Monday, October 16, 2006

I am soon to retire...

...after over 27 years of service in federal law enforcement. I became eligible to retire back in October, and up until then, I had sort of thought I would pull the plug right away. The job is, in my opinion, not what it once was; and yes I know nothing is what it was once, but that does not make it any easier to leave the job and head out to pasture.

For some reason, I keep thinking I'll wait a bit longer. The main excuse, I give to myself and to others, for waiting is that if I go out now there will not be quite enough to have me and my family financially settled. I have thought about that a lot lately, and I did some checking and came up with a figure and date that would make me happy (at least right now I think it would make me happy when it arrives) regarding my pension. To attain the figure I have in mind for my annual pension (no I am not telling you how much that will be as it is a private thing, too private right now for here) I would have to work until January 2009. That does not seem all that far off, only 2 years and 2 1/2 months. It ought to be something I could do standing on my head while spinning like a top - don't you think! Yet just as it has been getting harder and harder to go into work each day, I find it harder and harder to even think of retirement, and I am not sure why but I do have some ideas. The following is all my opinion about why I have not yet retired, and about why I am finding it hard to do so, even though I think the jobs sucks.

My job(s) used to be a fairly good one. I started off my career in federal service in the U.S. Border Patrol, as a Border Patrol Agent. I spent just over 4 years of my life dedicated to keeping the USA safe from those whose first on our soil act would be an illegal one. After those 4 years and quite a few on the job adventures including quite a few on the job injuries, quite a few off the job adventures that included at least a few senoritas and trips to places far from Calexico, California where I had been stationed - I figured it was long overdue for me to return to New York City.

I went back to NYC when I got a transfer from the Border Patrol into the U.S. Customs Service as a Customs Patrol Officer. I did that for a few years, then became a criminal investigator, and later a Special Agent (actually the same job just at higher pay than the crim. invest. in Customs).
All of the jobs had their share of boring lousy assignments, but all of them had more than a fair share of adventure - at least for me. Over the years I was one who never having been in the military service, and therefore never having learned the golden rule of the military, to volunteer for assignments. Because of that I wound up in a financial investigations group, then got transferred to a narcotics smuggling group, then to a general investigations group, and back into narcotics, then back to another financial group. These were usually the busier groups and the ones I was a part of were busy indeed. I have plenty of stories - all no brag, just fact - to tell to my grandkids someday about what I and other group members accomplished. I had some great supervisors, and great coworkers too and they will be included in my recounting of the good old days. I also have a lot of stories they maybe will not hear about some of the jerks I worked with and some of the even less intelligent and inept bosses under who I served - there was more than a fair share of them for sure. Some people should never have gotten into law enforcement, and I often wonder why they did; but I digress.

I went on, fairly happy in my work (though I could bitch and moan about anything, and let the bosses know when I thought they were wrong - often paying the price for it by missing a promotion), and I did more than my fair share of it over the years. An agent I know commented to me about a year ago that he was unaware of any other agent in our office having had as many cases as I had over my service in U.S. Customs. Maybe he was right, maybe not, and while I know I never had any earth shattering cases - I know I did my work and did it well, and many of my cases wound up with arrests, seizures, and convictions. Then things got kind of messy for me when a big boss wrongfully believed I had written some anonymous poison pen letters to Internal Affairs, The Office of the Inspector general, and the Secretary of the Treasury. I personally disliked that boss almost with a hateful passion, if only because I believed he was the biggest wrongfully vindictive asshole I had ever met, but I had never dimmed him out by writing anonymous letters. That was not my style. So I wound up transferred to a do nothing position. Not long after that, when the matter in those letters came under investigation, and the boss was about to go before a governmental hearing on charges another agent had filed against him and the Customs Service, said boss asked me if I wanted to go back to work for him, and he had a maniacal smile on his face when he asked. I declined. Instead, I testified at that hearing. I testified against him and against the Assistant Commissioner for Enforcement of the USCS (yes the 2nd in charge nationwide). My testimony, supported by that of others, and by hard cold evidence showed at least one of them to have perjured himself, as I now understand.

Customs did not reward me. I was transferred back to my old post. Not long after, I reported some wrong doing by an NY Police Department Officer who I had seen beat a prisoner. Very soon after that I was transferred to our office in Manhattan from JFK International Airport. I was then assigned totally administrative duties, to include collateral duties as a firearms instructor. I could live with those duties, and did so for a while.

Then came something that changed my career drastically, hell it changed all of our lives drastically. Yes I mean 9/11/2001. That date, bar the end of the world, was coming no matter what, it is too bad it came on as it did for all many reasons and for all too many people. My personal reasons are not that important in the overall scope of the events and aftereffects of that day, but I will tell you about some of them here, because they fit right in with the scheme of this rant. I was not in my office on 9/11; I was somewhere in CT, heck I cannot recall the name of the town or the department I was visiting, where my cousin and I were taking a Glock Armorers course. A police officer came into the room and told us an aircraft had hit one of the towers of the WTC. He said he would bring in a television during our break so we could all see the news as it unfolded. Not long after, and before our scheduled break, the officer came in again and told us of a second plane hitting the other large tower. A few minutes later and we were all watching on a TV in the classroom. John, that is my cousin, and I left and headed back to NYC. We must have shaved at least 45 minutes off our earlier drive time to CT on our return trip to NYC. The roads were empty, that is except for emergency vehicles like ambulances on the shoulders of the road, hundreds of them all lined up, and I flew. When we got back to the city we headed to Kennedy Airport office of Customs Office of Investigations. One of those asshole supervisors I told you about above asked me what we were doing there. Heck, I had the smarts to call our sector communications to see what needed to be done, and they told us, ordered us, to go to JFK. By the end of a long day, we had accounted for all of our NYC personnel.

With that day, the changes had begun. For about two weeks I helped carry out the resupply of our office, more admin duties but important ones. During the first week after 9/11, I went down to the WTC rubble piles and helped out on two shifts, the first on a bucket brigade as firemen dug for survivors/bodies, and I helped throw the rubble they dug onto a pile to keep it out of the way. The next shift I spent retrieving evidence from a customs vault wherein the wall had been breeched. It was scary stuff. Then I received word that no one from Customs was to go to the WTC unless specifically selected to work there, and that included a bar on anyone volunteering to help out. Well during the 2nd week after 9/11, while I was still doing admin duties, a call for volunteers came around, they were asking for agents to volunteer as temporary Federal Air Marshals. Out of hundreds of agents in the NYC, JFK, and Long Island Offices of Investigations for the U.S. Customs Service, there were two volunteers and one of them was talked out of doing it by her supervisor. Guess who that left.

I flew as an air marshal for about 5 months. It was not easy, especially for the first three weeks when I just about started to cry each time the plane started to roll down the runway. As silly as it may sound, I was literally so scared I almost peed myself a few times thinking that whatever flight I was on would be the next. For those of you who think that even stupider than silly, and who think it would not possibly be able to happen again, allow me to remind you that we were aware of intelligence that the public has not yet heard about; and then there was the shoe bomber attempt later on. The possibility of getting on that plane and never again seeing my family was all too real for me, so yes I was terrified. The possibility that some piece of turd Islamic extremist was going to get away with it again was also too real for me, and with the help of a dear friend who urged me on because he knew I was doing the right thing, I was able to go to work each day and fly on several flights on most of those days, to try to prevent even one more single American's life from being lost. It was the absolute scariest thing I have ever done over any period of time lasting more than a few seconds, maybe minutes, or maybe even hours at most. All the other scary things had come and gone in flashes; this one lasted 5 months of nerve wracking red alert levels for every minute I was flying. I lived through it unscathed, at least physically. Not even a thank you from the FAA or the TSA for that one, but then again, I was not in it for thank yous. Besides that, I sure got enough of em anyhow from flight attendants and flight crews, and from the savvy passengers who figured out I was the FAM in their game of 'Pick Out The Air Marshal' - a game that took place on each and every flight on which I flew as a FAM.

Another thing that happened after 9/11, was the dissolution of the United States Customs Service, the oldest law enforcement agency in the USA. It was done without fanfare, it simply disappeared after hundreds of years of service. You would think the U.S. Government would have had some pop and ceremony, but maybe the president and other officials were a bit ashamed of what it was they were about to do to us. They combined us with the by then defunct Immigration and naturalization Service, and put us under the new Department of Homeland Security. What a farce indeed, take it from me. Since the I&NS was primarily found responsible for allowing all of the terrorists, who attacked us on 9/11, into the USA in the first place, the I&NS was actually done away with, as I understand, by an act of Congress. I don't believe any mention was made of the Customs Service in that act of Congress. We were in effect being punished because of another's inadequacies. The Customs Service was split, as was the I&NS, into two basic parts: Investigations, and regulatory branches, although the I&NS also had the Border Patrol for patrol functions. Under DHS, new agencies were formed to perform the old duties. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) basically took all of the Customs Inspectors, Immigration Inspectors, and Border Patrol under its command. Immigration and Customs Enforcement took the investigative branches of those two other services, and of a few other agencies such as the Federal Protective service, and FAMs (for a short while anyhow as far as the FAMs went).

We, all Americans, heck all of the world, were told told by the administration (which I faithfully still serve but can disagree with) that the DHS with CBP and ICE was the primary department to deter terrorism, to combat terrorism, to investigate terrorism. Then our first secretary, that ex- governor who should have stayed in Pennsylvania as a town clerk, handed over all investigative authority related to terrorism to the FBI. As it turned out the now defunct Office of Investigations of the now defunct U.S. Customs Service, one of the best investigative branches of U.S. law enforcement, the one with the largest ever money laundering investigation against terrorists, and countless other high quality investigations, was now basically turned into an arm of the now defunct Immigration Service. Yes, once we were combined with I&NS investigators under ICE, it seems most of our duties have been geared toward finding illegal aliens and not toward: Money Laundering Investigations, not toward Strategic Arms Smuggling Investigations, not toward Narcotics Smuggling Investigations, not toward Fraud and Smuggling of contraband across the U.S. Borders, not toward almost anything we had dome before. Yet we keep all those investigations, but it has become apparent to even the door knobs in my office, that our main duties are those of less importance than those of a dog catcher. Don't get me wrong, I want to see all the illegals out of our country, but not at the expense of a terrorist being able to finance his operations because of his money laundering activities that we no longer look into.

So right now, after about 3 1/2 years of being part of ICE under DHS, I can say without a doubt the job sucks big-time. Those who have retired just before and even since all say how lucky they are to be out. Those still here gnash their teeth in despair, I kid you not, it sucks that bad.

The job sucks, and that comes from just about everyone on it, from both the Immigration and the Customs sides of it. Of course all the I&NS folks that came to ICE as agents got promotions out of this, so it may not be quite as bad for them, but I think they are just as demoralized by it all as are the ex-customs people. I guess I, as had many others, always wanted to do something important for our country. No that is not a joke. I always had a great amount of pride in my work and in the work of others in my agency who did good work. We made a difference, I believe we made the USA a safer place for all to live and enjoy their lives. Now I believe we are little more than an agency being set up beforehand as the scapegoats for the next 9/11 type of attacks; I believe it and so do many other ICE agents. Record numbers apparently are trying to bail out to other agencies, or retiring almost as soon as they can retire.

If it happens again, no that should be when it happens again, because it most surely will happen again that the mainland USA is attacked by terrorists, the U.S. government will need a scapegoat to deflect blame. They have it in the DHS, and in the agencies under DHS like ICE. Is it a disgrace for me to believe this? Maybe it is, but not because of my belief, but rather because ICE and DHS are set up to make me and others who serve believe just that. , and many other federal agents (not those just from ICE) are in utter disbelief that the government formed DHS as it did by destroying other effective agencies to combine them in a mega department with no to little direction. Sure you hear it on TV news and read it in the papers about how Chertoff brags we are the best, how the president tells you we are the frontline against terrorism, how we will prevent the next attacks. The truth is, I believe, we are given almost no authority to investigate anything related to terrorism. Lots of talk, more bragging, about what we will do when the time comes, and almost no authority or leadership that will actually get us to the point where we do it. ICE is, in my opinion, a straw man agency, little more. There is a better way to do this all, it is a crying shame it is not being done even though many suggestions have been made.

By now maybe you have forgotten why we are here - but I have not, and hopefully you are starting to see it again. Why is it that I have ambivalent feelings about retirement when my job, the job of any ICE agent for that matter, has turned into one of the lousiest jokes in law enforcement! I want to go, heck I counted down my days until my first eligible retirement date for 6 years because of those problems I had with the one boss I mentioned above. Yet I still strove to do my best at my job. I kept on volunteering for temporary things like flying as a FAM, for Secret Service assignments, for assignments to near the southern border to investigate illegal aliens, and even for a temporary assignment to the FBI's JTTF (which wound up being a sham to get me into an immigration group that had virtually nothing to do with real JTTF work). Heck volunteering for that phony JTTF assignment had me do work in an Immigration group for over 3 years, and the only arrests I made in three years were all administrative, all BS as relative to anything that would matter. Then I got placed into yet another BS groups, my current assignment, that even my Assistant Special Agent in Charge admits to me is pure window dressing.

Yet now, now that I am eligible to retire, I keep looking for excuses not to go too soon - why is that? Sure I may want to wait a little while to get more money into my pension, heck I am still paying off my mortgage, my daughter's college bills, and I'll have to pay for my son's college too. But I don't know if that is the half of it. So, I have to wonder am I insane, or is it because I have a need to do something that I have not yet done that needs doing. Heck, maybe if that is what I am thinking, then I am nuts. No - I do not want to play the avenging 9/11 hero, but yes I should would like to get some type of really important work done again before I retire, instead of being relegated to the rubber gun squad of near to retirement dinosaur agents. I think I owe it to my country to retire after having given all that I could within reason job-wise, and the current job is just so much balderdash as to make me want to puke. I guess I just keep wishing to get back into something that has some merit to it, real honest to goodness merit, instead of retiring as a do nothing from a do little to nothing agency. Something tells me that ain't gonna happen, and I will just have to accept that what I have accomplished in my career is all that I will accomplish in it. If so, then so be it, it is just a hard fact to accept when I know it could have been better than that.

If I do accept it, I may retire a lot sooner than my wife thinks, heck I could get a job flipping burgers at Mickey D’s and it might be more important that what I do now. How sad, let me tell you, after 27 years plus of service to m7y country, how sad, especially considering the work that needs to be done; and not just by me but by all ICE agents.