ROAD BUZZ: Feds remain silent on raid of Swift driving school

| 3/6/2008

Thursday, March 6, 2008 – More than a week after nine federal and state agencies descended on a Swift Transportation truck driving school near Memphis, TN, not a single one of the agencies has gone public with the reason behind the raid.

Law enforcement officials confirmed a state-operated licensing center that’s on the Swift property near Memphis was searched on Feb. 25, and that the state has stopped issuing CDLs at the center until the investigation is complete.

Involved in the raids headed by the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force were the U.S. Department of Transportation Office of Inspector General; Secret Service; Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement; U.S. Marshals Service; Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration; and Tennessee Highway Patrol and the Tennessee Department of Safety.

No arrests have been made.

But the Memphis ABC Newsaffiliate reported that documents were seized and that the investigation centers on the illegal issuance of commercial driver’s licenses.

Two days after the raid the Tennessee Department of Safety issued a media advisory that confirmed the agency was cooperating with the FBI in an on-going investigation of Swift Transportation in Memphis.

The advisory said the agency had suspended the school’s ability to issue CDLs pending the investigation.

Other than the original announcement made by the Tennessee Department of Safety, no agencies have commented on the raid.

Rumors run rampant
The deafening silence has the trucking industry rumor mill in overdrive. While speculation ranges from the reasonable to the surreal, one fact still remains – nine agencies were officially involved in the raid.

OOIDA Senior Security Advisor Don L. Rondeau told Land Line that the number of agencies involved could mean a number of things.

Rondeau, who is currently the vice president of homeland security and emergency preparedness for Alion Science and Technology, advises the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association on matters concerning homeland security as it relates to the nation’s highways.

He has served as a consultant for a variety of agencies and organizations on national security matters during his career. He is also the author of “Red Teaming: The Don L. Rondeau Method,” which chronicles his creation of an anti-terrorism development methodology to identify potential terrorist tactics and targets.

“These types of CDL issues, if it is in fact a CDL fraud issue, involve local officials,” Rondeau said. “I have made a few calls to friends in the fed and to Swift directly.”

Based on those calls, a couple of things may be happening, Rondeau speculated.

Generally CDL fraud investigations are handled at the local level and then the local officials reach out to federal officials to evaluate if there were any of the tell-tale signs of terrorist activity or operation, he explained.

“People now have a heightened sensitivity to CDLs and other document-type ID cards. There is a sensitivity to any type of operation that could expose the country to a bad guy getting an ID that would give him or her access to conduct any type of terrorist activity,” Rondeau said. “That’s not specific to CDLs, but specific to any and all to any types of official identification.”

That way of thinking may have agencies at a variety of enforcement levels working together on an investigation.

“We could be seeing the beginning of an effort to engage those agencies who might be involved in a multi-jurisdictional ring, even a drug trafficking right or some sort of illegal immigration ring, positioning them to make a call up front, immediately and in a collaborative fashion,” Rondeau said.

Once the investigation is sorted out, Rondeau said it could be very likely that some agencies peel off and let other agencies handle the investigation.

That multi-jurisdictional cooperation is something that Rondeau has been a huge advocate of in the past. If that is the case in the Swift raid, he said, that is a very positive step forward in protecting national security.

Another possible scenario isn’t quite a rosy as a bunch of law enforcement agencies getting along.

“I talked to people inside federal agencies who officially connect to the highway community who are just as in the dark as those in the highway community,” Rondeau said.

“Whatever is happening is being kept under tight guard and those who don’t have an official need to know are not seemingly being kept in the loop. Which, I will tell you this, that speaks to that to be the potential to be a little bit more than what I would consider to be run of the mill CDL fraud.”

Rondeau said because the agencies are so tight-lipped about the situation and it involves multiple agencies that are not all focused on transportation security concerns, without question, there is the potential for this to be far more than the traditional CDL fraud.

One other grim scenario Rondeau wanted to remind truckers of: it is the political season. Sometimes enforcement blitzes happen as a sheer result of politics at work.

“I certainly hope that is not the case here,” he said.

A Swift official emphasized to Rondeau the same thing that company officials said in a press release issued the day of the raid – that Swift itself was not the target of the raid.

Rondeau said that could very well be possible. He speculated that the investigation could be targeting illegal activity of employees of the school who were operating without the knowledge of officials within Swift.

– By Jami Jones, senior editor