community meetings in Douglas and Tucson to discuss border security.
"Virtually all of Border Patrol agents are honest and good people who really have come into uniform to do the job, but there is an element that is corrupt and they are corrupt because the cartels put a lot of money on the table," Barber, a Democrat, said. "They are corrupt because they may have actually been recruited by the cartels to join the Border Patrol in order to be able to help them get their drugs across."
Big workforce increase
Criminal organizations have always looked for creative ways to smuggle drugs and people across the border - and a mid-2000s hiring surge of Customs and Border Protection employees might have opened a new door.
The agency's workforce jumped nearly 40 percent in about six years to 60,591 as of August 2012. Most of the new Customs and Border Protection officers and Border Patrol agents were assigned to the Southwest - the number jumped more than 50 percent during the same period of time to 24,057 employees.
The Southwest border region has seen more allegations of employee corruption and misconduct than any other, which may be partly because many of those assigned were new and less experienced, agency officials said in the report by the GAO.
"We grew the Border Patrol very quickly over the last five years," said Barber. "When you bring it up that quickly, you bring people in who may not have been the right people. The bigger the numbers, the more likely you are going to have an element who is corrupt."
Officials interviewed for the GAO report said they had concerns about the suitability of officers and agents hired during the surges because most of them didn't take a polygraph test.
The agency's polygraph program was implemented in 2008 but not every prospective new employee was required to take it. In 2009, less than 15 percent of applicants took polygraph tests, the Anti- Corruption Act of 2010 said. The act made lie-detector tests mandatory for all applicants for enforcement jobs starting last month. Customs and Border Protection said they reached the goal three months ahead of schedule.
If the latest pass rate of the polygraph test is any indication, that would mean only about one third of applicants would have been allowed to join the agency. The aim of the act, which also requires periodic background investigations of existing law enforcement agents, was to help curb corruption.
The GAO's report recommends expanding lie-detector tests to current employees, but doing so would be costly - each test costs about $800.
DUI charges common
In the Tucson Sector, agents have been caught with bundles of marijuana or sharing sensor maps and landmarks with smugglers. Some have been charged with violating people's civil rights.
On Nov. 12, 2008, Border Patrol Agents Dario Castillo and Ramon Zuniga encountered four Mexican men who were part of a larger group of drug smugglers in a remote stretch of the border on the Tohono O'odham Nation, according to an indictment in federal court.
Instead of apprehending the suspects, the agents forced them to eat marijuana and strip to their underwear, the indictment states. Then the agents set fire to their belongings and told them to flee into the desert on a night when temperatures were about 40 degrees.
Most Popular Stories
- Bipartisan Budget Deal Gets Key Support in House
- Bitcoin Clones Lurch Onto Financial Scene
- Clinton to Keynote Annual Simmons Leadership Conference
- Scotch Whisky Sales Raise Distillers' Spirits
- Budget Deal Will Cut 220,000 Californians Out of Jobless Benefits
- Holiday Shopping Off to a Slow Start This Season
- Fake Deaf Interpreter Was Hallucinating, Has Schizophrenia
- Tea Party Glum in Face of Bipartisan Budget Deal
- Futures Fall, Holiday Spending and Unemployment Up
- Health Coverage Disparities Emerge Among States