One very interesting routine that occurred with U.S. Customs computers, while I was working at the world's largest land border entry station at San Ysidro in San Diego, California, was the occasional "Y2K Problem" that everyone fears in the coming months.
For those of you who are very "computer literate" bear with me. I was told many times by Customs Supervisors and the T.E.C.S II coordinators that "maintenance" had to be performed on the T.E.C.S. II computers that act as our major "narcotic screening" tool at the U.S.-Mexican Border, and sometimes at the U.S.-Canadian border, if they have it! (Not all Customs entry points have TECS II capability) I was told that Customs Headquarters doesn't want TECS II enforcement computers at all U.S./Canadian border entry stations! (Not everyone gets screened by Customs/Immigration, for clandestine reasons)
These TECS II computers are suppose to contain the most up to date information on all vehicle license plates and persons crossing the border as well as NCIC and dozens of other "High Tech" law enforcement data bases. This "state of the art" information is suppose to assist the Customs Inspector to process a greater volume of vehicles and passengers through the international Border without much of a delay and to assist in the interdiction of narcotics and dangerous persons.
Consequently , this "maintenance" that occurs, would happen on a "regular basis" between the hours of 0100-0330 hours, depending of course on how long it actually happened or was needed by the "alleged" computer technicians in Newington, Virginia. Sometimes the downed computer would last for hours into the next shift.
Remember, when you have no way of entering the license plates of all of the vehicles that entered the United States from Mexico, you are greatly hampered from doing your narcotics interdiction and you have to rely heavily on your training and expertise in "behavioral analysis" techniques. If you saw a vehicle that really needed inspection, you sent them in to Vehicle Secondary or you "escorted" them into secondary personally. If it wasn't much of a search that you required and there was a back up in the secondary lot, you might write the license plate down for future input into the TECS II computer for later when it wasn't so busy. Believe me, I was probably the only one that did that! Especially when there wasn't enough Customs Inspectors on the night shift to cover your referred cars.
This Computer "glitch" was a major problem since you had to take a "second thought" to sending something in for inspection when there weren't enough personnel to handle the inspections. It was definitely restricting your enforcement efforts to "narcotics loads" only. Even then, you would probably have to go right back out to the primary lanes and process traffic in between rotating to the office to do your incident/arrest/seizure reports.
Anyway, while these computers were down, you had to process traffic and it did seem to "flush" the traffic significantly. One other procedure or requirement was that any time that the Inspector had a technical problem with the computer, he/she had to call it in to the "Shift Supervisor" so that the problem could be logged into the "TECS Down Log". It makes you wonder why they couldn't have fixed it so they didn't have to have such a log, but technical things do happen.
As it were, these computer "down times" are very important and crucial since "some" inspectors wouldn't even bother to type or record the license plates to the many cars entering a particular lane even when it was working. This is not only a Customs Supervisory responsibility but an "Internal Affairs" function of monitoring to make sure that all vehicles license plates are entered into the TECS II computer for "enforcement " reasons and consistency. (For security reasons I will not go into much detail about the other technical security features and problems that exist. I have already told Customs Internal Affairs)
The worst nightmare of this computer situation is that you could have all of your TECS HITS coming into the country during this "down time". These "hits" could contain some of the most serious Customs/DEA violators, criminals and fugitives that would get a "free pass" to enter the United States during these special "bar hours". It seemed also, that most of the smugglers liked to mix with the regular traffic coming back to the United States after a lot of the other travelers had been partying in Mexico all night. Some of the earlier traffic were the usual border crossers going to work in the U.S.
On more than one occasion, I have been personally told by reliable Customs Supervisory "sources" that "some" of the Customs Supervisors would get so stressed over the waiting times and the lack of Customs personnel. I have personally seen this to be true. This "traffic problem" would greatly affect the waiting times which would cause the Port Director, or even the District Director to call and "intimidate" the Shift Supervisor. This intimidation was either directly or indirectly caused by forcing an explanation from the Shift Supervisor. Evaluations are effected greatly for "non compliance". There was obviously a lot of internal "political" pressure to speed the traffic through the border and still do enforcement. It's contradictory, but that's what was expected. Sometimes you need to look at someone a little longer than 3 seconds per car.
I have been told by certain Customs personnel that the Shift Supervisor would also "deactivate" a certain computer "cut off" switch whenever "he" decided to "turn off" the "primary TECS II computers on the Primary lanes of traffic. This would mean that the Customs and Immigration Inspectors would then be able to "Flush" traffic and severely reduce the wait time to a zero wait time in a short time span. This means that hundreds and maybe even a thousand or more vehicles will be "flushed" through the U.S. Border on a regular basis when this TECS II computer system requires "maintenance" every night or early morning during those "special hours". Can you imagine how many tons of narcotics are getting through this one land border entry station every night while America sleeps. This should wake you up!
Just to simplify things a little, I have personal knowledge of "certain" Customs Supervisors, past and present, that would "turn off" a computerized "Carbon Monoxide" monitor that would set off special alarms in the Supervisor's office and special equipment would record the information. The Customs Supervisor just didn't like hearing "sensitive" alarm system in place to protect our health. This protection system was installed to remove the dangers of getting poisoned by the unsafe levels of Carbon Monoxide that would come from the tail pipes of many border crosser vehicles coming from Mexico. Most of these cars that are registered in Mexico are not compliant with the State of California smog requirements that are some of the most stringent requirements in the nation. After many years of breathing these dangerous fumes, it is now a Federal Law and enforceable by U.S. Customs to require compliance or refuse entry of certain vehicle violators. (This does not affect U.S. registered vehicles)
In closing, it seems that no matter what computer system is in place for enforcement purposes, or for the safety of the Customs/Immigration Officials, there is always someone else who thinks they are "Above The Law" and can manipulate the system for their own personal reasons. That is why they need more internal controls over all high ranking managers. The abuse of various interdiction systems seems to be at the top and not the bottom like they would have you believe. "Total Power, Corrupts Totally!"