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Border Patrol’s watchdog returns, but does he have new tricks?

The former top internal watchdog at U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the nation's largest law enforcement agency, has returned to his former post six months after resigning to take a private security job.

Matthew Klein, who resigned as a Customs and Border Protection assistant commissioner in December 2016 after 18 months on the job, is taking over the office of professional responsibility, an agency spokesman confirmed. Since January, Klein had consulted for the private security and investigations firm Kroll, but has left that position, a company spokeswoman said.

At a time when the Trump administration continues to purge officials appointed by President Barack Obama, the rehiring of Klein is a surprise twist. Klein will be in charge of watchdogging the agency as President Donald Trump pushes for another massive expansion of the U.S. Border Patrol, which is part of Customs and Border Protection. Trump has called for adding 5,000 Border Patrol agents, 500 of which are included in the 2018 budget proposal.

Customs and Border Protection's ranks swelled a decade ago as a hiring push launched by President George W. Bush more than doubled the size of the Border Patrol. Since then, the agency has been plagued by corruption, other misconduct and allegations of excessive use of force, including the killing of more than four dozen people since 2010 and nearly 200 agents arrested or convicted of corruption-related charges.

The agency made strides in transparency and promoted accountability by changing policy to limit agents' use of deadly force.

The agency also created a national review board to examine agent-involved shootings and other violent confrontations. Internal affairs agents now have the authority to investigate crimes and not just administrative violations, empowering the watchdog's office.

Yet, during Klein's time, not a single deadly incident was deemed inappropriate or unjustified, raising concerns from civil rights advocates and other government accountability groups. A Homeland Security advisory panel found that his office was woefully understaffed and lacked resources to ferret out corruption and other misconduct.

Gil Kerlikowske, the agency's commissioner under Obama who hired Klein, said in an email that the move was good for the agency.

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"When you spend your career in government the private sector can be something you want but it is not for everyone," Kerlikowske wrote. "He left CBP with a good reputation so I am sure he was welcomed back."

Klein did not respond to an email asking for comment. Kevin McAleenan, Custom and Border Protection's acting commissioner, wrote in an internal memo that Klein had recently said he wanted to rejoin the agency.

Klein spent much of his career with the Metropolitan Police Department in Washington, D.C., overseeing its internal affairs division, recruitment and background investigations. He was tapped to take over a similar role at Customs and Border Protection after several shake-ups in its internal affairs office during Kerlikowske's tenure.

Klein took over from Mark Morgan, a top FBI agent who temporarily ran the office after vocal critic James Tomsheck was removed from the post. Kerlikowske later appointed Morgan as the first outsider to run the Border Patrol, but the Trump administration dismissed him soon after taking office in late January.

TucsonSentinel.com's original reporting and curation of border and immigration news is generously supported in part by a grant from the Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation.

Reprinted by permission of The Center for Investigative Reporting.

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CBP

Matthew Klein, the head of internal affairs for Customs and Border Protection.