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GAO report on Border Patrol Critical Incident Team coverups is a joke.

Updated: Jun 9



Article detailing how Border Patrol Critical Incident Teams covered up another killing. (2021, The Intercept)

This is my tenth writing on Border Patrol coverup teams known as Critical Incident Teams. This series documents how the illegal and secret teams were developed, how the agency kept them secret and why they are illegal. To read the other pieces in the series, go to the blog and click on "USBP Critical Incident Teams."


It's been 2 years since the GAO (Government Accountability Office), a so-called independent watchdog group within the US government, took on the task of investigating the allegations made by the Southern Border Community Coalition in regard to the Border Patrol's use of illegal and unauthorized coverup teams known as Critical Incident Teams. The report is another example of why our country is falling apart; it's a lack of accountability and professional investigations. The reason these illegal coverup teams have been able to exist since 1987 with little knowledge by the public is because the government's oversight agencies that monitor the US Border Patrol are poorly trained and managed, and they are filled with ex-Border Patrol agents.


The following is an analysis of the GAO report. The full report can be found here.


Why did GAO not investigate cases from 1987 - 2009?


From the start, GAO stated that they only looked at cases from 2010 - 2022. Why did they ignore from 1987 - 2009? Because prior to this, the Border Patrol made up their own forensics and evidence classes not using standard professional forensics seminars designed and taught by other untrained Border Patrol agents held at the Border Patrol academy.


For 22 years, the Border Patrol trained its Critical Incident Team members using their own idea of what forensics and evidence collection should be. Prior to this professionalized training, forensic and evidence collection classes that agents received were created and taught by Border Patrol agents who did not have the authority to conduct such training and they were not qualified to be trainers. The original Border Patrol Critical Incident Team training was written and created by Border Patrol agent John Buscaglia in 1997 as his LinkedIn portfolio shows. Buscaglia did not have the training or authority to create forensic classes as a Border Patrol agent.




Former Assistant Chief Buscaglia's LinkedIn obtained 10/24/2021.

"Before 2022, CBP did not have a unified approach to critical incident response."


Pg 1 of report

This is not true by a long shot. The "unified approach" to critical incidents by CBP was to allow the Border Patrol's illegal Critical Incident Teams to respond first and allow them to decide when to call investigators. Then the actual investigators simply took what the teams said was evidence and used that for their investigations. That has always been the unified response since the teams were developed in 1987. CBP came into existence in 2003. Since that time, they allowed the coverup teams to act as evidence and forensic teams even though they did not have the legal authority to do so. It does not matter if these teams were mostly used for liability claims because they still do not have the legal authority to be conducting or participating in these investigations.



Interviewing the people committing the crime.



Obviously, it is important to interview the chiefs and other agents responsible for these travesties of justice. The bottom paragraph suggests that they interviewed people who would find these teams objectionable, but none of their statements or points were brought up in the report. Instead, the report is written as if to say: "Yea, it was wrong, but they did do a few good things. Here's some examples." Nowhere in the report are interviews of what actually happened in the cases discussed or even mentioned.


The important thing to remember is that Border Patrol Critical Incident Teams are coverup units. That is what we called them when I was an agent; the coverup teams. The Critical Incident Team reports investigated by the GAO are not going to contain statements of how they got rid of evidence, how they intimidated witnesses, how they refused to cooperate with the real investigators. Critical Incident Reports are CYA reports, meaning Cover Your Ass. They are reports to give the Chief of a sector plausible deniability of liability in court. To be sure, the judges, juries and victims' attorneys did not know that these teams were unauthorized by the US government to conduct such actions, and they are illegal.




Claims that CBP would need the Critical Incident Team reports to properly evaluate civil liability claims rings hollow. These investigations are already being done by local, state and federal authorities who are supposed to do the investigations into use of force. CBP and Border Patrol are required to wait until oversight agencies have finished their investigations to begin their administrative and civil evaluations of the cases. Additionally, it does not matter if CBP or Border Patrol need to evaluate liabilities because they still do not have the legal authority to investigate their own use of force events even when they are noncritical. If Border Patrol wishes to do this, they must get Congress to change the law.


Why Critical Incident Teams were created.



While the above statement made in the report seems to give a decent understanding of how the teams started, it is not the truth. In 1987, then chief of San Diego sector created the first Critical Incident Team in response to his agents being investigated for over 20 shootings in one year. In order to control the evidence, the witnesses and the investigation, the units were to respond first and only notify outside investigators once the scene was secured the way the Border Patrol wanted it to be secured. These shootings predominately happened in the Imperial Beach area which is within San Diego. It is not an isolated, desolate area but a large city where the San Diego Police have jurisdiction.


As mentioned in this piece, before the Border Patrol Use of Force Handbook was made public in 2014, it clearly stated that agents involved in use of force situations or any situations that may garner media attention, agents were to call the Critical Incident Teams first before any outside investigators were called. Once the Handbook became public, all references made to Critical Incident Teams were removed, but agents orders at the stations were the same; to call the teams first.


Here is an example of how Border Patrol Critical Incident Teams were viewed by actual professional forensic investigators and homicide detectives:



Cochise County Homicide Detective Ritchie and Expert Forensics Investigator Fuentes comments on Border Patrol Critical Incident Teams. (8/8/2014 - 12cv-0370-TUC-JAS)

Here is another report from an actual forensics expert and investigator on the Jose Alfredo Yanez Reyes case that was investigated by the San Diego Critical Incident Team. (13cv0469-WQH-BDS). This is common for experts to criticize the Critical Incident Teams for not securing the scene, allowing agents and even vehicles to run over evidence, to fail to identify and gather the evidence correctly, failing to maintain a chain of custody for the evidence, failing to locate and secure the statements of witnesses, allowing video to be recorded over, allowing agents involved to speak with each other about the incident, allowing them to go home and shower before collecting evidence from agents, etc.





GAO report is incorrect on how many sectors had critical incident teams and their names.






While the Critical Incident Teams in each sector did work independently, they were started and created by former Assistant Chief John Buscaglia. He was instrumental in keeping continuity throughout the other sectors' teams. The fact that they admit to relying on sector officials who used these illegal and secret coverup teams to then provide all the evidence for their investigation report is equivalent to allowing a murderer's family and friends conduct the homicide investigation and then turn around an explain what they did in the case. These officials they interviewed for their report are the ones secretly using these teams to coverup the use of force violations.


The claim that Border Patrol headquarters in Washington D.C. had no knowledge of these teams is absurd. Headquarters receives Daily Reports from each sector discussing in detail how the teams were dispatched to anything the agency may have considered damaging. Headquarters also used Critical Incident Team reports knowing they were unauthorized and illegal and used them in official state and federal courts to sway juries to find in the agency's favor.


Below is an example of many Daily Reports discussing the use of Critical Incident Teams. Note how they are the first called to the scene.




Sector Daily Reports sent to CBP and Border Patrol Headquarters in D.C.





Below is another example of a Serious Incident Report (SIR) discussing the use of Critical Incident Teams. This report is also sent to headquarters daily. Note how they are the first called to the scene.



Border Patrol Serious Incident Reports are sent to D.C. headquarters daily.

The statement that Laredo sector did not have a Critical Incident Team is also not true. Laredo Sector's Critical Incident Team was called a Sector Evidence Team (SET) as was El Paso Sector's team. Here is the creator of the teams admitting he created Laredo Sector's team and their seal:





These 2 units were used as Critical Incident Teams.

Note that in the second Daily Report shown above, Rio Grande Valley Sector called their Critical Incident Team a Critical Incident Response Team (CIRT). San Diego referred to their team as a Critical Incident Investigative Team (CIIT).


Other versions of Critical Incident Teams.


As the GAO report points out, many agents worked temporarily at the Critical Incident Teams on a limited detail of a few years. These agents were trained in the ways of Critical Incident Team investigations. They then moved on to other units within the agency to continue the illegal investigations. Even members of the San Diego Sector Intelligence Unit were used as a Critical Incident Team in the Valeria Tachiquin murder because the Critical Incident Team members were unavailable.


A great example of this was when the supervisor of the San Diego team, Supervisory Border Patrol Agent Armando Gonzalez was arrested and pleaded guilty in 2015 to using Border Patrol Critical Incident Team cameras to film female Border Patrol agents and female FBI agents using the restroom in the team's sector bathroom. He then posted these videos online. Because Supervisor Gonzalez led the sector's Critical Incident Team, the agency decided to disband the unit fearing that outsiders and especially the attorneys for the Southern Border Community Coalition would realize that they were actually coverup teams.


San Diego sector did not create a new Critical Incident Team but instead began using their Smuggling Interdiction Group (SIG) as their coverup team. Agents who had previously been trained under the Critical Incident Teams continue their work in the Smuggling Interdiction Group as can be seen in the Alton Jones case. Mr. Jones is a former Navy Seal and ran into Border Patrol agents at the state park in Imperial Beach, California. After fighting with agents, they arrested him and conducted the use of force investigation themselves using their Smuggling Interdiction Group agents, many of whom were trained in the Critical Incident Team investigation techniques. Remember, the Border Patrol does not have the legal authority to conduct its own use of force investigations even if it does not lead to death.


Then Patrol Agent In Charge Bovino testifies he used the Smuggling Interdiction Unit to conduct a use of force investigation. Note that the Smuggling Interdiction Group only reports to the sector chief as did the old Critical Incident Team. It's also important to note that this was not a smuggling case.




The Deputy Patrol Agent In Charge Bullock admitted to using the Smuggling Interdiction Group to conduct the use of force investigation just as the disbanded Critical Incident Team did.





Deputy PAIC admitting he used the SIG conduct the use of force investigation.

Finally, the Border Patrol agent from the Smuggling Interdiction Group unit admitted to conducting a use of force investigation that even Border Patrol chiefs admit they cannot legally do because they do not have the authority.




Conclusion.


The GAO report reads more like a reason why we should just let the agency get away with these illegal coverup teams. At one point they state that the teams did have local oversight from the chiefs and other managers, as if this should some how console the hundreds, maybe thousands, of people who have lost loved ones to violence committed by Border Patrol agents. Not a single agent has ever been held accountable for any deaths caused by them in a 100 years. This is just simply not statistically possible.


The report also draws the conclusion that the agencies just did not have the structure or abilities to respond to these incidents as they should have. This is a remarkable statement as it is clear that they did have the ability to develop these secret teams across the southern border, inappropriately train them, supply them with forensic equipment and vehicles, and then hide their training and purchases within Border Patrol intelligence units and the CBP Laboratory Science Services for over 20 years since CBP took over as the parent agency. The report suggests that the agencies did not have the ability or resources is ludicrous given that they have received billions of taxpayer dollars.


CBP chose to keep the secret and illegal Critical Incident Teams and continued to hide their existence only until the Southern Borders Community Coalition brought their complaint. In fact, as a former agent, I can tell you that being in these teams is considered highly advantageous to an agent's promotions.


The report failed to compare the Critical Incident Teams work with actual investigative reports done by outside agencies. If they had looked at the Anastasio Hernandez Rojas CIT report to the San Diego Police Homicide report, they would see that the CIT agents hid the video from SDPD, that they intimidated witnesses and got rid of them, how they attended the autopsy and prevented the SDPD from getting the medical records in time. CIT reports do NOT contain any information of the units' wrongdoings. They exist to provide cover for those in management.

More to the point, it does not matter if Border Patrol Critical Incident Team members had legitimate forensic and evidence collection training. No Border Patrol agent has the legal authority to conduct such investigations according to the law.


The fact that this entire report was written from the viewpoint, with the lies and propaganda used by the agency for over 37 years to keep these coverup units a secret is all you need to know before you throw this report in the trash with the others.

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