DEA is using NSA data, then lying about it

From the part of the news world that doesn’t participate in The Emperor’s Not Naked News Service (ENN) — in this case, from Reuters — comes a story of how NSA data is funneled into the DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration) for use in domestic and international drug cases.

This includes, apparently, fortuitously timed traffic stops of suspected dealers — low-enders, in other words, as well as anyone falsely scooped up in local raids. No evidence of the latter has emerged, yet, but we sure have evidence of the process and data-path.

This story isn’t just about the NSA and DEA, though. It’s about all of the agencies that feed data to the DEA, and after the DEA uses it for its own purposes, all of the places this data then goes.

There’s a funnel in, a collection point (database), and a funnel out. There’s also systemic lying to conceal the data and the process itself.

Interested? Read on; it’s fascinating. (For more on the NSA, click here. My own bottom line, our love affair with prosecutors and punishers is here.)

Who gives data to the DEA?

The DEA has a unit within it, called Special Operations Division (SOD), that is a distribution point for data generated by other agencies. The excellent John Shiffman and Kristina Cooke, writing for Reuters (my emphasis everywhere):

A secretive U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration unit is funneling information from intelligence intercepts, wiretaps, informants and a massive database of telephone records to authorities across the nation to help them launch criminal investigations of Americans.

… The unit of the DEA that distributes the information is called the Special Operations Division, or SOD. Two dozen partner agencies comprise the unit, including the FBI, CIA, NSA, Internal Revenue Service and the Department of Homeland Security. It was created in 1994 to combat Latin American drug cartels and has grown from several dozen employees to several hundred.

So start with that picture. Data pours into the DEA from:

google-dont-be-evil shirt▪ FBI
▪ CIA
▪ NSA (our friends Google and Apple again)
▪ IRS (meaning all your financial data)
▪ Homeland Security
▪ At least 19 other agencies

It then goes into a database called DICE, where it is used by the DEA and anyone else the DEA gives access to it.

Who can use the DEA-collected data?

So “two dozen” federal agencies feed data into the DEA. Who gets that data? Certainly it’s used internally, as part of the DEA’s direct work. But there’s also this, via Reuters again:

Today, the SOD offers at least three services to federal, state and local law enforcement agents: coordinating international investigations such as the Bout case; distributing tips from overseas NSA intercepts, informants, foreign law enforcement partners and domestic wiretaps; and circulating tips from a massive database known as DICE.

The DICE database contains about 1 billion records, the senior DEA officials said. The majority of the records consist of phone log and Internet data gathered legally by the DEA through subpoenas, arrests and search warrants nationwide. Records are kept for about a year and then purged, the DEA officials said.

About 10,000 federal, state and local law enforcement agents have access to the DICE database, records show.

So who is serviced by SOD’s services? In addition to the DEA itself:

“About 10,000 federal, state and local law enforcement agents” [and all of their friends]

In other words, cop friends of the DEA, plus all of their cop friends, can ask DICE any question they want. (“Hey Fred, you’re in the Drug Unit. Can you look up … ?”) So cops and their friends.

Corrupt cops, of course (yes, they do exist), could spread DICE data even wider than that — which now means, cops and all of their non-cop friends as well. A rather large circle, don’t you think? I suspect some cops have friends with non-cop axes to grind, and ways to thank cops who grind them. Surely that number is not zero, right?

By the way, there’s a section in the Reuters article that declares the DICE database to be “an amazing tool,” then dutifully reports that the government reports that the government is obeying all of the rules, even those that have been proven not to exist. Thought you should know.

How does DEA abuse this database? By lying about its tips and sourcing to judges, prosecutors and defense attorneys

Let’s assume that collecting All Data in the name of “national security” is useful and ethical. How does the DEA then use it?

Part of the way it’s used is to generate tips and leads. (“There’s a hand-off going down at the warehouse on 9th. The guy with the dope drives a rusted-out light blue Focus, license 999 9999.”) The DEA agent, or cop friends of the DEA agent, can then stage a traffic stop (say) of said vehicle, a luckily timed pull-over and trunk-and-undercarriage search. (“Lookee here, Fred. I think we stumbled onto something. Good thing we stopped this guy.”)

Notice that in my pretend dialog above, the DEA source of the tip is hidden. This is actually standard practice, not just with the DEA-generated data, but in cop circles in general. Reuters again:

A former federal agent in the northeastern United States who received such tips from SOD described the process. “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,” the agent said. …

After an arrest was made, agents then pretended that their investigation began with the traffic stop, not with the SOD tip, the former agent said. The training document reviewed by Reuters refers to this process as “parallel construction.” … “Parallel construction is a law enforcement technique we use every day,” one official said. “It’s decades old, a bedrock concept.”

Got that? DEA gets data from almost everywhere, creates a tip database, passes the tips (or tips come out via third-party queries), and once an arrest is made, the source of the tip is hidden as a matter of course. Why? Because hiding the source of tips is always done.

Yves Smith, writing about this at Naked Capitalism:

In a weird but more disturbing analogue to chain of title abuses, where banks would forge signatures and fabricate documents to remedy the failure to transfer assets properly to securitization trusts, Reuters reported today that the Drug Enforcement Agency would doctor up where it got evidence from so it could use it in court. Now why would the DEA bother to go to all that trouble? Chorus: Because if a decent defense lawyer found out where it came from, it would in most cases be inadmissible.

Of course, Reuters does not know that for a fact, so it can’t say that. But anyone with an operating brain cell can see through this practice.

Do you have an operating brain cell? The writers at Reuters are hoping you do. This is an excellent and exclusive (and explosive) article, but not everything can be said, and some things that aren’t likely true must be said (the government’s assertion of the government’s always-innocence, noted above). That doesn’t mean you can’t connect the remaining unconnected dots. Go ahead; connect.

Where are the holes in these disclosures?

Yves has cleverly found several more holes in these disclosures. For example, reread the two quoted paragraphs above that start “Today, the SOD offers at least three services …”. Smith again:

Do you notice all the caveats? “The SOD offers at least three services”…”the majority of the records consist of phone log and Internet data gathered legally…” So not only has Reuters uncovered that international information, which was collected by God only knows what means, is being used domestically, but the article tacitly admits that only a “majority” or the information in a ginormous database was gathered permissibly.

See? More dots connected, and all without guessing. According to the article itself, at least some of the data was gathered illegally, and there are likely more services — perhaps many more — offered by DEA to friends of DEA, and all of their friends.

Bottom line

Yves Smith has a great bottom line:

It was bad enough when we thought we knew about America’s star chambers, such as Obama’s position that he could kill any “suspected terrorist” … Now we learn of even more widespread and disturbing domestic practices. And this is only the part we’ve been permitted to see. Just imagine what else goes on.

I too have a takeway — as usual, a view from 10,000 feet above the American emotional landscape.

We long ago became a prosecutorial nation, a nation of punishers. Not all of us, but enough to swamp the rest. As a nation, we love us our cops, our prosecutors, our hanging judges. We love us our Abu Graibs and Gitmo force-feeds and Bradley Mannings chained to the wall. Dirty Harry and Death Wish Architect (the Charles Bronson character) are our heroes and protectors. This is everywhere, in low culture and high — watch Judge Judy sometime, or think of the Jerry Springer show. The purveyors of punishment are our gods, our daddies, our agents.

We identify their abuses with our balls and other gonadal parts. In a complex and perverse way, they make our child parts feel falsely and vicariously strong, and at the same time, make our frightened baby parts feel protected and confirmed in the rightness of their fear. It cements us to our fear. Adoring these men and women, we will never grow up, never be strong, never be self-reliant, despite the Orwellian self-reliance fetish-talk that washes through these circles.

The part of this nation that needs all this “security” and “protection” is the least adult, least strong, most frightened daddy-seeking population I’ve ever encountered. It’s getting what it wants, but it’s creating (has created) a world that’s unlivable by those who don’t share its determined infantilism.

Ultimately, even they won’t want what they’ve created. After all, the unstoppable predator that eats their enemies will soon turn elsewhere for food. Sons and daughters of Texas, that’s your sister’s vagina they’re groping; your mother’s and grandmother’s too. Not mine nor any of my friends’. The rest of us will avoid you every chance we can. You’re the ones stuck at home, in the world of your fear come back at you.

GP

To follow or send links: @Gaius_Publius


Gaius Publius is a professional writer living on the West Coast of the United States. Click here for more. Follow him on Twitter @Gaius_Publius and Facebook.

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  • HelenRainier

    Your insult is duly noted, cretin.

  • mookie

    yes, semper vigilans— great. but we’re nowhere near living in a fucking “police state” yet. ever travel? yeah why don’t you go visit a _real_ police state and report back- if they let you enter/leave, you fatuous twiff.

  • ronbo

    I worry less about personal tyranny than political tyranny. It’s easy to get dirt on or build a prima facie smear campaign on a politician. The politician might be more than willing to assist the person holding the data to keep information out of the public eye.

    Political Blackmail may be a big part of how we got into this situation. That Patriot Act was passed and affirmed quite quickly – not one politician had read it cover to cover.

  • gratuitous

    So one is tyrannized only if the tyranny has landed on that person’s head? Ingenious! Because once someone’s been run through the system and tossed in jail for their heinous crime – whatever it may have been – they really don’t have any credibility to complain about an unlawful search and seizure. That is, in most people’s minds. I refer you to GP’s “Bottom Line” finish to this post.

    Even someone who has been totally railroaded will face an uphill battle unless he or she is lucky enough to capture the public imagination (cf. Marissa Alexander). Waiting until Damocles’ Sword has fallen from the beam is a poor method for policing the police.

  • rmthunter

    Gee, the government lying to us. Who would have guessed? Thanks, Mr. President, for all you’ve done to bring transparency to government.

    BTW, and actually on topic in a way: any guesses on whether this new “terrorist threat” actually happens? And if not, any bets on whether it’s because we took steps based on the information we were able to glean from our mass data-gathering?

    Thanks again, Mr. President — that’s how much we trust you.

  • HelenRainier

    People are being separated from the military for having expired prescription drugs in their possession — at least that is the reason that was given to someone I know.

  • HelenRainier

    Seems we’re already there, Bill.

  • Ferdiad

    But wait, Obama said they aren’t spying. Doesn’t that mean the case is closed?

  • http://www.rebeccamorn.com/mind BeccaM

    …and perfectly legal.

    We’ve lost the entire notion of probable cause. And much of the Bill of Rights. And anything resembling a right to privacy.

  • nicho

    It’s not that it has happened, but that it could happen — and it would be considered normal.

  • nicho

    Harvey Silverglate claims we commit three felonies a day.

    http://kottke.org/13/06/you-commit-three-felonies-a-day

  • RepubAnon

    Are you willing to submit to a body cavity search for routine traffic stops because (a) the police got a bad tip from SOD; or (b) the police wanted to make body cavity searches a standard procedure so that they could keep the SOD program a secret (to avoid the exclusionary rule)?

    One of the classic problems with tyranny is the self-censorship: many people don’t want to risk a confrontation with the authorities, so they stay well away from the danger zone. It is therefore important to make sure that authorities don’t abuse their power – as seems to be happening here.

  • http://www.rebeccamorn.com/mind BeccaM

    All true and I agree completely. It was just that ‘madcap123′ has a point in suggesting that every one of us has broken the law in one way or another.

  • Bill_Perdue

    How far are we from a police state – not far at all.

  • http://www.americablog.com/ Naja pallida

    There’s two different expiration dates, which may cause some confusion in the discussion. One for the prescription itself, they usually only give you an allotted amount of time to claim and use a prescription. Then there’s a different expiration date for the medication itself as a consumable product. It’s the valid and current prescription that is the key part in that argument… albeit a pretty weak argument. Who the hell doesn’t have some random, old prescription medication laying around? Pretty ridiculous basis for a drug case. You’d think they’d have better things on their mind with heroin and cocaine, not granny running out her prescription on her arthritis meds.

  • http://www.rebeccamorn.com/mind BeccaM

    Not necessarily.

    http://edfolsomlaw.com/2013/01/illegal-possession-of-your-own-prescription-drugs/

    In September of 2012, a story appeared in the Bangor Daily News about a man who was prosecuted for possessing a single oxycodone pill, in his home, outside the pill’s original container. Although the defendant had a prescription for the medication, the expiration date had passed. The Superior Court Justice hearing the case questioned whether a person could be guilty of possessing a drug that was prescribed to him. The Bangor Daily News quoted the assistant district attorney handling the case as claiming he’d prosecuted “hundreds” of similar cases. This assistant district attorney operates on the theory that if your prescription was expired on the date of the alleged conduct, you no longer “possessed a valid prescription” at that time and therefore cannot avail yourself of the affirmative defense.

  • http://www.americablog.com/ Naja pallida

    The ultimate problem with addressing these kind of government programs… all the people who claim “Well it isn’t happening to me, so it can’t be a problem!” coupled with the “If you’re not doing anything wrong, you have nothing to be afraid of.” people, it makes for a nice stew of apathy and ignorance.

  • http://www.rebeccamorn.com/mind BeccaM

    You have your interpretation of recent events, and I have mine.

  • Badgerite

    And what has happened to you today that you feel so ‘tyrannized’? Were you stopped by the police? Did some official show up at your door to see if you had purchased more than one pressure cooker?

  • Badgerite

    A bottle of prescription drugs that has expired? What the hell are you talking about? The expired part is for you so you know when the potency or safety of the drug may be in question. No crime is involved.

  • Badgerite

    Uh huh! And they have not yet banned cars even though at the hands of a bad driver they can result in serious injury or death to innocent Americans and frequently do. They did try to ban alcohol once and I believe that created more and worse problems than it solved. So you can currently drive drunk and if you kill me doing so, I can’t do anything about it. Welcome to the world.

  • cole3244

    surprise, not really.

  • Brent Hull

    Under the veil of privacy only government enjoys a rogue/star federal law enforcement agent with no respect for the 4th Amendment wanting to nail an enemy can just as easily create false digital evidence (false email(s)) as they can accessing real emails without a warrant. Good luck denying that in our current world.

  • Monoceros Forth

    The DEA? Crooked? Heaven forfend!

  • Badgerite

    Truth be told, I’d be far more concerned about the planting of actual evidence than where a tip came from. A dirty cop, is a dirty cop. Why not just plant the drugs and say you found them there. What’s to stop you, as a dirty cop, from doing that exactly. Why nothing, actually. You wouldn’t need a tip. Just pick someone. Maybe even someone you have a grudge against. I would actually expect a tip made from one of these data bases to be far more reliable then the ones given by local informants where any personal factor can enter into the tip. Searches have been conducted under such reasonable cause and with warrants and have been seriously in error. And that, even without the ‘Evil Database of Wiretaps.’ Personally, in terms of accuracy, I think it is probably an improvement. And as the article points out,
    “Some defense lawyers and former prosecutors said the using ‘parallel construction’ may be legal to establish probable cause for an arrest. But they said employing the practice as a means of disguising how an investigation began nay violate pre-trial discovery rules by burying evidence that could prove useful to criminal defendants.”
    If would absolutely establish probable cause. And if the tip came from the NSA it would still have been gotten via a valid warrant process, as of 2009. So. Prior to 2009 it would have had to rely on Executive Order 12333 issued by Ronald Reagan. And since the program was begun in 1994, prior to 2009 that might have been an issue.
    Ok. Point taken. So do away with the secrecy as to origin of investigation. I can’t see a problem with that. Since, from 2009 on, any information coming from the NSA programs would have been acquired under FISA Court warrant. Evidence of a crime is evidence of a crime. It would be indefensible to establish a policy where upon hearing of the commission of a crime through legitimate legally sanctioned methods ( FISA Court is legally sanctioned), the government just ignored it and looked the other way. You also manage to leave out of your post some of the rather impressive successes of the ‘Evil Database’. Don’t you?

  • sloppyslim

    they can’t pervert the country beyond a certain point before people decide america isn’t worth defending

    and we know those oligarchs defiling america aren’t going do the dirty deeds themselves

    obama , or rogers , or pelosi aren’t going to pick up guns and kick your doors down , no they need stooges in riot gear to do it
    eventually , even the praetorians will defend themselves

  • http://parkandbark.wordpress.com/ Houndentenor

    It’s obvious that Congress isn’t going to stop this, at least not the current Congress (note: the coalition in support of the NSA’s illegal spying is bipartisan as is the opposition). What do we do? Class action lawsuits? Protests? Embarrass politicians who support these practices with ads? Ideas, please.

  • madcap123

    The reason we have so many stupid rules (55 MPH speed limit, alcohol and drug laws, arcane tax laws, impossible to figure out copyright and patent laws) is that anyone can be stopped at any time because we have all broken some law. We are all subject to search and seizure without warrant. Think about it do you have a bottle of prescription drugs that have expired? You are a criminal.

  • Indigo

    The horrifying part is that none of this is surprising.

  • http://www.rebeccamorn.com/mind BeccaM

    Yep. Nobody but the self-deluded, the naive, and the willfully complicit ever believed these ‘tools’ would ever stop at just preventing ‘terrorism.’

  • nicho

    Lying to us? The government lying to us? Who do you think you are? If you don’t believe the official government story, then you are nothing by a “kooky conspiracy nut.”

    /snark

  • http://www.rebeccamorn.com/mind BeccaM

    The term you’re looking for has been mentioned before: “Turnkey tyranny.”

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