The Aldrich Alert
Gary Aldrich

A Publication of the Patrick Henry Center for Individual Liberty

Dangero-US Custom

by Gary Aldrich - Volume 1, Issue 46
November 4, 2001

This article ran exclusively at on Thursday, November 1, 2001.

As parents and children fanned out to walk neighborhoods on Halloween night, a real danger lurks in rail yards in virtually any town or major city accessible to railroad traffic.

Parents may be worried about unwanted substances in candy, but whatís really scary is what may be parked a couple hundred yards away from their childrenís public school, according to one courageous whistle blower who had the guts to come forward.

Thousands of pressurized rail cars cross U.S. borders daily, and U.S. Customs is doing virtually nothing to inspect them, making each one a handy vehicle for contraband distribution. Worse, deadly chemicals available to any terrorist with phony identification and a credit card can be purchased in Mexico, then moved around the United States to be parked indefinitely at thousands of rental rail spurs. Rail cars can even be moved back and forth with a laptop computer, to be placed in key areas for later illegal drug off-loading, or worse.

Fill one of these pressure tanks with diesel fuel oil and fertilizer, and what do you have? The worldís largest pipe bomb. Imagine that if one Ryder rental truck-bomb in Oklahoma City destroyed half of a giant federal office building, what could a huge rail tanker filled with poison gas or explosives do to your average city?

Are these the concerns of hysterical citizens looking under every bed for a post-September 11 bogeyman? Hardly. U.S. Customsí federal agents have been warning about this danger for years, without any real action to stop it taken by U.S. Customs managers. When several U.S. Customs agents brought their concerns to the local FBI office in California, fearing their own agency had been compromised, nothing happened, they claim. Finally, frustrated by inaction and fear, they went public. Some have testified in front of the U.S. Senate, but still there is no substantive action to address this real danger.

Former U.S. Customs federal agent Darlene Fitzgerald-Catalan recently contacted my foundation - The Patrick Henry Center - because she had heard that I tried to warn others about national security dangers, but had also hit a brick-wall when agency bureaucrats simply did not want to listen. She thought we could help.

Darlene is a classic whistle blower. The difference is that Fitzgerald-Catalan and six other federal agent associates, and a U.S. prosecutor walked out en masse in 1999, but their brave mutiny, complete with staged public protests, netted them nothing but scorn and retribution from U.S. Customs managers.

Fitzgerald-Catalan cannot prove that Customs managers were on the take. In fact, she can recite many examples of agent managers who reeked of incompetence. But, U.S. Customs managersí inability to manage agents and investigations is one thing. When Fitzgerald-Catalan tried to conduct pressurized rail car investigations to determine the extent of contraband coming into the United States from a corrupt rail yard in Mexico, her investigations were shut down by worried and strangely acting managers. When other agents attempted to help her, they were punished severely and subjected to endless administrative probes, designed to get them to resign or retire.

Every time a federal agent exhibited interest in conducting a serious probe of rail car smuggling, he or she found themselves on the wrong end of U.S. Customsí fury. They were followed and subjected to false allegations designed to destroy their careers. They even found "hidden" video surveillance cameras aimed at their personal residences which they believe were meant to be seen, so as to intimate them into leaving the rail car investigation alone.

Did they have grounds to suspect that pressurized cars were being used to haul illegal drugs or worse? Not only did they find cars filled with illegal drugs, but they had railroad detectives pointing out numerous cars that by their very weight records - which made each car appear empty - were actually filled with mysterious material weighing tons. Why would anybody pay to have "empty" cars moved about the United States? Of course nobody would, and that is why the railroad detectives and honest U.S. Customs agents knew something was up!

Why did Fitzgerald-Catalanís managers shut down her investigation and punish anybody who tried to help her, or who came to her defense when Customs internal affairs agents set out to ruin her? In an interview in Boston recently, she told me that at first she believed that Customs managers were just being "good old boys" and may have been jealous of her high-performance investigations. But when a more sinister pattern of punishment and harassment began, it was obvious to her that more was going on than the mere damage to some lesser investigatorsí egos.

"Besides," Fitzgerald-Catalan explained, "It didnít matter what the other agents did or didnít do in their jobs. Those deemed to be in favor with management and who went along with the corruption were rewarded with cash incentives and favorable notes in their personnel files. Those who rocked the boat and questioned mysterious decisions by management to back off of certain investigations - like pressurized railroad cars - were rewarded with scorn, punishment and endless internal affairs investigations."

Darlene Fitzgerald-Catalan has written a book describing the incredible events leading up to her voluntary resignation in 1999. Then, she worried about out of control drug trafficking, with pressurized rail cars as the vehicle. Today, Fitzgerald-Catalan is glad she brought her concerns to the public in her book, U.S. Customs - Badge of Dishonor, because she and her former U.S. federal agent associates understand the real potential for disaster.

Fitzgerald-Catalan stated, "When a federal agency tasked with the protection of U.S. citizenís interests is too incompetent or too corrupted to do the job, something needs to be done."