5 Scathing Border Patrol Revelations From An Ousted Agency Chief

In an unauthorized interview, former CBP internal affairs chief James F. Tomsheck gave what could be the most scathing public criticism of the nation’s largest law enforcement agency by a high-ranking official.

AP Photo/Alex Brandon

James F. Tomsheck

The Center for Investigative Reporting Thursday published excerpts from an interview with James F. Tomsheck, the recently ousted head of internal affairs at U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP). In the unauthorized interview, Tomsheck spoke candidly about the management and culture of Border Patrol and its parent agency, CBP, accusing leadership at the agencies of covering up misconduct and corruption.

Tomsheck was removed from his post in June amid concerns that he did not direct CBP to investigate allegations of abuse and excessive use of force by border agents. He currently holds a different position within Border Patrol.

Here are the five most important things he revealed in the interview.

1. Border Patrol officials have actively and consistently tried to distort the narratives around fatal shootings to cover up wrongdoing by border agents.

Mexico / Reuters

Tomsheck said at least a quarter of 28 deaths since 2010 involving border agents were “highly suspect” regarding the use of lethal force and that reviews of the shootings by the internal affairs office were often thwarted by Border Patrol management. In at least one case, Border Patrol leadership falsely reported a person had been on U.S. soil when he was shot even though “that was clearly not the case,” Tomsheck said. “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 at hand,” he said.

2. A culture of “institutional narcissism” may have contributed to CBP’s failure to investigate shootings.

John Moore / Getty Images

Tomsheck said Border Patrol’s warped view of itself as a premier law enforcement agency is part of a broader culture of impunity at CBP. “It has been suggested by Border Patrol leadership that they are the Marine Corps of the U.S. law enforcement community,” Tomsheck said. “The Border Patrol has a self-identity of a paramilitary border security force and not that of a law enforcement agency.”

3. CBP aims to shield agents’ misconduct and rampant corruption from outside scrutiny.

Mexico / Reuters

Tomsheck said he believes between 5 and 10% of border agents are or have been guilty of crimes including taking bribes from smugglers, leaking sensitive information, and stealing government property (Other high-ranking CBP officials have said they believe that number could be as high as 20%). When Tomsheck tried to bring attention to the issue, he was allegedly retaliated against for not following the agency’s “corporate message.”

4. A recent drop in the number of corruption cases at CBP may not reflect reality.

Molly Hennessy-Fiske/Los Angeles Times / MCT

Roughly 170 CBP employees have been arrested or convicted on corruption charges since October 2004, according to the Center for Investigative Reporting. Tomsheck attributed a drop in the annual number of busts in recent years to a failure to properly share information among agencies and also said he clashed with other CBP officials who wanted to make it appear as corruption was less of a problem by “redefining” it.

5. Thousands of CBP employees hired during an unprecedented expansion following the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks may be unqualified.

AP Photo/Matt York, File

The number of Border Patrol agents more than doubled from about 10,000 in 2004 to more than 21,000 in 2011, according to the White House. Tomsheck said he was certain that criminals and infiltrators had been hired during the boom. He said approximately 55% of applicants get disqualified by pre-employment polygraph exams, which were not mandatory for all job seekers until 2013.

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