USDOJ/OIG Special Report
The Border Patrol, an agency of the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), is responsible for controlling illegal immigration along this country's borders. In October 1994 it initiated a new border control strategy - "Operation Gatekeeper" - in its San Diego Sector, the preferred area of entry for illegal immigrants traveling from Mexico to the United States. Prior to Gatekeeper, the San Diego Sector accounted for more than 40 percent of the Border Patrol's total apprehensions of illegal immigrants.
Gatekeeper represented a radical departure from the Border Patrol's previous immigration control strategy of apprehending as many illegal aliens who crossed the border as possible. Understaffed and lacking the proper equipment to meet the flood of aliens who overran agents on a nightly basis, the INS - under intense political pressure from state and federal officials - invested substantial resources in this new strategy that shifted the Border Patrol's emphasis from apprehending illegal aliens to preventing their crossing the border in the first place.
On June 23, 1996, two officials of the National Border Patrol Council (the union representing Border Patrol agents, hereinafter "the Union") were quoted in a San Diego County newspaper as saying that Operation Gatekeeper was a failure. More significantly, they charged that Border Patrol supervisors falsified records, altered intelligence reports, and conducted operations so as to mislead the public about the program's effectiveness. These and other allegations were repeated in testimony before a California State Assembly subcommittee in July, a Congressional subcommittee in August, and media reports.
The Department of Justice's Office of the Inspector General (OIG) began investigating these allegations of fraud relating to Operation Gatekeeper in July 1996 at the request of then Deputy Attorney General Jamie Gorelick. Our investigation examined eight major categories of allegations involving 1) falsification of Sector apprehension data; 2) limits on apprehensions; 3) suppression of negative information in Sector intelligence reports; 4) nightscopes; 5) sensors; 6) drag roads; 7) overstatement of Gatekeeper's success; and 8) deception of a Congressional delegation visiting the Sector. After a brief introduction to the San Diego Sector and Operation Gatekeeper, we discuss each of the allegations in turn. We conclude with several recommendations for the INS and Border Patrol.
I. Background on the San Diego Sector and Operation Gatekeeper
The San Diego Sector of the Border Patrol is comprised of five border stations - Imperial Beach, Chula Vista, Brown Field, El Cajon, and Campo - and two inland checkpoint stations - San Clemente and Temecula. The Sector extends from the Pacific Ocean to the eastern edge of San Diego County, California. This Sector has traditionally been the busiest Border Patrol Sector in the United States and the area along the Southwest border preferred by illegal immigrants entering the United States.
In fiscal year 1994, the year immediately preceding implementation of Operation Gatekeeper, the Sector apprehended 447,540 illegal aliens, accounting for almost 44 percent of Border Patrol apprehensions nationwide and more than three times as many apprehensions as the second busiest sector. Border Patrol agents at the Imperial Beach Station - who are responsible for the first 5 1/2 miles of the border from the Pacific Ocean to the San Ysidro Port of Entry - alone apprehended more illegal aliens in fiscal year 1994 than any other entire sector.
Historically, the San Diego Sector's border was chaotic and dangerous. Each night thousands of would-be crossers gathered - often on the United States side of the border - to make the dash north past whatever resources the Border Patrol could muster. Large numbers of aliens would enter the San Ysidro Port of Entry and race up the southbound lanes of Interstate Highway 5. The nearby residential communities suffered nightly from large groups of undocumented aliens moving through their neighborhoods and yards. The Border Patrol was understaffed, under-equipped, and overrun.
In August 1994 the Attorney General and INS Commissioner Doris Meissner agreed that a new strategy would be initiated in San Diego on October 1, 1994. This new, multi-year effort was aimed at gaining control of the entire San Diego Sector one station at a time. The new strategy was motivated in part by Operation Hold the Line, a strategy initiated by the Border Patrol in downtown El Paso in October 1993. In that operation, agents assumed positions along the border visible to both would-be border crossers and to other agents. This deployment effectively stopped numerous day-crossers and resulted in a 70 percent decrease in El Paso Sector apprehensions.
Operation Gatekeeper was first launched at the Imperial Beach Station because it was experiencing the largest amount of illegal traffic. Subsequently, the same operational concepts have been implemented at the remaining line stations beginning with Chula Vista - the station immediately east of Imperial Beach - and continuing in an easterly progression station by station to the Sector's eastern border.
The new plan combined a substantial infusion of resources - both personnel and equipment - and a new, three-tiered deployment of agents. The first tier was deployed in high visibility, fixed positions along the border and had prevention, apprehension, and observation responsibilities. A second tier of agents located further north in corridors heavily traveled by aliens had more freedom of movement in containing and apprehending illegal aliens who made it past the first tier. The third tier was charged with apprehending any aliens who made it past the Border Patrol's first two lines of defense. Given Gatekeeper's deterrence emphasis, a large number of agents was assigned to fixed positions in the first tier along the border. These agents were instructed to remain in their assigned positions rather than chase alien traffic passing through adjacent areas. Agents were instructed to advise their colleagues in the next tier north of any aliens moving in their direction. Prior to Gatekeeper, such stationary positions were relatively rare.
The new strategy also employed significant amounts of new equipment, including nightscopes to help agents see illegal aliens crossing the border in darkness, seismic sensors that detect movement, portable radios, an electronic fingerprinting system called IDENT, and four-wheel drive vehicles.
Border Patrol management believed that if sufficient resources were positioned along the border, a station could be brought "under control," meaning that 80-90 percent of illegal entrants would be apprehended. If the risk of apprehension became sufficiently high in a particular area, the number of persons attempting entry there would fall, according to the theory that lay behind Operation Gatekeeper. Consequently, aliens intent on attempting to cross the border illegally would move eastward to locations where the Border Patrol believed that it could apprehend them more easily.
Operation Gatekeeper represented a sea change in the job assignments for many field agents. Rather than being free to patrol the station's entire area of responsibility searching for illegal aliens to apprehend, agents were instructed to remain in fixed positions to deter entry. Instead of being praised for apprehending numerous aliens, agents were told that deterrence and lower apprehension numbers were Gatekeeper's objectives.
Under the old system apprehension figures provided a ready measure of an agent's skill and work ethic; under Gatekeeper, the abstract concept of deterrence governed. Instead of taking whatever action they could to apprehend illegal crossers, agents were told to remain in an assigned position to deter entry into the country. Agents who were previously free to decide how and where they would work and what illegal traffic they would pursue were for the first time assigned to a fairly constrained area and instructed on what traffic they could pursue and for what distance.
Many agents disliked these new methods and believed Gatekeeper was merely a political ploy rather than a legitimate strategy. Some agents believed that political pressure from Washington, D.C. (variously defined as the President, the Attorney General, the INS Commissioner, or Congress) forced supervisors to reduce the number of apprehensions, even if to do so required fraud. Some agents became suspicious of their supervisors' motives and began talking about their suspicions; rumors of alleged falsifications began to spread.
II. The OIG Investigation
On July 8, 1996, the OIG assumed lead responsibility over the investigation of alleged fraud relating to Operation Gatekeeper. On August 28, 1996, at Congressman Elton Gallegly's request, the OIG also assumed responsibility for investigating the allegation that a Congressional Task Force had been deceived when it visited the San Diego Sector in April 1995.1
The vague and general nature of the fraud allegations presented an investigative challenge. Except for the allegations concerning the Congressional Task Force visit, no specific dates on which misconduct allegedly occurred were provided. The Union also did not identify any eyewitnesses to the alleged misconduct, did not (in most instances) specify at which station the alleged misconduct took place, did not identify any perpetrators of alleged misconduct by name (other than Chief Patrol Agent Johnny Williams), and did not provide any documentation concerning its allegations. Consequently, one of the OIG's first priorities was to identify witnesses from the approximately 2,000 Border Patrol agents assigned to the San Diego Sector who could provide relevant information concerning the fraud allegations.
The OIG interviewed a broad range of personnel at each Sector station or unit. Because the fraud allegations tended to relate to particular personnel at the stations - including intelligence officers, scope operators, and sensor coordinators - the OIG interviewed personnel at each station who held these posts, as well as personnel at every level of the station and Sector hierarchy.
The OIG interviewed every individual who we learned had either publicly or privately made an allegation of fraud concerning Operation Gatekeeper and all supervisors who were alleged to have engaged in acts of fraud. In addition to San Diego Sector employees, the OIG interviewed the primary decision-makers for Operation Gatekeeper, including Attorney General Janet Reno, former Deputy Attorney General Jamie Gorelick, former Acting Deputy Attorney General Seth Waxman, INS Commissioner Doris Meissner, and the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of California, Alan Bersin. Each of these individuals was interviewed at length and under oath. In all, the OIG conducted 364 substantive interviews regarding the allegations of fraud in Operation Gatekeeper.
Some Union officials, on the other hand, did not initially cooperate with the OIG investigation. Consequently, the OIG was unable to interview many of the primary complaining witnesses until well into the investigation. These tactics significantly delayed the completion of the investigation and added to its cost.
The OIG issued two comprehensive document requests to INS, one covering Operation Gatekeeper generally and another that dealt with the Congressional Delegation's visit. In this phase of the investigation, the OIG reviewed more than 68,000 pages of materials. The OIG also reviewed more than 100 videotapes of news broadcasts regarding Operation Gatekeeper, INS and Border Patrol public promotional videos, speeches by INS and Border Patrol personnel regarding Gatekeeper, and more than 8,000 computer files obtained from Sector Intelligence.
III. The OIG Conclusions Regarding Alleged Fraud in Operation Gatekeeper
A. Falsification of apprehension data
One of the central allegations was that apprehension figures, reported by INS and the Border Patrol, fraudulently understated the number of illegal aliens apprehended in the San Diego Sector. Because it is impossible to measure how many people attempt to enter the country illegally, the only concrete measure of alien traffic has been apprehension figures. As a result, these figures have been the primary measure of success for Operation Gatekeeper and the basis for justifying its continuance and expansion. Thus, if true, these allegations call into question the efficacy of Gatekeeper, the reliability of the data used to assess its success, and the future of similar border programs.
The previous year's success of Operation Hold the Line, the deterrence-based border control strategy in Texas, increased pressure on Operation Gatekeeper to show similar results. Indeed, during Congressional hearings on Operation Gatekeeper in March 1995, the panel extracted a promise from Commissioner Meissner that apprehensions in San Diego would fall 70 percent in the next year.
Union officials alleged that Border Patrol management could not fulfill that promise and instead chose to falsify apprehension figures to make them materially lower. According to the allegations, Border Patrol personnel falsified data in several ways: First, it was claimed that they altered apprehension reports to reflect fewer persons being apprehended than actually were. Second, supervisors allegedly discarded or destroyed apprehension records so that the records would not be counted. Third, aliens were allegedly chased from the United States back into Mexico without recording any apprehensions. Fourth, "busloads" of aliens allegedly were returned to Mexico without being processed or counted. Fifth, it was alleged that aliens apprehended at western stations in the San Diego Sector were reported as being apprehended at eastern stations in order to show that Gatekeeper was effective at pushing traffic east. Finally, aliens apprehended at western stations in the Sector allegedly were returned to Mexico at ports of entry (POEs) outside of the San Diego Sector to make it appear that traffic had moved east.
Because these allegations went to the heart of the public claims regarding Gatekeeper's success, the OIG interviewed a broad range of witnesses at each of the stations, at each level of the Sector hierarchy, Western Region and INS Intelligence personnel, and others throughout the Department of Justice (DOJ) who regularly receive apprehension statistics. In total, the OIG interviewed 307 persons regarding apprehension statistics and the possibility that they were falsified, 78 of whom actually prepared reports containing apprehension statistics. The OIG also reviewed thousands of Border Patrol, INS, and DOJ reports containing apprehension statistics.
We found no evidence of any conspiracy by the Border Patrol to fraudulently reduce apprehension statistics. Significantly, no witness interviewed by the OIG claimed to have first-hand knowledge that any apprehension statistic during Gatekeeper had been fabricated or claimed to have seen a document containing an altered apprehension statistic. Extensive reviews of intelligence reports at all levels of the Border Patrol and INS, likewise, uncovered no supporting evidence.
Testimony from witnesses at all levels of the Border Patrol/INS hierarchy indicated that any effort to alter apprehension statistics could not succeed because of several factors. First, multiple documents including apprehension forms, apprehension tallies, scope reports, and transportation logs are compiled by a variety of Border Patrol personnel to collect apprehension data. Anyone attempting to falsify apprehension records would have to consistently alter each of these reports to avoid an obvious contradictory paper trail. Second, responsibility for gathering apprehension information was shared among many agents who were frequently rotated to different positions. Accordingly, successful fabrication of apprehension data would require the active cooperation of numerous individuals at multiple levels of the organization. Third, because of the huge number of apprehensions recorded in the San Diego Sector and at Imperial Beach, any effort to substantially reduce apprehension numbers would require consistently large adjustments to the data. We found no evidence that such adjustments occurred on any single day, let alone on a daily basis for a significant period of time.
Nor was the claim substantiated that apprehension records (INS Forms I-826 and I-827) were discarded or "mysteriously lost." Only one agent claimed to have seen apprehension records discarded, and he represented that he had done it unilaterally on one occasion with respect to records concerning approximately 100 aliens. Again, to make a noticeable difference, thousands of records would have to be destroyed or discarded. Because apprehensions are recorded in several ways, including on transportation logs and through IDENT, large numbers of missing I-826/I-827 forms would be obvious. We found no one who claimed to have observed such a discrepancy, no one who could produce documentation of such an event, and no such evidence in our review of documents.
We did discover credible evidence of isolated instances at each of the line stations - before and during Gatekeeper - when some apprehended aliens were not properly processed. However, there was no evidence that this was done so that recorded apprehension totals would fall. We found that on occasion aliens were returned to Mexico "over the fence" (referred to as "local voluntary returns" or "local VRs") with no record made of their apprehension. Similarly, some aliens were returned through a POE without proper processing. The evidence showed, however, that such conduct was rare and had no measurable impact on reported apprehensions. These processing errors generally involved intoxicated or pregnant aliens and non-Mexican nationals - aliens who would require more time- consuming paperwork to be completed by the apprehending agent. Consequently, it appears that these breaches of proper policy were due to the nature of the apprehended alien and the reluctance to make the additional effort to process the alien properly, rather than an attempt to depress apprehension statistics during Gatekeeper. Moreover, except for one incident that could not be confirmed, the decision not to process an alien was made by individual agents, not supervisors. We also found substantial evidence that when such conduct became known to supervisors - particularly "local VRs" - disciplinary action was taken against the agents involved.
The only failure-to-process allegation that implicated numerous aliens involved rainy nights at Chula Vista when the station was overrun with illegal traffic. This allegation, while partially true, did not corroborate the underlying allegations against Gatekeeper. We found that while aliens apprehended on such nights were sometimes not processed through IDENT, they were processed and recorded on hard copy forms and counted in station totals. Thus, there was no impact on the station's reported apprehension figures.
Allegations that aliens apprehended in the western part of the Sector were reported as apprehended in the east also were unfounded. There was no evidence that supported this claim. Although we found some evidence of inaccurate reporting within station boundaries, this stemmed from apparently innocent mistakes caused by confusion over zone boundaries or attempts by agents to avoid the creation of additional stationary positions that would have resulted from reports of high numbers of apprehensions in a particular area. Moreover, because station-based location data was used only for making internal station deployment decisions and not reported outside the Sector, there was no evidence that these types of inaccuracies could have any impact on publicly reported illegal traffic patterns. Any inaccurate data only hampered internal station operations.
Finally, INS did openly initiate a program to return aliens apprehended in the San Diego Sector to other sectors east of San Diego. The evidence demonstrates that this program was intended to eliminate immediate reentry attempts, to separate aliens from their smugglers, and to make entry more difficult. We found no evidence that it was implemented for fraudulent purposes.
Several general observations regarding the claims that apprehension statistics were falsified are appropriate. First, any successful scheme to falsify apprehension statistics would have required the cooperation of scores of employees. With little notice, the Sector had been assigned the task of creating an operation that completely altered the way Border Patrol agents did their jobs. There were numerous new reporting requirements and huge influxes of personnel, both detailees from other sectors and new recruits. Repeatedly during the OIG interviews, supervisors and agents expressed disbelief at the notion that such a complex scheme could have been implemented during Gatekeeper.
Second, the number of agents who claimed to have even second-hand knowledge of efforts to falsify statistics was extremely small. If such extensive falsification were taking place, it would have been obvious to numerous agents. In light of the broad range of witnesses interviewed by the OIG, the lack of knowledge of such alleged conduct is telling.
Third, Union officials alleged that fraudulent activities were occurring on a large scale but that these activities ceased suddenly when the OIG investigation began. If that were true, a sudden increase in reported apprehensions should have occurred when the investigation began. There was no such increase.
Finally, given the nature of the allegations, supporting documentation would exist if they were true. The fact that not a single witness could offer any corroborating documentation and the fact that we were unable to find any despite reviewing thousands of pages of documents is substantial evidence that the allegations are untrue.
B. Artificial limits on apprehensions
The second major contention was that the Border Patrol was suppressing or setting limits on the number of alien apprehensions. These allegations were more challenging to investigate than those regarding report falsification. No paper trail existed to prove or disprove these allegations. While many of the facts underlying these allegations were not in dispute - e.g., random patrols near Temecula had, in fact, been curtailed during Gatekeeper - the motives and intent of the supervisors issuing the orders were very much at issue. These allegations forced us to probe the intent of those giving orders to determine whether they were legitimately attempting to achieve deterrence - and as a consequence lower apprehension numbers - or were merely aiming to lower apprehension numbers as a public relations stratagem.
To resolve these issues the OIG interviewed 266 witnesses regarding possible artificial controls on apprehension levels and reviewed thousands of documents discussing various strategic plans. In addition, we observed actual deployments of personnel during border tours.
None of the claims that supervisors were preventing agents from apprehending aliens in order to artificially limit apprehensions was substantiated. Witness testimony and contemporaneous documents make clear that supervisors were seeking to lower apprehension numbers by increasing deterrence, not by avoiding apprehensions. Although supervisors were unquestionably concerned about the number of apprehensions and frustrated when they remained high, they repeatedly assigned additional resources to high traffic areas despite the fact that this resulted, at least in the short run, in an increase in apprehensions.
A few agents at Imperial Beach complained that supervisors were ordering them to ignore aliens within their assigned positions. However, none of the complainants could offer any specific instance when a supervisor told an agent not to apprehend aliens within his assigned area. In contrast, more than 80 fellow agents at Imperial Beach - who attended the same meetings as the complainants and heard the same instructions - understood supervisors to describe a strategy of deterrence, not abdication of duty.
Several agents also contended that there were strict limits placed on the number of aliens who could be apprehended in a given day or shift. Overwhelming evidence supports a finding that supervisors at Imperial Beach set goals or benchmarks for the number of apprehensions. No credible evidence, however, supports an inference that these were actual limits on apprehensions. None of the complainants could provide a single instance when apprehensions were halted because the quota or limit had been reached. Similarly, these agents could not explain why stations often reported apprehensions well above the alleged limit of 200. While on occasion Sector managers contacted stations that regularly reported apprehensions in excess of benchmarks, our investigation revealed that the purpose of these calls was to obtain information and to discuss resources, not to threaten supervisors for performance failures. Furthermore, if the allegation were correct that a 200-person per day apprehension limit had been set for Imperial Beach in early 1996, we would expect to see a sudden drop in daily apprehensions when the limit was imposed and an equally sudden surge when the limit was subsequently removed. No such fluctuation in daily apprehensions was recorded.
It also was alleged that agents were disciplined for leaving their assigned positions to apprehend aliens, again allegedly to prevent apprehensions. Although there was substantial evidence that some agents had been disciplined or at least admonished for leaving their assigned border positions, the evidence shows that these agents were disciplined because they had violated direct orders regarding their assignments. None of these agents had advised their supervisor that they were leaving their positions and would need a relief agent. Instead, each agent had unilaterally decided to abandon his assigned position to do something else. Regardless of the reason, this left the position open. Numerous witnesses testified that smugglers quickly exploited these open positions. In addition, we found that those who were disciplined were generally agents who repeatedly left their positions without permission, had received prior warnings, and were gone from their assigned positions for lengthy periods of time. In contrast, numerous agents testified that they were permitted to leave positions to pursue aliens after notifying their supervisors and arranging for cover from other nearby agents.
Complaints that agents were assigned to low traffic areas also were unsubstantiated. The evidence showed that agents were transferred from so-called "high traffic" areas to high visibility positions in order to deter entry. Examples of such personnel assignments cited by complainants were rational managerial decisions aimed at gaining control of particular areas along the border. There was ample testimony and documentary evidence that the placement of agents along the border was determined by the level of traffic encountered in particular areas - the more illegal traffic an area experienced, the more agents were assigned to that area. We found no evidence that supervisors left high traffic areas unpatrolled in order to reduce apprehensions.
It also was alleged that agents were ordered to chase aliens back across the border rather than apprehend them as a way to suppress apprehensions. Agents have on occasion chased aliens back toward the border rather than apprehending them, a strategy known as "TBS," or "Turn Back South." Agents stated that they do not physically force aliens over the fence; instead, the aliens are maneuvered into a position where they must choose between apprehension and retreat. In such circumstances, most aliens retreat. The evidence showed that turning aliens back south is a legitimate tactic that was in use long before Gatekeeper as a means to contain large groups of aliens and to protect agents from injury. We found no evidence that during Gatekeeper supervisors were ordering agents to use this tactic, let alone ordering them to use it in inappropriate circumstances. The decision to turn aliens back south was made by individual agents and was based on the agent's judgment as to whether apprehension was a reasonable and safe alternative. Thus, there was no support for the claim that aliens were being turned back south to make Gatekeeper appear effective.
It was alleged that roving patrols - random patrols for vehicles that possibly contain undocumented aliens - had been curtailed at the Temecula checkpoint station to prevent apprehensions and hide evidence that illegal alien traffic had made it past the border defenses. The evidence confirmed that roving patrols had been curtailed as alleged, but it also demonstrated that this was done for reasons unrelated to a desire to decrease apprehensions. Although curtailing roving patrols may have reduced apprehension numbers, there was overwhelming evidence that this operational change was motivated by safety and legal concerns, as well as Congressional pressure to operate the Temecula checkpoint around the clock. In addition, the creation of mobile checkpoints - which were adopted by management as a substitute for roving patrols and allowed agents to stop all vehicles for inspection without the risk of dangerous vehicle pursuits or the potential legal infirmities of random vehicle stops - cuts against any inference that roving patrols were restricted as a means of curtailing apprehensions.
Several witnesses complained that the elimination of third-tier or backup positions permitted aliens who made it past the first two tiers to successfully enter the country, thereby concealing the fact that the primary tiers were not successful at deterring traffic. Although third-tier positions at Imperial Beach were substantially weakened and left empty for a time, we saw no evidence that this action was taken to permit aliens unimpeded entry. Indeed, third-tier agents were transferred to first-tier positions on the border in an effort to deter more traffic and to apprehend traffic that was not successfully deterred. When there was inadequate personnel to staff every position in every tier, it was logical for management to give priority to the critical, first-tier border positions designed to deter illegal entry.
Finally, several witnesses complained that the Border Patrol ignored citizen reports of alien traffic, again for the alleged purpose of reducing apprehensions. Although not every citizen call received a response, the evidence demonstrates that the stations made an effort to respond when possible. The Border Patrol's refusal to remove agents from high visibility positions along the border to respond to each and every report concerning individuals who might not be undocumented aliens and who might not be at the reported location when agents arrived was not an irrational policy.
In addition to the specific findings outlined above, it should be noted that the allegations that aliens were ignored and agents were prevented from apprehending them can be refuted empirically. It is undisputed that Imperial Beach is the entry location of choice for illegal traffic because it offers the easiest and most direct route into the United States. It is also undisputed that aliens would not attempt to cross in more difficult areas east of Imperial Beach unless the easier, preferred route was no longer available to them. Accordingly, if agents ignored aliens, allowed them to cross unimpeded, were placed in positions where they could not apprehend aliens, or otherwise were prevented from apprehending aliens so that they could enter and not be apprehended, aliens would continue to choose Imperial Beach as their entry location.
Since Gatekeeper began, however, Imperial Beach neighborhoods that were previously characterized by substantial illegal alien traffic have become comparatively quiet. Evidence of alien traffic in these areas has dropped dramatically. Even Gatekeeper's most vocal detractors conceded that the number of aliens in Imperial Beach has been significantly reduced since Gatekeeper began. In contrast, alien traffic in areas east of Imperial Beach has skyrocketed. This undisputed shift in crossing patterns is evidence that claims that agents sat by idly while aliens ran over their vehicles and by their positions were false.
In addition, the allegation was raised that once the OIG began its investigation, the Border Patrol's improper practices ceased. If that were true, apprehension statistics should show a significant increase beginning in late July 1996. As noted previously, however, the statistics show no such spike. Conversely, if the alleged improper practices were still ongoing when the OIG's investigation commenced, witnesses should have been able to give us specific examples. During our investigation, however, we received only one current complaint about a supervisor allegedly preventing an agent from apprehending aliens. We investigated that allegation thoroughly and found it to be without merit.
Although complaints about artificial limits on apprehensions were correct with regard to some facts, such as the elimination of roving patrols, the weakening of backup positions, and the rule that agents assigned to first-line border positions could no longer leave those positions, the assumption by a very small number of agents that these operational changes were made to avoid apprehensions was unfounded. Their fellow agents who heard the same instructions and saw the same actions concluded that their supervisors were acting in good faith to implement a new approach to operations designed to improve the Border Patrol's effectiveness. We agree with their conclusion and find no evidence that supervisors acted to intentionally preclude agents from making apprehensions.
C. Suppression of negative information in Sector Intelligence
Another complaint alleged that information tending to put Gatekeeper in a bad light was excised from Sector Intelligence reports. During the investigation, witnesses identified five specific instances when specific information was allegedly removed or ordered not reported. To investigate these allegations, the OIG interviewed: 10 current and former personnel in Sector Intelligence; selected personnel in Western Region and INS Headquarters Intelligence; agents assigned to the Sector's Public Information Office; and staff in INS and DOJ management. We also reviewed hundreds of Sector Intelligence reports.
The OIG could not substantiate any of the specific allegations that the Sector's Chief Patrol Agent (CPA) or anyone else ordered that negative information be excluded from Sector Intelligence reports. Indeed, in four of the five alleged incidents we determined that the information was not actually suppressed. Although we could not conclusively resolve the one remaining allegation, we did determine that if it occurred, it did so five months prior to Gatekeeper's implementation. We also determined that on one occasion the CPA used inappropriately dismissive and degrading language when editing a report prepared by Sector Intelligence.
Nightscopes (also known as "scopes") are used in the San Diego Sector to detect alien traffic attempting to cross the border in the dark. The scope operators observe traffic and radio its locations to agents in the field.
Nightscope reports are used to generate "gotaway" figures - counts of aliens who have entered the United States and successfully eluded apprehension. The OIG received allegations that these reports were falsified so that they significantly understated gotaways and that nightscopes were placed in poor positions in order to preclude agents from observing large amounts of illegal traffic. To investigate these allegations, the OIG interviewed 200 witnesses, including 87 scope operators Sector-wide - 43 of whom worked at Imperial Beach, the location of the most specific allegation regarding altered reports. We also reviewed hundreds of scope reports.
Although the OIG encountered some rumors and much suspicion that scope reports were being falsified, only two agents claimed to have actually seen an altered scope report. One agent claimed he had observed a supervisor erase a "0" from his report of 150 gotaways. Not only did we find no evidence in support of this claim, we found substantial evidence indicating that the incident did not occur. In the other case, an agent testified that in 1995 he had submitted a report indicating 20 gotaways, but several days later noticed that his report had been changed to read "2" gotaways. In light of the vague and implausible allegation and the complete absence of any support for the agent's claim, we find it unsubstantiated.
The OIG investigators found that supervisors frequently questioned scope operators about reported gotaways, but the evidence demonstrated that this questioning was directed at curing weaknesses in border operations, not pressuring agents into falsifying records.
Similarly, we found the few isolated complaints about scope placement unsubstantiated. We conclude that there was no effort on the part of supervisors to place nightscopes in unproductive locations to hide alien traffic. On occasion, agents wanted to place nightscopes in alternative locations, but these locations were not accepted because supervisors determined that they were not consistent with the Gatekeeper strategy of trying to work traffic closer to the border.
Electronic sensors buried in the ground along trails used by aliens traveling north alert Sector Communications when they detect movement. Any seismic movement detected by the sensor is called a "hit." Unfortunately, the sensor cannot distinguish between human traffic, animals, vehicles, or other ground-shaking disturbances such as earthquakes or thunder. When a sensor detects movement, it sends a radio signal to Sector Communications and a "ticket" appears on a computer screen indicating the sensor number, the number of hits, the date, and the time. A communications specialist radios the sensor's number and the number of hits to agents in the field, who can then determine whether the movement was caused by alien traffic.
The OIG received four allegations regarding sensors: 1) sensors were "inhibited" to prevent them from signaling that alien traffic was present (a setting that allows the sensor to continue recording and transmitting information regarding hits without creating a ticket); 2) productive sensors were removed from northern locations and placed closer to the border to avoid detection of alien traffic that had made it past the first line of defense; 3) agents were prevented from responding to sensor reports indicating alien traffic; and 4) agents were instructed to acknowledge the call from Sector Communications but not to investigate what caused the sensor hit.
The OIG questioned 270 persons regarding sensors, including 12 communications specialists in Sector Communications (the individuals responsible for calling out sensor hits and recording the responses), 5 technicians from the Electronics Unit (the unit responsible for physically planting the sensors), and 25 individuals in the sensor units in the various stations (the persons responsible for deciding where sensors will be deployed and analyzing the effectiveness of particular sensors). We also reviewed numerous records of sensor movement, analyses of sensor effectiveness, and other sensor-related information.
None of the complaints the OIG received regarding sensors was substantiated. Although we found that particular sensors had been inhibited at Imperial Beach and Chula Vista, we found no credible evidence that this was done to limit apprehensions or reduce gotaway estimates. Rather, sensors usually have been inhibited when no personnel has been available to respond to sensor hits but supervisors have wanted to continue to receive information about possible alien traffic in the area to determine whether deploying agents is warranted.
Significantly, the factual premise underlying the allegation that sensors were inhibited to hide indications of alien traffic - that inhibited sensors do not record the "hits" caused by detected movement - was incorrect. Moreover, the evidence clearly demonstrated that the sensors were inhibited when there was insufficient personnel available to respond to these sensors. When additional manpower became available, these sensors were fully activated.
The OIG also found that numerous sensors originally planted in positions distant from the border had been moved and replanted closer to the border. Notably, most of this movement at Imperial Beach occurred many months prior to Gatekeeper; many of these so-called "northern sensors" were replaced shortly after Gatekeeper was initiated. The movement of sensors during Gatekeeper was a result of a new strategy being implemented with limited resources. Forced to choose between waiting for new sensors to become available or moving sensors forward to assist the new strategy, management chose the latter option, then subsequently replaced many of the northern sensors as additional equipment became available. Their choice to enhance the critical border positions first was neither illogical nor ill-conceived.
In addition, none of the claims that agents were inappropriately precluded from responding to sensors was substantiated. The allegation that supervisors improperly responded to Sector Communication's radio reports of sensor hits by saying that no agents were available when, in fact, agents were available rested on a mistaken belief that agents assigned to border positions were available to respond to sensor hits outside their areas of responsibility. This belief disregarded the fact that a basic premise of the Gatekeeper strategy was to maintain a constant presence at the border to deter entry. While optimally there always would have been sufficient manpower to maintain border positions and respond to sensor hits, the fact remains that supervisors frequently had to make difficult choices with the limited resources available. We found no evidence that their choice to maintain border integrity was inappropriate or geared to minimize apprehensions.
Although we obtained a copy of a list purportedly instructing trainees not to work two particular sensors at Imperial Beach, we found no one who was given this list as part of their duties or who was instructed not to work the sensors. The trainee who allegedly left the list in a Border Patrol vehicle denied having done so, denied ever possessing the list, denied being given the list in his training course, and denied ever having been told to ignore any sensors. There was no evidence that this list was an official document distributed to any agent.
Finally, although we found that at least two stations had a policy that every sensor hit called out by Sector Dispatch had to be acknowledged, we found no evidence that this was intended to hide information. We did find some confusion as to whether a "10-4" response was intended to merely acknowledge the dispatch or was intended to indicate that an agent was investigating the sensor hit. This confusion needs to be resolved. Regardless, this response had no impact on estimated gotaways because only subsequent apprehension or gotaway information was used to measure effectiveness.
F. Drag roads
Drag roads are a tool the stations use to estimate how many aliens have crossed the border at a particular location. A dirt road surface is "dragged" by a vehicle pulling objects behind it, usually old tires. The objects smooth the loose surface of the road, eliminating footprints and other imprints on the dirt surface. After a time, an agent returns and counts the new footprints visible on the road surface. He then drags the road to prepare it for the next count.
The OIG received allegations that drag road statistics regarding the number of gotaways reported have been deliberately created and maintained in an inaccurate manner, that when these figures were accurately reported supervisors subsequently altered them, and that the drag road technique was abandoned when it revealed high numbers of gotaways. To investigate these claims, the OIG interviewed 200 persons at the various stations, including 39 agents who had themselves dragged roads.
The allegation that drag road statistics were intentionally inaccurate stemmed from a dispute between the midnight shift and day shift at Imperial Beach. In early 1996, after road dragging became an official duty at Imperial Beach, an agent on the day shift frequently reported high numbers of gotaways when he visited the drag road site to conduct the first drag of the morning. Other agents, particularly some on the midnight shift, challenged his figures that implied that large numbers of aliens had successfully crossed through Imperial Beach on the midnight shift. However, outside the independent decision of one agent to intentionally report zero gotaways because he said it was "easier and quicker" and he was not very good at dragging roads, we found no evidence supporting claims of intentionally inaccurate reports.
Neither were we able to substantiate two claims that drag reports were altered. One complaint was repudiated by the agent whose report had allegedly been changed. The other report, which came from the same agent who testified that he intentionally reported zero gotaways because it was easier and quicker, was inconsistent with the documentary evidence and not credible.
Nor was there was any evidence supporting the claims that drag road programs were abandoned because they were reporting large numbers of gotaways; in fact, there was substantial evidence contradicting such allegations. At Chula Vista the program was halted, but evidence demonstrated that this was a manpower issue and not due to the program's results. At Campo, a very extensive drag road program is in place and for many months reported very high numbers of gotaways. These facts contradict the claim that the Border Patrol stopped using drag roads because it wished to hide evidence of gotaways.
G. Overstatement of Gatekeeper's success
One of the underlying threads of the allegations was that claims of Gatekeeper's success were overstated. There were two aspects to these claims. First, it was alleged that supervisors' internal estimates of effectiveness (referring to the percentage of aliens attempting entry in a defined area who are apprehended) were substantially higher than the estimates of experienced line agents. Second, it was alleged that INS's public pronouncements regarding Gatekeeper overstated its success.
Neither of these claims was substantiated. The allegation that Campo's supervisors were reporting rates of effectiveness in excess of 60 percent was factually incorrect. Moreover, the estimates reported in Campo's official reports were calculated by line agents, not supervisors. It should be understood that estimating effectiveness to any degree of certainty is an impossible task. Despite that, the stations made an effort to report their sense of how well they were doing. Sector Intelligence asked for, and received, estimates of effectiveness rates. We found no credible evidence that any of the estimates, high or low, were made in bad faith, or that anyone was pressured to make improper estimates for the purpose of disguising a station's true effectiveness.
Despite the voluminous amount of information released regarding Gatekeeper, there was no evidence of an effort to mislead the public regarding the operation's success. The public reports of apprehension data were consistent with the internal data being reported by the stations and Sector Intelligence. Although some press releases were far too quick to cite this data as proof that Gatekeeper was succeeding, the majority of claims, particularly from higher level Border Patrol and INS officials, tended to exhibit more restraint.
While isolated pieces of information were not placed in sufficient context, this data was generally peripheral to the central issue of whether Gatekeeper was having a material impact on the flow of illegal alien traffic. We find that these lapses, although problems that must be addressed, were not part of any organized plan to deceive. We did find that INS's claim that every apprehended alien was being processed in IDENT was untrue. This claim was apparently the result of carelessness and the tendency to assume that because the Border Patrol was supposed to be fingerprinting every alien in the IDENT system it was, in fact, doing so. Although inexcusable, this error also was peripheral to the issue of Gatekeeper's impact on the flow of traffic and thus we conclude not part of a plan to deceive the public about the effectiveness of Operation Gatekeeper.
H. Deception of a Congressional delegation
On April 8, 1995, the Congressional Task Force on Immigration Reform visited the San Diego Sector. In testimony before a Congressional subcommittee in August 1996, a Union official - citing the OIG's recent findings that INS officials had deceived the Congressional delegation during its visit to Miami INS facilities - alleged that the same delegation had been similarly deceived during its visit to the San Diego Sector. The official alleged that: 1) inoperative vehicles had been towed to positions along the border for the delegation's visit; 2) additional agents had been scheduled to work during the time the delegation was present and had been assigned to positions the delegation was shown; 3) detention areas shown to the delegation had been cleared of detainees although these areas were normally overcrowded; and 4) overweight or unattractive agents had been removed from areas the delegation had visited.
To investigate these allegations, the OIG interviewed 230 witnesses, including 83 agents from Imperial Beach where the alleged deception had occurred. The OIG also interviewed three of the four Congressmen who participated in the San Diego visit. One hundred twenty-nine of the witnesses we questioned said they had no distinct recollection of the visit, including two Union officials who were acting supervisors at Imperial Beach the afternoon that the delegation visited.
None of these allegations was substantiated. We found no witnesses present during the visit who claimed that any of the allegations was accurate. Moreover, there was overwhelming testimonial and documentary evidence contradicting the claims. Comparing apprehension forms and IDENT data for the day of the visit to previous days clearly demonstrated that the Imperial Beach cellblocks had not been cleared for the visit or operated any differently than on days before or after the delegation's visit. The garage personnel who would have been responsible for towing any vehicles stated that no vehicles were towed to the border for this visit. A comparison of the number of agents and their assigned positions with agent deployment on three preceding Saturdays (this visit occurred on a Saturday) and one subsequent Saturday uncovered no evidence that additional agents were assigned to work during the delegation's visit or were assigned to the high visibility border positions during the visit. Finally, there was no evidence supporting the claim that any agents were removed from their assigned positions during the delegation's visit due to the agents' physical appearance.
Critics of Gatekeeper apparently accepted these allegations primarily because they believed that if deception happened in Miami, it also must have happened in San Diego. There were, however, significant differences between the two Congressional visits. First and foremost, there was no similar motive to deceive. The INS and the Border Patrol viewed Imperial Beach as the showcase of Border Patrol operations and believed it to be very successful. Unlike Miami, they did not believe they had anything to hide. Second, the Miami allegations were raised by nearly 50 employees in a signed document sent to the OIG 17 days after the Congressional visit. The San Diego allegations were made anonymously by three people - one of whom does not work for the Border Patrol - 16 months after the deception allegedly occurred, and then only after the OIG's Miami report had been given substantial publicity.
Although we found no evidence of an attempt to mislead the public about Operation Gatekeeper's performance, our investigation found operational and managerial failings that created an atmosphere where suspicions flourished. As similar operations are being instituted along the United States/Mexico border, it is important that the INS and Border Patrol learn from the problems in San Diego to avoid similar misunderstandings elsewhere.
To that end we offer the following recommendations:
1. Improve communication and training at all levels of the organization. Operation Gatekeeper dramatically changed the way the agents work yet it was initiated with very little notice and virtually no training of agents in the new operational principles. It was not until two years into Gatekeeper that the Imperial Beach Station developed training materials explaining how agents were expected to work the new, high visibility positions. Moreover, our interviews uncovered a wide disparity of views, even among supervisors, about what was expected of agents in these positions.
2. Develop concise, consistent, written policies to guide agents. It was clear from our interviews that agents did not know how to handle particular situations and were frequently given inconsistent instructions from supervisors. Policies for a wide range of operational issues, ranging from handling problem aliens to acknowledging Sector Dispatch's announcement of sensor hits, need to be developed and explained so agents are clearly aware what is expected of them. Agents need to have consistent guidelines outlining the circumstances under which they may leave their assigned positions to assist other agents. This should not depend on who is the supervisor in the field on a given night.
3. Managers must be trained in communication skills to be able to articulate Border Patrol policies clearly. We found substantial evidence not only that supervisors failed to communicate policies and procedures, but also when agents asked questions the supervisors were unable to explain what was to be done and why (e.g., what a supervisor means when he says he does not want apprehensions in a particular area or why agents must work in a particular manner). This is particularly critical when agents suddenly are asked to do their job differently than they have performed it in previous years.
4. Begin training agents for these new methods of patrolling while they are in the Border Patrol Academy. We found that even though all of the new agents are being sent to sectors where this new deterrence strategy is being implemented, they continue to be trained in pre-Gatekeeper methods. Upon reaching their assigned sector, the new agents have many questions about Operation Gatekeeper's strategy.
5. Provide better oversight and coordination for reporting efforts. We found that demands for information increased dramatically after Gatekeeper but there was little effort to eliminate duplicate requests. We found also that there was no training for those involved in the reporting function. As a result, they were uncertain as to what was expected of them, and they were unprepared for their new responsibilities.
Having conducted a thorough and wide-ranging inquiry into the broad allegations of fraud in the reporting and performance of Operation Gatekeeper, we can say with confidence that neither INS nor Border Patrol personnel participated in an organized effort to falsify records regarding the performance of Operation Gatekeeper. We conclude also that there was no concerted effort to prevent Border Patrol agents in the San Diego Sector from apprehending undocumented aliens who attempted to enter the United States.
We did not reach these conclusions quickly or casually. The Union's allegations struck at the very heart of Operation Gatekeeper and so it was important that they be taken very seriously. Moreover, the resolution of these allegations would likely affect the future of any Border Patrol initiatives along the Southwest border. Thus, it was important that they be investigated thoroughly and credibly. As a result, the OIG conducted an extensive investigation searching for any evidence to corroborate or refute the claims raised by Union officials.
Although we attempted to track down and resolve every allegation presented to us, many of the allegations we received were too vague as to dates, persons involved, or even the identity of witnesses with first-hand knowledge to resolve them definitively. The inability to resolve each and every incident, however, does not affect our conclusion that there was no Sector-wide effort aimed at falsifying records, preventing agents from performing their duties, or misleading the public about Gatekeeper's accomplishments. As we explain fully in the body of the report, because of the extremely large number of undocumented aliens apprehended in the San Diego Sector, any effort to materially falsify the Sector's apprehension records would require a systematic, comprehensive program to deceive. Even if the myriad individual claims of misconduct presented to the OIG were true, they would remain statistically insignificant. This is not to suggest that we condone or trivialize misconduct. It is to say, however, that the strategy of Operation Gatekeeper should not be condemned in the absence of proof that the operation was merely a charade. There was overwhelming evidence that no such conspiracy to mislead existed.
We close by commending the many Border Patrol, INS, and DOJ employees who cooperated fully and immediately with the OIG's requests for information and testimony. Their candid assessments of Gatekeeper and the evidence relating to its operation were essential to our resolution of the allegations.
1 This same Congressional Task Force had visited the INS facilities in Miami on June 10, 1995. On June 14, 1996, the OIG released a report that concluded that Miami INS officials intentionally had deceived Task Force members in a number of ways.