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Reporter Details Former Border Protection Watchdog's Account of Corruption

A Border Patrol veihicle drives past vehicle barriers near Deming, NM. (Jim Greenhill via Flickr/Creative Commons)

In June, the head of the internal watchdog office at U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) was removed from his post and re-assigned, after an independent report revealed the agency didn't do enough to investigate the Border Patrol's use of deadly force.

The move was seen as a step toward better transparency, something the CBP's newly-appointed commissioner Gil Kerlikowske has pledged to focus on.

But in an unauthorized interview this month with the Center for Investigative Reporting, former Chief of Internal Affairs James Tomsheck tells reporter Andrew Becker his removal was instead meant to deflect controversy over the agency’s use of force policies.

We spoke with Becker about those comments, including Tomsheck's opinion that the deaths of at least 7 of the 28 people killed by Border Patrol agents since 2010 were "highly suspect."

As Becker reports, Tomsheck says the Border Patrol regularly tried to make those shootings appear justified:
“In nearly every instance, 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,” he said.
Tomsheck previously testified about "isolated acts of corruption," but now tells CIR the problem has been more widespread than border officials acknowledge:

A former U.S. Secret Service agent for 23 years, Tomsheck said he believed that between 5 and 10 percent of border agents and officers are actively corrupt or were at some point in their career.

Those crimes include stealing government property, leaking sensitive information and taking bribes to look the other way when smugglers bring drugs or people into the country.

It's unclear what the future holds for James Tomsheck, but Becker says he likely understood the severity of his decision to speak without authorization to the press.

Tomsheck has since spoken to other media outlets as well, telling NPR's Carrie Johnson he was used as a "scapegoat":
"To hear it suggested that I didn't properly discipline persons — when I know that neither myself or anyone in the office of internal affairs has anything to do with discipline — was quite difficult to hear," he says.
Becker reports that Tomsheck is currently on temporary assignment as the Border Patrol's Executive Director for National Programs.

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