Backlog of Whistleblower Cases Growing, Agency Report Says

By Tania Branigan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, July 21, 2003; Page A04

Hundreds of whistleblower complaints about waste, fraud and abuse in government are going unexamined, with the backlog of cases at the Office of Special Counsel more than doubling in the past 18 months, according to newly obtained figures.

Former special counsel Elaine Kaplan, who left office last month, said the problem was so intense that she believed only one case had been reviewed within the statutory period of 15 working days during her five years in office. The majority of the reports can take more than six months to resolve.

Kaplan said the disclosure unit was a victim of its own success, receiving an increasing number of allegations as federal staff became aware of its work. The number of complaints has risen by almost half since October 1991 -- with 555 disclosures of wrongdoing filed in the fiscal year that ended September 2002 -- and staff has been unable to keep up.

As of June 30, there were 628 cases awaiting review, two-thirds of which had been with the OSC for more than six months, according to figures from the agency's latest annual report and further internal statistics obtained by the Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), which represents workers who have filed disclosures. At the end of 2001, 245 cases were pending.

Nor does the increase in reports seem to reflect a rise in frivolous or unfounded claims; a greater proportion of disclosures was referred for investigation and fewer closed due to insufficient evidence.

An OSC spokesman said the agency was aware of the backlog, but he did not provide further comment.

Kaplan, who now works for the Washington law firm Bernabei and Katz, said the disclosure unit had only two staff members when she became special counsel. It now has eight full-time employees.

"They probably need 20 or 30 people," said Kaplan, although she conceded that such an increase was unlikely.

"Cases have never been dealt with within 15 days -- that's an unrealistic assessment of how long it should take because a lot of the cases are extremely complicated. I think in the time we were there we may have been able to handle one in 15 days," she said.

But she added: "The function is well worth investing in. We tried to prioritize cases to look at possible threats to public health and safety, but it was hard to do even that.

"I do think it would pay off in the long run because these are also cases involving allegations of mismanagement and wasted money."

Jeff Ruch, executive director of PEER, warned that the delays might deter future disclosures. He stressed that complaints often called attention to serious risks to public health and safety or the mismanagement of substantial sums of money.

"It's like calling 911 and being put on hold," he said.

"Hundreds of federal employees risk their careers to blow the whistle, only to find that no one is home to hear it.

"We are calling on the administration to address this backlog [so that] whistleblowers know whether there will be action, rather than leaving them twisting in the wind for months or years, which makes a difficult decision [to speak out] even harder."

But Tom Devine, legal director of the Government Accountability Project -- a nonprofit group supporting government and corporate whistleblowers -- said that extra staff would be "a much-needed band-aid." He called for the administration to support structural reforms that would allow federal employees to take their cases to court after six months, as corporate staff can.

President Bush has nominated Scott J. Bloch, deputy director and counsel to the Task Force for Faith-Based and Community Initiatives at the Department of Justice, to take over as special counsel

Customs Corruption Commentary:

The Office of Special Counsel or OSC, should have been disbanded years ago. They do not have the proper staff or expertise to conduct real investigations and they do not have a proper budget or jurisdictional authority. How can you investigate when the agency you are investigating has more authority than they do?

The same thing has happened with the OIG as well.

The OSC agency is doomed from the beginning and they don't even know how to conduct an independent inquiry without using "inexpereineced" people without any law enforcement background at all. How can such an agency conduct proper investigations into federal law enforcement agencies if they don't even have the tools or jurisdiction. Findings are only "recommendations" that are quickly ignored by U.S. Customs managers. Their function in strictly "administrative" in nature and do NOT impact on federal agencies or laws where they can make the most impact.

If there is a finding, they can only "recommend" to the federal agency being investigated. This is a total waste of time and energy as it "tips off" the agency before going to federal court on a real course of action. That is why they should disband MSPB as well as OSC! One example is when an OSC "investigator" who called a Customs manager and asked them point blank, "We got a complaint from (C/C redacted) and wanted to know if it was true?" The Customs manager in question simply denied the allegation and NOTHING was done. THAT is why we need investigators from other outside law enforcement agencies like the DOJ or FBI, IRS, etc...The OSC investigators are not properly trained and do NOT even qualify as a law enforcement category in training, background or expertise. OSC doesn't even understand the simplest law enforcement procedures or techniques. After you have "tipped off" the OSC, your case is jeopardized and Managers will know right away what has happened. Even Internal Affairs is notified and you experience retaliation for no apparent reason.


Border officials hope to throw net over smugglers

By Marisa Taylor
May 8, 2003

They're kamikaze smugglers, and they'll do anything to get into the United States.

Packing their cars with illegal immigrants and drugs, they come speeding across the U.S.-Mexican border, sometimes so unexpectedly that inspectors have to leap out of the way.

Authorities have tried to fight back against the port runners by installing steel spikes that pop out of the road and destroy the smugglers' tires.

But the spikes pose problems. Sometimes the smugglers smash into vehicles, injuring innocent people. They also have learned how to drive over the spikes by filling their tires with silicon.

Border authorities may have found a safer, more effective solution.

Next week at the San Ysidro crossing, they'll begin testing a device called the VSS, or Vehicle Stopping System, which snares smugglers in nets similar to those used to catch jets as they land on aircraft carriers.

"We used to have to jump out of their way," said Lauren Mack, a spokeswoman for the Bureau of Customs and Border Protection in San Diego. "Now we're going to stop them using a high-tech net."

The device stops vehicles so smoothly that the occupant of a car traveling at 50 mph isn't pitched forward. The 12-foot-wide net also prevents suspects from fleeing because it wraps around the doors of the vehicle, trapping those inside until authorities arrive.

"The primary goal is to prevent the illegal entry of immigrants into United States, but to do it in a way that is absolutely safe to the occupants," said Ken Ducey, president and CFO of Markland Technologies, the Ridgefield, Conn.-based company that designed the system.

Port runners have long been a danger at the border.

Ten years ago, smugglers tried to race through the San Ysidro port of entry at least once a day.

The spikes reduced the problem, but didn't eliminate it.

Last year, 76 port runners tried to cross the border, up from 54 the year before. That number doesn't include the increasing number of wrong-way drivers who try to drive north from Mexico through southbound lanes.

The search for technology to replace the spikes began about three years ago.

The government invested about $200,000 in the VSS, which uses material similar to the resilient cord used by the fishing industry.

The device has been installed at San Ysidro on the U.S. side of the inspection booths, where cars spill into three lanes. The net is activated by an inspector who pushes a button inside the booth.

If the VSS works as planned, border authorities have expressed interest in installing such devices elsewhere along the Southwest border, Ducey said. Each is expected to cost about $30,000, plus $20,000 for installation.

Since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the Department of Homeland Security has been looking for any kind of technology that can help guard the border without slowing legitimate travelers.

Tom Ridge, who heads the fledgling agency, announced during a visit to San Diego last month that the United States plans to expand the program known as SENTRI - the Secure Electronic Network for Travelers Rapid Inspection.

Motorists who pass a security clearance and pay a fee every two years can use the program to pass through ports of entry quickly.

Officials plan to open a SENTRI lane for pedestrians by September. As people walk across the border, their passes will be scanned electronically.

Border authorities also plan to launch the U.S. VISIT program, which uses high-tech, biometric cards to register all foreign visitors as they arrive at international airports and seaports. The cards will include photos, fingerprints or eye scans.

With all the talk about high-tech gadgets, the steel spikes known as tire shredders seem out of date.

Last year, tire shredders that the United States installed on the Mexican side of the border were temporarily welded shut on orders from Mexican customs officials after southbound motorists complained that the spikes were shredding their tires as they drove legally into Tijuana.

Customs Corruption Editor's Note: The tire shredders that were welded shut on the Mexican side of the border are actually allowing Port Runners to drive northbound into the U.S. from Tijuana, Mexico bypassing the tire shredders. This has actually been a ploy used by Mexican Aduanas and their smuggler friends. It helps excuse them and allows them to claim that they had no control over the Port Runners. It will also bypass any "new" system like the V.S.S. that is utilized by our Customs & INS officials. Unless there is total co-operation between the two countries, someone will still be "paid off" on the Mexican side in order to guarantee that their Port Runners will not be blocked or prevented from driving into the U.S. illegally. It has been going on for at least 15-20 years.

Marijuana-filled big rig is seized

June 24, 2003

OTAY MESA - When Customs agents ordered a truck driver to steer his tractor-trailer rig into their X-ray machine at the Otay Mesa border crossing last Friday evening, they noticed he seemed a bit reluctant, so much so that he steered away from the machine, got out and tried to run back into Mexico.

After collaring the man, agents X-rayed the big rig and found nearly 5,500 pounds of marijuana, said Vince Bond, spokesman for the Bureau of Customs and Border Protection.

Authorities did not release details of the seizure until yesterday.

The driver, Roberto de Loza, 50, of Tijuana is in the Metropolitan Correctional Center in downtown San Diego to await arraignment on federal drug-smuggling charges. - Gregory Alan Gross

Editor's Note;

Obviously the drugs are still coming in and blatantly being shipped in large truck containers like they have for decades. The same trucks go through the Mexican Customs compound prior to entering the U.S. compound without being checked. Or maybe they had knowledge? Illegals and narcotics still come through the border on a daily basis. There needs to be an increase of Customs and Border Patrol staff to handle the work load. If illegals can run through the Customs facility and NOT get caught, then narcotics smugglers will attempt to get large loads of marijuana or cocaine into the country with the same low risk factor. Or is that the less than 1% inspection rate that Customs Headquarters has authorized since Weise and Kelly?What is Bonner doing to prevent this? Nothing! It's ALL "lip service" Nothing has changed. Who do you think you are fooling anyway Bonner?

Terrorist Hides In U.S. Territory

In the last couple days, San Juan Puerto Rico, a " known terrorist" enters via flight from Antigua. NCIC lookout for terrorist type stuff. INS clears and allows the suspect terrorist to proceed.  Customs was not notified. Customs finds out and runs the suspect's name and discovers he is an NCIC terrorist lookout.


This NCIC subject is now running loose in Puerto Rico (unless of course he has hitched a boat ride to the great ol' US of A.)
A TDY I&NS official aka "dip shit" from a seaport to remote northern border POE. The INS official brings with him a lap top computer with "4 month old version" of PALS (similar to the old I&NS service lookout book).  This INS official "refuses" to sign into properly "log in" to TECS(Treasury Enforcement Computer System), proceeds to run people's names in this "four month old" stand alone computer disk. 


No individuals are found to be of interest re:terrorist activities in the last four months which are in his
 little antiquated INS issued "lap top" computer, but refuses to accept that fact. The INS Official then runs everyone else's names, including (USC's and aliens) in his little "limited" program. No wonder terrorists get into the country!!!!
I recently worked a twelve hour shift, and four hours with an INS official that also heads a local church.  Of the 4 hours I was working with this "brain surgeon"(INS Official), the INS official spent 3 and a half hours on the government telephone conducting church business while working on government time. My other co-workers say this is an every night occurrence. Most times upwards of 5-6 hours every night!!  The INS supervisor was informed of this activity and he did not give a shit. 
There is another "co-worker" that is a "temporary" INS official working at a remote INS POE.  This official opens the inspection station at 09:00 A.M. This GS-9 INS "port director" spends at least three hours in the back room on the internet in auction sites, stock sites and ???, leaving a part time Customs official to work alone at the Border Inspection Station. SAFETY ISSUES!  So much for helping INS out. Where's the dual responsibility? 
The National Guard showed up last week UNARMED. National Guard can work alone as long as they are with an "armed" Customs or INS official. So much for the fabricated Customs Alert level 1 requirements of having "2 armed officers at the inspection station at all times".  They don't have enough vehicles to get them to and from P.O.E.'s without a lot of shuffling. The nearest housing is 50 miles from POE.
A Canadian national shows up with "expired" Visa/INS waiver driving a "limo" with a "USC"(U.S. Citizen) PAX to the Spokane airport. The Canadian national was referred to INS secondary. The Canadian subject was then allowed to enter the United States by way of a "free trade examiner" even though he knew the waiver was invalid. A subsequent TECS query of the Canadian subject was done as well as a criminal history for possible narcotic trafficking. This Canadian national had a conviction for narcotics trafficking, but was released by the INS official.


Later the same day we had a Canadian with "resident" status in United States who is changing her status. She had a "family emergency" in Canada, (grandma dies) so she needs goes to the funeral.  When the Canadian national came back, she didn't have her documents, but her story was verified by same Customs "free trade official". He refused the Canadian female entry because she wasn't supposed to leave.
 Oh...did I mention that this Canadian U.S. "resident" she was 6 months pregnant. (I wonder who the father was?) 

We'll knowingly let in a convicted narcotics trafficker, but refuse a pregnant immigrant who is in the process of changing her status under the law because her poor grandmother had the audacity to up
 and die on her! 


The INS official with the laptop was going to refuse an older "USC"(United States Citizen) female living in Canada because she was "entering the U.S. with the intent to commit a crime!!!" (her headlight was burnt out at 7:30 am??? An equipment infraction at most)
As you can tell, I am getting so sick of this S_ _T. 
 C/C Redacted

Covert agent fights firing over mistake

Tucson, Arizona Wednesday, 31 December 2003
Customs worker was part of probe of plot to sell missile engines to Iran
By Michael Marizco

A federal agency closed its investigation into the suspected sale of missile engines to Iran after an undercover agent in Tucson gave the suspects his office phone number.

Now, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement is trying to fire the agent, Greg Miller, 47, who has worked for the agency 13 years.

Miller is suing to keep his job, saying the agency is only using his phone number mistake as a pretext to dismiss him on an unrelated matter - his complaint that state police roughed up one of his sources, a Saudi Arabian man, during a search of the man's Tucson home.

The missile engine case is mentioned, but few details are provided in a Nov. 3 letter to Miller that spells out his employer's plans to fire him. A copy of that letter was sent to the Arizona Daily Star by Miller's attorney.

On two occasions, in June 2002 and March 2003, suspects in the missile engine case actually phoned Miller's number at Immigration and Customs Enforcement and left him messages - even though he uses his real name on the voice mail message rather than the undercover name they would have known him by.

If the callers were to dial "0" for the operator instead of leaving a message, the letter notes, the receptionist at the front desk would have answered with the agency's name.

This mistake forced the agency to close the missile engine investigation, according to the letter, written by Richard Bailey, an assistant-special-agent-in-charge of the Tucson office. The letter says the agency was investigating an attempt to acquire what are described as "10 Tri-Turbo Jet engines used on drones and missiles destined for the Republic of Iran."

The investigation had taken about 3,000 hours of federal government time before it was closed, Bailey wrote.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement would not elaborate on the investigation. "If we deem information to be law-enforcement-sensitive, we will not be discussing information about that case," said agency spokesman Russell Ahr in Phoenix.

Miller would make only one comment on the record, referring all questions to his attorney, David Ross of Beverly Hills, who specializes in whistle-blowing cases against the federal government.

Said Miller, "The Constitution is what separates criminals from the police. And as far as I'm concerned, the Constitution is not for sale. That's why I did it. It was just wrong."

Ross said the missile investigation had progressed far enough for prosecution. Agents were supposed to be waiting for the sellers of the missile engines to pass through Sky Harbor International Airport in Phoenix, where they were to be arrested on conspiracy charges, he said.

Ross acknowledged that Miller accidentally gave the suspects his real office number instead of his undercover cell phone number, but he disagreed that this was the reason for the collapse of the investigation.

"They dropped it for insufficient evidence, but not because of anything that had to do with Greg," Ross said.

The U.S. Attorney's Office in Phoenix declined comment, referring questions about the dispute to Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

John Carman, a former customs inspector who worked with Miller in San Diego, has spoken with Miller about the case and said Miller had been attempting to buy the engines from sellers in Arizona who knew they were acting outside the law.

"It'd be like trying to get printing plates for a $20 bill; it involves something that is totally controlled," Carman said.

It is typical for customs agents to act as a buyer in such an undercover operation because it is easier to indict suspects with items they're already holding rather than trying to entrap them into making a buy, he said.

"It's very hard for some people to do. Undercover work is very dangerous, very risky; normally they don't want to put you at risk," Carman said.

The engines described in Miller's termination letter sound like a type capable of carrying a missile with any kind of payload from Iran to other Middle Eastern countries or even to parts of Europe, said Philip Coyle, a former rocket scientist and director of the Center for Defense Information in Los Angeles. The engines could not propel a missile as far as the United States, Coyle said.

The engines could have a non-military use, but because of their potential to be used in a weapons system, their sale is prohibited to Iran - a nation the United States has labeled as a sponsor of terrorism, said Jim Phillips, an international terrorism analyst with the Heritage Foundation in Washington.

The letter to Miller cites two other reasons for Immigration and Customs Enforcement to seek his firing: allegations that he told federal prosecutors he could not trust his own credibility as a witness, which Miller denies; and giving out private information about Iraqi nationals living in Arizona to a third party, the Saudi man whose treatment by state police prompted Miller's complaint.

The Saudi man, whose name is being withheld by the Star out of concern for his safety, was investigated last year by the Arizona Department of Public Safety in connection with an auto theft ring, but he was never indicted, said his lawyer, Jesse Smith of Tucson.

Ross, Miller's attorney, said his client was disturbed to learn that state agents had thrown the man to the concrete floor when they entered his home with a search warrant on Sept. 10, 2002.

Their treatment left the man with scraped and bruised legs, and the officers later ordered the man to their office to have his fingerprints and photo taken, Ross said.

Miller complained to his group supervisor that the officers used excessive force.

Only at this point, Ross said, two months after the missile investigation was closed, did his employers decide to take action against him.

"Those charges are things that involve incidents from a long time ago," he said. "The only time the issue is raised is when he complained."

In July 2003, stripped of his gun and badge and assigned as a receptionist, Miller hired Ross. The attorney filed suit with the Merit Systems Protection Board in San Francisco, an independent adjudicator created for federal employees to appeal personnel actions, said board spokeswoman Amy Dunning. It can also be the first stop for lawsuits in federal court.

Under the federal Whistleblower Protection Act, Miller's employers must prove they would have fired him for his actions regardless of the complaint about state police abuses, said Doug Hartnett with the Government Accountability Project, a Washington, D.C., group that protects whistle-blowers.

A key consideration, Hartnett said, is when the agency took action to demote Miller to desk duties. That occurred only after Miller lodged his complaint, Hartnett said.

In July 2001, Miller made headlines when he uncovered a plot by a German man to export machine guns and military helicopter parts to Iran.

"He's sincere and that's something you can't sell," said Carman, the former customs inspector. "This is a guy that wants to do his job; he's loyal and he's a patriot."

Miller requested a leave of absence and it was granted to him until Jan. 9.

* Contact reporter Michael Marizco at 573-4213 or