencies are prepared to deal with this threat. I request that my full statement be made a part of the record of this hearing, and I will proceed with a brief summary.

The Office of the Inspector General

Since the Office of the Inspector General is both the newest and the smallest agency appearing here this morning, I would like to begin by telling the Caucus members a little bit about who we are, what we do, and why we are here. With that as background, I intend to go on and discuss the threat and impact of corruption as viewed through the investigations that our Special Agents conduct.

The Office of the Inspector General (OIG) was established on April 14, 1989, with the responsibility to detect and deter waste, fraud, abuse, and misconduct among the employees and programs of the Department of Justice. This includes the responsibility to investigate misconduct by employees of the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS).

The OIG was created by merging experienced personnel from various components of the Department of Justice. The largest group of criminal investigators came from the INS and possessed a knowledge and understanding of the border and its problems. We have been fortunate to have also hired a number of experienced Special Agents with broad law enforcement expertise, including agents who formerly worked for the Customs Service, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), and the FBI. As OIG Special Agents, these men and women are independent of INS and other Department of Justice agencies, and they can and do pursue a broad spectrum of corruption investigations.

The OIG has four field offices located along the Southwest border. We have a total of 33 Special Agents in offices located in San Diego, California; Tucson, Arizona; and El Paso and McAllen, Texas. We are planning to open a one-person office in El Centro, California, within the next few months. In our Southwest Border offices, 22 of the 33 agents have had experience working for either INS or DEA before coming to work for the OIG. Among the 33, 10 agents are fluent in the Spanish language, and can talk to witnesses and sources of information in their native language. I believe our agents have the wealth of knowledge, insight, and first hand experience that makes them effective in conducting drug and corruption-related investigations.

The OIG has criminal investigators in a total of 16 field and area offices located near the largest concentrations of INS personnel. In addition to the Southwest Border offices, we also have offices in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Houston, Dallas, New York City, Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Miami, Colorado Springs, Seattle and Washington, D.C.

The OIG Investigations Division has the criminal investigative authority and the expertise to play a critical role in resolving allegations of corruption along the border and at the ports of entry. We believe that our productivity as a criminal investigative agency reflects the savvy that our agents bring to their jobs. Strong enforcement measures and successful prosecutions that send corrupt employees to jail serve as the most effective deterrents to official corruption. From 1993 through 1997, the OIG has closed more than 1,200 investigations of border and immigration-related corruption. These investigations have resulted in the arrest of 71 INS employees and 240 aliens and citizens in drug and fraud-related investigations.

The OIG has a significant role along the Southwest Border because of the jurisdiction given to us by the Inspector General Act and by the Attorney General to investigate misconduct matters and those involving fraud and abuses of public trust. Because of our concern for integrity issues in INS, and because our caseload demands it, more OIG resources are directed at INS than any other single component in the Department. Allegations of fraud and other serious corruption in INS represent the largest single component of our varied caseload.

The Environment of Corruption

The land border between the United States and Mexico stretches 2,000 miles from Port Isabel, Texas, on the Gulf of Mexico, to Imperial Beach, California, on the Pacific Ocean. INS has more than 9,000 of its 29,500 employees deployed at ports of entry, Border Patrol stations and District offices that are responsible for Southwest Border enforcement. On an average day, more than 120,000 pedestrians and 220,000 vehicles flow across the Mexican border into the United States.

These land border ports of entry bustle with activity as thousands of people and thousands of vehicles pass through each day. With lines of cars and trucks and crowds of people speaking various languages, the ports of entry are chaotic in both appearance and reality. In that chaos, it is very difficult to separate the people who are going about their daily business from those who are committing a crime. The human couriers carrying loads of marijuana, cocaine, heroin or other controlled substances look much like everyone else with business at the border. And the car carrying massive amounts of cocaine hidden behind secret panels looks just as ordinary as the one carrying legitimate travelers.

The crowds around the busy ports of entry also provide ideal cover for the spotters who are there to detect weaknesses in the security, ascertain operational patterns and rhythms, and look for targets of opportunity. They can monitor their own corrupt inspectors and look for inspectors who may be lazy and unlikely to make thorough checks. They seek to defeat the security procedures at the ports of entry by reporting the lane rotations and line speedups during periods of heavy travel. They also come to know the INS personnel who work in these ports of entry, and who may be vulnerable because of financial problems or other difficulties in their lives.

The scene at the checkpoints that Border Patrol Agents operate along highways near the border is similar. They may become clogged and chaotic during periods of heavy travel. The checkpoints provide spotters with the same opportunities to identify points of weakness and opportunities to transport loads of narcotics as do the ports of entry.

It has been said that wherever drugs exist, corruption coexists. While I would like to believe that this bit of conventional wisdom is untrue, our experience tells us otherwise. The time, money, and incentive which drug traffickers have to corrupt public employees represents a serious border problem.

The Threat of Corruption

It is very difficult to quantify the threat of corruption numerically. The mix of low paid employees, easy money in big sums, and relatively low risks makes for an extraordinarily volatile and risky situation. The border corruption cases we have worked illustrate several conclusions:

•Enormous amounts of money are at stake.

•In many instances, the government is fortunate to be able to uncover and break the case; it is easy to imagine the same scheme going undetected.

•An INS or Customs employee is not required to do very much or take much of a risk in order to earn a bribe.

•One or two bribes a year can effectively double an employee's income.

In our judgment, corruption is a very serious threat, capable of inflicting enormous injury to the American public, and significantly eroding law enforcement along the border. I cannot minimize it just because the actual case numbers are small.

The El Paso Intelligence Center (EPIC) collects drug-related information from DEA and various other law enforcement agencies. EPIC and others foresee the Southwest Border as the number one pathway for drug smuggling into the United States. Their estimates are based on worldwide sources of information; we have seen nothing to indicate that these assessments are not accurate.

There is also concern for the rapid buildup of law enforcement personnel along the border. As a result of that buildup, there are many line employees who are untested and supervisors who have little experience providing leadership and guidance to employees in this difficult environment. Experience in other contexts indicates that massive law enforcement hirings may be accompanied by increased police corruption because of the greater susceptibility of new recruits to temptation or because corners may be cut in screening and training the new hires.

Since 1993, the number of INS personnel has doubled at many locations along the border. INS employment has been increased by 70 per cent nationally, according to Commissioner Meissner's statements. Despite the INS buildup, the numbers of OIG agents available to investigate allegations of corruption has declined not just in relative but in absolute terms during this same period.

Why Are Some Employees Corrupt?

We are all interested in what causes government employees to violate their oath of office. The question has no simple and uniform answer. From the investigations we conduct, we see some major themes. These themes are financial need and greed, and the influences of family and friends.

Need and Greed

Greed for a lavish life style or dire financial need can provide the motivation for an employee to abandon and violate his or her public trust.

•A Border Patrol Agent accepted bribes to guarantee passage of loads of marijuana through a Border Patrol checkpoint at Falfurrias, Texas. He was paid $25,000.00 for waving a 1,000 pound load of marijuana through the checkpoint, and was offered $60,000.00 for moving another load through the checkpoint. By the time of his arrest, he had already received $42,000 in bribes, almost equal to a year's salary.

•Another Border Patrol Agent, in Arizona, became involved with drug smuggling to support a lavish life style, which included trips to Las Vegas. He was paid $30,000 per load crossing the border. The agent used not only his knowledge of enforcement procedures to direct drug shipments, but may have also used Border Patrol radios to aid his fellow traffickers.

•In a California case, we found an Immigration Inspector who conspired with her Mexican national ex-boyfriend and his half-brother to import marijuana into the United States. In addition, she was alleged to be selling Temporary Resident Alien Cards to ineligible aliens. She had numerous unpaid bills and collection notices, and told investigators she had recently declared bankruptcy.

•An investigation at the Calexico, California, Port of Entry began with the identification of an Immigration Inspector who had passed three loads of cocaine, totaling more than 2,500 pounds, across the border. The evidence established that this organization had introduced 10,155 pounds of cocaine worth about $78 million through the port of entry. More than $1 million cash was seized when the homes of the INS employee and his associates were searched. The Immigration Inspector and a Customs Inspector were both convicted of waving cocaine loads through the port of entry.

Family and Friends

The role of family and friends in attempts to induce INS employees to become corrupt is evident in many of our cases. In both of the examples I want to share with you, the Border Patrol Agents did the right thing and contacted the OIG about the bribe offers they had received.

•A Border Patrol Agent working at Hebbronville, Texas, was approached by a long-time, high school friend who solicited his help in transporting narcotics through the Hebbronville Border Patrol checkpoint. The proposition was simple; all the agent had to do was wave a drug laden vehicle through the checkpoint. With the agent's help, a sting operation was set up designed to apprehend both the solicitor and the narcotics shipment. The subsequent operation netted two individuals who were subsequently charged with attempted bribery, as well as narcotics violations. In addition 300 pounds of marijuana was seized, as was the transport vehicle. The two defendants were sentenced to serve 10 years and 6 ½ years respectively.

•Another Border Patrol Agent received $3,000 and an expensive weapon to smuggle marijuana into the United States. The traffickers had known the Border Patrol Agent since high school and exploited their past friendship with him when they met him at a local night club. Besides renewing friendships, they also asked about his personal finances. The corrupters wanted sensitive operational information from him, such as the schedules for the checkpoints, details of investigations, and work schedules for other agents. In addition, they asked him to drive a load of narcotics through the checkpoint. The scheme involved smuggling more than 220 pounds of marijuana, and the agent received an additional $2,000 and other gifts before the investigation was closed down. The Border Patrol Agent reported the bribe offer and cooperated with the OIG. His cooperation was key to the success of this investigation. At the conclusion, the cooperating agent had to be relocated due to threats on his life. Two subjects were convicted and are serving prison terms.

Corruption -- The Larger Problem

Border corruption is more than loads of drugs coming through ports of entry or across the open lands between ports. Immigration fraud facilitates the traffic in narcotics. The drug couriers who carry loads into the United States and money back across the border must be able to enter and leave the country freely. That means they need good quality immigration documents, some of which they procure from corrupt employees.

We open hundreds of investigations of document and immigration fraud each year. Numerous cases have been prosecuted where the offender confessed to providing dozens or even hundreds of documents over a period of years. An added problem with these cases is that neither the corrupt employee nor the investigator ever knows for sure who eventually used those documents. The profile of a typical document case involves an individual who we refer to as a "middleman" or broker who deals with the corrupt employee. The broker supplies names and photographs, and the employee never has direct contact with the final user. The employee may never know whether an illegal document gave an alien the opportunity to visit with an ailing mother, or to transport a load of contraband.

•An immigration inspector in Arizona was bribed by a drug trafficker who sought border crossing cards. The trafficker hired people to surveil the port to seek out vulnerable employees. The inspector was picked out because she had recently become a single parent and was in need of money. The trafficker questioned the inspector about the personal lives of her co-workers to get leads to others who might be vulnerable.

•In a Texas investigation, an immigration inspector was arranging for the passage of drugs through a port of entry and provided more than 100 immigration documents to co-conspirators, many of whom were drug couriers. He also recruited another inspector to participate with him in the conspiracy. Both were arrested and convicted.

I mention these two cases because I think it would be wrong to limit an assessment of drug smuggling on the Southwest Border to bribes paid in aid of transporting drugs. Bribes paid to obtain immigration documents may directly foster drug trafficking even though the relationship is less direct or apparent.

What are the Countermeasures to Corruption?

There are two different arenas that should be considered when trying to eradicate corruption in the workforce. One measure is the responsibility of law enforcement and it involves the aggressive and professional investigation of corruption crimes. The second measure is not an investigation and prosecution activity; it is a management responsibility. I will discuss each briefly, starting with management's responsibility.

INS Management Can Affect the Risk of Corruption

There are ways to reduce the risks of corruption in a workforce. The measures do not have to be very sophisticated. They are steps associated with sound management. New employees must be carefully screened before they are hired, promptly trained, carefully supervised, and held accountable for their performance promptly and fairly. Their training should include not only the procedures to perform their job correctly, but also the ethics and values that are the cornerstones of integrity.

The influx of new employees at INS, especially in the Border Patrol, has been a subject of concern to my office for several years. Consequently, in the spring of 1995, we began an inspection to assess how well INS recruited, screened, selected, trained, deployed, and supervised new Border Patrol recruits. Our report generally commended INS for an effective process of recruiting and hiring new Border Patrol Agents. We noted steps INS had taken to speed up a notoriously slow hiring process, to use foreign language aptitude testing as a means to reduce the drop out and failure rates at the Border Patrol Academy, to begin psychological screening testing, and to conduct drug testing and criminal history/background investigations.

The report expressed concern for INS's ability to train all new recruits, but the concern focused on classroom shortages, not on deficiencies in the training that was provided or the shortage of trainers. While we noted some difficulties in deployment, in the main our report was positive.

One significant concern, however, that we believed required more attention from INS was the supervision of the large number of new recruits. We believed then and believe now that it is critically important that INS identify and train additional employees to become supervisors. INS appears to have recognized the importance of this need as well.

While INS appears to have improved its screening of new recruits, and reportedly is obtaining candidates who are brighter and better educated than in the past, it has not always done a good job of continuing to monitor the backgrounds of its present workforce. The norm for many Government jobs is that a background investigation (actually a reinvestigation) is conducted every 5 years. In a September 1995 inspection, we found that one-third of the Border Patrol was overdue for reinvestigation. INS has pledged to eliminate the backlog of reinvestigations by September 1997. INS's neglect of reinvestigations is historic, as has been true of the Department generally. But this is an affirmative countermeasure that INS can employ, and must do so with diligence.

I have discussed the selection, screening, training, and supervision of new recruits, and of the importance of having good supervisors to monitor INS's workers, both the new hires and the career agents. The last of management's countermeasures against corruption that I want to discuss concerns the discipline process and accountability. Supervision, discipline, and accountability are all features of how well management administers the largest single asset at its disposal -- its workforce. Employees must believe that their work is being watched and evaluated. If they are not monitored, there is little risk of being caught for doing slipshod work or for on-the-job activities that may be criminal. Thus, an important deterrence to corruption is an effective disciplinary process in which employees are held accountable for what they do. My office is part of that process.

Discipline must be prompt to be effective. The time taken to initiate and complete an investigation is a function of resources. I must inform you that the amount of time it takes to conduct an investigation is increasing, as is the backlog of pending matters, because the number of agents the OIG has available to manage an increasing workload has remained largely stagnant. The OIG has 33 agents to investigate misconduct by any of 9,000 INS employees along the Southwest Border. At a time when the Border Patrol has experienced unprecedented growth, OIG agents in the Southwest shrunk by 16 percent. These same OIG agents must also be available to investigate misconduct in the U.S. Marshals Service, the Bureau of Prisons, and all other Department of Justice employees in this region.

Law Enforcement Countermeasures

Countermeasures that law enforcement can take require the mustering of all existing resources in coordination to attack corruption, and, where appropriate, increasing the resources to ensure that the countermeasures are indeed sufficient.

The Joint Case Approach

Several of the cases I have cited in this statement were concluded successfully because we worked jointly with other law enforcement agencies, including the INS, DEA, the Customs Service and its Office of Internal Affairs, the FBI and the Internal Revenue Service. We shared information and resources at the working level to ensure that the goal of providing a deterrent to corruption was accomplished.

Based on our experience, we fully support the Attorney General’s direction to increase the effectiveness of border corruption law enforcement through the use of task forces and joint operations. Increased cooperation and coordination will enhance the ability of all of the agencies to maximize the productivity of our law enforcement resources. We believe effectiveness will be enhanced by working cooperatively with others in these areas:

·Collection and analysis of intelligence relating to border corruption, so that agents have ready access to information that is timely and reliable.

·Coordination of investigations, so that the agencies work side-by-side and do not interfere with, compromise, or duplicate each other’s efforts.

·Sharing investigative resources, including equipment, sources of information and manpower, where such sharing will expedite the investigative process.

Law enforcement jurisdictions often overlap, but the different agencies each may have a different focus and different talents to bring to an investigation. Among our law enforcement partners at the Border, some are more interested in how a particular shipment made its way from the mountains of South America, or how that shipment will be moved into a particular distribution network in the U.S. The OIG’s interest is in how the load got across the border, the port of entry, or the bridge that separates the two nations. By using our separate areas of expertise and interest together, we believe that the effectiveness of border enforcement can be enhanced.

San Diego, California, has been the site for a Border Corruption Task Force (BCTF) operating since 1995, and we believe that the results prove its success. The Task Force was initially a cooperative effort of the OIG, FBI, and Customs Internal Affairs, and since its startup the IRS has been added as a partner.

Typical of the type of case that the BCTF has investigated is one that developed following the January 19, 1995, seizure of 823 pounds of cocaine and $47,680 in cash from a vehicle at the Calexico port of entry. The driver of the vehicle was arrested and agreed to cooperate. Information provided by the driver revealed a conspiracy in which a former INS Immigration Inspector acted as an intermediary for drug traffickers and arranged the safe transport of drugs into the United States. He provided the load vehicle drivers, and used his knowledge of the port of entry and its employees to move large quantities of narcotics. The Mexican owners of the drugs provided the load vehicles. In August 1995 a federal grand jury indicted the former Inspector and others on charges of conspiracy to import and distribute a controlled substance. Search warrants executed in October 1995 at the residences of defendants and various members of his family and associates resulted in cash seizures totaling $1.2 million.

The foregoing case illustrates the effective results that can be obtained from coordinated task forces along the Southwest Border. I regret to inform you that, although there are several such task forces either established or being developed in principal cities along the border, I do not have the resources to participate in them all -- a constraint that has harmed both the task forces and my office.

OIG Initiatives

The OIG attacks corruption in other ways that warrant mention. First, my office supplements the ethics training given by the Department with integrity awareness briefings. These briefings, often given in the Border Patrol sector squad room or INS district office, are more than simply refresher courses on standard ethics regulations. They are practical discussions of the temptations and consequences associated with various job-related integrity and conduct issues, and they are tangible reminders that there is an OIG presence nearby, with agents who are prepared to respond to misconduct.

In addition, my office views corruption from a perspective that is broader than just the investigative. Workforce integrity issues, as I have indicated, can be addressed as a function of an agency's programs and policies. Our reviews of employee drug testing, background investigations, management of petty cash accounts, credit cards, and inventory practices with respect to removable government property are efforts to verify that programmatic checks on corruption, petty thievery, and other integrity issues are working. Thus, every resource at my disposal has been employed to identify weaknesses in the way the Department operates and administers its programs that might permit corrupt or dishonest conduct to occur.

Developing More Information on the Sources of Border Corruption

Among other things, this hearing has caused me to think about what we can do to gather more data about the sources of corruption. Because we tend to approach our cases from an investigative standpoint -- developing the information necessary to make the case but frequently no more -- we may well fail to aggressively search for all the information potentially available from the individuals who offer the bribes or the government officials who accept them.

I think it would be worthwhile to add the underpinnings of the behavioral sciences to what my office does.

I have made preliminary contacts with academics who assess ethics issues -- and corruption in particular -- in ways different from law enforcement agencies. Based upon these preliminary discussions, I believe we will be able to forge a partnership that will draw on the insights and instruments of academia to gather in a systematic way information about corruption. We will attempt to work with these academic experts on public sector ethics to design survey instruments to extract as much information as possible from those defendants who are investigated and prosecuted for border corruption. With a coordination of efforts and sharing of data, I would hope that we could together develop better profiles of those vulnerable to corruption and better understandings of causes. The result would be an ability to better target investigative and other resources to uncover crime and to proactively establish barriers against corruption both in individual employees and programs. Obviously,investigative imperatives will come first but once a case is resolved or disposed of we will seek to get as much information as possible on the various aspects of border corruption that bring us together for this hearing. Over the course of several years, we hope this review will add much information to our storehouse of knowledge on this subject.

This completes my prepared statement, and I would be happy to answer any questions you may have.