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Despite vast amounts of evidence to the contrary, President Obama declared on “The Tonight Show” in front of all of America that “we don’t have a domestic spying program.” This president must think us fools.
A secret unit of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) is using data collected by intelligence agencies to make criminal cases against average Americans. A story from the Reuters news service indicates that the DEA has a unit called the Special Operations Division, or SOD. The purpose of the Special Operations Division is to funnel information from spy organizations like the NSA to law enforcement agencies.
Reuters reporters have obtained documents that show SOD agents routinely doctor documents in such a way as to cover up the real source of the information. The information is made to look like tips so data collected in ways that violate the Constitution can be used as evidence in criminal trials.
White Washing Illegally Obtained Evidence
The Washington Post has noted that at least some of the SOD data comes from the NSA. The NSA is the agency that Edward Snowden exposed as collecting vast amounts of data about telephone records. The NSA’s apologists have defended these efforts by claiming that the agency was fighting terrorism.
Stories from Reuters and The Washington Post indicate that most SOD operations are against common criminals such as drug dealers and gangsters, not terrorists. Reuters specifically noted that some operations involved the collection of data about American citizens—something the NSA is prohibited from doing by US law.
Reuters actually obtained a training document that shows how this works. The efforts are so well organized that the agencies involved conduct training in these techniques. Agents use a technique called “parallel construction,” which creates a cover story to mask the true origin of data. Ex-DEA agent Finn Selander compared the tactic to money laundering, in which illegal cash is turned into clean currency.
In other words, the federal government has a well-organized and practiced technique for white washing illegally and unconstitutionally obtained evidence. Data obtained through illegal NSA surveillance programs can be used against American citizens in a court of law. A typical method is to use the information to get a warrant for a wiretap.
A Massive Database of Information
The usual method used is to claim the information came from a tip from an informant. The informant is never revealed, but federal agents use it to get warrants that can be used to collect more evidence. A federal prosecutor admitted to learning about SOD after a DEA agent lied to him about an imaginary informant.
Among other things, SOD maintains a massive database of information about criminal activities, called DICE. DICE can be accessed by law enforcement throughout the US and Canada. Reuters reports that DICE contains information intercepted by the NSA. It also contains information collected by foreign intelligence agencies such as the British GCHQ, which has a surveillance operation that rivals the NSA’s. Reuters discovered that information from such agencies is routinely forwarded to SOD.
What’s really bothersome is that the information in DICE is not always accurate. Current and former federal agents told Reuters that about 40% of the data in DICE is inaccurate. That means that data falsely accusing US citizens of crimes could be on file in DICE and used to make cases against them.
Not Clear if Other Federal Agencies Participating
A big worry is that it is not clear what other federal agencies have access to information from SOD and DICE. The FBI, Secret Service, Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms, the IRS, and ICE are just a few of the federal agencies that have access. It is also safe to assume that the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) have access to it as well.
This is particularly troublesome because most of the information is used in cases that have nothing to do with terrorism or national security. That includes everyday crimes like drug dealing or money laundering, and some actions not all Americans view as criminal. It could also include gun-related charges and crimes.
Another danger is that SOD could be monitoring legal activities in an attempt to identify criminal behavior, say monitoring gun buyers to see if guns are being resold to criminals or shipped outside the US illegally. It could also be monitoring normal banking transactions in an attempt to detect tax evasion and money laundering.
There’s also the possibility that other secret databases exist. If the DEA has a SOD and a DICE, do the IRS, FBI, and Secret Service as well? These databases could also receive information from the NSA and transmit it to agents to be used against average Americans.
Unconstitutional and Dangerous
These revelations indicate a pattern of behavior on the part of federal law enforcement and intelligent agencies that is illegal, unconstitutional, and dangerous. The federal government is using information obtained in direct defiance of the Fourth Amendment to the US Constitution’s ban on unreasonable searches and seizures.
Worse, a number of federal agencies have a policy of deliberately doing so and well-designed mechanisms for doing an end run around the Constitution. Such activities might be acceptable if they were simply directed against real threats to national security, such as terrorism. Yet it is clear that they go far beyond that.
Data, including the metadata Edward Snowden warned us about, has been used to build criminal cases. The techniques used in the war on terror are also used in the war on drugs. It isn’t hard to imagine them being used against activities viewed as a threat, such as tax evasion and illegal guns.
The purpose of the National Security Agency is to monitor foreign threats against the United States, not to help law enforcement spy on citizens. Yet that is exactly what it is doing, and federal law enforcement agencies like the DEA have programs of their own.
It is time for a proper investigation into these surveillance programs. It is clear that they are being abused and that Americans’ privacy is being violated. It’s also obvious that a culture of disregard and contempt for the Constitution and the values it is based upon exists in our federal government.
We are living in a surveillance society in which civil liberties and the Constitution mean little to those who are supposed to protect them. The culture of secrecy in law enforcement and intelligence needs to be ended now because it has become a threat to our basic freedoms.