#423 War Without Borders

Date: Thu, 17 Dec 2009
Subject: #423 War Without Borders

WAR WITHOUT BORDERS

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DrugSense FOCUS Alert #423 – Friday, 18 December 2009

The Media Awareness Project has archived almost 14 hundred articles
that mention Mexico so far this year.

Today’s front page article, below, is one of them. Taking a page from
the Los Angeles Times series ‘Mexico Under Siege’ the New York Times
calls it’s series War Without Borders.

It is that. No single issue of the drug war is costing more in lives
and resources. None leads to more corruption. None better illustrates
the costs of the prohibition of some drugs.

News clippings referencing Mexico are found at http://www.mapinc.org/topic/Mexico

Many may be appropriate targets for your letters to the
editor.

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Page: A1, Front Page

Source: New York Times (NY)

Copyright: 2009 The New York Times Company

Contact: letters@nytimes.com

Author: Randal C. Archibold

War Without Borders

HIRED BY CUSTOMS, BUT WORKING FOR THE CARTELS

SAN DIEGO — At first, Luis F. Alarid seemed well on his way to
becoming a customs agency success story. He had risen from a childhood
of poverty and foster homes, some of them abusive, earned praise and
commendations while serving in the Army and the Marines, including two
tours in Iraq, and returned to Southern California to fulfill a goal
of serving in law enforcement.

But, early last year, after just a few months as a customs inspector,
he was waving in trucks from Mexico carrying loads of marijuana and
illegal immigrants. He pocketed some $200,000 in cash that paid for,
as far as the government could tell, a $15,000 motorcycle, flat-screen
televisions, a laptop computer and more.

Some investigators believe that Mr. Alarid, 32, who was paid off by a
Mexican smuggling crew that included several members of his family,
intended to work for smugglers all along. At one point, Mr. Alarid,
who was sentenced to seven years in federal prison in February, told
investigators that he had researched just how much prison time he
might get for his crimes and believed, as investigators later
reported, that he could do it “standing on his head.”

Mr. Alarid’s case is not the only one that has law enforcement
officials worried that Mexican traffickers — facing beefed-up
security on the border that now includes miles of new fencing,
floodlights, drones, motion sensors and cameras — have stepped up
their efforts to corrupt the border police.

They research potential targets, anticorruption investigators said,
exploiting the cross-border clans and relationships that define the
region, offering money, sex, whatever it takes. But, with the border
police in the midst of a hiring boom, law enforcement officers believe
that traffickers are pulling out the stops, even soliciting some of
their own operatives to apply for jobs.

“In some ways,” said Keith Slotter, the agent in charge of the
F.B.I.’s San Diego office, “it’s like the old spy game between the old
Soviet Union and the U.S. — trying to compromise each other’s spies.”

James Tomsheck, the assistant commissioner for internal affairs at
Customs and Border Protection, and other investigators said they had
seen many signs that the drug organizations were making a concerted
effort to infiltrate the ranks.

“We are very concerned,” Mr. Tomsheck said. “There have been
verifiable instances where people were directed to C.B.P. to apply for
positions only for the purpose of enhancing the goals of criminal
organizations. They had been selected because they had no criminal
record; a background investigation would not develop derogatory
information.”

During a federal trial of a recently hired Border Patrol agent this
year, one drug trafficker with ties to organized crime in Mexico
described how he had enticed the agent, a close friend from high
school in Del Rio, Tex., who was entering the training academy, to
join his crew smuggling tons of marijuana into Texas.

The agent, Raquel Esquivel, 25, was sentenced to 15 years in prison
last week for tipping smugglers on where border guards were and
suggesting how they could avoid getting caught.

The smuggler, Diego Esquivel, who is not related to the agent, said he
told her that her decision to enter the academy was a good career move
and, he said, “I thought it was good for me, too.”

Under the Bush administration, the United States has spent billions of
dollars — $11 billion this year alone for Customs and Border
Protection — to tighten the border between the United States and
Mexico, building up physical barriers and going on a hiring spree to
develop the nation’s largest law enforcement agency to patrol the area.

But the battle for survival among cartels in Mexico, in which
thousands of people, mostly in the drug trade or fighting it, have
been killed, has only led drug traffickers to redouble their efforts
to get their drugs to market in the United States.

Along the border, many residents have family members on both sides.
Generations of residents have been accustomed to passing back and
forth relatively freely, often daily, and exchanging goods, legal or
not.

Federal officials believe that drug traffickers are seeking to exploit
those ties more than ever, urging family and friends on the American
side to take advantage of the hiring rush for customs agents. The
majority of agents and officers stay out of crime. But smuggling can
be appealing. The average officer makes $70,000 a year, a sum that can
be dwarfed by what smugglers pay to get just a few trucks full of
drugs into the United States.

Right now, only a fraction — 10 percent or so — of Customs and
Border Protection recruits are given a polygraph screening that
federal investigators say has proved effective in weeding out people
with drug ties and other troublesome backgrounds. Officials say they
do not have the money to test more recruits.

In years past, new hires rarely served in the areas where they had
grown up, but recently that practice has been relaxed somewhat to
attract more recruits, said Thomas Frost, an assistant inspector
general at the Department of Homeland Security. Mr. Frost and other
internal affairs veterans say that has made it easier for
traffickers.

Mr. Tomsheck said that several prospective hires had been turned away
after investigators suspected that they had been directed to Customs
and Border Enforcement by drug trafficking organizations, and that
several recent hires were under investigation as well, though he
declined to provide details.

As one exasperated investigator at the border put it, “There is so
much hiring; if you have a warm body and pulse, you have a job.”

The F.B.I. is planning to add three multiagency corruption squads to
the 10 already on the Southwest border, and the Department of Homeland
Security’s inspector general, the department’s primary investigative
arm, has also added agents. But such hiring has not kept up with the
growth of the agency they are entrusted to keep watch over.

Over all, arrests of Customs and Border Protection agents and officers
have increased 40 percent in the last few years, outpacing the 24
percent growth in the agency itself, according to the Department of
Homeland Security inspector general’s office. The office has 400 open
investigations, each often spanning a few years or more.

Keith A. Byers, who supervises the F.B.I.’s border corruption units,
said corruption posed a national security threat because guards seldom
verify what is in the vehicles they have agreed to let pass, raising
concerns “they could be letting something much more dangerous into the
U.S.”

Most corrupt officers gravitate to smuggling illegal immigrants,
rationalizing that is less onerous than getting involved with drugs,
investigators say.

But Mr. Byers and others point to a string of drug-related cases that
make them wonder if the conventional wisdom is holding.

Margarita Crispin, a former customs inspector in El Paso, pleaded
guilty in April 2008 and received a 20-year prison sentence in what
the F.B.I. considers one of the more egregious corruption cases.

Through a succession of boyfriends and other associates with ties to
major drug trafficking organizations in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, Ms.
Crispin helped smuggle thousands of pounds of marijuana over three
years, almost from the time she began working for the agency.

She waved off drug-sniffing dogs in her lane, complaining she was
afraid of them, although investigators later learned she had had dogs
as pets.

“She is someone who from the beginning said this would be a good job
to help the people I am associated with,” Mr. Byers said.

Just last month, Martha Garnica, a 12-year Customs and Border
Protection employee near El Paso, was charged with bribery and
marijuana smuggling in concert with traffickers in Ciudad Juarez.

Ms. Garnica’s 21-year-old daughter had also sought a job with the
Border Patrol, in what investigators deemed a suspicious move given
her mother’s alleged involvement in the drug trade. The daughter,
testifying in court last week, admitted she had lied on the
application both about being a United States citizen and about owning
property in Mexico. A spokesman for the United States Attorney’s
Office in El Paso declined to comment.

Mr. Alarid’s history in the military probably made him seem like a
good candidate for the customs job. But he had a tangled family
history. According to court papers, both his parents were drug addicts.

Mr. Alarid was born in Tijuana, Mexico, but raised largely in foster
homes in Southern California. He emerged from high school a track star
and, over the next 10 years, did stints in the Marines and the Army,
drawing praise from commanders for his dedication and service.

“I would willingly trust Luis with my life,” Sgt. Maj. Michael W.
Abbey of the Army wrote in a letter to the judge before Mr. Alarid was
sentenced in February.

Mr. Alarid began working at the border in San Diego in October 2007.
In his guilty plea, he admitted that he had started smuggling in
February 2008. He was arrested three months later.

Mr. Alarid would wave in vehicles that should have raised suspicion,
either because their license plates were partly covered or because the
plates did not belong to the vehicle, something he would have seen on
the computer screen in his inspection booth.

Before reporting to his lane, he would go out to the employee parking
lot to use his cellphone, which federal agents believe was his way of
telling the smugglers which lane to approach.

At his sentencing, all involved — the prosecutors, the judge, his
lawyer — expressed bewilderment at the turn in Mr. Alarid’s life. But
in an interview, a family member who was not part of the case said Mr.
Alarid had mounting gambling debts and, despite it all, had always
sought a bond with his biological mother.

Still, Judge Janis L. Sammartino accepted the government’s argument
that a deterrent message needed to be sent.

“I do think that the public, for a while at least, needs to be assured
that who we have at the border are 100 percent individuals of
integrity,” she said. “I think you were at one time. I don’t know what
went wrong for you, sir, and I hope that you attain that again.”

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Prepared by: Richard Lake, Senior Editor http://www.mapinc.org

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