IV. Allegations Regarding Nightscopes
Nightscopes (also known as "night vision devices" or "NVDs") are used in the San Diego Sector to detect alien traffic attempting to cross the border in the dark. The scope operators observe aliens and radio their locations to agents in the field. Because the majority of the illegal crossings in the Sector occur at night, nightscopes have been critical to the successful control of illegal immigration.
In an article in the San Diego Union-Tribune on July 7, 1996, Bonner claimed that scope reports had been altered "when they suggested that agents were being overrun in some parts of the border."154 He later repeated this allegation in his State and Congressional subcommittee testimony. During the Congressional hearings, No. 1922 testified that he was aware of three occasions when supervisors had altered scope reports, twice involving his own reports. On one such occasion, a supervisor had erased a final digit, changing 150 gotaways (aliens who successfully elude the Border Patrol) to 15. During our inquiry, the OIG heard two other allegations relating to scopes: first, that scope operators were being placed in positions that limited their ability to observe traffic; second, that agents were ordered not to look to the north for possible traffic.
After describing how scopes operate, we address these allegations in turn.
A. Background on nightscopes
Although much of the area adjacent to the first seven miles of border eastward from the Pacific Ocean is illuminated, no such concentrated lighting is in place behind or beyond this strip. To effectively detect and apprehend alien traffic in these areas, the Border Patrol uses large infrared nightscopes. Through them, agents can see people at great distances (in excess of several miles) in the dark and can distinguish humans from animals, vehicles, and other objects.
The scopes are operated by line agents assigned to that duty. An increasing number of stations have specially trained units dedicated to operating the scopes. At others, the duty rotates among the agents at large. Prior to Gatekeeper, the San Diego Sector had six scopes. Shortly after Gatekeeper began, the Department of Defense loaned an additional 6 and by mid-1997, with new purchases, there were 35 scopes in the Sector.155
As part of Gatekeeper, scope operators prepare nightly reports for their shifts. Although the format and content of these reports vary from station to station, all generally record the numbers of people observed by the operator and the number apprehended. Some reports also list the number of gotaways, although that figure can easily be calculated even where it is not provided. Frequently, more than one scope will be operating at a station; at the end of the shift the individual reports will be consolidated for total counts. In the beginning of Gatekeeper the information from these reports was occasionally reported to Sector Intelligence, but not regularly. Later, reporting forms tended to include this data.
The reports are used to measure alien traffic seeking entry through the Station's area of responsibility. They also are used to measure the effectiveness of the scopes generally (how much of the alien traffic can be seen from particular vantage points) and particular operators specifically (how effective the operator is at directing agents to where the traffic can be apprehended based on the percentage of aliens observed who are apprehended). As most of the reports also indicate where the traffic was observed, they help supervisors identify weaknesses in agent deployment along the border.
B. Allegations of altered scope reports
Inquiring into the claims by Bonner and No. 1922 that scope reports had been altered, the OIG interviewed 200 witnesses. Four agents at Imperial Beach complained that their reports had been changed during Operation Gatekeeper. One agent at Imperial Beach complained that the gotaway figure on his scope report had been left out of a station intelligence report. Several agents reported rumors at Chula Vista and Brown Field that scope reports had been changed. One supervisor at El Cajon testified he had changed a scope report. We received no claims that scope reports had been changed at the other stations.
1. Imperial Beach
Imperial Beach was the only station where agents claimed that their own scope reports had been changed. Four agents made this claim, although only one said he had actually seen the change being made. One testified that a subsequent check of his reports indicated that the figure had been changed. One testified that the station intelligence report did not reflect the gotaways reported on his scope report. Two others said they believed their reports had been changed. Six agents reported rumors of such changes. To investigate these claims, the OIG interviewed 81 witnesses at Imperial Beach, including 43 scope operators. Except for the 11 witnesses already mentioned, none claimed to have any knowledge that scope reports had been altered or falsified. The OIG also obtained copies of hundreds of scope reports covering various periods from January 1994 through November 1996.
We turn first to No. 1922's allegations before Congress. On one occasion, his prepared statement claimed, a supervisor had changed a report of 150 gotaways to 15 gotaways.156 He testified that he was aware of a total of three occasions when scope reports had been changed. Although he said that on two occasions the reports had been his own, he did not provide any details of the two additional incidents during his testimony.
When questioned by the OIG, No. 1922 said that his scope report had been altered once, but that he was aware of two other scope operators whose reports had been changed. He told of having prepared a scope report that reported 150 gotaways and then of having been pulled aside by a supervisor and told: "There's too many getaways in this report." The supervisor proceeded to erase the last digit, changing the "150" to "15."157 No. 1922 testified that he had not made a copy of the altered report but, based on a "log" he kept of "incidents," he testified that this alteration had occurred several days after February 2, 1995. He related that he had constructed this "log" on his computer based on notes he had written by hand at around the time each incident had occurred - notes that he said he had discarded after entering the information into the computer. He produced a typewritten version of this log to the OIG which, he said, contained the important incidents but not the "little menial stuff, little piddley things."
The log entry for the scope report incident reads as follows:
On or about this date, I was grilled by SBPA [ ] about turning in night scope reports and noting numerous get-always. Several days later [another supervisor] looked at one of my reports, were I noted 150 illegally eluded apprehendstion. He ([the second supervisor]) simply erased the last didgit, thus reflecting 15 get-always.158
The Imperial Beach Station was unable to locate any scope reports from 1995 for us, but we did obtain other reports for February 1995: the Imperial Beach G-481s, indicating shift assignments for each agent, and a report indicating the numbers of aliens encountered and apprehended by shift for each day. Although this report did not have a column labeled "gotaways," that figure could be determined by subtracting the number of aliens apprehended from the number of aliens observed.
The G-481s show only five days in February 1995 on which No. 1922 was assigned to scopes and the identified supervisor was also on duty. Only one of these days was within a week after February 2. So if the alleged event occurred "several days after" February 2, as alleged by the agent, it could have only been that one day. Given the agent's testimony, the number of gotaways reported for his shift on that date should have been at least 15. In fact, the total number of gotaways for the three zones was only seven.
We then reviewed the rest of the month's reports for any days where the gotaways exceeded 15. The first such day was February 22, when the difference between aliens observed and aliens apprehended was 39. But No. 1922 did not work that evening. The only other such day was February 26. Although the agent worked that evening, the supervisor who had allegedly changed the report did not. Furthermore, there was no day in February when the agent's shift even encountered 150 aliens.159 These documents seriously undermine the credibility of No. 1922's account.
Although we did not have any scope reports from the relevant time period, we looked to reports from around the same time to see if their format was consistent with the allegation. Each scope report had maps of all the station's zones. In the area above the maps, the agents noted the number of persons observed in each group of aliens spotted and the number apprehended (based on radio reports from agents in the field). These numbers were indicated simply by writing the number observed, a slash mark, then the number apprehended. For example, "10/8" meant a group of 10 had been observed, and 8 had been apprehended. There was no particular place on the form for indicating the total number of people observed or apprehended during the operator's shift. Sometimes, agents would put these figures somewhere on the front of the document; sometimes on the back. Some agents would subtract the number apprehended from the number observed to report the number of gotaways; others did not bother to make this calculation.160
The format of these reports tends to undermine the claim that a supervisor altered a report by erasing one digit from a gotaway figure. On many of them, there was not even a figure for gotaways - just notations recording each group observed, a summary figure for persons seen and persons apprehended, and the percentage apprehended out of the number seen. Where the number of gotaways was noted, it would be directly below the figures for persons observed and persons apprehended; the percentage of persons apprehended also would be in close proximity, if not directly below. For example, if, of 300 persons observed, 150 were apprehended and 150 gotaway, the report would read:
Percent apprehended 50%
Any alteration of the sort alleged, changing the gotaway figure alone, would be obvious to anyone who saw the report. Certainly, the nature of the alteration would have been clear to intelligence officers at the stations, who used the reports for creating the total shift or station tallies. But not one of the 33 intelligence officers at the Imperial Beach Station whom we interviewed claimed to have been given an altered report. Nor could any witness recall an occasion when a report had a huge unaccounted for discrepancy between observed persons and apprehended persons that would have been created by the alteration of a "150" gotaway figure to "15."
When interviewed by the OIG, the supervisor in question testified that he did not review scope reports and did not know where they were stored; he said they were handed to the intelligence officer at the end of the shift.161 He avowed that he had never changed any numbers on scope reports. Although he reviews the intelligence reports for the station that are based in part on scope reports and may have looked at one such report and asked "what happened" or where the aliens entered, he said he never suggested that the numbers were wrong or changed them.
We interviewed the witness at length about a broad range of subjects. His descriptions of procedures and particular events were corroborated by other witnesses. We had ample opportunity to observe his demeanor and test his knowledge and recall of a variety of events. There was nothing in his testimony that led us to question his credibility.
We also considered the credibility of No. 1922's testimony on this issue, particularly his inconsistencies. Before the Congressional subcommittee he testified:
[Agent] At the end of the shift, the night scope operators will turn in the reports to the intelligence officer. He then turns and shows it to the field operation supervisor, and if he feels there have been too many getaways on the report, they always erase the final digit, given the appearance of minimal [escapes]. I witnessed this three times.
Mr. Hunter. You have actually watched the records being altered?
[Agent] It has happened to me twice.
In his OIG testimony, however, the agent testified that his scope report had been changed only once, and that his report was the only one he had actually seen changed. Usually when agents were offended by supervisors' conduct, we heard about it from many witnesses. Yet no one at Imperial Beach claimed to have heard of this alleged incident.
No. 1922 also testified that the supervisor who had changed his report had been disciplined for putting false information on another report. We interviewed all persons involved in that alleged incident. Although we cannot disclose the details without clearly identifying the persons involved, we can say that everyone interviewed unequivocally denied No. 1922's version of the incident. We are convinced that the supervisor had not put false information in a report. Although a fellow supervisor had initially been upset about what he had done, the possibility of discipline was never raised. It became clear that, on the basis of just a few facts, No. 1922 had created an entirely false account of what had happened. Although we cannot say whether he did so intentionally, his repetition of the story at a minimum demonstrates a carelessness for the facts that is particularly significant, given that it involved the same supervisor he claimed had falsified his report.
Moreover, this was not the only instance we found where this agent repeated an entirely false account of an incident. We investigated several additional second-hand claims this agent made about various improprieties with respect to other personnel. In each instance his account was materially inaccurate. Although a few underlying facts, sufficient enough to clearly identify the incident and the persons involved, were correct, invariably his description of the outcome and his interpretation of events were inaccurate. The events were invariably more benign than his version contended. It quickly became apparent in the course of this investigation that No. 1922's testimony was unreliable. In addition, his evident bias against particular supervisors and anything related to Gatekeeper indicated that his testimony was not objective. As discussed previously, he admitted intentionally disobeying supervisors' orders because he wanted to anger them. He testified that he intentionally allowed aliens to go by him because he did not wish to do his job. We learned of an incident where he intentionally made a false report of alien traffic to make it appear that aliens were present in an area when they were not. When his credibility was placed in juxtaposition to that of the supervisor he alleged had changed the scope report, we unhesitatingly find the supervisor's denials credible. Because the OIG could find no evidence supporting No. 1922's claim that one of his reports had been altered, and his unsupported assertions were not credible, we conclude the incident did not occur.
The second agent who claimed that one of his scope reports had been altered testified that, in 1995 (he could not be more specific than this), he had submitted a report indicating 20 gotaways. Several days later, while in the FOS's area, he noticed that his report had been changed to read "2" gotaways. He testified that he "did not think anything of it," did not make a copy of the report, and did not ask anyone about it. Indeed, he did not come forward to the OIG to report this incident. The OIG contacted him only after another witness claimed to have heard him complain about an altered scope report. It should be noted that the account the agent evidently gave this other witness was significantly different from the one he gave the OIG. The other witness contended that the agent had complained that he had been told to change numbers on his scope reports and that a particular supervisor had erased and altered numbers on his report.
As the agent whose report was allegedly altered could not specify the timing of this alleged event other than "sometime in 1995," there was very little we could do to investigate the allegation. Because no scope reports from 1995 had been kept, we could not obtain a copy of the allegedly altered report. However, as in the case of No. 1922, this agent's claim that a single digit in a gotaway figure was erased is inconsistent with the format of scope reports at the time. He could not say who made the change. He simply "believed" he had handed the report to a particular supervisor - the same supervisor against whom No. 1922 leveled his allegation. This supervisor, however, has denied that reports were given to him - a denial supported by the testimony of numerous other scope operators that the reports were delivered to the inside supervisor ( the supervisor assigned to manage operations inside the station). The position of inside supervisor rotated regularly, but the individual identified by these two complainants did not serve as the inside supervisor during the period in question.
Although there was no apparent reason for this agent to falsely allege that his report was altered, his claim raises a number of questions. First, why would someone feel the need to change a report with only 20 gotaways? Several months before, gotaways had frequently been in the hundreds. Twenty would still be viewed as a major improvement over previous performance. And later scope reports reflected gotaways higher than 20 and showed no evidence of alteration.162 Second, why would someone who fraudulently altered a report leave it lying around an office for at least several days where others could observe it? Would it not be more likely that they would have buried it in a pile of papers that no one was ever going to look at again? Third, would an agent whose report had been altered really think it "was no big deal," not make a copy of it (at least to protect himself against claims of falsifying records), not ask about it, and not bring it to anyone's attention?
In light of the vague and implausible allegation and the complete absence of any support for the agent's claim, we find it unsubstantiated.
The third agent claiming that a report of his had been altered was one of the persons named by No. 1922 as having had a report changed. This witness testified that he was assigned scope duty "perhaps three times" during a four-month period. He said he was as accurate as possible when reporting gotaways, but when he turned in his reports, the supervisor questioned his gotaway figures, considering them too high regardless of whether they were 20 or 100. On one occasion, sometime between November 1994 and January 1995, the supervisor, according to this agent, looked at his report and said, "This is unacceptable," and then added, "Well, don't worry about it. I'll take care of this." The agent said he assumed that this meant that the supervisor was going to change the figures on the report. But he did not ask the supervisor what he meant, see the supervisor change the numbers, or check to see if the figures were actually changed.
It should be noted that many agents who made no claims of improper alterations also recalled supervisors questioning every gotaway number, no matter how low, in an effort to determine where and how people were getting through the border. Deployments would then be adjusted to focus on the problem areas. It is thus entirely possible that the supervisor who questioned this agent's report was doing so for this purpose.
Because the agent could not narrow the time period in which this incident allegedly occurred, there was little we could do to gather any corroborating information. Once again, there were no scope reports from that time available, and the agent had not made a copy of his report. And again, the supervisor who supposedly had changed the report testified that he did not review scope reports.
The agent also claimed that, as a result of his refusal to change gotaway figures, he was no longer assigned to work scopes after this "incident." However, given his testimony that he had only worked on scopes three times, there is no credible basis for an inference that his failure to receive additional scope assignments was related to his claimed refusal to change gotaway figures. It is equally plausible that, because of his lack of experience in that role, he was not considered a very effective scope operator. Witnesses testified that good scope operators have a very high effectiveness rate and do not have many gotaways. To be an effective scope operator requires an ability to discern precisely where - in an area spanning several miles and viewed only on a small screen - the observed alien traffic is located so that agents in the field, who do not have the benefit of night vision devices, can be quickly directed to that location. If this agent was regularly reporting many gotaways, he may have been perceived as a poor operator. Another scope operator testified that agents were taken off scopes only if they were inefficient operators. Furthermore, the complaining agent testified that he was a senior agent and a team leader and, as a result, "was more involved in selecting his duty assignments." Yet he provided no evidence that he sought a scope assignment and was precluded from receiving one. Finally, he was subsequently made a supervisor, suggesting that he had not been banned from any particular roles at the station.
Because this witness never attempted to check whether his report had been changed and relies solely on an ambiguous statement by a supervisor, we find his claim that any of his reports had been altered to be unsubstantiated.
One other agent, No. 1908, testified that he believed his scope report had been altered. He said that on one occasion, between October 1995 and January 1996, he had submitted a scope report indicating approximately 300 gotaways, far more than the 0 to 5 gotaways a day he had previously been reporting. According to the agent, his first-line supervisor had commented, "They are not going to like this," and then had asked if he wanted to turn in the report the way it was. He had assured the supervisor that it was accurate and that he was turning it in that way. He testified that although the supervisor did not "explicitly" ask him to alter the figure, he had believed the supervisor wanted him to do so. The report was sent to another supervisor who then singled him out at muster as having submitted an "erroneous report." The agent said he was never assigned scope duty again.163 He never checked to see if his report was actually altered and did not make a copy of the report he turned in.
We were also unable to corroborate the claim that the second supervisor singled out No. 1908 at muster. The supervisor testified that the agent and he were not even on the same shift, and this point was confirmed by our review of G-481s from the beginning of Gatekeeper and every couple of months thereafter through October 1996.164 The number of gotaways reported by the No. 1908 thus would have been of no concern to him.
We did find one witness who claimed to have heard that No. 1908 had submitted a report of 200 gotaways and, as a result, never worked the scope again. This witness said there were rumors that the figure had been changed, but he had no knowledge that it had actually been changed. He knew nothing about any announcements at muster regarding the report. He claimed this incident occurred in the beginning of 1995 (nine to twelve months before No. 1908 says it occurred). He also testified that No. 1908 and the supervisor in question were on the same shift.
Because No. 1908 claimed he never worked scopes after the incident, we looked at the G-481s to see if we could narrow down when the alleged incident had happened. These indicated that, during the period when he said the incident had occurred (between October 1995 and January 1996), he had in fact been assigned to the day shift, which does not use scopes. Thinking he may have just gotten the year wrong, we looked at the 481s for October 1994 through January 1995 and discovered he was on day shift during that period as well. No. 1908 was on a shift that used scopes in May through September 1995, but our review of the G-481s for each of these months found no instances where this agent was assigned scope duty.
Based on the G-481s, if this incident did occur, it must have occurred prior to Gatekeeper. Significantly, two witnesses testified that a supervisor on No. 1908's shift had criticized a scope report at a muster prior to Gatekeeper.165 Another witness, a Union official, testified that he heard this same supervisor make comments about scope reports "not being right." He said he had no information that this supervisor actually changed any numbers on a report.
The supervisor in question testified that he once queried an agent about 100 gotaways on his scope report because he did not believe the agent could have had that many gotaways. He said the incident had occurred several years ago but could not be more specific than that. He admitted he can be "over-bearing" at times and, as a result, the agent may have been intimidated. He said, however, he did not change that number or any other numbers on scope reports. Because credible testimony demonstrates that this supervisor criticized a scope report at a muster, admitted questioning agents' reports of high numbers of gotaways, and was on the complaining agent's shift, we believe this may have been the incident No. 1908 was referring to in his testimony. Our inability to find evidence that No. 1908 was on scope duty during Gatekeeper is consistent with this account. Most importantly, we found no evidence to support the claim that anyone altered a figure on the report.
One agent, No. 1890, testified not that his scope report had been changed, but that its information had once been omitted from the Station's daily intelligence report. During the summer of 1996, he recalled, he had become involved in an argument with agents on a different shift about the number of gotaways he reported the previous night. The other agents claimed his figure, 50, was too high and pointed out to him that the Station's intelligence report for that night had reported only 3.166 If indeed there was a discrepancy between No. 1890's scope report and the summary intelligence report, we cannot be sure of the explanation, as we lack the specifics that would allow us to review the relevant materials. There are, however, several possibilities: First, a scope operator is frequently not aware of all apprehensions on his shift; when he is not, his gotaway figure will be higher than the one reported for his shift. Other possibilities are that the intelligence officer for some reason did not use the scope reports as a basis for his report, or may not have seen the particular report. Significantly, the intelligence report is prepared by a line agent, not a supervisor. And out of 33 agents who served as intelligence officers at Imperial Beach during Gatekeeper, we found none who claimed to have ever been asked to falsify information on the daily intelligence report. In addition, as the agents on the other shift clearly had seen the original scope report and the final intelligence report, there was no effort to hide the scope report. If someone were trying to intentionally falsify information, it would be expected that the report with the unfavorable information would have been destroyed, "lost," or at least buried where it would not be obvious.
Agent No. 1890 testified that this incident was the only time he could recall that his gotaway figures were either not reported or were changed. He also said that, except for this incident, he had never been "given any flack" for his scoping abilities. He also expressed admiration for the agent who supervised the scope unit and stated that he did not believe this supervisor would underreport gotaway figures.
In addition to the above testimony, six witnesses claimed to have heard rumors that scope reports had been changed. The first of these witnesses, No. 1877, is someone No. 1922 had identified as having had his scope report altered. This witness, however, said he was never asked to change his gotaway figures and had no knowledge that his figures had been changed. He recalled that No. 1695 questioned his gotaway figures but noted that supervisors always inquired about gotaways - even if there were only two - to find out where the aliens had entered and how they got away. These inquiries reflect an appropriate concern about operational effectiveness.
No. 1877 said he recalled having heard from other agents that other supervisors had said of scope reports, "We can't turn this in. We have to change this." But it had never been said to him, and he could not identify the supervisors or confirm what allegedly needed to be changed or whether something was actually changed. He said that he "never heard of supervisors erasing the last number on a scope report," but he had heard "rumors" that some figures were being erased and that scope operators had begun using pens so this could not happen.
The second witness testified that he had heard rumors that agents on a particular shift were asked to change figures on their scope reports and had not complied. He said he had overheard this "sometime back." In light of the shift identified and the claim that the agents had not complied, this sounds like he was hearing No. 1908's complaint. This witness had no further information to provide, however. A third witness said he had heard rumors that No. 1695 had changed gotaway figures on a scope report, but he could not provide any details of the rumor or its source. A fourth said he had heard rumors from some unidentified scope operators of pressure to decrease figures on their scope reports. And two others - one, a supervisor at another station - heard rumors that scope reports had been altered at Imperial Beach, but they also had no further information.
Two witnesses told of occasions prior to Gatekeeper that a gotaway figure on a scope report had been changed. One had heard of 300 gotaways' being reduced to 100 gotaways.167 The second said that his supervisors had discarded some of his reports and had created new ones with lower numbers of gotaways. He recalled seeing one of his reports thrown away by a supervisor whom he could not identify. But he was unaware of any of his reports having been being changed since Operation Gatekeeper began. A third witness recalled that, prior to Gatekeeper, a supervisor had complained about the six gotaways the witness had reported, and had picked up an eraser while the witness was walking away. But he conceded that he had not seen the supervisor then erase anything and never checked whether his report had been changed. Because these alleged incidents occurred prior to Gatekeeper and we did not have sufficient information to identify the date and/or the responsible party, we did not spend time trying to resolve the allegations. We note, however, that numerous scope reports from 1994 reported hundreds of gotaways, suggesting that there was no concerted effort to minimize the levels of gotaways before Gatekeeper.
Several additional scope operators testified that their gotaway figures had been questioned by supervisors. Most said the supervisors had questioned them to find the "problem" (where alien traffic was entering the country) and to fix it. One said he resigned from scope duty because he did not like being questioned. The remaining scope operators said they had never been questioned and were unaware of any reports being changed. Supervisors agreed that they had questioned agents about their reports but said they had done so in an effort to reduce gotaway numbers through more effective apprehension strategies.
In conclusion, several observations about the Imperial Beach claims should be considered. The first relate to the only supervisor alleged to have changed scope reports during Gatekeeper. Presumably, a supervisor trying to falsely keep gotaway figures down would have made a general practice of altering scope reports, not just reduce one or two figures. One would therefore expect the numbers of gotaways reported when he was not working to be measurably and consistently higher. We found no such evidence. Furthermore, we found this supervisor's denials that he changed figures to be credible. Given these facts, and our general inability to substantiate any of the allegations against this individual, we considered whether there might be some other reason why agents would be quick to accuse him. We discovered he is not well liked by the agents. While some supervisors are flexible and permit agents some latitude to leave their assigned positions to work traffic elsewhere, this supervisor does not. He is an avid proponent of Gatekeeper and adheres strictly to the plan. Agents said he kept them "on a short leash." Widespread resentment of this supervisor's approach may well have led agents to jump to conclusions and accuse him of wrongdoing, simply on the basis of an occasion on which he questioned a figure on a report.
It also should be noted that there was little or no motive for anyone - let alone one isolated supervisor - to change the gotaway figures on scope reports. These figures were not reported out of the Sector and were not used publicly to measure the program's effectiveness. Indeed, Bonner himself claimed that, because the Border Patrol only relied on apprehension figures to measure its performance, it could claim success regardless of the number of gotaways.
Furthermore, neither the format of the reports nor the reporting process was conducive to the type of altering alleged. Because gotaways were indicated both within the context of each group observed and in the summary of activity reported, anyone trying to effectively change the gotaway report would have to alter dozens of figures. Although the procedures for turning in these reports changed over time, they always went through several hands, including the shift intelligence officers.' These agents would have been able to quickly recognize any alterations of the blatant type described by No. 1922. Because we found no witnesses in this chain who observed such alterations, they are not likely to have occurred.
Finally, there are often three or four scopes operating each shift at Imperial Beach, with two shifts a day. Even allowing for scopes out of order and bad weather precluding effective use, this means there are approximately 2,000 scope reports per year. During the first three years of Gatekeeper there were probably in excess of 6,000 individual scope reports. Having interviewed 43 scope operators from Imperial Beach, we found only 4 witnesses who claimed that their scope report was actually changed. Only two of these witnesses claim to have actually seen a change on a report, and each claimed to have seen only one report with such a change. Despite swirling rumors and innuendo that supposedly led agents to use pen and to check their reports for changes, no one else reported finding such changes and no changed report was ever produced.
Considering the totality of the testimony and the documents, we conclude that the claim that scope reports were fraudulently altered at the Imperial Beach Station during Operation Gatekeeper is unsubstantiated.
2. Chula Vista
The OIG received no actual complaints of scope reports being altered at Chula Vista, but four witnesses had heard rumors of agents being told to change their reports. To investigate these rumors we interviewed 41 people at the Chula Vista Station, including 18 agents who have operated scopes during Gatekeeper.
One scope operator testified that he had never heard of scope reports actually being changed and had never been pressured to change his reports, but that another scope operator, No. 1331, had been reassigned to another detail for refusing to change his reports. No. 1331, however, testified that he had never been told - or pressured - to underreport figures on his scope reports. He thought that the primary reason for his reassignment was a memorandum he had written to management on a completely different subject. He thought that if the switch was tied to his scope performance, it was because he called out all the traffic he observed.168
Another agent, No. 1267, testified that he had heard that No. 1415 had been sent to another detail for refusing to falsify a scope report. No. 1415, however, avowed that he had never been instructed to alter or change his scope reports. He had never heard of any instance of a scope operator refusing to falsify a report and said that falsification of scope reports did not occur. Because the detail No. 1267 mentioned was the same detail that No. 1331 had been assigned to, it appears that No. 1267 confused rumors.
No. 1267 also testified that a scope operator once told him that he had seen 300 gotaways but reported only 25. He could not recall the identity of this scope operator or any of details of the alleged incident and did not know why the agent would have done this. His description of the event, however, indicates that the scope operator acted on his own, not because a supervisor asked him to underreport gotaways.
Another agent testified he had heard that one particular agent and several others had been told by supervisors to reduce the number of gotaways on their scope reports. But the agent he identified testified that he was never told to alter numbers on a scope report and could not recall any scope operator receiving "heat" from supervisors regarding high numbers.
Finally, one agent claimed that he had been told by some scope operators that a supervisor had told them to reduce the number of gotaways in their reports. He said this occurred sometime in 1995, and he could not recall the names of any of the scope operators. None of the 17 scope operators we interviewed, however, claimed to have been pressured to change numbers or to have been aware of numbers ever being changed.
A supervisor at Chula Vista said he made changes to scope reports only when he observed mathematical errors. Our review of scope reports found that mathematical errors were not unusual. None of the errors we found, however, was of any magnitude.
Except for the four reports of rumors, we found no evidence that scope reports had been falsified at the Chula Vista Station. In the three cases where a witness claimed a particular person's report had been altered, that person denied it. No one produced any allegedly altered reports. We received reports with high numbers of gotaways, including two reports with over 100 gotaways. We also located station reports sent to Sector that reported in excess of 100 gotaways. An experienced scope operator testified that he has reported 100 to 200 gotaways and no one has questioned his reports or chastised him for reporting high numbers of gotaways. The experience at the Chula Vista Station demonstrates how rumors can linger even where there is no evidence to back them up.
3. Brown Field
We found no eyewitnesses to changed reports at Brown Field, although we heard two second-hand claims of altered reports and two claims of rumors. To investigate these claims, we interviewed 35 witnesses at Brown Field, including 20 scope operators.
Both second-hand claims came from Union officials who had not worked at Brown Field. In the September 7, 1996, edition of the North County Times, Bonner claimed that, after an agent from Brown Field had reported 600 gotaways in his scope report, the agent was "chewed out" by management for the report, and the report was destroyed. Bonner did not mention this alleged incident to the OIG during his August 15, 1996, interview with OIG and never identified the source of his claim.
None of the scope operators we interviewed from Brown Field was aware of this incident or of any cases in which gotaway information had been altered or falsified. The absence of any such knowledge is particularly telling since scope operators regularly met together and certainly would have discussed an incident as egregious as this. The supervisors denied changing scope reports. Moreover, altering reports at Brown Field is also made difficult by the fact that copies of the scope reports are submitted to both the PAIC and the intelligence officer. To successfully alter reports, a supervisor would have to change both copies. Furthermore, the intelligence officer already would have seen the report and incorporated its contents into his daily report. Altering a report without raising questions would be very difficult.
The only witness we encountered at any station who mentioned anything about a scope report with 600 gotaways was a Union official from Imperial Beach who related that an Imperial Beach agent had reported 600 gotaways. When the agent later checked if his report had been changed, he discovered that it had not been. Because Bonner did not identify his source for the report of 600 gotaways, we cannot confirm that this was the same incident. None of the other witnesses we interviewed, however, mentioned such an incident, despite being asked for any information they had about possible fraud relating to scope reports.
The second claim of improprieties at Brown Field came from another Union official at Imperial Beach who testified that, after submitting reports, scope operators would check them a day later and find the figures had been changed. He conceded that he had never seen such a report, nor could he provide details of when this allegedly occurred or who had actually seen altered reports. Again, not a single scope operator from Brown Field supported this claim and none of the reports we received, including ones with large numbers of gotaways, provided any corroboration.
None of the scope operators even claimed to have heard rumors of reports being changed at their station. Two witnesses (not the Union officials already mentioned) did claim to have heard such rumors, but neither was a scope operator. One was not even from Brown Field, and neither of these witnesses could provide any details. One witness said he had heard of an agent being questioned about the accuracy of his report but said the agent was not told to change any of the figures.
Because we could find no evidence supporting the claims that scope reports had been altered or falsified at Brown Field but found substantial evidence contradicting them, these claims are not substantiated.
Although there was no evidence that reports had been changed by supervisors, we did find one scope operator who said he intentionally underreported gotaways because groups of 20 gotaways or more were questioned by supervisors. He said he was never told to underreport figures, but he noted that supervisors had made it clear through "casual conversation" that high gotaway figures were unacceptable. He was the only scope operator at Brown Field who made this claim, and the problem likely arose out his relative lack of experience rather than through any fault of his supervisors. Indeed, we received an unsolicited complaint from a supervisor about his performance on the scope, as well as indications from the witness that fellow agents lacked confidence in his skills. This suggests that questions about gotaways were directed at the failure to assist apprehensions, not an effort to artificially depress numbers. The more experienced operators claimed not to feel pressure to report low numbers, a point corroborated by the numbers actually reported. Thus, we conclude that this particular agent's decision to underreport was his own and demonstrates poor judgment.169
4. El Cajon
There were no complaints of fraudulent scope reports at El Cajon. One supervisor, however, said he had altered a gotaway figure on a summary report. He told us that one night he heard several agents outside his office discussing how many gotaways they had observed on scopes that evening, trying to reconcile their scope reports.170 At one point he heard an agent say, "what difference does it make? Just put 200." After reviewing all the reports from the shift, this supervisor determined that 150 was a more accurate figure, and changed the summary report from 200 to 150. There was no evidence, either from the supervisor or from any other source, suggesting that his purpose was anything other than to correct an exaggerated report.
5. Summary of allegations of falsified scope reports
Although we encountered some rumors and much suspicion that scope reports were being falsified, only 2 agents out of the 200 interviewed (including 87 scope operators) claimed to have actually seen an altered scope report. The primary source of the allegation was No. 1922, who claimed he had observed a supervisor erase a zero from his report of 150 gotaways. Not only did we find no evidence in support of this claim, we found substantial evidence indicating that the incident did not occur.
No. 1922's testimony regarding the changing of scope reports raised more questions than it answered. He claimed that another agent whose report had allegedly been changed had been removed from scope duty for reporting a large number of gotaways. Why then was No. 1922 or the other agent who reported high numbers of gotaways not also removed from scope duty? No. 1922 claimed that, although other agents reported low numbers of gotaways to appease supervisors, he would not go along with this approach. This would suggest that his reports regularly reported higher levels of gotaways. Why then was only one of his reports changed to his knowledge? If Gatekeeper was a failure and large numbers of aliens were getting away, then someone trying to make it look better would have had to consistently alter reports. Either No. 1922 was not regularly reporting these alleged gotaways or the supervisors were not concerned about his reports. In either case, altering an isolated report does not make sense.
Imperial Beach usually had three or four scopes operating on two shifts, producing 6 to 8 scope reports per day and upwards of 2,000 scope reports each year. Even were No. 1922's claim of three altered reports true, these changes, over the course of three years of Gatekeeper, could not have affected internal views of the operation's success. Furthermore, as Bonner testified, the public claims of success were predicated solely on the levels of apprehensions, not gotaways. Although we asked several Union officials for a possible motive for supervisors to alter scope reports, they could provide none except "stupidity."
That no altered reports could be produced is also telling. Despite rampant rumors of reports being changed, only one agent claimed to have checked and found a changed number. Not one of these trained law enforcement officers made a copy of a changed report. In the future, if agents suspect that fraud and alterations are being made, they should document it.
These rumors continued for two reasons. First, some agents were unable or chose not to understand why supervisors were unhappy about large numbers of gotaways. Second, because agents were suspicious of supervisors' motives and Gatekeeper, they were quick to jump to conclusions that we have found not warranted. Questioning of scope operators appeared to be directed at determining why illegal aliens were getting away instead of being apprehended. If agents did not understand this, they should have asked supervisors to explain. The fault, however, is not only theirs. We heard of occasions when agents attempted to ask questions and supervisors gave flippant responses. This was inappropriate. The agents were being forced to completely alter their way of operating and needed as much information as possible to understand their new roles. Supervisors needed to explain these changes and, if agents did not understand, to provide further instruction. Had there been better communication, perhaps this allegation would not have been made.
154 A copy of this article is contained in the Appendix to this report at A-61.
155 The number of scopes in the Sector or at a particular station does not necessarily reflect how many scopes are actually in use on a given night. The scopes, particularly the older ones, were in need of repair and thus out of commission for periods of time. On occasion, foggy conditions precluded use of scopes even if they were in operating condition.
156 Although he did not explicitly say so in his testimony, Union officials later confirmed that No. 1922 was referring to one of his own reports.
157 A few agents claimed that they had been ordered to prepare scope reports in pencil. They believed this was so supervisors could easily alter the reports. Most agents testified, however, that they completed their reports in pen or pencil depending on what was available. Supervisors denied ordering agents to use pencils but noted that it might be easier for agents to use pencils because they frequently update the reports as additional people are observed or apprehended. Regardless, once the rumors of report alterations began, agents reportedly began using pens to complete their reports so that any alterations would be obvious.
158 Except for the identities of the supervisors, we have reproduced No. 1922's entry verbatim. It is unclear why he chose not to indicate precise dates for the events described.
159 Because this report would have reflected apprehensions achieved through means other than scope operations, its "gotaway" figures could have been lower than those on the various scope reports. But the number of persons observed would not be affected by this possibility.
160 Samples of these reports are contained in the appendix to this report at A-63.
161 The procedures for handling the scope reports changed over time. For some period they were handed in to the intelligence officer. At other times they were handed to the inside supervisor.
162 Indeed, we located some later scope reports prepared by this same agent that reported twice as many gotaways as the report he claimed had been altered. There was no evidence of alteration on these subsequent reports.
163 Although the agent believed that he was taken off scope duty because of his report of high gotaways, we learned from several sources that the agent had a reputation for being a chronic sleeper on the job, having been caught sleeping on numerous occasions. If he in fact was removed from scope duty, this may have explained his removal rather than the allegedly disputed report.
164 At Imperial Beach, agents bid to be assigned to particular shifts every six months. They then serve on the same shift for a six-month period. The six-month period starts and ends at the same time for all of the agents at the station. Thus, it was not necessary to look at every month to determine which shift the witness and supervisor were assigned to during the relevant time period.
165 One supervisor testified that he had heard from another supervisor, No. 1698, that he had observed a third supervisor changing a scope report at muster. No. 1698 testified, however, that he had merely observed No. 2779 hold up a scope report at muster and say the numbers were too high. He said he had no information that any numbers had been changed.
166 A second agent, No. 1933, testifying about what was likely the same incident, said that once, in the summer of 1996, No. 1890 had told him that in his "daily report" he had reported 30 gotaways but when he told his supervisor, No. 1693, about it, No. 1693 had said: "The Chief would have a shit fit." No. 1933 testified that he thereafter discovered that No. 1890's daily report indicated only 6 gotaways, and he told No. 1890 about this. No. 1933 was apparently confused about some details. First, No. 1693 was not at the Imperial Beach Station in the summer of 1996, so he would not have received or reviewed No. 1890's report. Second, No. 1933 believed the report in question was a "daily report," not a scope report. No. 1933 testified that he was not aware of any scope operator's report of gotaways being changed after it was submitted. Third, No. 1890 testified that his report was not changed. He said the station's report did not reflect the information contained in his scope report.
167 Based on the timing of this alleged event and the numbers allegedly involved, this may be the incident involving No. 1908 that we believe occurred prior to Gatekeeper.
168 Managers at the Station said No. 1331 was reassigned because he had a particular skill needed by his new detail and they believed he liked the new detail. There appears to have been a gulf in communication between management and the agent regarding this assignment.
169 Because this agent testified pursuant to the Union agreement and was a confidential informant, we cannot inform supervisors of his identity. We suggest, however, that supervisors let it be known to all scope operators that they expect an accurate accounting of all gotaways and that the failure to do so in the future could lead to discipline.
170 Because different scope operators may observe some of the same alien traffic, at the end of the shift the operators need to eliminate the overlapping information to prevent double counting.