Last week the Clinton administration announced a
$1.3-billion emergency aid package to fight the
narcotics trade in Colombia.
That's in addition to money previously in the
pipeline, which had already made the Latin American drug
capital the third-largest recipient of United States tax
dollars in the world.
According to the New York Times, "President
Clinton said the aid was 'urgently needed' to help
Colombia and to keep 'illegal drugs off our shores.'"
Tell that to John Carman, once one of the most
effective shock troops on the front lines of America's
war on drugs.
Carman's career went into the dumpster when he blew
the whistle on U.S. Customs Service corruption and the
Clinton administration's attempts to torpedo U.S.
These days Carman, a former Customs senior inspector,
has to cope with death threats and harassment from local
police, which he believes is connected to his efforts to
expose official wrongdoing.
But five years ago, Carman was one of the Customs
Service's golden boys, with a personnel file full of
commendations and job-performance evaluations that rated
him as one of his department's most successful agents.
His beat was the San Diego, CA Customs district, the
most heavily trafficked area along the Mexican border –
through which 70 percent of America's cocaine supply
passes each year.
When the Clinton administration began to shift the
focus of its drug war away from border interdiction to
new strategies, such as the billion-dollar government
bribe the president just announced, successful agents
like Carman, who know what works and what doesn't,
suddenly became very inconvenient.
This Customs whistle-blower described for NewsMax.com
a few of the programs that are no longer a part of
America's anti-drug efforts.
"They did away with the car-intercept program where
"we'd have specially marked Customs chase cars
patrolling back and forth," Carman said. "'Port
runners,' as we called them, used to come out of Mexico
loaded with drugs."
Carman said high-volume Mexican smugglers would drive
up the highway the wrong way: "That's how we knew there
was government involvement. People were paid off so
these guys could drive the wrong way through traffic, so
they could go through the exit the wrong way and enter
the U.S. illegally."
High-speed pursuits were one of Carman's specialties
as a former police officer. He said he had at least a
90-percent success rate with drug-laden vehicles that
would have otherwise beaten U.S. interdiction efforts.
Despite the obvious value of the Customs Service's
hot-pursuit program, Clinton officials argued it put
civilian drivers at risk and was the cause of too many
Carman U.S. Border Patrol "illegal alien" pursuits
within California are far more dangerous.
Did any of the hundreds of chases he initiated over
the years ever end in a crash? "Never," the former agent
told NewsMax.com emphatically.
When a smuggler tried to run him off the road as he
gave chase back to Tijuana, Mexico, Carman said, the
U.S. Border Patrol failed to give him proper back-up.
"I would have seized some very serious narcotics in a
van with one driver, no passengers," he said. "Instead
the driver drove up over the sidewalk and right past a
marked Border patrol vehicle with his lights off.
"I learned later that the Border Patrol was 'ordered
off' assisting in the pursuits. That basically let the
'port runner' escape."
The elimination of the chase program is just one part
of the Clinton administration's across-the-board cutback
in U.S. drug-interdiction efforts.
"These days, they're inspecting fewer than two
percent of the planes and ships that come into this
country from certain commercial carriers," Carman said.
"Even if it was less than 15 percent, that's still not
enough."The result? Heroin seizures, for instance, fell
35 percent from 1998 to 1999. In bigger U.S. cities the
news was even worse, with declines like 42 percent for
Miami, 45 percent for Chicago and a whopping 75 percent
decline in heroin seizures for Houston.
Official statistics back up Carman's insider account.
Last November, the New York Post obtained an
internal Customs Service report that documented a
dramatic drop in airport drug interdiction:
"Customs agents conducted 22,792 personal pat-down
searches of airline passengers entering the United
States in fiscal year 1999. That's down from 42,929 the
previous fiscal year."
Customs officials interviewed by the Post
blamed a new set of official directives requiring
inspectors to comply with a "reasonable suspicion
criteria" before searching any passenger.
Some officials said that the new rules have eroded
the agency's power and undermined morale. "There's
concern out there that we're letting our guard down on
the first line of defense in the war on drugs, our
borders," one agent told the paper.
Still, if John Carman's whistle-blowing was limited
to complaints about how the administration had pulled
the rug out from under the Customs Service, he'd
probably still be employed in the federal government
But the fact is, the former Customs senior inspector,
whose resume includes a stint with the Secret Service
during the Ford and Carter years, has more likely become
a target of official retaliation because he's gone
public with serious charges of official corruption
within his own agency.
In 1995, Carman was interviewed at length by NBC's
"Dateline" about charges that Customs officials had
deliberately undermined enforcement at the San Diego
He corroborated the claims of another Customs
whistle-blower, Mike Horner, who had alleged that
Customs officials routinely deleted computer files on
known drug smugglers.
"The same thing happened to me," Carman told
NewsMax.com. "Customs managers have no qualms about
altering or deleting intelligence data."
Carman said the situation has gotten so bad he now
suspects that some Customs officials are actually acting
as double agents.
"District directors themselves who are tied in with
these drug cartels are asking us whom we know and what
we know," said Carman.
One of former-agent Horner's confidential informants
was killed and another severely injured, days after just
such a request, according to Horner's account in the
June 1994 Reader's Digest. Another informant for
the Customs Service inspector general recently turned up
dead as well.
"This is how serious it gets," Carman emphasized.
"I've gotten death threats, too. I've hit a nerve that
they don't want exposed."
Customs Service Director Raymond Kelly may be part of
the problem. "He's firing people left and right," said
the onetime Customs star. "Anybody who complains about
illegal activity – especially if you're not a manager or
a GS-12 supervisor or higher – Kelly's getting rid of
them." Carman said the Customs chief has axed a few
people who should have been prosecuted. "That means they
beat the rap before they were exposed," he said.
"Customs will do anything it can to avoid indicting
Carman described one incident where he was
ordered not to enter the name of Jorge Hank-Rhon in the
agency's "look out" computer files. Hank is a notorious
member of one of Mexico's wealthiest and most
politically well-connected crime families.
The Hank family has been described by U.S.
law enforcement as "a significant criminal threat to the
United States" because of its role in drug trafficking
and money laundering.
Carman told NewsMax.com the Mexican drug
kingpin and his own supervisor, John "Jack" Maryon,
actually met for lunch on a weekly basis.
Carman's website features a
photo of another Customs official, Supervisor Jerry B.
Martin, fraternizing with the smiling Mexican drug-mob
Though an official U.S. intelligence
assessment says the Hank family's "multibillion-dollar
criminal and business empire . . . reaches throughout
Mexico and into the United States," Customs officials
didn't seem particularly concerned about the strange
bedfellows. Carman's boss merely retired and that was
Some suspect the Clinton administration has
deliberately blocked impolitic investigations when the
evidence points to top Mexican officials. Carman cited
the case of William Gately, a senior Customs agent who
ran a probe dubbed "Operation Casablanca."
"He was ordered to terminate the operation after his
bosses at Customs told him the target went to Mexican
President Zedillo," Carman said.
Despite the wealth of evidence suggesting government
complicity on both sides, America's mainstream press has
adopted a hear-no-evil, see-no-evil attitude. The
Associated Press reported Jan. 16:
"Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, hailing close
ties with Mexico, all but promised Sunday that Mexico
need not fear a failing grade next month in the Clinton
administration's evaluation of its neighbor's
The AP noted that "some administration officials
periodically have advocated vigorously a decision to
decertify but were overruled."
And what happens if we actually do find out the bad
guys have friends in high places? Those countries
"deemed to be not fully cooperating with U.S. control
efforts can be subject to economic penalties," according
to the AP.
Trade agreements such as the North American Fair
Trade Agreement also give the White House a powerful
incentive to look the other way when U.S. trading
partners turn out to be partners in crime.
But the corruption goes beyond economics, Carman
believes. "I am totally convinced our system of
government is so compromised right now that when the
targets get too close to presidential friends or the
CIA, they just call people off investigations," he said.
Carman has paid a steep price for his candor. After a
series of macabre events, he now fears the very agency
he once served with total dedication.
In 1998, he was forced to retire when Customs refused
to accommodate a health condition he developed on the
job. Despite dwindling personal resources, Carman has
taken the Customs Service to court in hope that a judge
will order the agency to stop violating the terms of its
previously agreed settlement.
Before he was forced out, the former senior
inspector's car was rammed in what appears to have been
an assassination attempt. Weeks earlier, Carman
discovered several lug nuts missing from two of the
wheels of his Toyota.
Could it all be coincidental? Carman doesn't
think so, in part because of phone messages like the one
he shared with NewsMax.com:
"Hey, you m----r f----r," warned the
anonymous caller. "You're gonna die just like all the
rest, you pig!"
He reported the threat to local and federal
authorities, as well as Customs' internal affairs. San
Diego police, Customs and the FBI did nothing.
Carman says U.S. Attorney John Keeny explained
curtly, "Unless they're shooting bullets at you, we
can't do anything about it."
Now, the former border agent fears that Customs may
have enlisted local police in an effort to retaliate.
Last June. they pulled him over, claiming that his car
windows were "illegally tinted."
Knowing his windows were perfectly legal, Carman
challenged the officers, who promptly shifted the
complaint to "illegal use of turn signal."
When Carman demanded to know whether Customs was
behind the harassment, police admitted there were two
Customs internal-affairs agents waiting to talk to him.
"They wanted to see if I'd break any laws," Carman said.
These days, he sustains himself with sporadic work as
a licensed private investigator, but it won't keep him –
or his efforts to expose massive Customs Service
corruption – going much longer.
Just days ago, the former Customs agent obtained an
attorney whose specialty is RICO prosecution. "Right
now, I need a job to help me cover my legal bills,"
Carman told NewsMax.com.
Meanwhile, he and other customs whistle-blowers plan
to stage back-to-back demonstrations calling for the
resignation of Customs Director Raymond Kelly in Los
Angeles on Jan. 25 and again the next day in San Diego.
Carl Limbacher Jr. is a NewsMax.com writer who
conducts its "Inside Cover" column.