III. Allegations Regarding the Suppression of Negative Information in Sector Intelligence Reports
The initial complaint to the OIG regarding Sector Intelligence (Sector Intel) alleged that information tending to put Gatekeeper in a bad light was excised from that unit's reports. During our investigation several witnesses echoed these complaints and identified several occasions when specific information was allegedly removed or ordered not to be reported. To investigate these allegations, the OIG interviewed 10 current and former personnel in Sector Intel,137 selected personnel in Western Region and INS Headquarters Intelligence, agents assigned to the Sector Public Information Office (PIO), and persons in INS and DOJ management. We also reviewed hundreds of Sector Intel reports.
A. Sector Intelligence operations
The Sector Intel unit consists of a supervisory Border Patrol agent, line agents, intelligence analysts, and an intelligence assistant. Three agents have been assigned to Sector Intel since before Gatekeeper. Over time, other agents, as well as Defense Department personnel, have been detailed to the unit for various lengths of time. Sector Intel never had a well-defined role in Gatekeeper. Over time, in addition to the previously described purely statistical reports the unit already produced,138 the unit became responsible for creating a variety of narrative reports. These included the Daily Gatekeeper Report (Daily Report), weekly reports to the Western Region Director (WRD) (known colloquially in Sector Intel as "Dear Abby" reports), and the monthly Gatekeeper Updates. Unit members were also called upon to provide anecdotal information to Headquarters Intelligence for inclusion in the Southwest Border Operations Situation Weekly Report (SW Border Weekly).
The Daily Gatekeeper Report was instituted in January 1996 as part of the enhanced reporting process for the Spring Plan initiative.139 It is a station-by-station summary of the previous day's activities, including apprehensions and the zones in which they were made, estimates of entrants and gotaways through each station's boundaries, and anecdotal information about operational activities on each shift, including weather conditions, smuggling activity of note, and accidents or injuries. The Intelligence Analyst responsible for preparing each report gathers information from the daily reports that agents prepare at each station, and he decides what to include in his summary. His work is not reviewed by a supervisor or by anyone outside the Sector before it is sent to Sector managers, station managers, and the Western Region.140
The weekly reports to the WRD were instituted in early 1995, shortly after Johnny Williams became the CPA. Initially, they were only several paragraphs long and were essentially a report of the CPA's activities. Although they have since been expanded somewhat, they continue to be significantly shorter than the daily reports, now providing total weekly apprehensions for each station and isolated anecdotal information on a station-by-station basis. These reports are prepared by an agent in Sector Intelligence. Starting in 1996, they first went to PIO for "polishing" before being sent to the WRD.
The monthly Gatekeeper Updates began in October 1995 and continued through September 1996. They also provided a station-by-station summary, and contained reports of anti-smuggling information, of Gatekeeper's impact on other sectors, and other commentary deemed important by the member of Sector Intel who reported them. Frequently, different persons prepared different sections of a single issue.
In addition to these regular reports, the members of the unit were periodically called upon to prepare ad hoc reports on subjects of particular interest to the CPA. They also worked on reports, for use within the Sector, on subjects they selected themselves.
Based on the witnesses' testimony and the reports themselves, it was apparent that what was expected of these various reports was never clearly articulated. The subjects covered changed over time, and there was no evidence that anyone articulated to those preparing the reports whether the reports were intended to be purely factual or contain opinion. And, if they contained opinion, whether the opinion would be that of the CPA or Sector Intelligence. It was also disputed who should have the final say regarding the contents. The lack of clarity on these points opened the door to significant misunderstandings.
B. Allegations that negative information was deleted from Sector Intelligence narrative reports
According to several current and former Sector Intel personnel, CPA Williams deleted data from the unit's narrative reports that suggested that Gatekeeper was not working as well as publicly claimed. They based their allegations on general policies governing the dissemination of information out of the sector and on certain specific incidents. Because perceptions of Williams' conduct arose primarily from the specific incidents, we address them first.
1. The memorandum regarding the effects of Gatekeeper on adjacent sectors
The first incident occurred when Williams' predecessor, Gus de la Viņa, allegedly asked Sector Intel to prepare a report of the effect of Gatekeeper on adjacent sectors (El Centro, Yuma, and Tucson).141 The witness - then a member of Sector Intel - alleged that he and two others in the unit had written a report concluding that Gatekeeper had not had an appreciable effect on the adjacent sectors. The report had gone to de la Viņa, after being approved by ACPA Marshall Mehlos, who at the time had oversight responsibilities for Sector Intel. Twenty-five minutes later, de la Viņa allegedly rejected the report and sent it back to Mehlos. Mehlos then reportedly told Bradshaw (the Sector Intel chief) and the three agents that de la Viņa wanted a report attributing the increase in apprehensions at the Temecula checkpoint station to increased illegal alien entries near the Nogales, Arizona, POE. The witness said the Sector Intel agents were "pissed off" because this claim was "absurd." Because no one was going to tell the CPA he was "a nut," the witness said that one of the agents wrote the new report as requested. He added that none of the Sector Intel agents would sign it. The witness conceded that he had never read the new report (because he was "disgusted" with it) and could not find any copies of either the original or the revised report.
The agent said to have written the alternative report described the incident differently. Around the beginning of Gatekeeper "or perhaps shortly before," he recalled, de la Viņa had sent a report back to Bob Montes, then head of Sector Intel, because he did not like a comment in it that alien traffic could be forced east.142 The agent said he believed de la Viņa did not want evidence that Gatekeeper could work.143 To satisfy de la Viņa, this witness said he deleted all of the conclusions and "offending" material, removed the agents' names (because they had objected to the changes), and sent the new report forward. He said that he did not have any copies of the original or the new report.
The third agent supposedly involved in the incident testified that he was unaware of any instance when Sector Intel was told to remove negative information from a report.
Mehlos, who retired from the Border Patrol in January 1995, did not at first recall having oversight of Sector Intel, and noted that the ACPAs did not have much of an oversight role of any units. Although he said he "vaguely" recalled someone mentioning checkpoint apprehensions of aliens who entered near Nogales, he said he did not direct anyone to write a report about this issue and said he did not recall any meeting with de la Viņa or anyone from Sector Intel about it. He said that de la Viņa would have gone directly to Bradshaw to voice any complaints about a report from Sector Intel, not to him.
De la Viņa denied ever requesting any report from Sector Intel about undocumented aliens coming through the Temecula checkpoint from Nogales. He said he never looked at the checkpoints and would not have requested such a report because he knew Sector Intel lacked the information necessary to create such a report.144
The only other witness who claimed knowledge of this report was assigned to Temecula, and not connected to Sector Intel. The witness testified that in April or May 1994 (prior to Gatekeeper), after a vehicle accident on Interstate 15 South, north of the Temecula checkpoint, involving several undocumented aliens who had entered the U.S. through the Nogales POE, de la Viņa had asked how many undocumented aliens apprehended at the Temecula checkpoint were coming from Nogales; he was told there were none. This was a time when apprehensions at Temecula were very high. Thereafter, the witness related, ACPA Mehlos had ordered Bradshaw and some Sector Intel agents to prepare a report attributing the high number of apprehensions at Temecula to undocumented aliens coming from the Nogales area. The witness believed that the agents had refused to write the report and another agent (the same agent identified by the first witness) was ordered to prepare it. The witness conceded, however, he did not know if the report was ever actually written.
Because we could not locate any copies of the alleged report, we could not confirm its contents. We note that the agent who testified to having rewritten a report for de la Viņa said that de la Viņa had been unhappy because the report had originally indicated that alien traffic had moved east to Nogales - exactly the opposite of the complaining witness's description of the report's contents. And de la Viņa's claim that he did not pay much attention to the checkpoints or read most reports is consistent with everything we learned about his tenure as CPA. Given the consensus that he left most of the Sector's operations to the DCPA, requesting such a report would have been out of character for him.
Although we could not conclusively determine whether de la Viņa actually ordered such a report, we can conclude that, if such a report was written, it was written months before Gatekeeper began. Consistent with the Temecula witness' testimony an accident did occur on Interstate 15 on March 9, 1994, involving undocumented aliens who entered near Nogales. Given that Mehlos had oversight responsibility for Sector Intel only between April 1, 1994, and May 4, 1994, his alleged meeting with Sector Intel almost certainly would have occurred in April 1994. Moreover, while Temecula's apprehensions were increasing during the spring of 1994, they fell during the first few months of Gatekeeper, when de la Viņa was still the CPA. Thus, the alleged motive for the report - to explain increasing apprehensions at Temecula - no longer existed. As a result, there is no evidence that such a report was ordered to make it falsely appear that Gatekeeper had successfully forced traffic to eastern locations.
2. The memorandum responding to questions from INS Intelligence
The same complainant as for the previous allegation also complained that Williams had ordered Sector Intel personnel to delete certain unfavorable information from the responses they had drafted to a series of questions from INS Headquarters.
Many of the facts surrounding this incident were not in dispute. On October 27, 1995, INS Headquarters Intelligence sent a questionnaire to the regions and sectors requesting updated assessments - supported by "concrete facts and statistics" - regarding the flow of aliens at and between the ports of entry. The stated goal of the survey was to update intelligence regarding the flow of Mexicans and OTMs (other than Mexicans) on the Southwest border. Sector Intel personnel drafted a response to the survey and forwarded it to Williams. He returned it to Bradshaw with edits and comments, which Bradshaw apparently showed to members of Sector Intel (and which we reviewed after locating the document in Bradshaw's office after his death). The comments ranged from such statements as "How do we know this?" and "Really" to "crap" and "get this shit out." When interviewed, Williams conceded that he had used "robust" language but said he had not intended that the agents who prepared the document would ever see it. He said he had sent it to Bradshaw for revisions and believed Bradshaw would keep the document to himself. He noted that the comments reflected his frustration with Sector Intel's tendency to write "complaints" or "messages" concerning Gatekeeper instead of producing intelligence analyses. He also contended that several of the points made in the document were "not true" and denied any intention to prevent the release of negative information.
Although the complainant believed that the responses were altered as a result of Williams' comments, our review of the revised memorandum that was apparently sent to INS Headquarters found that most of the points made in the original memorandum had not been significantly changed. In response to Williams' question as to the basis of the claim that Mexican economic conditions had caused an increase in border crossers, the revised report stated that media and intelligence sources "imply" that Mexican economic conditions may have been a catalyst for the increase in crossers. It also noted that this "phenomena" is a traditional indicator of increased entries and apprehensions, and that these figures had increased from fiscal year 1994 to fiscal year 1995. After Williams wrote "really" alongside the draft's statement that "The addition of detailed personnel to the sector at the line stations does not seem to have changed the flow of aliens since March. It has increased the number of apprehensions sector wide as compared with FY94," the report was revised to read: "Although the addition of detailed personnel to the sector at the line stations appears not to have changed the crossing attempts of aliens, it has increased the number of apprehensions sector wide and certainly made crossings more difficult and expensive."
The original version had asserted: "The added barriers in the San Diego Sector has [sic] not had a significant impact on foot traffic crossing the border. The illegal crossers find ways to circumvent the border fence (digging and climbing over). The border barriers have had a significant impact on cutting down on drive throughs across the border. This is an extremely important aspect of border control." After Williams wrote "crap" next to the first two sentences of this paragraph, the draft was revised to read: "The added barriers in the San Diego sector has [sic] diverted alien foot traffic from traditional crossing points and has tended to funnel this traffic to more workable areas. This has definitely had an effect on family groups, who must seek areas offering easier access. Although some illegal crossers attempt to circumvent the border fence by digging or climbing over, a constant effort is made by Service fence crews to stay on top of the situation. The border barriers have had a major and significant impact on alleviating dangerous drive-throughs across the border. This is an extremely important aspect of border patrol." Neither version offered any statistical or factual support for its broad claims.
Although Williams wrote "get this shit out" with respect to a paragraph regarding tuberculosis and sewage in the Tijuana river, the revised version still mentioned tuberculosis and other diseases as public health concerns. It eliminated the reference to agents being exposed to pollution in the river. Williams said he objected to this paragraph because he viewed it as an effort to send a message, not report intelligence. His perception is supported by the fact that one of the agents responsible for producing the report was the Health and Safety representative for the Union, which was then raising the issue of agent exposure to communicable disease with management.
Based on our review of Williams' editorial comments and the revised version of the report, we conclude that his comments were not intended to excise negative information. It is noteworthy that he made no effort to delete assertions that most of the traffic in the San Diego Sector had continued to enter in the first 14 miles - an admission that Gatekeeper was not succeeding in this regard. His comments simply targeted several conclusory and unsubstantiated paragraphs of the report. Because the request from INS Headquarters sought facts and statistics, his objections were not unwarranted. There is no question, however, that Williams' manner of objecting was unprofessional and inappropriate. Instead of making pejorative comments, he should have made the basis for his disagreement clear. And he should have addressed the deficiencies of Sector Intel directly, rather than simply railing at the unit's work.
Addressing this incident, one Union official contended that, although the CPA could disagree with a Sector Intel memorandum, he did not have the "license" to change what his employees were writing. This is not correct. The agents in Sector Intel were writing memoranda on behalf of the CPA, not themselves or the Union. Although it would be inappropriate for the CPA to insist on reports containing inaccurate information, he was unquestionably entitled to insist that reports submitted under his name be accurate and substantiated, and even that his own interpretations take precedence where reasonable minds might differ.
3. The WRD report
Another witness from Sector Intel complained that, in early 1996, Williams ordered Sector Intel to delete from a report to the WRD statements noting that some armed individuals in the Campo area were posing as Border Patrol agents, "arresting" illegal aliens, and then robbing them. The report had allegedly gone on to opine that this could develop into a problem "if East County was not brought under control." The witness said that the deletion had been made after Bradshaw had returned from speaking to Williams and had told the agents to "get this stuff out." The witness did not have a copy of either the original or the revised version of the report.
A second witness recalled that, sometime during the first three months of 1996, Sector Intel had learned of a group in the Campo area who dressed as Border Patrol agents and robbed undocumented aliens. When Sector Intel agents had put this information in a G-392 (an intelligence report), Williams had blocked its distribution, noting at the bottom, "I doubt that this is true." The witness said that he thought Williams did not want the report disseminated because it would prove that there were many aliens in the area.
Williams denied ever asking that information be excluded from the weekly reports to the WRD, and specifically recalled having been particularly interested in any information indicating a trend in impostor activity. He did note his concern, however, that readers could perceive reports of isolated activity as reflecting a trend.
We located a January 17, 1996, memorandum from a supervisory agent in the field reporting that a group of aliens had told of being robbed by a group of men posing as Border Patrol agents. The report to WRD for the relevant week contained no mention of this incident. However, a January 18, 1996, Western Region Intelligence (WRI) report noted, incorrectly, that twice within the previous two days a group of men posing as agents had victimized a group of undocumented aliens.145 One copy of the WRI memorandum had a cover note from ACPA Ron Smith to the CPA and DCPA declaring the report a "lousy product." Next to the paragraph describing the bandit activity was the handwritten note, "not true."146
When questioned, Williams agreed that some writing on the document was his but denied that he had written "not true." The handwriting was not similar to other writing on the same page or to other samples of Williams' writing on other documents. Williams recalled that, after reading the report, he had asked someone whether the claim of impostors was true; the report came back to him with the comment in the margin. He said he did not recall who had made it.
The original memorandum reporting the incident indicated that the alleged victims had been turned over to the OIG for interviewing.147 The OIG records indicate that, within several days of the alleged incident, the aliens had admitted having fabricated their stories. Thus, the comment "not true" on the Western Region report was accurate. If the Sector weekly report that Williams allegedly had excised this information from was produced on January 18, it is unclear whether Sector Intel would have yet been informed of the incident. If the Sector weekly report was not prepared until the following Thursday, the falsity of the story would have already been determined, and Williams would have been justified in excluding it from the Sector report.
In any event, there was no evidence that information about the incident was suppressed. It was reported in the WRI memorandum two days after it occurred, and in the Sector Intel Daily Report on January 19, 1996, which contended that the incident "illustrates the high level of alien traffic in the area." Copies of this report also went to the Region, and no one has alleged that Williams attempted to exclude reference to the incident from it.
Finally, it is worth noting that this alleged incident bears out Williams' (and other supervisors') concern about Sector Intel's unfortunate tendency to jump to broad conclusions about conditions in the field based on isolated incidents. The drafter of the Daily Report suggested that the impostor incident proved the presence of many aliens in the area because, although only five were in the group that was allegedly victimized, impostors would not choose to operate where there were not sufficient numbers of victims. One alleged incident, however, is hardly evidence of the level of alien traffic in a particular area, particularly when it turns out that the incident never actually occurred.
4. Air Operations reports
One witness complained generally that Williams did not want to see negative information in reports or hear it from people briefing him. When pressed for an example, he contended that, after being presented with several very negative air operations reports indicating that there were many aliens on Otay Mountain, Williams had allegedly ordered that air operations information not be reported to him or included in any reports.
Pilots flying the Sector's fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters communicate information about alien groups to agents on the ground and prepare memoranda that stations can use to track alien movements. The witness - who at the time was working in Sector Intel - said that the unit had put this information in the Daily Report because they thought Williams should know about it. The complaining witness testified that on March 11, 1996, one of the pilots reported having seen large groups of aliens "everywhere" around Otay Mountain. The pilot had noted that, in his 20 years as a pilot, he had never before seen it so busy around Brown Field and east. The witness then said he heard "through the grapevine" that Williams had gone "through the roof" when he saw the pilot's memorandum and had said he no longer wanted air reports. The witness stated that, within a week or two of the pilot's memorandum, Williams had canceled the air operations because of the "huge numbers" of aliens being reported. In a subsequent interview, the witness specifically recalled having heard from James Bradshaw that Williams had said he did not want to see any more air reports like that. Thereafter, according to the witness, Sector Intel was not supposed to report outside of the Sector anything relating to significantly increased traffic in the east.
Others in Sector Intel did not share this witness's recollection. Only one mentioned anything about the pilot's memorandum. He recalled having heard that, when shown the memorandum, Williams had commented, "This must be a new guy," and had disregarded the information.
Two others in the Unit said they had been responsible at various times for keeping records concerning air operations. Although one of these agents believed that Williams did not like to see some types of information (the witness did not specify the particular types) in reports, neither had heard of Williams declaring that he did not want to see air operation reports. One did say that, on one occasion when briefed on air operations, Williams had said the pilots were new and had refused to believe their reports.
Williams did not recall ever seeing the report in question. He noted that, since he knew the particular pilot was very experienced, he would not have made some comment about him being new. Other witnesses corroborated Williams with respect to his knowledge of this point. Indeed, the memorandum itself mentions the pilot's 20 years of experience. When shown the report, Williams also observed that merely saying there were aliens "everywhere" was not very helpful.148 He thought some pilots were not taking care to pinpoint where the groups were observed.
Despite the witness's claim that Williams had responded to the pilot's memorandum by first ordering the removal of air operation information from Sector reports and then halting all such operations, air operation reports continued to be produced and reported long after the March 11, 1996, memorandum. In fact, air operations reports appeared in the Sector Daily Report later that same month and in the next four months that we reviewed. Although they did not appear on a daily basis, they had not appeared on a daily basis prior to March 11. Nor is there evidence that Williams made an effort to suppress reports indicating large numbers of aliens. In January 1996, when an air operation report cited over 1,000 aliens staging near the airport mesa, there was no suggestion that Williams had complained. And after March 11, there were many reports of individual groups in excess of 100 aliens observed and daily totals of 600 or 700 aliens. These figures were sometimes included in the weekly reports distributed outside the Sector as well as the daily reports. Based on the available evidence, we conclude that the complaint that Williams demanded that negative air operations be excluded from reports and that air operations themselves be abandoned due to the large numbers of aliens reported is false.
This complaint, based solely on hearsay without regard for objective facts to the contrary, highlights some of the acrimony between a few individuals and Williams. The complaining witness had a very obvious bias against Williams, believing that Williams had mistreated him and broken promises to him. He was prone to take reports of ambiguous comments by Williams and assume the worst. For example, this witness said he heard that Williams had told the PAICs to keep the alien traffic in the east away from the residential areas. Most people would assume from this that Williams wanted to protect the property of the East County citizens, many of whom had complained about the effect the increased traffic was having on them. But this witness said he believed that Williams wanted to keep the aliens away from the residential areas to prevent people from learning that they were getting through. Although the witness claimed that Sector Intel had been barred from reporting outside the Sector anything about increased traffic to the east, reports frequently contained such information and people at INS Headquarters and DOJ were quite aware of the deteriorating conditions in the East County.149
137 Unfortunately, due to James Bradshaw's death in December 1996, the OIG was unable to interview him. Mr. Bradshaw was the chief of Sector Intelligence during the first two years of Gatekeeper.
138 For a discussion of statistical reports produced by Sector Intel, see supra, at 48.
139 This report had several different names over time, and was initially called the Spring Plan Daily Report.
140 The OIG received conflicting information as to whether this report was also forwarded to INS Headquarters Intelligence. Because its initial intention was to measure the impact of Spring Plan, an initiative directed by INS Headquarters, it presumably was intended for Headquarters' information.
141 One of the primary goals of Gatekeeper was to move alien traffic eastward and out of the San Diego Sector. Thus, this report was apparently intended to demonstrate how successful Gatekeeper had been at achieving that goal.
142 From approximately August 1993 to August 1994, Bradshaw and Montes shared supervisory responsibility for Sector Intel. Bradshaw officially became Chief of Sector Intel on August 7, 1994. Thus, if Montes was involved, the incident must have occurred prior to Gatekeeper.
143 One of Bonner's contentions in his State Assembly and Congressional testimony was that de la Viņa was initially opposed to any Gatekeeper type plan in San Diego. He also alleged that de la Viņa finally embraced the plan and was rewarded with a promotion to the WRD position. Bonner was apparently unaware that de la Viņa was awarded the promotion prior to Gatekeeper's beginning but remained in San Diego several months afterward.
144 The only way to know if aliens apprehended at the checkpoints had entered the United States near Nogales was to interview them. Such questioning was conducted erratically, and even if aliens cooperated, they frequently did not know where they entered. Any claims about the number of aliens entering near Nogales thus would have been highly speculative.
145 The report apparently mistook memoranda on January 16 and January 17 concerning the same January 16 incident for reports of two separate incidents.
146 This may have been the source of the one witness's contention that Williams had written, "I doubt that this is true" at the bottom of the Sector Intel report containing this information. As the witness had only heard about the document and not seen it, he was not in a position to know whether this was in fact the basis for what he had been told. No one else at Sector Intel, including the person who had written the initial report, claimed that Williams had penned any comments on the initial report.
147 The initial claims were that Border Patrol agents had robbed the aliens. The OIG has jurisdiction over crimes allegedly committed by Border Patrol agents.
148 The memorandum did not estimate the number of aliens observed or specify where on the mountain they had been seen.
149 This claim is contrary to the Union's allegation that Williams was trying to make it appear that more traffic had moved east to make Gatekeeper look better. Thus, at the same time different witnesses claimed that Williams had exaggerated the amount of traffic that had moved east and that he had tried to hide how much traffic had moved east.