Coburn report: Department of Homeland Security is failing in all of its missions

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On January 3, 2015, Senator Tom Coburn released the report that outlines his findings pertaining to the efficacy of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in executing its primary missions. Senator Coburn has been a member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee since 2005.The report finds that the DHS is failing miserably in every one of its stated missions. Since criticizing the DHS is an unspoken taboo for most of the mainstream media, this report was released on Saturday and received very little press coverage. Traditional reporting typically defends the DHS by telling the viewing audiences that the agency is comprised of “our best,” all of whom are risking their lives to protect the nation. In reality, neither of those statements holds water.

Official missions of the DHS are as follows:

Mission 1—Preventing Terrorism and Improving Security

Mission 2— Securing and Managing Our Borders

Mission 3— Enforcing and Administering Our Immigration Laws

Mission 4—Safeguarding and Securing Cyberspace

Mission 5—Strengthening National Preparedness and Resilience

The report finds that the Department of Homeland Security is failing in every one of its missions. It states that the DHS “primary counterterrorism programs are yielding little value for the nation’s counterterrorism efforts … The nation’s borders remain unsecure … The Department of Homeland Security is not effectively administering or enforcing the nation’s immigration laws … The Department of Homeland Security is struggling to execute its responsibilities for cybersecurity, and its strategy and programs are unlikely to protect us from the adversaries that pose the greatest cybersecurity threat … The Department of Homeland Security is federalizing the response to manmade and natural disasters by subsidizing state, local, and private sector activity.”

One of the ways that DHS intended to support the nation’s counterterrorism mission was by supporting state and local fusion centers, which are meant to serve as hubs of intelligence sharing between federal, state, and local officials. The Department spent between $289 million and $1.4 billion supporting the approximately 70 fusion centers across the nation. In 2012, the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigation (PSI) completed a two-year bipartisan investigation of DHS’s support for the state and local fusion center program, which found that DHS’s work with the fusion centers had not produced useful intelligence to support federal counterterrorism efforts. The PSI investigation revealed that fusion centers “often produced irrelevant, useless or inappropriate intelligence reporting to DHS, and many produced no intelligence reporting whatsoever.”

The DHS has spent more than a half a billion dollars to regulate the security of chemical facilities at risk of potential terrorist attacks. However, 99 percent of all the chemical facilities that were supposed to be overseen by the program are yet to be inspected. As of 2014, 700 hundred miles of the Southern border are not secure, since the DHS and its component, Customs and Border Protection (CBP), failed to deploy assets to control these areas. The chance of an illegal immigrant being removed by the DHS is slightly over 3 percent. The report found that until recently, the DHS “did not have a comprehensive strategy for securing the border … The Department also faces a potentially significant problem of corruption in its workforce assigned to secure the border … DHS spending on programs to secure port facilities, infrastructure, and cargo have not accomplished their objectives.”

Since the DHS can’t enforce existing immigration laws, nor is able to effectively manage tracking and monitoring of the people who have entered the U.S. legally, the report questions whether the agency is able “to effectively manage any large program to provide new immigration benefits to people currently living in the United States illegally, as was ordered by President Obama on November 20, 2014.” The report points out: “The Department’s lax approach to immigration law enforcement, and broad applications of prosecutorial discretion with regard to enforcing immigration laws also exacerbates DHS’s challenge securing the border. Rather than deterring illegal immigration, lax immigration enforcement creates an expectation that people entering the nation illegally or violating the terms of their visa will be allowed to stay, facing no consequences.”

Approximately 36 convicted terrorists came to the country using various forms of student visas, but the DHS is failing to effectively manage the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP), which is currently used by more than one million people to gain entry into the United States. The report also notes that in February 2013, ICE released more than 2,000 illegal immigrant detainees, including more than 600 aliens with criminal records; creating a risk to public safety and further undermining the agency’s credibility.

While failing in its official missions, the DHS is encroaching upon the rights and liberties of American citizens, without any benefit to the nation’s national security. Senator Coburn’s report states: “We are willing to endure the inconvenience of arriving at the airport earlier and having our luggage screened, but we are wary of increased government policing and surveillance. We are concerned that despite spending billions of dollars on border security, tens of thousands continue to enter our country illegally and, in 2014, 700 miles of our Southern border were unsecure. The same is true of cyber security. We have spent billions to protect against cyber attacks, yet even White House computers have been susceptible to hacking.”

The Department of Homeland Security is a multi-billion dollar behemoth that employs more than 240,000 people and spends approximately $61 billion annually. The agency disposed of $544 billion of taxpayers’ money since 2003, with little to show for it. The DHS allowed a convicted terrorist to become a US citizen, spent $30,000 on Starbucks, provided Zombie Apocalypse training for the DHS personnel, purchased 13 sno-cone machines, spent $45 million on a failed video surveillance network and even bought a hog catcher. Cities were essentially allowed to spend the money on almost anything they want, under the guise of “terror prevention.” As Senator Coburn’s previous report found, “DHS and Congress have often let politics interfere, diluting any results. Instead of sending funds where they can have the biggest impact, money is spread around to parochial political interests. This ensures fewer complaints and broad political support, but does not necessarily mean we are safer.”

Under the agency’s management of various grant programs, including the Urban Area Security Initiative (UASI), Columbus, Ohio spent $98,000 to purchase an “underwater robot,” Keene, New Hampshire, with a small population and a police force of 40, set aside grant funds to buy a BearCat armored vehicle to patrol events like its annual pumpkin festival, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania spent $88,000 on several “long-range acoustic devices” (LRADs), that emit an ear-splitting sound. Local officials used it to disperse G-20 protestors, causing one bystander permanent hearing loss, while continuing to call the devices “a kinder and gentler way to get people to leave.” Fargo, North Dakota (a town which averages fewer than 2 homicides a year) spent $256,643.00 dollars on an armored truck with a rotating gun turret. Olathe Fire Department outside Kansas City spent $151,000.00 dollars to purchase a bomb detection robot, despite already having two such robots that continue to sit unused for years.

Peoria, Arizona spent $90,000 to install bollards and surveillance cameras at the Peoria Sports Complex. The Oxnard-Thousand Oaks UASI used $75,000 to purchase surveillance equipment, alarms and closed-circuit television, which it installed in its Civic Arts Plaza. Seguin, Texas purchased fish tanks. Fort Worth, Texas spent $24,000 on a latrine with wheels. Kleberg County, Texas spent over $61,000.00 dollars on two used Camaros. Burbank Police in California spent $275,000.00 dollars from DHS anti-terrorism grant funds to buy a new BearCat armored vehicle and sold its older-model to South Pasadena Police for a whopping $1 dollar. Several police departments in Arizona used UASI grants to purchase armored vehicles. In 2011, the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office used a SWAT team, starring Steven Seagal, and two armored vehicles to raid the home of a man suspected to be involved in cockfighting.

UASI funds were also spent to create videos telling citizens how they can spot signs of terror in their own neighborhoods. These videos instructed citizens to report people as terror suspects for exhibiting such red flags as “average or above average intelligence” and “conspicuous adaptation to western culture and values.” These dubious criteria would likely turn medical doctors and computer professionals into terror suspects.

The Department of Homeland Security is failing its missions largely because of rampant corruption within its ranks. GAO issued a report on corruption and misconduct in December 2012, finding that more than 140 current and former CBP employees had been arrested for corruption offenses, such as smuggling, and 125 had been convicted as of late 2012. In 2011, the DHS Office of Inspector General had 600 open investigations examining CBP employees. DHS officials have also pointed to a hiring surge since 2006 as a factor contributing to the problem of corruption. Recent semiannual report to Congress by the Office of Inspector General revealed the following cases:

  • A TSA Transportation Security (TSA) Officer entered into a conspiracy to smuggle Brazilian nationals through an international airport.
  • A United States Coast Guard (USCG) civilian employee murdered two co-workers, an active-duty USCG Petty Officer, and a retired USCG Chief Petty Officer.
  • Members of the ICE narcotics task force were involved in smuggling of narcotics. OIG investigation revealed that an entire specialized law enforcement unit, which had been designed to interrupt the narcotics trade, was deeply involved in smuggling and other illegal activities.
  • A Customs and Border Protection Officer (CBPO) accepted payments to enter fraudulent immigration information into an official database. The information falsely made it appear as if nonimmigrants, who had entered the United States, had departed within the required time limits and then properly returned to the United States, thus maintaining their status.
  • A United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) employee was stealing immigration forms from the warehouse where he worked and selling them in furtherance of a criminal conspiracy that helped to obtain hundreds of false driver’s licenses for individuals in various states.
  • An ICE corrections officer was supplying illegal prescription medication that he knew was being smuggled inside the facility and sold to detainees.
  • A TSA officer fraudulently represented that he was married to a U.S. citizen on his immigration application, allowing him to fraudulently acquire U.S. citizenship.
  • A TSA Supervisor was actively assisting a criminal organization in smuggling cocaine at an international airport.
  • A Federal Air Marshal, who repeatedly sexually abused three minors between 2000 and 2004, was convicted and sentenced to 20 years of incarceration. While incarcerated, he contacted a former victim and asked that the victim destroy an external hard drive containing child pornography which he had hidden prior to his arrest. OIG opened a new investigation, during which the hard drive was located and examined. It contained thousands of images and full-length movies of child pornography.
  • A Border Patrol Agent (BPA) worked in the intelligence unit and sought to provide sensitive law enforcement information to smugglers. Intelligence materials, such as border sensor maps, combinations to locked gates and identities of confidential informants, were delivered to the supposed smugglers, who were actually undercover agents.
  • A senior CBP official was awarding government contracts based on conflicts of interest and favoritism. An OIG investigation revealed that the official was in the process of attempting to steer an approximately $100 million information technology contract to a specific company. Additional evidence indicated that he had previously helped to steer a $24 million information technology contract to a certain company.
  • An ICE Supervisory Special Agent, Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), had been stealing property from ICE for several years and had sold much of it over the Internet.

Corruption within the ranks of the Department of Homeland Security continues to spread, because in many instances its officials face no prison time for their offences. For example, in all of the following cases DHS employees were sentenced to probation for their criminal activities:

  • A CBP Officer working at the Houston International Airport in Texas was covertly providing information from a law enforcement database to an individual under investigation by the Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF). The CBP Officer also ran queries in government databases for the names of his accomplices’ friends, family and other partners in criminal activities.
  • Background investigator for DHS was caught inventing falsified interviews of persons associated with the background investigations he was supposed to conduct on applicants for employment with the CBP.
  • CBP technician Thomas Chapman and his friend Paul Brickman stole a Customs declaration form, filled out by the late Astronaut Neil Armstrong. They’ve attempted to sell it at an auction.
  • TSA Officer wanted to have some fun, so he called in a fake bomb threat at the Columbus Regional Airport on May 6, 2009, where he was employed.
  • CBP Officer Tori Ferrari (Detroit, MI), pleaded guilty to altering an immigration document. He falsified the status of an Iranian national (Iran is on an official list of “State Sponsors of Terrorism,” designated by the State Department) by forging an F-1 visa into an F-2 visa.
  • CBP Officer assigned to Field Operations in Tucson, Arizona, misused his official position by running queries in law enforcement and other government databases to obtain information about a person he was suing in a civil case.
  • Transportation Security Administration manager Bryant Jermaine Livingston was running a prostitution ring out of a Crowne Plaza Hotel in Maryland.
  • A Department of Defense Contract Employee had obtained a Top Secret security clearance, based on her fraudulently obtained immigration status.
  • CBPO at a Port of Entry in San Ysidro, California, was assisting a known alien and drug smuggling organization. He had accepted cash bribes from the smuggling organization for allowing vehicles loaded with marijuana and/or illegal aliens to enter the U.S. without inspection. The CBPO laundered his bribe money through a front business and paid bribes of $15,000 to $20,000 a week to Daphiney Caganap, the head of the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) intelligence unit and anti-smuggling operations at the San Ysidro Port of Entry. She covered up an illegal alien and drug smuggling operation, allowing it to continue for years. When questioned by the FBI, Caganap lied under oath. Even though the government was well aware of Caganap’s bribery, she continued to receive promotions and was appointed as the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Port Director at the Metro Detroit Airport.
  • U.S. Border Patrol Agent Eduardo Moreno brutally assaulted a Mexican national who was in his custody. Moreno admitted that while he was walking the man through the processing center, he struck him in the stomach with a baton, threw him to the ground, kicked and punched him for no reason whatsoever. The victim suffered severe bodily injuries.
  • U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) District Adjudications Officer (DAO) in San Jose, California was extorting money from immigration applicants, promising to approve citizenship applications for a bribe of $2,000 in cash.
  • Jovana Deas, a former special agent with ICE Homeland Security Investigations, ran queries in law enforcement databases, as requested by her sister in Mexico, Dana Maria Samaniego Montes, who had direct ties to violent drug cartels. One of the people Deas looked up using her work computer was later assassinated in Juarez, Mexico, after she provided her sister with the man’s photo and other information. Prosecutor said that Deas may have caused the man’s murder. A copy of the photo was later discovered in the computer of sister’s ex-husband, Miguel Angel Mendoza Estrada, during a drug-trafficking investigation in Sao Paulo, Brazil.
  • Border Patrol agent Teofilo Rodarte stole a woman’s purse and used her credit cards to buy $231 in merchandise at Walmart.
  • An ICE Special Agent covertly imported banned steroids from China for illegal distribution in the U.S.
  • CBP Officer Manuel Salazar, an 8-year veteran who was assigned to the Pharr, Texas, Port of Entry, allowed drug smugglers to transport 1,700 pounds of marijuana through his inspection lane in exchange for a bribe of $10,000 dollars.
  • FPS Program Analyst entered into a sham marriage that gained unwarranted immigration benefits for his “wife”.
  • Supervisory Detention and Deportation Officer of ICE in Detroit, Michigan decided to single-handedly solve the burglary of a relative’s residence. He kidnapped a man at gunpoint, forcing him into a government-owned vehicle. The ICE officer drove the man to an abandoned house, where he pistol-whipped the victim with his duty weapon. The man was able to escape after the officer fired one round from his duty weapon to intimidate him. On May 25, 2009, the same officer approached another man, threw him to the ground and threatened him at gun point.
  • TSA Officer Elliot Iglesias worked at the Orlando, FL, International Airport. Over a three year period, he had stolen more than 80 laptop computers and other electronic devices, valued at $80,000, from passenger luggage. Iglesias admitted that he fenced the items in Osceola County, FL.
  • Pawnshop owner reported a number of laptop computers with DHS property stickers being sold to his store. A DHS Information Technology contractor had stolen more than $8,000 worth of DHS computers and sold them to various pawnshops in Maryland.
  • A United States Secret Service contract employee stole approximately 60 laptop computers from a warehouse at the DHS Headquarters.
  • An ICE Special Agent and two CBP Officers in Tucson, Arizona conspired with two employees of a local car repair garage to scam the government by using DHS fleet cards. They’ve cooked up fraudulent invoices totaling over $55,479, which was then shared amongst co-conspirators.
  • A CBP Officer was caught red-handed, acting as a “lookout” for a drug trafficker who was transporting narcotics from New York to Cleveland, OH. He also transported the proceeds of illicit drug sales back to New York and was paid $15,000 by the trafficker.
  • A Border Patrol Agent (BPA) in Wilcox, AZ, punched a fellow BPA, then pulled his loaded service weapon and pointed it at the victim’s head, because he ridiculed the offender’s outfit.

The Department of Homeland Security is deeply corrupt and focuses on surveillance of everyday Americans, as opposed to its stated mission of protecting them from terrorism and defending our porous borders. The outcome, therefore, is not surprising. Senator Coburn’s report validly points out that the DHS must “focus on earning and restoring the American people’s trust. This includes ensuring that all of the Department’s programs and operations are consistent with the American people’s Constitutional rights and the proper role of the federal government. Too many of DHS’s programs have faced questions in this regard. We have also witnessed incidents where the Department’s programs have raised concerns about excessive federal authority or otherwise contributed to some of the public’s distrust of law enforcement.” At this point, none of us have any valid basis for trusting the Department of Homeland Security.

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