<i>"The Name of Our Country is América" - Simon Bolivar</i> The Narco News Bulletin<br><small>Reporting on the War on Drugs and Democracy from Latin America
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U.S. Customs whistleblower exposes dangerous freight

Arms smuggling through U.S. rail system linked to China


By Bill Conroy
Special to The Narco News Bulletin

March 8, 2004

Former senior U.S. Customs inspector John B. Conroy has quite a story to tell. That story apparently caught the attention of his superiors at Customs, who, Conroy claims, boxed him into a forced retirement in the fall of 1999.

Conroy recently contacted me in relation to the book being published currently by Narco News—Borderline Security. He sent me an e-mail blowing the whistle on a series of alleged corrupt activities at Customs’ operations in Newark, N.J. I also talked to Conroy (no relation to me) by phone for a couple of hours.

“I think he (John Conroy) is a very reputable person,” says Cathy Harris, a former Customs inspector who in the late 1990s blew the whistle on the agency’s practice of racially profiling African American airline passengers. “He is one of the ones that have been abused by Customs….”

So what did Conroy do to incur the wrath of the brass at Customs? Well, for starters, in the early 1990s, he alleges he made a seizure of weapons being shipped by railcar from the West Coast to Newark.

The weapons “RPKs, selective fire AKMs, 1.5 million rounds of ammo” were being shipped through a front company, Conroy alleges. The weapons, he adds, were in three containers that were to be offloaded from the train onto semi-trucks.

“There were over a thousand automatic weapons, spare clips and a million and a half rounds, enough to equip a full battalion, and still have some left over,” Conroy says.

Where were the weapons headed? According to Conroy, the manifest listed a country in the Caribbean (not Cuba), but the business address for the shipment was in Harlem. What made the situation even stranger, Conroy adds, is that within a week of his seizure, another seizure of munitions being shipped via rail was made on the West Coast. In that case, the weapons were headed for Oakland, Calif.

What’s the connection? “These are two areas with … a lot of gang activity,” Conroy explains, adding that there were enough munitions on those trains to “start your own war.”

And who was shipping this deadly stealth cargo? The front company was traced back to the son-in-law of a powerful Chinese official, Conroy claims.

“When we notified HQ, the principals vanished back to China,” Conroy says. Then the whole case disappeared into a black hole, he adds.

As fantastic as Conroy’s story sounds, there is someone who actually vouches for its credibility.

Lok Thye Lau is a former FBI agent who drew national attention after revealing he spied on China in the late 1980s and early 1990s for the Bureau.

Although Lau is prohibited from discussing the specifics of his spying mission due to national security concerns, his assignment did provide him with the expertise to brief CIA agents on the topics of “Chinese alien smuggling, Asian organized crime and Asian cultural issues in general,” according to government documents.

Lau says he is familiar with the front company behind the weapons shipments discovered by Conroy. He adds that most of the weapons likely found their way to another country.

“The Chinese are very adept at subterfuge,” he explains. “It might look better if the weapons were coming out of the United States as opposed to coming directly from China.”

Who knows? But clearly the operative word in all of this corruption is “subterfuge.”

Conroy blew the whistle on a host of other abuses by Customs officials at Newark, including racial profiling, drug dealing and sheer incompetence.

In one case, Conroy claims two inspectors were using Customs computer system “to target and rob drug dealers in New York City with a Dominican associate to help out and translate.”

In another case, he says two Customs supervisors put a bag suspected of containing a bomb through the airport X-ray machine.

“They (the supervisors) did this with some 1,200 people on the floor at the international arrival terminal at Newark International Airport,” Conroy alleges.

Conroy says he was eventually forced to retire after being put “back on the piers to haul cargo, intentionally, I believe, to injure me, and force my retirement, as I had a known cervical spine injury (fractures),” he contends.

So, in September 1999, Conroy was out of a job. Since then, he says he did “contact Senator Grassley’s office concerning whistleblowing reprisal; he professes an interest in it, but I got the run around by staffers.”

“I have hired a local civil rights attorney for my six-to-nine year journey with EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) and Customs, but I do not anticipate any success,” Conroy adds. “There is simply too much corruption and temptation for some people, with all the dope and money just kind of lying around.

“So much for the ‘War on Drugs,’ in the enchanted land of New Jersey.”

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The Narco News Bulletin: Reporting on the Drug War and Democracy from Latin America