The Making Of A Mole, Jessica Weisberg. BuzzFeed, 13 June 2013.
Homeland Security agent Jovana Deas was torn between a burgeoning career in federal law enforcement and a family with ties to a notorious Mexican drug cartel. Was her betrayal of the agency a failure of character or of a system she should have never been part of in the first place?
There’s a fence; there are motion detectors buried in the ground; there are agents operating reconnaissance drones and protecting the border from every angle. “They can no longer go around us, below us, over us, because we’re in the water, we’re in the air,” said David V. Aguilar, Deputy Commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection during a 2012 congressional hearing. “Now they come at us directly towards our employees trying to corrupt us.” In this way, the strategies of the drug war resemble that of the Cold War, with each side heavily dependent on undercover informants.

“I would say at least 90% of everything we did relied on informants,” said Terry Kirkpatrick, a retired customs agent from Nogales. Informants are paid well. He recalled that those who assist with a drug seizure earn $5 per confiscated pound of marijuana and $15 per pound of cocaine; the best informants can make over a million dollars in a year.

The agency needs officers who are capable of recruiting informants. With this in mind, it’s not clear whether applicants with relatives in the drug industry should immediately fail the background check or be moved to the top of the pile. In the past, customs refused to station an agent within 500 miles of his or her hometown. The possibility of being compromised, by a childhood friend or a cousin, was just too great. In recent years, this policy has been discontinued. The risks of hiring local agents are apparent, but when it comes to gathering intelligence, there are many potential rewards as well.