Agents of Deception

A congressional delegation inspected Miami's INS operations and found everything to be running smoothly. No wonder. Investigators later discovered they'd been dealing with...

In contrast, Miami District Director Dan Cadman is answering a phone at the Border Patrol station in Pembroke Pines after being stripped of all supervisory duties in June. Asked to describe his current responsibilities, Cadman says bitterly: "I'm still the incumbent district director." Three other INS supervisors were also temporarily reassigned to less responsible positions as a result of the OIG report.

Sources familiar with INS internal politics speculate that culpability reaches directly into INS headquarters. But they predict that Cadman and a handful of other supervisors will ultimately bear the brunt of the blame for the deception.

Congressmen who participated in the visit point out that INS Commissioner Doris Meissner herself headed up their Miami tour. "I'm very disappointed that Doris Meissner could go through Krome with us, escort us through the Miami International Airport, and as the INS commissioner not recognize inconsistencies and not hear answers that everyone but us knew weren't true. If she didn't know [about the deception], that's worse than if she knew," Congressman Gallegly contends. "There's no question that Dan Cadman violated the law and obstructed justice. But he's a field commander. Someone above him was giving him orders."

In order to reconstruct events leading up to the congressional visit, OIG investigators conducted more than 450 interviews and reviewed more than 4000 e-mail messages. They uncovered an extraordinary sequence of decisions -- none of which was questioned by INS supervisors -- that eventually led to the last-minute transfer and release of scores of aliens, as well as to the destruction of electronic records detailing those arrangements.

According to the report, Commissioner Meissner was personally involved in preparing for the delegation's arrival. Three weeks before the visit, Cadman was called to Washington for a one-day briefing. "One of the things I found out is that the [visit] is considered EXTREMELY important by Commissioner Meissner," Cadman wrote in a May 22 e-mail he sent to his deputies upon his return. Meissner herself was likely to attend, he noted, and she was even considering coming down a few days early "to make sure that things are well planned out.... The Commissioner is concerned that it would take very little to put the kiss of death on their views toward INS, with significant adverse consequences for some time thereafter. She wants ALL parties ready for this visit.... She wants a sharp-looking, heads-up group of employees doing their jobs visible to this influential group. This doesn't mean that they can't and shouldn't see the very real constraints we face (such as limited bed space at [Krome]), but they would come away with the clear impression of competent, dedicated people doing the best they can with what they are given, and the ability to do significantly more if provided the resources by Congress to do so."

Cadman's reasonable-sounding message masked the alarm that was sweeping the district at the prospect of a visit by a group of inquisitive and skeptical lawmakers. And there was no denying that the district was in crisis. The Krome Detention Center was overwhelmed with detainees and the airport was severely understaffed. Even if they tried to hide the extent of the problems, supervisors worried, disaffected employees might well look for an opportunity to enlighten the visitors. "Apparently [the task force] did the San Diego border tour previously, and it went well, but not without a few of the [congressmen] pulling some employees to the side to get the 'real story,'" Cadman recounted in his e-mail. "This, of course, carries with it some real risks."

Cadman's concerns were echoed by his supervisor, Carol Chasse, director of the eastern regional office in Burlington, Vermont. (The INS's eastern region comprises 25 states, including Florida.) Chasse sent an e-mail to Cadman the next day: "Employees who are doing the best job under adverse conditions send the message we want to send. Employees complaining they can't do their job due to lack of resources communicate only one message, 'INS can't do its job.'"

Chasse offered suggestions on damage control, advising Cadman to inform the Dade County Aviation Department, which operates the airport, about the recommended posture during the congressional visit. Chasse wrote: "They might think they are doing us a favor by mentioning that we cannot do our job with the resources given when in fact the opposite is true."

She also called Cadman on the phone, a conversation recounted in the OIG report: "There might be some people at the journeyman level, perhaps some union members, who would be a little unbalanced in their presentation if they had the opportunity to do so."

Two days later Pamela Barry, the director of congressional relations, flew down from INS headquarters for an advance trip to the district. According to local supervisors, among Barry's concerns was the fear that Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart and Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen might interfere with the delegation's visit.

In an interview with OIG investigators, one of Cadman's deputies explained that she had shared Barry's concern. "We were already well aware of [Diaz-Balart's and Ros-Lehtinen's] views on Prop 187, and that was diametrically opposed to that of the [task force] or the California members of the [delegation]," said Valerie Blake. "We didn't want them to have a fistfight and a demonstration that would hit the press."

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