Criminal Justice

Report: DEA unit funnels intelligence info to agents, who are told to recreate investigative trail

A unit of the Drug Enforcement Administration is sending information gathered in overseas intercepts by the National Security Agency to agents for use in criminal investigations, according to a published report.

Much of the work of the special unit, the Special Operations Division, is classified, Reuters reports. Originally formed to fight Latin American drug cartels, SOD distributes tips from the overseas intercepts, informants, foreign governments and court-approved domestic wiretaps. To protect Americans, intelligence agencies usually hold wiretap tips from SOD until they are able to verify that the caller is not a citizen.

SOD also coordinates international investigations and distributes tips from a database known as DICE, which includes phone log and Internet data gathered through subpoenas, arrests and search warrants.

Reuters reviewed documents indicating that federal agents receiving tips from SOD are trained to recreate an investigative trial that will hide the origin of the tip. One document tells agents not to reveal SOD tips in investigative reports, affidavits, prosecutor discussions and courtroom testimony.

Reuters spoke with defense lawyers and former prosecutors who said recreating an investigative trial may be sufficient to establish probable cause, but it may violate pretrial discovery rules on disclosure of exculpatory evidence.

A former federal agent told Reuters that the tip process worked this way: “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 traffic stop would then be cited as the basis for the investigation.

ACLU deputy legal director Jameel Jaffer issued a statement criticizing such practices. “When law enforcement agents and prosecutors conceal the role of intelligence surveillance in criminal investigations, they violate the constitutional rights of the accused and insulate controversial intelligence programs from judicial review,” he said. “Effectively, these intelligence programs are placed beyond the reach of the Constitution, where they develop and expand without any court ever weighing in on their lawfulness. This is inappropriate, dangerous, and contrary to the rule of law.”

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