Imagine a U.S. border guard on the take waving through a truck filled with weapons, drugs, explosives, or even a dirty bomb.
It’s that kind of scenario that keeps the FBI very focused on weeding out the occasional dishonest government official who accepts bribes to allow people or contraband into this country illegally.
“Because of its impact on national security, crookedness at our borders is one of the top priorities in our public corruption program,” says Special Agent Keith Byers, a public corruption supervisor in our Chicago office (and formerly assigned to the Public Corruption Unit at FBI Headquarters). “While it’s true that the most common acts of border corruption involve drug trafficking and human smuggling, a single incident of the wrong person getting into the country could result in a catastrophe.”
A few more possibilities of what could go wrong:
A corrupt officer might believe that he or she is accepting a bribe in return for allowing a carload of illegal immigrants to enter the country, when those individuals may actually be hard-core gang members or terrorists.
A crooked official who expedites someone’s immigration paperwork or helps someone obtain an identification document in return for a bribe could potentially be facilitating the operation of a terrorist cell, foreign counterintelligence network, or major criminal enterprise.
A corrupt officer could knowingly or unknowingly allow entry of a truck, rail car, ship, or airplane carrying weapons of mass destruction, chemical or biological weapons, or bomb-making materials.
A multi-agency response. FBI-led Border Corruption Task Forces are the cornerstone of our efforts to root out this kind of corruption. Initially located primarily along our nation’s southwest border, we now also have task forces in Detroit, Miami, and San Juan, and we are setting up others in cities like Buffalo, Newark, and Seattle. These task forces generally consist of representatives from the FBI, Department of Homeland Security agencies (including Customs and Border Protection Internal Affairs, Transportation Security Administration, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and Department of Homeland Security—Office of Inspector General), and state and local law enforcement.
And we’ve just created a National Border Corruption Task Force at FBI Headquarters. It’s role—much like that of our National Joint Terrorism Task Force—is to coordinate the activities of these regional task forces, especially in the areas of investigations, training, and inter-agency cooperation.
Through joint investigations with our partners, we’ve been able to uncover the corrupt acts of federal agents, local police, correctional officers, military personnel, and even U.S. government employees responsible for issuing passports, visas, green cards, etc. And in many instances, we’ve had success with some of the same sophisticated techniques we’ve used so effectively in the past—including undercover operations and court-authorized electronic surveillance.
Post 9/11, the ranks of those responsible for securing our borders began to swell, as did the opportunities for corruption. And while most of these individuals are honest and dedicated public servants, we will continue working to uncover those few bad apples whose illegal deeds could potentially put an entire nation at risk.