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Border securityFormer head of Internal Affairs at CBP: Agency suffers from “institutional narcissism”; conducting its affairs beyond “constitutional constraints”

By Robert Lee Maril

Published 2 September 2014

In what may become the most explosive scandal in the history of the U.S. Border Patrol, James F. Tomsheck, former head of Internal Affairs at U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), accused his own agency of protecting its agents from criminal charges, including murder, corruption, and graft. Tomsheck also directly pointed the finger at CBP senior management, including former Commissioner Alan Bersin and Chief David Aguilar. Tomsheck, who served until June of this year as the head of internal affairs for U.S. Customs and Border Protection, characterized his agency as suffering from “institutional narcissism” and maintaining a culture which allowed its agents to act beyond “constitutional constraints”

In what may become the most explosive scandal in the history of the U.S. Border Patrol, James F. Tomsheck, former head of Internal Affairs at U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), accused his own agency of protecting its agents from criminal charges including murder, corruption, and graft. Tomsheck also directly pointed the finger at CBP senior management including former Commissioner Alan Bersin and Chief David Aguilar.

In an interview with Andrew Becker of theCenter for Investigative Reporting, Tomsheck, who served until June of this year as the head of internal affairs for U.S. Customs and Border Protection, characterized his agency as suffering from “institutional narcissism” and maintaining a culture which allowed its agents to act beyond “constitutional constraints” (See Andrew Hacker, “Ousted chief accuses border agency of shooting cover-ups, corruption,” Center for Investigative Reporting, [14 August 2014]). 

Seeking protection as a federal whistle blower for the second time in his career at CBP, Tomsheck alleged that 25 percent of the twenty-eight immigrant deaths at the border since 2010 were “highly suspect.” Since the events of 9/11, CBP has become the largest federal law enforcement agency with over 50,000 employees including more than 20,000 Border Patrol agents.

“In nearly every instance,” Tomsheck said, “there was an effort by Border Patrol leadership to make a case to justify the shooting versus doing a genuine, appropriate review of the information and the facts at hand.” (See also Randal Archibald and Andrew Becker, “Border Deaths, Lured by the Other Side,” New York Times [27 May 2008]; and Carrie Johnson, “Former Border Protection Insider Alleges Corruption, Distortion in Agency,” National Public Radio [28 August 2014]).

To date, no CBP agents have been charged with any crimes related to the deaths of these twenty-eight immigrants. Families of the victims, their attorneys, and human rights groups, including the ACLU, have criticized the Border Patrol for failure to provide the facts and findings of their investigations along with the identities of agents, if any, legally responsible for the deaths over a four year period.

While the present Secretary of DHS, Jeh Johnson, has repeatedly promised increased transparency since his recent appointment by the Obama administration, the public and researchers must still use the cumbersome Freedom of Information Act to gain basic information about the agency’s public actions and levels of performance (“Our Borders Are Not Constitution-Free Zones,”ACLU).