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Crony politics within DHS agencies hurt’sts America’s national security

As a young girl Darlene Fitzgerald bucked the ‘norm’ when it came to the way she envisioned life. Her father encouraged her to be whatever she wanted to be. Fitzgerald’s quest into the world of boys started early, she wanted to play baseball with the boys when it was unthinkable; it would mark the start of her trailblazing ways something that has not fallen by the wayside.

Fitzgerald took on a fight against major corruption, put her life on the line for her country and ran up against a brick wall with Customs and Border Protection. This happened because there was no whistle blower protection for federal government employees and the military – the folks on the front lines of national security. Now she is taking that fight, and my fight against crony campaign financing to Capitol Hill.

Her story with CBP began by following the rules and firmly believing her supervisors would stand by her when she reported any wrong-doing by other CBP agents. Fitzgerald was wrong. In a long line of government cover-ups and corruption Fitzgerald’s no nonsense attitude was put to the test.

The country she loved and protected with everything she had turned on her. Her lamp lighting (whistle blowing) resulted in her career being stripped from her. But like her stubborn childhood tenacity, Fitzgerald picked herself up, wrote a book (BorderGate) and is now running for the United States Senate in Kentucky. Her new mission is to change the way Washington does business. Those who bet against Fitzgerald making it to D.C. don’t know how determined she really is.

The following is her accounting on the CBP, DHS and Washington-style politics, and why these agencies are wrong for America and what exactly has to change.

“Immediately following the terror attempt aboard the aircraft, Homeland Secretary Janet Napolitano announced: “The system worked.” The suspect was able to bring explosives on board a flight from Europe to the U.S. and only failed in his “mission” because his bomb didn’t explode, but “the system worked.” Really? This is a clear failure not only of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), but also of the entire Department of Homeland Security (DHS) of which TSA is a component.

These agencies have long been suffering from incompetent management. The promotion system in these agencies is the “good old boy” crony club. The ‘”best and the brightest” are rarely promoted into management positions. When better-qualified agents/inspectors dare to file any type of legitimate complaint or grievance in an attempt to solve this problem, they are immediately silenced- usually with a phony investigation by the Internal Affairs Department (IA). The retaliation for anyone in these federal agencies who dare to speak truth to power is swift and painful. I know this firsthand.

Moreover, if an agent/inspector observes any behavior from his/her superiors that would cause a breach in our national security, they risk their careers if they dare to report their managers, even though DHS regulations and some federal laws require them to do so. There are thousands of government whistle blowers who have repeatedly given spine-shivering testimony about the gaping holes in our national security to both houses of Congress. I have testified before them in Washington myself. The whistle blowers are neutralized and nothing gets fixed. This happens because there is no real whistle blower protection for federal government employees or the military on the front lines of our national security.

Two of the best government watchdog organizations on Capitol Hill are the Government Accountability Project (GAP) and the Project on Government Over-site (POGO). Both have been trying for years to get real whistle blower protection to no avail. Until agencies like DHS and TSA are no longer allowed to investigate themselves and use IA as the “goon squad” on folks who try to file legitimate complaints, we all remain at risk.

I believe these agencies and others do not have the manpower or the assets to really accomplish their missions. We are spending hundreds of billions of dollars on Iraq and Afghanistan trying to fight a tactic -terrorism. You cannot wage a war against a tactic. While we have focused on military plans since 9-11, we are bleeding money away from greater investments in intelligence, improving infrastructure, and law enforcement techniques.

Most of the actual Al Qaeda terrorists who have been caught and brought to justice have been apprehended through the use of interagency intelligence such as Interpol and cooperative law enforcement and not “boots on the ground” military. The regular military (army and marines) were not trained to conduct an intelligence gathering manhunt. They are very good at what they are trained for, but it is not this.

Had our elected officials on Capitol Hill listened to the countless government employee and military whistle blowers over the last 20 years, and had placed into effect even a few of the recommendations from GAP and POGO, maybe 9-11 wouldn’t have happened. Hindsight is 20-20, but they’re still not listening. Many counterterrorism experts and top military officials agree that we are not making any real progress in our fight against Al Qaeda by escalating the war in Afghanistan.

‘Make wars unprofitable and you make them impossible,’ Franklin D. Roosevelt said. There are a lot of big corporations making tons of money off of these two wars. Not coincidentally, they are also large contributors to the campaigns of our elected officials on Capitol Hill. This places many in government in a terrible bind and it is not unfair to ask if some of our elected officials are voting the interests of the funders of their campaigns in the name of national security. If we don’t fix crony campaign financing, none of the above will ever get fixed. It’s time the people take back their government from those who own it now.

The legal bribery of lobbying is the disease. The rest (wars, threats to national security, substandard education, substandard healthcare) are merely symptoms that will never be cured until we turn our legislatures back to a system of governing, and not a system of quid pro quo.”

Fitzgerald’s words represent the way many Americans feel today and nowhere was that heard louder than Massachusetts with the election of an Independent/Republican in the heart of a navy-blue state. The citizens of this country are waking up to the issues in front of them and are questioning the elected officials ability to represent “We the People.”

The fact that Fitzgerald’s Senate opponents will no longer debate her says it all- politics as usual won’t cut it any longer. Her platform is simple, get back to basics and clean up Washington D.C. “We need to put the people first,” she said. “We need to protect our whistle blowers so we can root out crony corruption.”

Marthena Cowart, the director of communications for Project on Government Oversight says it best; “The courageous men and woman throughout the federal government who report misconduct and criminality in their workplace are, more often than not, punished instead of rewarded for upholding the oath they take when they join the government. POGO is urging Congress to pass the Whistleblower Protection Act which will, for the first time, grant jury trail access to all federal whistleblowers.”

Sandra Nunn – CBP bullying tactics

In 1988 Sandra Nunn became a Special Agent with the U.S. Customs Service Office of Investigations in the Los Angeles area, like most before her she felt that she was part of an honorable organization with the highest level of integrity. Words like honored and pride were associated with being a Special Agent. During the past 10 years, Nunn served with integrity and professionalism befitting her position as a federal agent, never once shirking or abusing her position.

Nunn investigated international money laundering cases that made national headlines and were featured in TIME and Business Week. “As the case agent I was involved with the illegal smuggling activity via the Southern U.S. border that included tons of illicit narcotics.” As a key undercover operative with this particular investigation, Nunn found more than 1000 fully automatic AK-47’s.

She also served as a diplomatic representative and key investigator with the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) on two European tours of duty during the UN sanctions against Serbia, casework which included narcotics smuggling, money laundering, espionage, counterterrorism, arms trafficking, and national security.

Nevertheless, beginning in 1997, her career began experiencing retaliation when she chose to step forward and back-up allegations made by a fellow agent of misconduct within the CBP agency by management officials. “My support of fellow agent, Darlene Fitzgerald, by telling the truth in what at the time initially was an EEO related matter, I along with Ms. Fitzgerald, became the unwitting victims of egregious retaliatory acts perpetrated by our management as well as the Office of Internal Affairs in a concerted effort to silence and discredit us,” Nunn explains. Both agents were put under investigation, their work was heavily scrutinized in an effort to intimidate and upset them.

The threats did not end with the two female agents. Another agent who spoke out against the retaliation found two surveillance cameras pointed directly at his personal residence where he along with his family lived.

Despite all the CBP shenanigans, Agent Fitzgerald continued her work with major narcotics trafficking investigation that culminated in the seizure of more than 8,000 pounds of narcotics. Information was developed from this seizure in conjunction with an informant-based situation and it resulted in Fitzgerald locating five railway tanker cars that had entered the country. A fraudulent Customs Manifest tipped Fitzgerald and would lead her to the subsequent weigh-in of each of these respective tanker cars at the Colton Rail Yard demonstrated that these allegedly empty pressurized railway tanker cars were between 25-40 tons overweight illustrating the rail cars were potentially carrying contraband of some kind.

Yet, when both Ms. Fitzgerald and Senior Special Agent Robert Mattivi approached Customs Resident Agent in Charge Gary Pinkava to get permission to perform a simple pressure test at no cost to the Government and no extra manpower, Mr. Pinkava ordered both Fitzgerald and Mattivi not to do their job and not to return to the rail yard. Shortly thereafter, it was learned that the suspect tanker cars had disappeared into the commerce of the United States never to be seen again.

Concerns regarding national security are in play with this incident. To this day the rail cars have not been found and what exactly was in the missing tanker cars. Was it narcotics? Or was it weapons of mass destruction, biological agents, guns, or ammonium nitrate? “We don’t know. We will never know. And the fact that Mr. Pinkava, a high-level management official for the U.S. Customs Service, knowingly and purposefully did this demonstrates the level of explicit misconduct inherent within the U.S. Customs Service,” Nunn said. “What is also disturbing to me is that Mr. Pinkava, even after admitting on the record in federal court that all of this happened exactly as we claimed he has never been investigated, reprimanded or demoted for his illegal conduct.”

This incident becomes a clear example of screw up, move up practices the DHS and CBP continue to employ using their crony-style politics. Instead of punishing Agent Pinkava, he has been allowed to continue in his fully paid full-time position and was promoted to Assistant Special Agent in Charge (ASAC).

“How many other managers like this are jeopardizing our national security and not being held accountable? One must seriously ponder this question. Because knowing what I know and seeing what I’ve seen, it scares me to death that even one instance of this can happen,” Nunn finished.

But, it doesn’t end there. “I was forced to resign my position in protest due to the ongoing retaliation. I suffered bankruptcy and lost my retirement. Additionally, both Ms. Fitzgerald and I, are both highly educated women, were time and time again denied employment opportunities,” according to Nunn.

Nunn didn’t ask to become a whistle blower. But, when she witnessed what she did, it forced her to make a choice- shut up and look the other way or stand up for what’s right. “I did not shrink back from my duties, but stood up and told the truth as any patriot would.”

A logical question many ask lamp lighters is ‘If you could do everything over again, knowing what would happen to you, would you do it again?’ Her response was; “Absolutely, because it was the right thing to do.”

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