More Surveillance Abuse Exposed! Special DEA Unit Is Spying On Americans And Covering It Up
Reuters is reporting that a secret U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration branch has been collecting information from “intelligence intercepts, wiretaps, informants and a massive database of telephone records” and disseminating the data to authorities across the nation to “help them launch criminal investigations of Americans.”
In this case, the Americans who are being subjected to these investigations are suspected drug dealers.
The unit of the DEA that is conducting the surveillance is known as the Special Operations Division (“SOD”) and is made up of a partnership of numerous government agencies including the NSA, CIA, FBI, IRS and the Department of Homeland Security.
While there are suggestions that elements of the program may be legal, there is obvious concern on the part of those running the program—a concern that has not prevented them from going ahead with the collecting and using of covertly gathered data—that the surveillance effort may not be entirely kosher. We know this to be true because, according to documents reviewed by Reuters, DEA agents are specifically instructed never to reveal nor discuss the existence and utilization of SOD provided data and to further “omit the SOD’s involvement from investigative reports, affidavits, discussions with prosecutors and courtroom testimony. Agents are instructed to then use ‘normal investigative techniques to recreate the information provided by SOD.’”
The last line of the directive is particularly disturbing
By instructing agents to use “normal investigative techniques to recreate the information provided by SOD”, law enforcement is being instructed to flat out lie when disclosing how they came across the tips or other information provided by SOD leading to an arrest. These agents are directed to give substance to the lie by fabricating a false source or method utilized to gain information leading to an arrest.
In law enforcement parlance, it is called “parallel construction.”
Accordingly to a former federal agent, the SOD ‘tip’ system works as follows:
“You’d be told only, ‘Be at a certain truck stop at a certain time and look for a certain vehicle.’ And so we’d alert the state police to find an excuse to stop that vehicle, and then have a drug dog search it.”
When the SOD tip leads to an arrest, the agents then pretend that the drug bust was the surprise result of pulling the vehicle over as a routine traffic stop.
So secretive is the program, SOD requires that agents lie to the judges, prosecuting attorneys and defense attorneys involved in a trial of a defendant busted as a result of SOD surveillance—a complete and clear violation of every American’s right to due process, even when that American is a low-life drug dealer.
Every criminal defendant is entitled to the legitimate data and facts surrounding their arrest so that their counsel can examine the propriety of the arrest and attack procedures that may be improper and illegal under the law in defense of their client. When sensitive, classified data is involved in such a case (data possibly collected in surveillance of a foreign national that reveals incriminating evidence involving an American), it is the prerogative of the judge to decide what should and should not be admitted into evidence.
As for the prosecutors, not everyone is enamored with the idea of such deceit, even if it produces convictions. Reports Reuters:
One current federal prosecutor learned how agents were using SOD tips after a drug agent misled him, the prosecutor told Reuters. In a Florida drug case he was handling, the prosecutor said, a DEA agent told him the investigation of a U.S. citizen began with a tip from an informant. When the prosecutor pressed for more information, he said, a DEA supervisor intervened and revealed that the tip had actually come through the SOD and from an NSA intercept.
“I was pissed,” the prosecutor said. “Lying about where the information came from is a bad start if you’re trying to comply with the law because it can lead to all kinds of problems with discovery and candor to the court.” The prosecutor never filed charges in the case because he lost confidence in the investigation, he said.
Now, before you get carried away with this being some further proof of the Obama Justice Department’s (the DOJ oversees the activities of the DEA) desire to infringe upon the privacy rights of Americans, you should know that the program has been active since 1994. Thus, while one could legitimately criticize the Obama Administration for continuing the program, laying it all at the feet of the current administration would simply be wrong.
The disclosure of the SOD program is upsetting a great many legal and constitutional experts throughout the nation. Speaking to Reuters, Harvard Law Professor, Nancy Gertner—who also spent seventeen years on the bench as a federal judge—said,
“I have never heard of anything like this at all. It is one thing to create special rules for national security. Ordinary crime is entirely different. It sounds like they are phonying up investigations.”
Other constitutional and legal experts point out that the program is more disturbing than the recent NSA disclosures involving the collection of phone metadata as the NSA effort is geared towards catching terrorists while the DEA program is targeting common criminals who, as Americans, are entitled to their constitutional protections no matter what their alleged crimes.
At this point, it seems unrealistic not to presume that other agencies have not joined the party and gone into the business of using unconstitutional surveillance data to make their lives easier when it comes to doing their respective jobs, despite the fact that the United States has always placed constitutional protections above the comfort and success rates of various government agencies when it comes to busting bad guys.
It is now up to us to insure that these critical protections continue to exist.
With this in mind, I’d respectfully offer up a suggestion to President Obama who is finding it near impossible to get much else done as he faces an early lame duck scenario—
Why not become the President who used your second term to clean up surveillance abuses in America and, by so doing, restores the protections of the Constitution to all Americans? There are worse legacies one could accomplish—particularly when considering that President Obama comes to the job having once been a Constitutional law professor.
I’m not suggesting ending legal surveillance programs designed to protect Americans from foreign attacks or doing away with legitimate surveillance efforts that result from the process of obtaining a judicial warrant. I’m simply saying that, even in the case of drug dealers, Americans are entitled to a level of constitutional protection and that ignoring these constitutional rights in the name of getting drug dealers off the street may be gratifying in the short term but fatal to our way of government in the long run.
I can think of no nobler a goal for any president facing the harsh realities of getting things done in their second term.
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