This editorial from the Indianapolis Star
ought to be taken to heart by the administration and Congress. In it the editors correctly point out that intelligence reform should be carefully considered and debated before implementation. The last time Congress and the President rushed into reforming federal agencies to fight the GWOT, they came up with the total abortion known as the Department of Homeland Security.
I was a US Customs Special Agent when this "reform" took place, and an agency that was one of the most effective law enforcement agencies in the federal government has been destroyed. At the time, it seemed like a good idea, but having made the transition and assessed the damage, it couldn't have turned out much worse. It used to be that Customs Special Agents like me, had the authority and ability to work cases from dope to terrorism to intellectual property to export control violations to child pornography to money laundering. Not now. There was a healthy "team" relationship between Agents, inspectors, marine enforcement officers, air interdiction officers, and canine enforcement officers to attack smuggling from every conceivable angle. Even then, Customs Inspectors were cross-trained as Immigration Inspectors for the purpose of assessing the entry status of people coming to the US. In addition to investigations and inspections, Customs had its own navy and air force
. If any federal agency wanted to use aircraft for surveillance in southern California, they had better have a Customs Agent in the squad or it wasn't available. Customs fixed wing aircraft coordinated with investigations by flying "spy missions" over South America in P-3 Orion
s by eavesdropping on communications from targeted areas and tracking hundreds of airborne and waterborne contacts in an AWACs type platform. Real-time interdiction data was relayed to marine and air assets in the US, and data gathered was used by criminal investigators to build cases against smugglers. Those days are over.
Customs and the infamous INS were merged under the Department of Homeland Security. The INS famously mailed a visa renewal to Mohammed Atta, leader of the 9/11 attacks, six months after the WTC was leveled. Obviously something had to be done to improve the most archaic and inefficient bureaucracy in the federal government, but not this. The inspections functions in Customs and INS were brought together with the Border Patrol to form a new agency called Customs and Border Protection (CBP) under Robert Bonner, the very effective Commisioner of Customs and formerly the DEA. Investigations (Special Agents) from Customs and INS were brought together with the Federal Air Marshalls and Federal Protective Service (protect government buildings) to form Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) under Michael Garcia the newly appointed head of the INS. Since Bonner was appointed head of CBP, he kept the already successful law enforcement model that served him well before. But ICE would not be so lucky.
was appointed the acting head of INS to caretake after the resignation
of James Ziglar in August 2002 following his agency's shameful performance culminating in the 9/11 attacks. Prior to that, Garcia was an ASSISTANT US Attorney in New York for 10 years. While he had an impressive case load of anti-terror prosecutions under his belt, the guy was an AUSA, which is hardly a leadership position that might prepare one to run a federal law enforcement agency. I don't know much about the guy, but he must have been one hell of a politicker to have lobbied his way into a job he has no business holding. His weakness as an administrator would serve to perpetuate the failures of the agency whose dissolution was a driving force behind the creation of DHS. While CBP moved forward with a proven model, ICE was forced to adopt all of the administrative policies of the INS because the unprepared Garcia knew no other model but the one he had inherited. He had been carried through his time as Acting INS Commissioner by the hopelessly inept INS career staff, and he brought that band of idiots with him to ICE ensuring that the main investigative agency in DHS would be combat ineffective.
In the days of US Customs, the Air & Marine Division was seen as one of the more well lead and best equipped groups in the agency. They were transferred to ICE in the transition to DHS, but their leadership immediately realized that they had to get out, and they recently got the entire division transferred to CBP. The import of this cannot be overstated. The entire division jumped off the sinking ship in an effort to save itself. Air & Marine worked hand in glove with Investigations, and rarely had any contact with Customs Inspections. No problem, "Just get us the hell out of ICE, and we'll do anything you want," is what they seem to have said. All Customs pilots, MEOs, and AIOs attended the same academy as the Special Agents, but the entire division bailed to the Inspections agency. Staggering.
To give you and example of just how backwards ICE became, I'll tell you a little story about my experience. Customs had a fully automated computer system that controlled all travel claims, property management, and case management amongst other functions. When Customs became ICE, we had to do travel claims, time sheets, and gear issue on paper forms instead of a very simple and effective computerized system that we had before. I used to spend 5 minutes a pay period preparing my timesheet on the computer. I was able to assign my hours worked to specific case numbers and manage overtime, training time, and vacation time all at once. The time sheets would be automatically forwarded to managers for inspecition and approval. Then we got paper time sheets that looked like they were from McDonalds that had to be filled in with a pen and signed. These sheets had to be faxed somewhere by a certain day of the month so that we could get paid! As you might expect, many agents didn't get paychecks because somebody lost their sheet. CBP took those automated functions with them, and the legacy INS people who took ICE over didn't understand it. Our property custodians had to print out the office's inventory on computer and enter it by hand (pen) into log books. This was 2003! This is the lead investigative agency in DHS! Handwritten entries!
It's all gone downhill from there. Customs used to control the accounts from the sale of seized property which was used to fund undercover operations, informant payments, travel expenses, government vehicles, fuel, etc for agents. Think about that, Customs paid for its investigative activities out of the money it generated itself. Because of that, we could pay our informants well, run elaborate UC operations, and agents were rarely constrained by the budget for case related travel. All you had to do was attach a case number to something you needed and voila. Now ICE agents are carpooling their government issued vehicles to work because there are serious budget shortfalls less than 60 days after the beginning of a new fiscal year. Agency morale could not be lower, and the only reason people don't leave like I did is because the pay is so good and you can't be fired. So nobody works anymore, because there's no money for anything. I expect some comments on this post from my former colleagues because they have nothing better to do than surf the web all day and collect $90k a year.
There is no question that the CIA needs to be revamped and reprioritized. The Clandestine Service is a shell of what it needs to be. Think OSS. But let's not move too fast with this intelligence reform, because we will get exactly what we put into it. US Customs has been irreparably harmed, but the CIA still has a chance, let's give it one.
h/t Blogs of War