U.S. Senator Mark Pryor today said he is alarmed at the rate Mexican drug cartels are infiltrating and corrupting U.S. law enforcement in order to counter stepped-up border control measures. New data was produced by federal law enforcement officials during a hearing by the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Ad Hoc Subcommittee on State, Local and Private Sector Preparedness and Integration.
"At the southwest border we are battling Mexican drug cartels who are smuggling up to $25 billion of illegal drugs," Pryor said. "We cannot win this war at our borders unless we keep up with the evolving tactics employed by drug cartels. That means understanding the scope of their corruption efforts and taking significant steps to prevent U.S. law enforcement from being further infiltrated."
Pryor said he is particularly concerned about problems at the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), which has experienced a spike in internal corruption cases as a result of the agency's swift growth. According to testimony from Thomas Frost, Assistant Inspector General for Investigations at the Department of Homeland Security, there have been 129 arrests of corrupt CBP officers and agents since 2003. In 2009, there were 576 allegations of corruption in the CBP, 164 in Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), 64 in the U.S. Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services (CIS), and 25 in the Transportation Security Administration (TSA).
During the hearing, Pryor voiced concern that the CBP was not adequately screening job applicants. According to witness James Tomsheck, Assistant Commissioner in the Office of Internal Affairs at the CBP, less than 15 percent of applicants receive a polygraph test during the hiring process. Of those applicants who do receive a polygraph test, 60 percent are rendered unsuitable for hiring. Tomsheck also said that while CBP employees were required to undergo a background check every five years, the process was currently backlogged by 10,000 cases.
"A stringent hiring process and continuous background checks are absolutely necessary to prevent corruption, helping us weed out those who come in with bad intentions and to catch those who switch sides once hired. Going forward, we need to ensure that the CBP is utilizing all available tools to thwart the drug cartels' efforts."
During the hearing, several examples of U.S. law enforcement corruption by drug cartels were cited by witnesses. They include:
* One individual who gained employment as a border inspector for the specific purpose of trafficking in drugs. After importing more than 1000 kilograms of marijuana into the U.S. and receiving more than $5 million in bribe payments, this former public official pled guilty to one count of conspiracy.
* Two U.S. Customs and Border Protection Officers in Brownsville, TX who were assisting an illegal immigrant and narcotic smuggling organization. One of the officers was found with $85,250 in his residence.
* A Supervisory TSO who participated in the smuggling of narcotics through a checkpoint at a U.S. international airport. The Supervisory TSO was working with a conspirator who was the main organizer of an international smuggling operation.