EL PASO, Texas - Comments made about border security by former drug czar, retired general Barry McCaffrey, at a U.S. House subcommittee Friday caught the attention of U.S. Rep. Silvestre Reyes, D-El Paso.
"I really believe that it had a political purpose," said Reyes.
McCaffrey testified that he participated in a seminar-style meeting in El Paso within the last 18 months alongside "100 people" from El Paso and Mexico. The topic was the threat of drug cartel-connected criminals operating in Texas.
"People from both sides of the border said they feel intimidated and a senior police official in the city of El Paso, in response to a question from a Mexican national, said, 'If these people come across the border, I will not be able to protect you,'" McCaffrey testified.
Reyes said the comment may have been misleading. "I think it's being misinterpreted. (McCaffrey) was in a meeting with people who have moved to El Paso from Juarez and apparently there was someone there who asked if (U.S. law enforcement) could provide some special protection for them like bodyguards and that's what he was referring to. It wasn't a case of law enforcement being intimidated by cartels, it's a question of resources," said Reyes.
ABC-7 reached out to a number of law enforcement agencies to get their take on McCaffrey's comments.
A spokeswoman for the Texas Department of Safety said, "DPS is working every day to protect and serve the public. We have no further information to comment on McCaffrey's statements."
The El Paso Police Department issued the following statement: "The El Paso Police Department has always been, and remains, confident in its ability to protect the citizens of El Paso. The statements made earlier today that refer to a senior El Paso police official stating they would not be able to protect citizens if gunmen came across the border are not reflective of any comments made by members of the El Paso Police Department."
From El Paso Sheriff Richard Wiles: "I do not recall being a participant in the meeting to which Gen. McAffrey makes reference. I respectfully, but strongly disagree with the General?s quoted comments. Speaking for myself and the Sheriff?s Office, and our assessment of the issues he mentioned, I am very confident that law enforcement generally is capable and prepared to protect this community against any possible spillover from Juarez. Certainly, there are instances where a crime is committed and law enforcement responds and investigates. This office has successfully investigated a couple of such instances with ties to Juarez and our investigations were followed by trials resulting in convictions. We must not lose sight of the significant presence of law enforcement in our community in the form of federal, state, and local agencies. Our citizens should feel secure and comfortable in our collective abilities to protect them."
As for Reyes, he also called into question the accuracy of a report co-authored by McCaffrey. The report on Texas border security was requested by the Texas Department of Agriculture and the Texas Department of Public Safety.
"The governor (Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry) commissioned the report, paid $80,000 for it," said Reyes.
The pages of the report paint a contrastingly bleak and bright picture of the borderland. In one part, praising the "success of border operations by Texas Rangers" and in another part, claiming that "living and conducting business in a Texas border county is tantamount to living in a war zone."
"That's over the top," said Reyes. "That's why I believe the report is a product to bolster the governor's case of being tough on law enforcement."
During his testimony, however, McCaffrey emphasized he was not affiliated with any political party and that the issues he was testifying on were non-partisan. ABC-7 reached out to McCaffrey's media team to address some of the concerns raised over the retired general's report, but McCaffrey's team did not respond by the time this story aired.