Liz Swain 4:24 p.m., May 24
FBI Feud Derails Border Corruption Cleanup
Mexican drug lords are corrupting U.S. border patrol and customs agents at an increasing pace while supposed watchdogs in the Department of Homeland Security and San Diego FBI officials feud with each other over how to clean up the mess.
Meanwhile, Homeland Security's inspector general has pulled out of the federal Border Corruption Task Force and won't come back until his office's "primacy" in handling Customs and Border Protection corruption cases is recognized.
That was the big news for San Diego that emerged yesterday from a hearing by the Senate's Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs ad hoc subcommittee on disaster recovery and intergovernmental affairs, chaired by Democrat Mark Pryor of Arkansas
“There was more than tension and friction. . . . There was outright confrontation,” Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Alan Bersin told the committee.
"The acrimony of the past, I think, has given away to a professional spirit of collaboration,” Bersin told the Washington Post after the hearing.
But though the ex-San Diego Unified school superintendent and Airport Authority board member vowed to fix the problems, senators remained skeptical, and a key anti-corruption official testified that differences with the San Diego FBI had yet to be settled.
"We must conduct these investigations in an efficient and collaborative way that leads to results in the quickest way possible. Based on reports, this does not seem to be the way we are currently operating,” said Pryor.
In prepared testimony, Homeland Security's acting Inspector General Charles K. Edwards painted a dire picture of corruption run amuck.
"Gangs such as Los Zetas are becoming involved increasingly in systematic corruption to further alien and drug smuggling, including smuggling of aliens from special interest countries likely to export terrorism.
"The obvious targets of corruption are Border Patrol agents and CBP officers; less obvious are those employees who can provide access to sensitive law enforcement and intelligence information, allowing cartels to track investigative activity or vet their members against law enforcement databases."
Corruption, he continued, "may take the form of cash bribes, sexual favors, and other gratuities in return for allowing contraband or undocumented aliens through primary inspection lanes or even protecting and escorting border crossings; leaking sensitive law enforcement information to persons under investigation and selling law enforcement intelligence to smugglers; and providing needed documents such as immigration papers."
In May of last year, Edwards continued, "the FBI in San Diego presented the [inspector general] with a [memorandum of understanding]…which failed to take into account the [inspector general's] statutory responsibility for supervising, leading, and coordinating criminal investigations…and interfering with our oversight responsibility with respect respect to component internal affairs offices."
"Within [the Homeland Security department], all allegations of criminal misconduct by employees must be referred to [the Inspector General]. The [memorandum of understanding], as drafted by the FBI, requires [the Homeland Security department] participating agencies to provide the same information directly to the FBI. This duplication in reporting is not an efficient use of [Homeland Security department] or FBI resources, and opens the door for parallel investigations placing agent safety at risk."
"Over the past year, we worked locally and at FBI Headquarters to resolve differences and craft language to which all parties could agree, but no agreement has been reached."
"As parties continue to negotiate, the U.S. Attorney's office has withdrawn from the 2010 version of the [FBI memorandum of understanding] and the [inspector general] has resumed working directly with the U.S. Attorney's Office on several significant border corruption cases."
Later, Edwards told the Post: “We have an overall agreement, but there is still a sticking point.”
The paper noted: "One sticking point is under what conditions the inspector general would again participate in the Border Corruption Task Force along with CBP and other law enforcement agencies.
"The inspector general’s office withdrew from the task force because the office felt the task force did not recognize the IG’s primacy in CBP corruption cases."
Here is Edwards's prepared statement:
And the Post story: