SUMMARY OF THE OIG'S FINDINGS AND
RECOMMENDATIONS REGARDING THE ALLEGATIONS OF FRAUD
The allegations of fraud were diverse and wide-ranging. This chapter summarizes our findings as to each allegation and includes our recommendations regarding problem areas in Border Patrol operations relating to Operation Gatekeeper.
I. Allegations of Falsification of Apprehension Data
A. Allegations that apprehension figures were altered
In the June 1996 North County Times article, Bonner and Dassaro were cited as alleging that agents were being ordered to report fewer apprehensions than actually took place. In the July 1996 Harper's article, an unidentified agent alleged that if 500 aliens were apprehended, supervisors only reported 200 apprehensions. And No. 19221 testified before the Congressional subcommittee in August 1996 that he was asked to "cheat" on the numbers he reported.
We found no one who claimed to have first-hand knowledge that any apprehension statistic on a report had been altered. Hundreds of witnesses involved in recording and reporting data that was included in apprehension reports testified that they had no knowledge of any alterations or fabrications of the data reported. Despite reviewing thousands of apprehension reports we found no physical evidence supporting the allegation that these figures had been altered. Contrary to comments attributed to him in the North County Times article, Bonner told the OIG in August 1996 that to his knowledge all processed aliens had been reported. No witness could provide any direct evidence of altered apprehension figures, either through testimony or documents.
Due to the nature of the Border Patrol's statistical reporting system, including the many reports containing the same information and the many persons involved in preparing these reports, any alterations of these reports would be easily detected. Any efforts to systematically underreport aliens at the station level would require the cooperation and silence of dozens of agents over the course of the year.
Because our interviews of over 300 witnesses and reviews of thousands of documents found no factual support for the allegation that apprehension figures were altered, we find that it is unsubstantiated.
B. Allegations that apprehension records were destroyed
Bonner testified at the state and federal legislative hearings in the summer of 1996 that apprehension records were "mysteriously lost" by the Border Patrol. No. 1922 testified at the Congressional hearing that he had "seen the paperwork documenting the arrest of illegal aliens thrown in the trash." In essence, the complaints were alleging that the destruction of paperwork permitted reports to be falsified because the underlying, truthful data no longer existed.
In the hundreds of interviews we conducted, the only witness who claimed to have first-hand knowledge of records being thrown in the trash was No. 1922 who contended that he personally had discarded records relating to approximately 100 aliens. Although two other witnesses at Imperial Beach had heard rumors of records being thrown away, both of these witnesses discounted the rumors. None of the remaining 114 witnesses at Imperial Beach claimed to have any knowledge of apprehension records being destroyed. The OIG also received one rumor each at Chula Vista and Brown Field that records had been destroyed. Further investigation determined that neither rumor had any factual basis. Even if processing paperwork had been thrown away, transport records, scope reports, IDENT records, and other evidence would contradict and defeat any attempt to hide a false tally on a report. We found no one who claimed to have observed such a discrepancy and found none in the sample comparisons we conducted of the processing forms and other records.
Because the only evidence supporting the allegation that apprehension records had been destroyed was No. 1922's admission that he had on one occasion discarded records without the knowledge of his supervisors, we find unsubstantiated the claim that records were destroyed to lower reported apprehensions.
C. Allegations that aliens were not processed and therefore not counted in apprehension totals
One of Bonner's main contentions - repeated in numerous newspaper articles and in his testimony before the two governmental subcommittees - was that "busloads" of apprehended aliens were returned to Mexico without being processed. He claimed that this was done to reduce the recorded number of apprehensions.
Witnesses alleged that aliens were returned without processing in two ways. One way is a type of "voluntary return" known colloquially as a "local VR." Instead of being processed and voluntarily returned through a port of entry, an alien is apprehended and then forced back into Mexico near where he or she crossed between the ports of entry. The other situation occurs when an alien is apprehended and transported to a port of entry, usually via a station, but is not properly processed.
1. Allegations that agents conducted "local VRs"
Based on the testimony of several credible witnesses, the OIG determined that there were occasions both before and after the initiation of Gatekeeper when some unprocessed aliens at each of the border stations were returned to Mexico via a "local VR." Notably, out of 300 witnesses, only 30 testified that they had ever heard of an actual "local VR" and fewer than 10 claimed to have first-hand knowledge of such an incident. Several of these were incidents prior to Gatekeeper.
The fact that such incidents occurred before Gatekeeper indicates that local VRs are not the result of Gatekeeper. We also conclude that - except for the one possible instance related by an agent on detail to Imperial Beach which we could not confirm and which was rebutted by another witness - when management learned of such incidents, the responsible employees were admonished or disciplined. This demonstrates that such conduct was not tolerated or condoned by management. In addition, except for the one unconfirmed event at Imperial Beach, all of the incidents we learned of involved intoxicated aliens or aliens who were not Mexican nationals. Although it does not excuse the behavior, it indicates that it occurred because of the nature of the alien, not because it was a Gatekeeper apprehension. Significantly, there is no evidence that these isolated instances had any impact on reported apprehensions for any shift, let alone apprehension statistics for a station or the Sector.
Thus, we conclude that supervisors were not ordering agents to conduct local VRs as a means of limiting reported apprehensions.
2. Allegations of improper processing at the stations
The only alleged failure to process aliens that implicated numbers large enough to influence perceptions of station performance involved rainy nights at Chula Vista when the station was overrun with illegal traffic. Twenty witnesses testified that they either knew of or had heard rumors of instances at Chula Vista when unprocessed aliens were returned to Mexico. We found, however, that while aliens apprehended on such nights may not have been processed through IDENT, they were processed on I-826s and I-827s (paper processing forms) and counted in station totals. Thus, there was no impact on the station's reported apprehension figures.
The remaining claims related to isolated failures to process single aliens who were pregnant, or intoxicated, or not Mexican. (Non-Mexicans could not be voluntarily returned to Mexico.) Although we could not be certain whether these individuals were processed on the paper forms and counted, these alleged incidents were so isolated and involved so few individuals that even if true, they would not support the charge that supervisors had ordered hundreds of unprocessed aliens to be returned to Mexico.
D. Allegations that reports of locations of alien apprehensions were falsified
In an article in the August 14, 1996, North County Times, unidentified agents were quoted as saying that agents at Brown Field were ordered to falsify information regarding where aliens had been apprehended. This initially appeared to be a broad allegation that aliens were apprehended at stations west of Otay Mountain but were reported as apprehended at stations east of the mountain. There was no evidence to support that broad claim.
We received more narrow allegations, particularly from three agents at Chula Vista, that there was inaccurate reporting of the location of alien apprehensions within station boundaries. There was evidence of inaccurate reporting within station boundaries; however, this generally stemmed from apparently innocent mistakes often due to a confusion about 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. We did not find evidence that supervisors ordered agents to inaccurately report locations of alien apprehensions. Moreover, there was no evidence that these inaccurate reports had any impact on publicly reported illegal traffic patterns. At most, any inaccurate data only hampered internal station operations.
E. Allegation that aliens were being VR'd at eastern POEs to make it appear that illegal traffic had shifted east as a result of Operation Gatekeeper
In the initial North County Times article regarding these allegations Bonner charged that the Border Patrol was transporting apprehended persons "to East County stations to make it look as though the flow of traffic is moving east." Bonner later told INS-OIA investigators, however, that his claim was that aliens were being transported not to East County but to Imperial County and Arizona for return to Mexico. He alleged that this transportation program had been initiated to make it appear that illegal traffic had shifted east due to Operation Gatekeeper.
The Border Patrol did transport illegal aliens out of the Sector for release into Mexico. However, we saw no evidence that the program to voluntarily return apprehended aliens in sectors east of San Diego was implemented for improper purposes. The evidence demonstrates that this program was intended to eliminate immediate reentry attempts, to separate aliens from their smugglers, and to make reentry more difficult. Notably, the decision to institute such a program was made before Gatekeeper was developed.
F. General observations regarding alleged falsification of apprehension statistics
First, the Union alleged that fraudulent activities were occurring on a large scale but 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.
Second, any successful scheme to falsify apprehension statistics would have required the cooperation of numerous 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.
Third, the number of agents who claimed to have knowledge of efforts to falsify statistics was extremely small. If such widespread falsification was taking place, it would have been obvious to large numbers of agents. In light of the broad range and large number of witnesses interviewed by the OIG, the lack of knowledge by agents of such an effort is telling.
Finally, if the allegations were true, supporting documentation would exist. 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.
II. Allegations of Artificial Limits on Apprehensions
Bonner's second major contention was that the Border Patrol was suppressing or setting limits on the number of alien apprehensions using a variety of tactics. No witness provided solid evidence to support these claims. A few agents complained about a Border Patrol policy or action and argued that the agency was acting in bad faith to artificially limit apprehensions.
A. Allegations that supervisors set limits on the number of aliens who could be apprehended in a day or on a particular shift
The allegation that supervisors set limits on apprehensions took two forms: (1) a general allegation that supervisors said apprehension figures were too high - a statement that some agents interpreted as an instruction to stop apprehending aliens; and (2) a more specific allegation that supervisors set daily or shift limits on the number of apprehensions.
1. Allegations that supervisors told agents to reduce apprehensions
Bonner alleged in the June 23, 1996, North County Times article that supervisors were ordering agents "to keep arrests down." Seven witnesses - all of them from Imperial Beach - claimed that these comments meant that agents should stop apprehending aliens.
Although the evidence demonstrated that supervisors were concerned about the number of apprehensions and frustrated when they remained high, they repeatedly assigned additional resources to high traffic areas. Witness testimony and contemporaneous documents make clear that supervisors were seeking to lower apprehension numbers by increasing deterrence, not by instructing agents that they could not apprehend undocumented aliens. Additional border positions were created where traffic continued to enter, and specialty units were assigned where traffic penetrated the front line of defense. The fact that so few agents believed that supervisors were asking them to stand aside and let alien traffic pass demonstrates that this was not the message conveyed by management.
2. Allegations that supervisors set specific limits on apprehensions
In the June 1996 Harper's article about Operation Gatekeeper, an unidentified agent claimed that Imperial Beach supervisors had told agents to apprehend fewer aliens. The agent was quoted as contending that if apprehensions at the Imperial Beach Station exceeded 200 aliens a day, the Attorney General complained to the Commissioner who complained to CPA Williams and "heads start[ed] rolling." One Union official also alleged that a limit of 200 apprehensions per day had been set for Imperial Beach from the spring of 1996 through mid-summer 1996. No. 1922 contended that the limit was alternatively 200 per day or 25 per shift.
Several supervisors at Imperial Beach acknowledged that figures of 200 or 250 were used as benchmarks or goals for daily apprehensions. This testimony was corroborated by a Sector document outlining Sector goals for fiscal year 1996 that set a target of 250 or fewer apprehensions per day for Imperial Beach. There was no evidence, however, supporting a claim that there was a set limit on apprehensions. No one could point to a single instance when apprehensions were halted because they had reached or exceeded the target. Nor could the complainants explain why, if the allegation was true, the station frequently reported more apprehensions than the target. Moreover, if such a limit had been imposed, at the time it was imposed there would have been a noticeable decline in daily apprehensions and an equally noticeable increase when the limit was removed. No such patterns were found.
There was evidence that if apprehensions increased significantly, someone from Sector headquarters would call the station to ask questions about the problem. Both the makers and the recipients of such calls unanimously contended that the calls were for informational purposes only as an effort to determine where problems were appearing.
Based on the overwhelming testimony and supporting documentation that the apprehension goals were only goals and not limits, we find unsubstantiated the allegation that management set a limit on the number of aliens who could be apprehended in a given day.
B. Allegations regarding the misuse of fixed positions
Fixed positions (known colloquially as "Xs") became the cornerstone of Gatekeeper's strategy. The allegations that such positions were being used inappropriately took three forms.
1. Allegations that supervisors told agents to ignore aliens crossing through their fixed positions
In a July 7, 1996, Los Angeles Times article, Bonner alleged that agents were being told to "look the other way" when aliens appeared. At both of the summer 1996 hearings he testified that agents were ordered to "stay in position" when aliens passed their positions. Similarly, No. 1922 told Congress that agents assigned to stationary positions were ordered not to pursue aliens passing by their positions. He contended he had watched "scores" of aliens run by his position, and he has had aliens literally run over the top of his vehicle. Seven other agents - from Imperial Beach, Chula Vista, and Brown Field - also complained that supervisors were telling agents to ignore aliens in their assigned areas.
We developed overwhelming evidence that supervisors did not intend for agents to ignore aliens in the vicinity of their assigned positions. On occasion, some supervisors told agents at musters that they wanted apprehensions reduced and that they did not want apprehensions made in a particular area. In context, however, the evidence shows that the supervisors were urging greater deterrence so that, as a result, apprehensions would not be needed and apprehension levels would fall. Contemporaneous documents containing these same instructions support this interpretation. For example, the strategic plan explicitly called for agents in the fixed border positions to apprehend aliens in their positions. More importantly, fellow line agents - who attended the same musters as the complainants and heard the same instructions - not only denied that instructions not to apprehend aliens were given but attributed the stories to a few dissatisfied individuals.
Other information sheds light on the merits of these allegations. It was 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. Aliens would not attempt to cross in the difficult East County area unless the easier, preferred route was no longer available to them. Accordingly, if agents ignored aliens and allowed them to cross unimpeded so as to keep apprehension numbers low, 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. In contrast, alien traffic in East County has skyrocketed. While not dispositive of whether supervisors told agents not to make apprehensions, this undisputed shift in crossing patterns strongly supports the conclusion that agents did not sit by idly while "scores" of aliens ran over their vehicles and by their positions.
2. Allegations that agents were disciplined for leaving their positions to apprehend aliens
In the July 7, 1996, San Diego Union-Tribune, Bonner charged that agents assigned to fixed positions were "discouraged, even reprimanded, if they stray to make arrests." Both Bonner and No. 1922 made similar claims in their Congressional testimony.
Although there was substantial evidence that agents had been disciplined or at least admonished for leaving their assigned positions at the border, it was clear that these agents had been disciplined because they had violated direct orders regarding their assignments. None of these agents had advised his supervisor that he was leaving his position and would need a relief agent. Instead, each agent had been given a specific assignment but unilaterally chose to abandon his assignment 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 those who repeatedly left their position without permission and had received prior warnings. Finally, we found that agents were not disciplined for briefly leaving their positions to assist fellow agents. 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 agents located nearby. The assertion that agents were reprimanded for apprehending aliens is entirely unfounded.
3. Allegations that agents are intentionally assigned to low traffic areas
Third, in a July 6, 1996, Los Angeles Times article, Bonner alleged that agents were being deployed in locations where there was little opportunity to apprehend aliens. During our investigation, nine other agents echoed this complaint.
In each case we found these complaints unsubstantiated. In several cases, these complaints reflected no more than agent unhappiness with stationary positions. 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 the area. We found no evidence that supervisors left high traffic areas unpatrolled to reduce apprehensions.
C. Allegations that agents were ordered to turn back aliens rather than apprehend them
In his August 9, 1996, Congressional testimony, Bonner alleged that illegal aliens were turned back into Mexico without being apprehended so as to keep apprehension numbers low. This tactic is known as "TBS," or "Turn Back South," and involves chasing aliens towards the border until they cross back into Mexico. Three Imperial Beach and two Chula Vista agents believed that TBS was being used inappropriately to keep apprehension numbers low.
Agents have on occasion - both before and during Gatekeeper - used TBS in response to attempted entries. The witnesses testified that such a strategy was legitimate for safety and containment reasons. The evidence also demonstrated that the decision to use this strategy in any given situation was made by the agents on the scene and not because of a predetermined policy announced by supervisors. Finally, the witnesses emphasized that agents do not physically force aliens over the fence; instead, aliens are maneuvered into a position where they must choose between apprehension and retreat. In such circumstances, most aliens choose retreat.
We find that in appropriate circumstances, TBS is a legitimate strategy along the border and that there is no evidence that supervisors ordered agents to abuse that strategy. Therefore, we reject as unsubstantiated Bonner's allegation that agents were told to TBS aliens so that apprehension statistics would be lower.
D. Allegations that roving patrols were eliminated to keep apprehension figures low
Bonner alleged that traffic checkpoints were understaffed and that roving patrols (agents conducting random patrols for vehicles containing undocumented aliens) were eliminated so agents were prevented from apprehending aliens who circumvented the checkpoints. He contended further that roving patrols were eliminated to keep apprehension figures low and to disguise the fact that the deployment at the border was ineffective. This allegation was primarily directed at the Temecula Station, which operates checkpoints approximately 70 miles north of the border.
Our investigation revealed that the roving patrols were curtailed for three legitimate reasons. First, a series of accidents during vehicle pursuits led to major changes in the pursuit policy and limited the circumstances under which pursuits could be used. Second, recent decisions issued by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit established stricter guidelines for vehicle stops. Finally, INS entered into an agreement with Congress that the checkpoints would be in operation 24 hours a day. This meant that available manpower was by necessity committed to maintaining checkpoint operations as opposed to roving patrols. While the reduction of roving patrols may have reduced apprehension numbers, there is no evidence indicating that Sector management eliminated roving patrols to reduce apprehensions and make Gatekeeper appear successful.
E. Allegations that backup positions were eliminated to keep apprehensions low
When Gatekeeper was first implemented at Imperial Beach, agents were deployed in three parallel, half-mile wide tiers with each successive tier having allowed increased mobility to apprehend alien traffic that had successfully penetrated the previous tier. Union leaders alleged in a newspaper article and in the summer 1996 hearings that the third-tier positions were eliminated to reduce apprehensions.
Although the evidence did support the conclusion that third-tier positions at Imperial Beach were unmanned or eventually eliminated over time, the evidence did not support a finding that this was a result of bad motives. Some of the personnel who would have staffed third-tier positions were moved to additional first-tier positions that were created to improve deterrence at the border. Some of the personnel were transferred to other stations to improve operations there. The evidence indicates that supervisors attempted to maximize the effectiveness of available manpower by assigning agents where they were needed most. The evidence also demonstrates that when additional resources - in the form of specialty units - became available, they were assigned to patrol the third tier.
Thus, the claim that the third tier at Imperial Beach was dismantled to decrease agent effectiveness was unsubstantiated.
F. Allegations that agents were prevented from responding to citizen calls in order to keep apprehension figures low
Bonner testified in the summer 1996 hearings that during Gatekeeper "citizens' reports of undocumented aliens are routinely not relayed to Border Patrol Agents, and agents are rarely allowed to respond to the reports even when they are relayed." No. 1922 also made this complaint.
We found this complaint to be unfounded. No witnesses claimed to have actual knowledge that Sector Dispatch or the stations had been instructed not to broadcast citizen complaints to the field. Although not every citizen call received a response, the evidence demonstrated 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 reports concerning individuals who might not be undocumented aliens and might not be at the cited location when agents arrived was not an irrational policy.
G. General observations and recommendations regarding alleged artificial limits on apprehensions
Although the complainants were correct about some of the underlying facts - such as the curtailment 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 - their assumption that these operational changes were made to avoid apprehensions was unfounded. This assumption was made by a very small number of agents, many of whom distrusted the motives of management without knowing what those motives were. These individuals also complained about Operation Gatekeeper and its efforts at deterrence, arguing that the new strategy was not effective. These agents viewed with great suspicion any actions taken by management to implement Gatekeeper.
Their fellow agents - who heard the same instructions and saw the same actions - came to different conclusions about the supervisors' intent. While not all of these agents approved of Gatekeeper's new rules and strategy, they 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.
We also find, however, that the Border Patrol failed adequately to communicate and explain the new strategy to the agents and failed to train them for their new assignments. This led to an environment of suspicion and distrust that allowed rumors to fester. Because similar initiatives are being instituted along the Southwest border, the Border Patrol must make changes to prevent reoccurrence of these allegations in other sectors.
First, the Border Patrol must create and implement training programs to prepare agents for the new methods of patrolling the border. Although the Imperial Beach Station developed a slide presentation to describe what is expected of agents assigned to border positions, they did not do so until two years after Gatekeeper was launched. Moreover, this training should be offered at the Border Patrol Academy as well so that the newly hired agents who are being sent to sectors with such initiatives do not need to be retrained once they reach their assigned sector.
Second, supervisors must receive adequate training so that they understand the strategy and the reasons behind Gatekeeper and can clearly communicate them to the agents they supervise. We found numerous occasions where supervisors used unclear, ambiguous explanations when questioned about policies. This opened the door to significant misunderstandings.
Third, clear, consistent, written policies on how to handle particular situations need to be developed so that agents know what is expected of them. Many misunderstandings we uncovered were due to the fact that agents were uncertain what was expected and the guidance they received depended on who was supervising them on any given night. The practice of giving ad hoc, oral explanations means that the communication of important policies depends on the interpretations and communication skills of the particular supervisor relating them.
III. Allegations Regarding the Suppression of Negative Information in Sector Intelligence Reports
During the course of the investigation, several witnesses complained that CPA Johnny Williams had ordered deleted from Sector Intelligence's narrative reports information that suggested that Operation Gatekeeper was not performing as well as publicly claimed.
The OIG could not substantiate any of the specific allegations that Williams (or anyone else) ordered that information be excluded from Sector Intelligence reports because it reflected poorly on Gatekeeper. 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 initiation. In addition, the OIG located numerous examples of reports containing information demonstrating that Gatekeeper still exhibited weaknesses, further contradicting the claim that managers were hiding negative information.
Although the allegations regarding Sector Intelligence were not substantiated, we found significant issues relating to Sector Intelligence that need to be addressed.
First, there must be open lines of communication. The CPA must clearly articulate what role he expects Sector Intelligence to play. The CPA must clarify what types of information are appropriate for dissemination and explain why. He must also ensure that members of the unit feel free to discuss these issues and raise questions without fear of rebuke.
Second, there must be a concerted effort to eliminate duplication of information in different formats. The unit needs to work with various consumers of its output to consolidate and simplify the reporting of statistics. This would free up resources to engage in more substantive work.
Third, the CPA needs to become less concerned with the potential fallout from every piece of information sent to INS Headquarters and DOJ management. Once he establishes more reliable reporting procedures, he should have more confidence that the recipients of Sector data will be able to distinguish between isolated incidents and trends.
Finally, CPA Williams edited reports prepared by the Sector Intelligence staff and complaints were made that he did not have the authority to change or delete information that the Intelligence staff wanted to include in the reports. As long as the reports convey balanced and accurate information, the CPA should have the authority to edit, change, modify, or delete information contained in the reports.
IV. Allegations Regarding Nightscopes
A. Allegations that nightscope reports were altered
Nightscope operators prepare reports indicating how much alien traffic they observe and how much of the traffic was apprehended. No. 1922 testified during the Congressional hearing that supervisors altered scope reports so as to understate significantly the numbers of undocumented aliens who elude apprehension by the Border Patrol. He contended that he was aware of three instances when this occurred.
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. The primary source for this allegation was No. 1922 who alleged that he had observed a supervisor change a report of 150 gotaways to 15. Not only did we find no evidence in support of this claim, we found substantial evidence indicating that the incident did not occur. We found all other claims of changed scope reports unsubstantiated. We found supervisors who frequently questioned scope operators about reported gotaways, but the evidence clearly demonstrated that this questioning was directed at curing weaknesses in border operations, not pressuring agents into falsifying records.
B. Positioning of scope units
The OIG received several complaints that scopes at Imperial Beach, Chula Vista, and Brown Field were being placed in less strategically situated locations to reduce the ability of scope operators to observe traffic. Related to this were claims that scope operators were being told not to look north so they would not observe traffic there.
We found these claims unsubstantiated. We concluded that there was no effort on the part of supervisors to place nightscopes in unproductive locations. On occasion, agents wanted to place nightscopes in alternative locations but supervisors determined that these alternatives were not consistent with the Gatekeeper strategy of trying to work traffic closer to the border.
V. Allegations Regarding Sensors
The INS uses seismic sensors along the border that detect movement and relay that detection, or sensor "hit," to computers. The sensors cannot determine what has caused the movement and hits may result from people, animals, or even weather conditions.
A. Allegations that sensors are not being used effectively
1. Allegations that sensors are inhibited to hide alien traffic
In newspaper articles and in his testimony in the summer 1996 legislative hearings, Bonner alleged that sensors had been "turned off" or "deactivated" to hide evidence of alien traffic.
The evidence showed that some sensors were "inhibited" at Imperial Beach and Chula Vista, primarily in the first year of Gatekeeper. When a sensor is "inhibited," it remains active and sends signals to the computer. However, the dispatcher is not alerted to the hits and therefore does not notify the agents in the field that a sensor has had a hit. At Imperial Beach, several sensors in the third tier, away from where the agents were usually positioned, were inhibited on various occasions until late 1995. Sensors at Chula Vista located far from the border were inhibited for extensive periods until they were removed in late 1995. Other sensors close to the border were being set off by agents and consequently those sensors were inhibited on numerous occasions in 1995. There was little evidence of continued inhibiting of any of these sensors in 1996.
We found the claim that sensors were inhibited to hide the existence of alien traffic unfounded. Most significantly, the premise of these claims - that inhibited sensors do not report sensor hits and thus do not create a record of possible alien traffic - was factually incorrect. We found substantial evidence supporting the supervisors' claims that sensors were inhibited for legitimate reasons, such as the unavailability of agents to work in the vicinity of the inhibited sensor or that something other than alien traffic was triggering the sensor response. Moreover, the decisions to inhibit these sensors were made at the Field Operation Supervisor level or below, shift by shift. There was no evidence that Sector management directed that particular sensors be inhibited. This supports the claim that these decisions arose out of particular operational needs and were not a management attempt to alter the results of Gatekeeper. Finally, because sensor hits were not used to measure traffic levels and were not publicly reported, any attempts to manipulate the data would have had no impact on the reported success of Gatekeeper. Thus, we conclude that claims that sensors were inhibited to hide evidence of alien traffic are unsubstantiated.
2. Allegations that sensors were inappropriately moved closer to the border
Bonner claimed in his July 15, 1996, testimony before the State Assembly subcommittee that sensors were inappropriately moved closer to the border. He gave no details, merely stating that "[m]any electronic sensors, which provide an indication of movement of illegal entrants north of the border, have been deactivated or removed in the western portion of the San Diego Sector."
Although many sensors in locations distant from the border were moved closer to the border, we found no credible evidence that this movement was intended to hide the presence of alien traffic or to lower the effectiveness of sensor use. The movement of the sensors forward was concurrent with and consistent with the new strategy of working alien traffic closer to the border. Credible testimonial and documentary evidence demonstrates that sensor location decisions were made at each station and driven by the desire to work alien traffic more effectively. The only evidence of Sector involvement was a directive to the stations to measure their sensor effectiveness and to locate sensors to maximize their effectiveness. Moreover, the decisions as to placement of specific sensors were made by line agents serving as sensor coordinators, often based on the input from their fellow agents. They all testified that they had the freedom to use their best judgment when locating sensors, as long as the locations were consistent with the station's strategy.
There was ample evidence that decisions to relocate sensors from northern locations arose out of the change in strategy and the lack of sufficient sensors to cover all locations adequately. Priority was given to areas closest to the border; when additional sensors and agents became available, sensors were replaced in northern locations as appropriate. Significantly, sensor records clearly showed that the primary sensors at Imperial Beach about which the OIG received complaints were moved six months prior to Gatekeeper and replaced within three weeks of Gatekeeper's initiation. Thus, we find the allegations that sensors were moved from northern locations to hide alien traffic or to underestimate alien traffic are not substantiated.
3. Allegations that agents were not permitted to respond to sensor hits
The OIG received three types of allegations that purported to demonstrate that agents were not permitted to respond to sensor hits.
a. Allegations that agents were instructed to ignore sensor hits
First, the OIG received several broad allegations that supervisors had precluded agents from responding to sensors because they did not want apprehensions.
None of the claims that agents were inappropriately precluded from responding to sensors was substantiated. The complaint that supervisors were radioing that no units were available when units were purportedly available rested on a belief that agents assigned to positions along the border were available to respond to sensor hits outside their area of responsibility. This belief disregarded the fact that a basic premise of the strategy was to maintain a constant presence at the border to deter entry. While optimally there would have always been sufficient manpower to maintain border positions and to 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.
b. Allegations that sensor lists were distributed identifying sensors not to be worked
Second, the OIG received a one-page list of sensors at Imperial Beach which contained notations indicating that agents were not to respond to hits at two of the sensors. This purportedly was evidence that agents were to ignore alien traffic.
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. Moreover, these two sensors were the two northernmost sensors at the Station. Witnesses suggested that this would explain why agents might not respond to these sensors, although numerous witnesses contended these two sensors were in fact responded to by agents.
c. Allegations regarding the automatic sensor response
Third, two agents, from El Cajon and Brown Field respectively, complained that agents had been told to respond "10-4" whenever Dispatch called out sensor hits, regardless of whether they intended to actually investigate. They complained that this was done to keep the reported gotaways down.
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 policy was intended to deceive. It was a legitimate response to complaints that Dispatch was not calling out all of the sensor traffic; agent acknowledgement of the dispatch would be a method of confirming that Dispatch had indeed sent out the call. We did find some confusion as to whether a "10-4" response was intended to merely acknowledge the dispatch or 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.
VI. Allegations Regarding Drag Roads
Drag roads are a tool stations use to estimate how many aliens 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. The agent 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 are intentionally inaccurate, that when these figures were accurately reported supervisors subsequently altered them, and that drag roads were abandoned when they revealed high numbers of gotaways.
The allegation that drag road statistics were created and maintained in an intentionally inaccurate manner was the result of a dispute between the midnight shift and day shift at Imperial Beach, when agents on the midnight shift challenged the reports of an agent on the day shift who reported high numbers of aliens who purportedly had eluded the midnight shift agents. 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 intentional inaccurate reports.
Neither of the two claims of altered drag reports was substantiated. The one second-hand report was thoroughly repudiated by the agent whose report had allegedly been changed. The other report, which came from No. 1922, was not credible because, among other reasons, documentary evidence contradicted the agent's account.
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, substantial evidence contradicts such claims. At Chula Vista the program was halted, but evidence clearly demonstrated that this was a manpower issue, not because of the program's results. At Campo, a very extensive drag road program has been instituted and is in place. Moreover, for many months Campo reported very high numbers of gotaways. These facts contradict the claim that Campo declined to use drag roads because it wished to hide evidence of gotaways.
VII. Allegations Regarding Internal and External Claims of Effectiveness and Success
A. Allegations that the Border Patrol's internal estimates of effectiveness overstated Gatekeeper's actual results
In the hearings before the State Assembly and Congressional subcommittees, Bonner alleged that official station estimates of effectiveness (referring to the percentage of aliens attempting entry in a defined area who are apprehended) significantly overstated the station's actual performance. He testified that although "experienced agents at one station," later identified as Campo, estimated that they were apprehending 1 out of every 10 or 20 illegal aliens who crossed, "the official reports reflected that they were apprehending two out of three."
Bonner's claim 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. Nor did we find any evidence that any other stations were intentionally overstating their effectiveness.
Estimating effectiveness to any degree of certainty remains an impossible task. Despite that, at Sector Intelligence's request, the stations made an effort to report their sense of how well they were doing. Although some of the guesses may have been rosier than others, we found no credible evidence that any of the guesses, high or low, were made in bad faith, or that anyone was pressured to make estimates intended to mislead anyone into believing the station was more effective than the evidence suggested.
B. Allegations that the INS's public claims of success overstated Gatekeeper's actual results
In the initial allegation received by the OIG in February 1996, the complainant alleged that the San Diego Sector had overstated the extent of Gatekeeper's success, giving the impression that the results achieved at Imperial Beach had been duplicated across the Sector. Bonner similarly claimed that the INS and the Border Patrol were misleading the public about Gatekeeper's success.
Despite the voluminous amount of information released regarding Gatekeeper, there was no evidence of a concerted 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 by Sector Intelligence. Although some press releases were too quick to cite this data as proof that Gatekeeper was succeeding, such claims, made within only a few days of Gatekeeper's inception, were so patently premature that the public was unlikely to have been swayed. Moreover, the majority of the claims, particularly from higher level 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 they constitute problems that must be addressed, were not part of any organized plan to deceive. We did find that INS regularly contended that every apprehended alien was being processed in IDENT and this claim was demonstrably false. This overstatement was apparently the result of carelessness and the tendency to assume that because the Border Patrol was supposed to be fingerprinting every alien that 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.
VIII. Allegations of Deception of a Congressional Delegation During an April 8, 1995, Visit to the San Diego Sector
In his August 9, 1996, testimony before a Congressional subcommittee, Bonner alleged that the Congressional Task Force on Immigration Reform had been deceived during its visit to the Sector on April 8, 1995.
A. Allegations that detention cells were cleared
Bonner alleged that normally overcrowded cells at the Imperial Beach Station were cleared of aliens for the delegation's visit.
We found no witnesses present during the visit who claimed that the detention cells had been cleared of aliens prior to the Task Force's visit. In addition, a review of apprehension forms and IDENT records for the day of the visit clearly demonstrated that the cellblocks had not been cleared for the visit or operated any differently than on days when no delegation visited. Although the cells were empty, this was because the morning apprehensions had already been processed and no additional aliens had been apprehended prior to the time the delegation arrived at the Station.
B. Allegations that inoperable vehicles were towed to the border
Bonner also alleged that inoperable vehicles were towed to the border to make it appear as if there were more resources assigned to the border positions than was ordinarily the case.
We found no witnesses who claimed to have seen or to have had any knowledge of inoperable vehicles being towed to the border for the delegation's visit. Moreover, the garage personnel who would have been responsible for towing any vehicles denied that it occurred. These individuals are not agents, are not part of management, and have no apparent motive to falsify this information.
C. Allegations that additional agents were on duty to create the appearance of increased agent coverage
Bonner alleged that "agents were rescheduled and reassigned to the areas the delegation was shown to create the appearance that immigration was under control."
The OIG found no one who claimed to have first-hand knowledge that additional manpower was assigned to work during the delegation's visit. Moreover, a comparison of duty records for the day of the visit with four surrounding Saturdays (the visit was on a Saturday) showed that no additional personnel were on duty generally or specifically assigned to the high visibility positions during the delegation's visit.
D. Allegations that overweight or unattractive agents were removed from the areas the delegation was visiting
Finally, in August 1996 Bonner alleged to the OIG that overweight or unattractive agents were removed from the areas the delegation visited at the Sector. The OIG found no witnesses who claimed this allegation was true. Because there was no evidence to support this claim, we found it unsubstantiated.
1 For an explanation of witness numbers, see p. 26.