(CNSNews.com) - There have been 138 U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) employees arrested since 2004 for engaging in acts of corruption including drug and alien smuggling, in part, due to Mexican drug cartel influence.
During the same period, over 2,000 CBP employees, which include Border Patrol and Customs agents, have been charged for criminal acts other than corruption including off-duty behavior. CBP is a component of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS).
Thomas Winkowski, acting deputy commissioner for CBP, made these revelations in written testimony provided to the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Oversight, Investigations, and Management on May 17 during a hearing examining ethical standards at DHS.
According to Charles Edwards, the DHS inspector general who testified alongside the CBP deputy commissioner, the influence of Mexican drug cartels has reached into the ranks of CBP and contributed to corruption at the agency.
“While the overwhelming majority serve with honor and integrity, a small minority have disgraced the agency and betrayed the trust of the American public and their fellow CBP employees by engaging in illegal and unethical behavior,” testified Winkowski.
“Since October 1, 2004, 138 CBP employees have been arrested or indicted for acts of corruption including drug smuggling, alien smuggling, money laundering, and conspiracy. During this same period, more than 2,000 CBP employees have been charged in other criminal misconduct, including off duty behavior that serves to undermine the confidence of the public that we serve,” he said.
CBP employs about 60,000 people, of which 40,000 work at the U.S. borders.
In early June 2011, then-CBP Commissioner Alan Bersin told a Senate panel that “127 CBP personnel have been arrested, charged or convicted of corruption” since 2004.
That means that over the last year, there have been at least 11 CBP employees arrested for corruption when taking into consideration the most recent testimony of 138 agency personnel arrested since 2004.
Edwards told the panel on May 17 that the corrupting tentacles of the Mexican drug cartels have reached inside CBP.
“The drug trafficking organizations have turned to recruiting and corrupting DHS employees,” Edwards testified in his prepared remarks.
“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 are those employees who can provide access to sensitive law enforcement and intelligence information, allowing the cartels to track investigative activity or vet their members against law enforcement databases,” he added.
The IG testified that corruption of U.S. officials along the nation’s border comes in all shapes and sizes including cash and sexual incentives.
“As demonstrated by investigations led by the Office of Inspector General (OIG), 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 persons under investigation and selling law enforcement intelligence to smugglers; and providing needed documents such as immigration papers,” he stated. “Border corruption impacts national security.”
“A corrupt DHS employee may accept a bribe for allowing what appear to be simply undocumented aliens into the U.S. while unwittingly helping terrorists enter the country,” Edwards added.
“Likewise, what seems to be drug contraband could be weapons of mass destruction, such as chemical or biological weapons or bomb making material. While 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,” he said.
Edwards also said that the cartels’ “brutality” is making his job of investigating corruption difficult.
“Our investigations are complicated by the brutality the cartels use to control their organizations and coerce witnesses; and the sophistication and advanced technologies available to organizations with unlimited money,” he told lawmakers.
“Drug trafficking organizations use their monetary resources to purchase and deploy sophisticated and military grade equipment and weapons to carry out their crimes, avoid detection, and evade law enforcement. Criminals use the same sovereign borders they are attempting to breach as a barrier to law enforcement efforts to conduct surveillance and collect evidence,” Edwards said.