In Fiscal Year 2014, Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Inspector General (IG) investigations of 16,281 complaints of wrongdoing — a substantial number of which alleged DHS personnel engaged in misconduct — resulted in 112 criminal convictions and 36 personnel actions, according to IG John Roth’s testimony Wednesday before the House Committee on the Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security.
Thirteen of the convictions involved DHS law enforcement personnel and 21 of the 36 personnel actions involved law enforcement. Roth said, “These convictions and personnel actions were for various offenses including theft, narcotics, child pornography and bribery.”
“We initiated 564 investigations,” Roth told lawmakers, noting that, “The remainder were referred to component internal affairs offices, other agencies, or were administratively closed.
Roth said “the vast majority of DHS employees are dedicated public servants focused on protecting the nation. Although a small percentage of employees have committed criminal acts and other misconduct warranting sanctions, the behavior of those few should not be used to draw conclusions about the character, integrity or work ethic of the many. I am personally grateful for the hard work and commitment to mission demonstrated daily by the DHS workforce."
Roth said his office “has about 200 investigators in headquarters and in about 30 field offices across the country,” and “less than one investigator for every 1,000 DHS employees.”
He noted that, “A large number of investigators are located along the Southwest border, where we have one OIG investigator for about every 792 DHS employees.”
He explained that, “The smuggling of people and goods across the nation’s borders is a large scale business dominated by organized criminal enterprises. The Mexican drug cartels today are more sophisticated and dangerous than any other organized criminal groups in our law enforcement experience.”
And, “As the United States has enhanced border security with successful technologies and increased staffing to disrupt smuggling routes and networks, drug trafficking organizations have become more violent and dangerous and more clever. These organizations have turned to recruiting and corrupting DHS employees. The obvious targets of corruption are border patrol agents and Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers who can facilitate and aid in smuggling; less obvious targets are employees who can provide access to sensitive law enforcement and intelligence information, allowing the drug cartels to track investigative activity or vet their members against law enforcement databases.”
Roth said that, “As demonstrated by OIG-led investigations, border corruption 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 people under investigation; selling law enforcement intelligence to smugglers; and providing needed documents, such as immigration papers.”
“Border corruption impacts national security,” Roth emphasized, noting that, “A corrupt DHS employee may accept a bribe for allowing what appear to be simply undocumented aliens into the United States, unwittingly helping terrorists enter the country. Likewise, what seems to be drug contraband could be weapons of mass destruction, such as chemical or biological weapons, or bomb-making materials. Although those who turn away from their sworn duties are few, even one corrupt agent or officer who allows harmful goods or people to enter the country puts the nation at risk.”
Roth provided several examples from the last few years to illustrate the sorts of criminal activity uncovered by his office involving DHS personnel.
- A border patrol agent and a former state prison guard formed a “criminal partnership” to earn money by helping traffickers smuggle drugs and aliens into the United States. As part of this multi-year partnership, the border patrol agent accepted bribes from the former state prison guard in exchange for providing him with sensitive information, including sensor maps, combinations to gates located near the Mexican border, computer records of prior drug seizures and the location of border patrol units. The agent and former prison guard were sentenced to prison for 15 years and 9 years, respectively.
- While patrolling the border with Mexico, a border patrol agent driving a marked government vehicle helped three individuals on the Mexican side of the border smuggle bales of marijuana weighing 147 pounds into the United States. The agent pled guilty to possession of a firearm in furtherance of drug trafficking offense and was subsequently sentenced to 60 months in prison.
- A Transportation Security Administration supervisor in the US Virgin Islands who was actively assisting a drug smuggling organization to bypass security at an airport was sentenced to 87 months imprisonment and 24 months of supervised release.
- A border patrol agent who worked in an intelligence unit sought to provide sensitive law enforcement information to smugglers. Intelligence materials, such as border sensor maps, combinations to locked gates and identities of confidential informants were delivered to the supposed smugglers who were actually undercover agents. The border patrol agent pled guilty and was sentenced to 180 months imprisonment, followed by 36 months of supervised release.
- Two border patrol agents accused of abusing four marijuana smugglers who were travelling on foot were taken into custody on a remote section of the US-Mexican border whereupon the agents forced the smugglers to remove their footwear and jackets and eat handfuls of marijuana. The agents then burned the jackets and footwear and ordered the smugglers to return into the desert, miles from nearby shelter. The agents were found guilty and both were sentenced to 24 months imprisonment, followed by a term of supervised release.
Perhaps the most disturbing misconduct Roth described though involved the US Secret Service’s misconduct in Cartagena, Colombia during President Obama’s visit there in April 2012 for the Summit of the Americas conference.
“Of note,” Roth testified, “one of our investigations concerned allegations that … Secret Service agents solicited prostitutes and engaged in other misconduct.”
Roth said that, “During our investigation, we independently identified Secret Service personnel who directly supported the Cartagena visit and other potential witnesses who may have had information about the Cartagena trip. We identified the personnel directly involved in the incident, as well as the potential witnesses, through documentary sources, including official travel records, hotel registries, country clearance cables, personnel assignments and Secret Service and US Embassy records.”
Based on the IG’s office’s 283 interviews of 251 Secret Service personnel and review of records, 13 Secret Service employees were identified “who had personal encounters with female Colombian nationals consistent with the misconduct reported. We determined that one of the female Colombian nationals involved in the incident was known to the Intelligence Community. However, we found no evidence that the actions of Secret Service personnel had compromised any sensitive information.”
The IG’s investigation “determined that 12 Secret Service employees met 13 female Colombian nationals at bars or clubs and returned with them to their rooms at the Hotel Caribe or the Hilton Cartagena Hotel. In addition, one Secret Service employee met a female Colombian national at the apartment of a Drug Enforcement Administration Special Agent."
Roth said, "We interviewed the remaining 12 Secret Service employees who had personal encounters with the 13 female Colombian nationals. Through our interviews, we learned that following their encounters, three females left the rooms without asking for money, five females asked for money and were paid, and four females asked for money but were not paid. In addition, one female, who asked to be paid but was not, brought a Colombian police officer to the door of the Secret Service employee’s room; the employee did not answer the door. As a result, she was paid by another Secret Service employee and left.”
Disturbingly, Roth told the subcommittee that 33 Secret Service employees “refused to participate in a voluntary interview and refused to answer our questions. Eight were senior level managers or senior executives, including deputy assistant and assistant directors; and 25 were special agents, inspectors, or employees of the Uniformed Division."
The IG said that, “Of the 13 employees accused of soliciting prostitutes in Cartagena, three were returned to duty with memoranda of counseling, after being cleared of serious misconduct. Five employees had their security clearance revoked because they either knowingly solicited prostitutes, demonstrated lack of candor during the investigation, or both. Five employees resigned or retired prior to the adjudication of their security clearance. Several of these last five employees appealed their adverse personnel actions to the United States Merit Systems Protection Board."