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Digging Deeper: Federal law enforcement agencies failing to cooperate

TUCSON – Right now, the southwest border is ground zero in the fight against illegal immigration. Drugs and human smuggling are just a few of the things law enforcement is dealing with on a daily basis.

Now, more than ever, it is critical that federal agencies work together to guard against potential threats.

Our Digging Deeper team uncovered a recent report that says that might not always be happening.

The 68-page report that took a year and a half to complete was released at the beginning of August. The report details facts, figures, and findings of the F.B.I. and Department of Homeland Security Investigations, and how the two agencies sometimes have conflicts with one another.

Between the F.B.I. and H.S.I. there were nearly three-thousand federal agents assigned to the southwest border in 2017. About 1,000 responded to an anonymous online survey.

Most of those who responded said there were no issues.

While they agreed that task forces improved cooperation and allowed for increased collaboration between the F.B.I. and H.S.I., more than 1/3 of agents said they had experienced cooperation failures.

Eighty-seven percent of respondents reported at least one negative impact as a result of these failures. The impacts included a loss of trust, unnecessarily prolonged investigations, and failure to gather evidence to apprehend a target.

The report listed possible reasons such as the F.B.I. and H.S.I. having inconsistent practices, lacked specific policies.

Many agents were unaware of requirements related to so-called “de-confliction.”

Back in February, I.C.E. issued an agency-specific de-confliction policy that may result in improvements.

However, any agents did not understand the other agency’s mission and authorities and did not trust the other agency or its personnel.

As part of the report, five recommendations were made to address the challenges.

The recommendations include:

  • Developing written, agency-specific de-confliction guidelines
  • Increasing awareness among F.B.I. and H.S.I. agents of each agency’s mission, statutory authorities, and criminal investigative priorities
  •  Instituting an inter-agency memorandum of understanding for investigative interactions.

News 4 Tucson contacted both agencies regarding the report.

HSI sent us the following statement:

“Please refer to the HSI detailed response to the mentioned recommendations starting on page 65.  

With that, HSI is a proud partner to the many state, local, tribal, and federal law enforcement agencies to include the FBI. HSI special agents, particularly those on the southwest border, regularly partner with law enforcement agencies to include being active members of various task forces, including FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force.

We live and work side-by-side with our partner law enforcement agencies not only to strengthen and further investigations through shared resources, but also to further the HSI mission and to keep our communities safe.”

The FBI responded as follows:

“With regards to the report you mentioned, we would refer you to the FBI response starting on page 59 as well as the DOJ OIG analysis on page 62.

While we can’t comment specifically on the report, the FBI values the partnerships we have with all of our state, local, tribal, and federal law enforcement partners. HSI is active in a number of FBI task forces, including the Joint Terrorism Task Force. We work together routinely, sharing information and investigative resources to help keep our communities safe.”

Paul Birmingham

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