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WaPo: Former Border Patrol Watchdog Alleges Culture of Corruption, Distortion

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The Washington Post today covers the story of James Tomsheck, Customs and Border Patrol’s former head of internal affairs, who has pretty explosive things to say about CBP’s culture and practices.  At least a quarter of the 28 fatalities perpetrated by CBP agents since 2010 are “highly suspect,” he says, and the agency has a habit of trying to shut up whistleblowers and cover its own tracks.

The Border Patrol has been under increased scrutiny in recent months, since a broad internal review of CBP’s use-of-force policies began in 2012.  A revision of their use-0f-force policy in May revealed that agents sometimes purposefully stepped into the path of cars in order to justify shooting at them.  Other reports have found that complaints against CBP abuses are often ignored — and in fact cannot even properly be tallied, because the system is so poorly equipped to receive them.

On top of all that, Tomsheck alleges, CBP has a culture of distorting facts that attempts to whitewash nearly every border shooting.  “In nearly every instance, there was an effort by Border Patrol leadership to make a case to justify the shooting versus doing a genuine, appropriate review of the information and the facts,” he said.

In addition to shooting coverups, Tomsheck says:

  • The extent of CBP’s corruption includes agents taking bribes from those smuggling drugs or people and stealing government property.  Tomsheck believes that 5-10% of CBP agents are corrupt or have been at some point, and that many are unfit to carry a badge and gun.  He is certain that CBP’s ranks include criminals, who may have links to criminal organizations and drug use.  Others within the agency seem to agree with Tomsheck: senior CBP leaders told the FBI in 2012 that the agency corruption rate was 20% or more.
  • CBP’s culture is rooted in border politics and its own warped view of itself — what Tomsheck calls “institutional narcissism.”  According to him, CBP believes that it is the premier federal law-enforcement agency and exists beyond constitutional restraints.  As Tomsheck said, “The Border Patrol has a self-identity of a paramilitary border security force and not that of a law-enforcement organization.”
  • CBP actively interfered with Tomsheck’s efforts to investigate shootings and other abuses, telling his office to back off or stand down.  Tomsheck said he was criticized and ultimately retaliated against for not following the agency’s “corporate message” on corruption by “redefining” it so it appeared to be less of an issue.

For instance, Tomsheck says that in 2011, he was scolded for being candid about CBP’s integrity issues at a Senate hearing a week earlier.  Deputy CBP commissioner David Aguilar is said to have yelled at Tomsheck for not being a part “of his ‘corporate message’ on corruption.”

Later, Aguilar became acting commissioner, and tried to pressure Tomsheck into redefining corruption  to include only “mission-critical” compromises, such as taking bribes to aid drug traffickers and human smugglers. When Tomsheck refused, Aguilar retaliated by penalizing his performance review, Tomsheck alleged. The negative review was later reversed by CBP.