- The Washington Times - Monday, April 1, 2002

Two Border Patrol agents who reported security problems along the U.S.-Canada border have been recommended by senior U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service officials for suspensions and demotions, says a U.S. senator.
Sen. Charles E. Grassley, a senior member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, told INS Commissioner James Ziglar in a letter Friday he was "shocked and angry" about the agency's decision to "retaliate" against agents Mark Hall and Robert Lindemann.
Mr. Grassley said INS was in violation of the 1989 Whistleblower Protection Act, which he authored, and questioned whether senior officials were "more worried about suppressing embarrassing information than enforcing immigration laws and protecting the nation's security."
"Agents Hall and Lindemann spotlighted security problems at the U.S.-Canadian border, providing a valuable service to the public," said the Iowa Republican, noting that the agents' information was validated in a follow-up investigation by the Justice Department's Office of Inspector General.
"It is especially galling that INS and Border Patrol managers initially sought to terminate the employment of these two agents, which is far more severe than the discipline meted out to higher-level officials involved in the INS' two recent embarrassing [incidents]," he said.
Mr. Grassley, ranking member of the Judiciary subcommittee that deals with crime and drugs, noted that four senior INS officials involved in sending out student visas for two of the September 11 hijackers and another INS officer who mistakenly allowed four Pakistanis into the country without proper documentation were only reassigned.
"The personnel actions in both these cases were widely viewed as slaps on the wrist," he said.
Mr. Hall and Mr. Lindeman reported last year that Michigan's border with Canada lacked the resources to adequately protect the United States from terrorists. They told the Detroit Free Press that Michigan's 804 miles of shoreline border were guarded by 28 field agents, one working boat, several damaged electronic sensors and one broken remote camera.
They were cited by INS for failing to follow instructions not to talk to reporters and recommended for 90-day suspensions.
Mr. Hall is president of the local Border Patrol agents' union. Mr. Lindemann is vice president.
INS spokesman Russ Bergeron said the agency does not discipline employees or prohibit them from speaking to the media, but those who do must follow established procedures.
"Employees have a responsibility to ensure that the safety of fellow officers and private citizens, as well as the service's national security efforts, are not compromised by comments made to the media," he said, noting that INS was precluded from commenting on the Hall and Lindemann matter pending completion of ongoing investigations.
Mr. Grassley said that following their exposure of the border security problems, the two agents were separated from working together and moved to different shifts, where they now earn less.
He said Border Patrol proposals to suspend them for 90 days without pay and later demote them were put on hold pending the completion of an investigation by the Office of Special Counsel.
The Justice Department's Office of Inspector General said in a March 4 memo to INS: "We seriously question the decision to propose discipline against Hall and Lindemann and believe it would not be upheld. In sum, we believe the INS's proposal was unsound and that the INS should re-evaluate whether it has a basis to go forward with discipline against the two agents."
Mr. Grassley said that despite that recommendation, INS plans to proceed with its original disciplinary action against the two agents.
"The INS' actions in this case are exactly the opposite of what should be done," he said. "The INS needs more whistleblowers who expose security problems that have been ignored by the bureaucrats.
"Instead, the INS and Border Patrol have chosen to retaliate against those who spotlight problems and mismanagement," he said.
Mr. Grassley, in his letter, asked Mr. Ziglar to respond within 10 days to describe what disciplinary action he intends to recommend and to explain whether he intends to discipline the managers who sought to retaliate against Mr. Hall and Mr. Lindemann.


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