Imagine a young Texas National Guard soldier in uniform driving a van north along Interstate 35 out of the border town of Laredo, Texas. He crosses a checkpoint with the help of another soldier on duty at the post. Thirty miles later, Border Patrol agents pull the van over and discover 24 illegal immigrants hiding in the back of the van.
Federal authorities say that's what happened last week. And when they dug deeper, they say, they discovered three soldiers operating an illegal immigrant smuggling ring. The Texas National Guard soldiers were arrested and charged with "conspiring to transport illegal aliens."
The details we're learning about the operation are disturbing. There are text messages between the soldiers to coordinate the movement of the illegal immigrants. There are promises of big cash payouts too. But there are many questions left unanswered. Were these soldiers part of a bigger operation? How did they locate the illegal immigrants that were being smuggled?
This story will get a lot of people talking. On one hand, you have many people who will say this is just an aberration; that this is simply a story about a few bad apples among thousands of soldiers that are helping protect the United States' southern border. On the other hand, some critics say they fear the corruption could become more widespread as larger numbers of soldiers and federal authorities are sent to defend the border. That's just a fraction of the opinions this story is sure to generate.
-- By Ed Lavandera, CNN Correspondent