Corruption and Other Drugs

The war on drugs rattles the U.S.-Mexico border as illicit drug use in the U.S. rises and cartels infiltrate American law enforcement.
by | April 12, 2011 AT 6:00 PM

In the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks, beefing up border security was on the top of the U.S. priority list, fueled by public demand.

In response, the Bush administration aimed to add 10,000 Customs and Border Protection employees (under the Homeland Security umbrella) to its workforce of 42,000, the Los Angeles Times reported in 2006. But, as it turns out, officials were caught off guard.

Despite efforts by thousands of law enforcement agents to stem the stream of narcotics entering the U.S., the trafficking trade has turned the U.S.-Mexico border into a red zone, which has led to the murders of more than 35,000 Mexicans since 2007, the San Diego Union-Tribune reports.

And what's driving the trafficking trade? Public demand.

“The U.S. government is acknowledging that the demand for drugs in the U.S. is driving instability and violence in Mexico,” Rafael Lemaitre, spokesman for the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy told the Union-Tribune. “While you are enforcing the law and taking down violent drug organizations, at the same time you also have to educate every new generation of young people that drug use is harmful.”

That's called irony.

But the plot thickens as we mix in this latest report from NBC News:

In the Mexican drug war, U.S. authorities are finding a disturbing trend: an increase in American law enforcement officials corrupted by wealthy Mexican criminals who pay them to look the other way as illegal drugs and immigrants flow north into the United States.

“It is the single most debilitating factor in successful law enforcement on the border, and we do a horrible job of weeding that corruption out,” says retired DEA supervisor Anthony Coulson.

In the last five years, nearly 80 U.S. Border Patrol agents and Customs and Border Protection officers have been arrested along the Mexican border, and according to federal authorities, hundreds more officials are under investigation.

As noted in the NBC News report, a U.S. Senate hearing revealed that the corruption runs deep, stemming back to the Border Patrol and CBP hiring push five years ago, in which “only 10 percent of the initial applicants were given polygraph tests.” Of that group, 60 percent failed, so who knows how many slipped through the cracks without screening.

"A very large percentage of those they don't test run into trouble within a year or two of being hired,” Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark. told NBC News.

To try and weed out the bad seeds, President Obama recently signed Pryor’s measure (Anti-Border Corruption Act) into law that requires all prospective Customs and Border Protection employees undergo a polygraph test. In addition, the NBC News report says, 13 FBI anti-corruption teams must watch the 2,000-mile-long border, “policing the police.”

Who would have seen this coming? Scott Henson over at Grits for Breakfast, a blog that examines the criminal justice system in Texas did. Back in 2006, he predicted this very outcome:

Seriously -- if you were a cartel leader, wouldn't you be manufacturing phony ID papers and sending in your lieutenants to apply for these slots as quick as you could? And do you think the Bush Homeland Security department will handle vetting 10,000 new agents any more competently than, say, the response to Hurricane Katrina?

Maybe I'm just being [cynical], or maybe I've just seen it happen too many times, but I predict we'll see increased corruption problems among border officials in coming years as a result of this illogically rapid, politically motivated border security buildup.

This, of course, raises the repetitive question: Should the government get credit for cleaning up a mess partly created from its own faulty policies?