2/02 A Whistleblower’s Account
U.S. Customs: Badge of Dishonor is a fast-paced account of Darlene Fitzgerald-Catalan’s career in the Customs Agency.
The book will hopefully wake up some Americans who assume that their security should be left to a government monopoly. Catalan’s account forces the reader to ask, “Who polices the police?”
The Founders of the United States said that the people are ultimately responsible for policing the police. When the Republic was founded, police generally understood that the police derived their authority from the citizenry. The people had a responsibility to protect themselves, but they usually would delegate this responsibility to an elected sheriff. Rather than giving police carte blanche to do anything they wanted in the name of preserving the peace, police work was tightly restricted to tracking down bad guys who had harmed, injured or killed another person.
Catalan has devoted her life to police work. She served as a Captain in the U.S. Army’s military police. Retiring from the army she worked briefly in private industrial security. Then for seven years she served as a U.S. Customs Agent.
Catalan is a cop’s cop who assumed that “all us cops are good guys.” She believed in her work protecting the nation’s border from smuggling and was good at it.
Catalan describes a Customs Agency where if a supervisor is incompetent and corrupt there is no mechanism for disciplining him or weeding him out. The Internal Affairs office, entrusted with policing the police, functioned instead as an enforcement arm of the bad apples in supervisory positions.
Catalan describes how she was continually frustrated and foiled by her management when she was making cases involving the use of railroad tank cars to smuggle drugs.
The tank cars would mysteriously be routed away from her control and examination area. On other occasions when she did manage to find big caches of drugs in the cars, the surveillance team would be pulled before the smugglers came to take their “bait” and get arrested. The smugglers got their dope, the agents got an empty bag.
Catalan frequently was at or near the top of the list of agent performance as the time of year would roll around for promotions. But to keep her down and away from reach of a management position, she would either be passed over, or find that she was under investigation (by the Internal Affairs office) on a phony charge. Others would be promoted; she would be vindicated later by the investigation, but by then she had lost that year’s shot at a promotion.
It got to where Catalan could predict when an investigation would be started on her — about a week before the decision to make promotions.
One of the more unpleasant thoughts that occurred to Catalan was how terrorists could use the same railroad tank cars for their purposes as the smugglers do for drugs. The thought is more chilling in view of places like Columbia where there is an increasing blurring between drug traffickers and terrorists.
Catalan suggests that a terrorist organization could convert the tank cars into enormous pipe bombs and have their phony corporation(s) send them via the computerized rail system all over the country to park in urban areas where the bombs could do maximum damage.
However, we should not expect the Customs Agency that Catalan describes to help prevent such a dreadful eventuality from occurring.
An interesting sidebar of Catalan’s account showed how little the gun control crowd really cares about controlling crime. Catalan and a number of other Customs Agents sent a letter to their two California senators and their representatives blowing the whistle about corruption inside Customs. Two weeks later, Sen. Diane Feinstein was seen hobnobbing on a yacht with the very supervisor they had accused of facilitating the drug traffickers ability to slip through Customs’ fingers.
The history of self-enforcement by federal police agencies is poor. The shooting of members of the Weaver family at Ruby Ridge, Idaho and the immolation of the Davidians in Waco are just two of the better known examples in a long list of federal police misconduct cases that have never been properly dealt with.
U.S. Customs: Badge of Dishonor is another voice in a growing chorus calling for change.
We would not have this problem if we had followed the Constitution and had no federal police authority other than Founding Father James Madison’s summary of those powers granted by the Constitution: postal fraud, counterfeiting, treason and piracy. In the meantime, an independent Inspector General arm of the U.S. Congress should be created to investigate complaints from federal agents and members of the public.
The Congressional Inspector General Office would only succeed if it were mandated to have an adversarial role regarding the federal police agencies. If the Inspector General ever becomes part of the good old boy network, it will be business as usual.