Ex-Customs Agent Exposes Clinton 'Drug War'

Carl Limbacher Jr.January 20, 2000


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. drug-interdiction efforts.

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 accidents.

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 today.

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 border crossing.

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 these people."

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 chieftain.

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 that.

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 counterdrug performance."

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. "That's entrapment."

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.