A tentative agreement between the inspector general (IG) of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) would place CBP internal affairs personnel in the IG office to conduct investigations of wrongdoing by CBP agents, officials said Thursday.
Acting DHS IG Charles Edward politely but staunchly defended his office’s statutory authority to lead investigations into corruption among CBP ranks. The IG insistence on leading those investigations has led to classes between the IG office and CBP.
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano got involved in smoothing out the matter, leading to the concept that CBP internal affairs officers would work in the IG office on corruption cases, Edwards acknowledged.
Investigations of CBP officers suspected of corruption have increased since the enactment of the Anti-Border Corruption Act of 2010 (Public Law 111-376), which requires polygraph tests for new CBP applicants and background checks on CBP officers and agents, confirmed CBP Commissioner Alan Bersin to a panel of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.
Bersin lamented a lack of cooperation between CBP and the IG office in investigating corruption, but he did not indicate whether he would sign the latest agreement offered by the inspector general. CBP received the new agreement for review only Wednesday.
While periodic background investigations and polygraph tests have increased corruption investigations, another factor to that increase has been an explosion in the size of CBP, Bersin noted. The agency doubled in size from 2004-2010.
Since Oct. 1, 2004, CBP has identified 127 of its employees as corrupt, meaning they have been arrested or indicted for drug smuggling, alien trafficking, money laundering, conspiracy, and other crimes. Ninety-five of those 127 cases were for personal gain, violating the laws governing the behavior of CBP employees, Bersin testified.
CBP is on track to meet the requirements of the Anti-Border Corruption Act, which requires polygraphs and background investigations to be complete by January 2013, Bersin said. CBP anticipates completing its first round of required periodic investigations of its employee base by July 2012.
Still, Senators voiced surprise that polygraph tests have been flagging about 60 percent of CBP applicants, leading to the need for more investigations.
“We are attempting to have a process in which we can see applicants who are less likely to face issues in a polygraph examination rise to the top,” Bersin stated.
To address the need for more polygraph operators, CBP has borrowed 20 polygraphers from other law enforcement agencies, the commissioner added. Meanwhile, CBP is implementing a business plan to increase its in-house polygraphers from 35 to 52 to meet its deadlines. Only 22 percent of applicants are receiving polygraphs to date.
The backlog should go away by the deadline set in the Corruption Act, Bersin said. But CBP must prepare to handle periodic reinvestigations of its employees every five years by spreading those investigations out.
Bersin described the disagreements between CBP and the IG office over conducting investigations of corrupt CBP employees as “a function of dedicated public servants dedicated to their duties” clashing over the implementation of the law.
He credited Edwards with reaching out directly to discuss the issues and to ease the confrontation.
Edwards hailed the proposed interagency agreement pending approval with CBP as one that would give CBP much more information on its own corruption investigations while giving the IG office necessary resources to conduct the investigations.
The inspector general indicated a heightened need for the agreement as CBP brings on 1,000 new Border Patrol agents and 350 more CBP officers in the next six months under its hiring plan funded by the Emergency Border Security Supplemental Appropriations Act of 2010.
“With such rapid expansion, CBP must be alert to opportunities for those intent on harming this country to infiltrate or corrupt the ranks of the hard-working men and women of CBP, who dedicate themselves every day to securing this country’s borders,” Edwards said.
Mexican drug cartels are searching for border security personnel that it can bribe to move illicit goods and people into the United States, Edwards said.
To deal with the increased pressure to stop corruption among CBP ranks, the IG office stood up a forensic threat analysis unit to analyze allegations of corruption, Edwards added.
The IG office and CBP identified 613 open investigations of specific CBP employees. They also are handling other investigations where the alleged CBP officer involved in criminal activity has not yet been identified.