Mexico Cartels Recruiting US Border Agents: Inspector General

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Department of Homeland Security (DHS) employees are being recruited by Mexican cartels to help smuggle drugs across the US-Mexico border, according to testimony from the Inspector General, highlighting the inability of border agencies to root out persistent corruption problems.

In his written testimony presented to the US House of Representatives (pdf) April 15, DHS Inspector General John Roth said Mexican drug trafficking organizations “have turned to recruiting and corrupting DHS employees.” Agents along the border receive “cash bribes, sexual favors, and other gratuities” to let contraband through inspection lanes at border crossings.

The obvious form of corruption involves physically aiding smugglers, like the case of one border patrol agent who helped three traffickers bring 147 pounds of marijuana across the US-Mexico border. But corruption is not confined to the border region: Roth also noted the case of a Transportation Security Administration (TSA) supervisor who helped traffickers avoid security screening at an airport in the US Virgin Islands.

The less obvious form of corruption, according to Roth, is when officers leak sensitive information to drug traffickers, allowing them to track investigations and root out informants. In one case, a border patrol agent passed the locations of border patrol units, sensor maps, access codes to gates along the border, and computer records of drug seizures to a former Arizona state prison guard who worked with a smuggling group.

According to Roth, “only a small percentage of employees have committed criminal acts.” Of the 240,000 people employed at DHS, there were 16,281 complaints in 2014. Only 564 of these complaints led to investigations, and 112 resulted in criminal convictions.

InSight Crime Analysis

It is true that a very small percentage of DHS employees are convicted of criminal offenses; Roth maintained in his testimony that the actions of the few should not damage the credibility of many. But years of allegations along the border indicate DHS agencies may have persistent and systemic corruption problems.

The size of agencies like Customs and Border Protection (CBP) have ballooned over the last decade, but the Inspector General has less than one investigator for every 1000 employees. In 2014, DHS released a report that over 2,000 officers were under investigation for links to organized crime. In CBP, the majority of corruption cases involve drug trafficking, closely followed by bribery, according the Center for Investigative Reporting, which maintains a database of CBP officers that have been convicted of crimes.

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DHS agencies are not the only US law enforcement agencies susceptible to corruption along the border. In one flagrant case, an elite anti-drug unit in the Hidalgo county sheriff department evolved from stealing drugs and cash during successful busts to moving half-ton drug shipments of their own through Texas.

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