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Hiring Boom Connected To Rise In Corruption At Border Agency

Photo by Ruxandra Guidi

An old analog "record" book used by agents at Border Patrol, from April to July, 1973, to keep track of all crossings and business at the border crossing.

SAN DIEGO -- Customs and Border Protection has admitted to facing a rise in corruption cases over the last three years. Officials blame infiltration by drug cartels taking advantage of the federal effort to beef up border security.

The nation's largest federal law enforcement agency administers lie-detector tests and background checks for job applicants and does the same for current employees every five years. But CBP now has a backlog of 10,000 regularly scheduled background investigations -- a number expected to double by 2012.

"We're not exactly certain how widespread this problem is," said James Tomsheck, assistant commissioner for CBP's Office of Internal Affairs. "We have had recent persons hired within the last few years revealed to have entered on duty with CBP with the intent of engaging in corruption."

Since 2004, more than 100 Customs and Border Protection personnel have been arrested or indicted for corruption. That coincided with a hiring drive which brought thousands of new agents and officers to the border. CBP's ranks have grown to 58,000 employees in the last five years, meant to match the agency's mission to beef up border security.

"Yes, there is an inherent danger when you rapidly expand any law enforcement agency," said Tomsheck. "And we certainly did expand CBP at a significant rate during the period of 2006 to 2008."

According to CBP, one-third of the agency's job applicants failed the lie-detector tests. Currently, the agency is experiencing another major hiring drive nationwide.