HomeNewsAnalysisHomeland Security Report Documents Corruption in US Border Officials
ANALYSIS

Homeland Security Report Documents Corruption in US Border Officials

US/MEXICO BORDER / 31 AUG 2012 BY GEOFFREY RAMSEY EN

A recent Department of Homeland Security report on internal discipline provides an important reminder that authorities in the United States are not immune from corruption, with a number found to be complicit in drugs and arms trafficking networks.

On August 1, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) quietly released the latest “Summary of Significant Investigations," (.pdf), a special report on personnel misconduct that the DHS’ Office of the Inspector General (OIG) has released annually since 2009. During the reporting period of January 1 to December 31, 2011, OIG officials investigated 1,389 allegations of misconduct, which resulted in 318 arrests and 260 convictions of department employees.

Fortunately for United States border security, the vast majority of cases involve fraud committed by Federal Emergency Management Agency contractors. Nonetheless, the report offers a less than flattering profile of those charged with monitoring border security as well.

The report documents several alarming incidents of border security and immigration officers accepting bribes and either aiding or directly participating in drug and gun smuggling schemes. One junior Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agent mentioned in the report, Valentino Johnson, was even convicted of protecting a cocaine distribution ring by robbing rival drug traffickers.

US officials have chalked much of these incidents up to the massive expansion of the DHS since 2004, and of insufficient vetting of potential employees. As a way of combating this, in 2010 the DHS announced a plan to submit every potential employee to a polygraph exam by 2013.

InSight Crime Analysis

While many of the border security officials investigated last year were rookie employees, seniority does not guarantee reliability. Several of the most serious compromises of US national security in 2011 were committed by long-time officers. An 8-year Customs and Border Protection (CBP) veteran in Texas, for instance, was convicted of routinely allowing drug traffickers to smuggle large quantities of cocaine into the country under his watch. Another 8-year CBP employee in Atlanta, Georgia was arrested for using his position to benefit a marijuana distribution network based in at least three other states.

These cases raise questions about the United States’ “front line” of defense and point to a major impediment to cracking down on drug smuggling into the country: namely, the fact that corruption does not end at the border. Although there have been a number of incidents of drug trafficking organizations exerting influence over American officials recently, the scope of the problem is hard to gauge. On one hand (as the Center for Public Integrity points out), the DHS is a massive government agency with more than 225,000 employees, and can be expected to have a few bad apples. On the other, the number of complaints against border security officers appears to be on the rise, with a 38 percent increase from 2004 to 2011.

Criminal penetration into the US is also not limited to border authorities. Local elected officials, like their Mexican counterparts, are susceptible to corruption as well. In February, law enforcement agents arrested El Paso County Commissioner Guillermo “Willie” Gandara Jr. on drug trafficking charges. Gandara was a member of an influential political family in the county, and had been running for a seat in the Texas House of Representatives.

While evidence suggests that the influence of drug trafficking organizations in the US southwest pales in comparison to the level of criminal control in the north of Mexico, incidents like these illustrate the real threat of drug traffickers’ expansion across the border. Instead of focusing on largely over-hyped “spillover violence,” it may be more worthwhile to emphasize the potential threat to institutions of government.

share icon icon icon

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.

DONATE

What are your thoughts? Click here to send InSight Crime your comments.

We encourage readers to copy and distribute our work for non-commercial purposes, with attribution to InSight Crime in the byline and links to the original at both the top and bottom of the article. Check the Creative Commons website for more details of how to share our work, and please send us an email if you use an article.

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.

DONATE

Related Content

EL SALVADOR / 13 DEC 2021

Efforts to reduce gang violence are often thought of as highly dependent on local conditions, but a recent report looks…

HOMICIDES / 4 AUG 2021

Families combing for clues about their vanished loved ones at recently discovered extermination sites in northern Mexico have turned to…

HUMAN SMUGGLING / 19 MAR 2021

A recent report from the US-Mexico border revealed that human smuggling organizations have begun giving special bracelets to undocumented migrants,…

About InSight Crime

LA ORGANIZACIÓN

Extensive Coverage of our Chronicles of a Cartel Bodyguard

23 SEP 2022

Our recent investigation, A Cartel Bodyguard in Mexico’s 'Hot Land', has received extensive media coverage.

THE ORGANIZATION

InSight Crime, American University Host Illegal Fishing Panel

19 SEP 2022

InSight Crime and the Center for Latin American & Latino Studies (CLALS) at American University discussed the findings of a joint investigation on IUU fishing at a September 9 conference.

THE ORGANIZATION

Impact on the Media Landscape

9 SEP 2022

InSight Crime’s first investigation on the Dominican Republic made an immediate impact on the Dominican media landscape, with major news outlets republishing and reprinting our findings, including in …

THE ORGANIZATION

InSight Crime Sharpens Its Skills

2 SEP 2022

Last week, the InSight Crime team gathered for our annual retreat in Colombia, where we discussed our vision and strategy for the next 12 months.  During the week, we also learned how to…

THE ORGANIZATION

Colombia’s Fragile Path to Peace Begins to Take Shape

26 AUG 2022

InSight Crime is charting the progress of President Gustavo Petro’s agenda as he looks to revolutionize Colombia’s security policy, opening dialogue with guerrillas, reforming the military and police, and…