By Phillip Smith
Spurred by recent revelations of the DEA using NSA and CIA programs ostensibly designed to fight terrorism to try to make drug cases, but grounded in decades of festering concern over the DEA's bull-in-a-China-shop behavior, a broad coalition of more than 120 groups Thursday asked Congress to hold hearings on the agency.
Citing an August Reuters report on the DEA's use of NSA spying data to make drug cases and hide the NSA connection from prosecutors and judges and a September New York Times storyon how the DEA makes use of AT&T phone traffic databases to make cases against US citizens, the groups called on the House and Senate Judiciary and Oversight committees to hold broad hearings to investigate the DEA and hold it accountable for its actions.
"The implications of the Reuters revelations are serious and far-reaching. Since the Edward Snowden/NSA revelations, the American public has been continuously told by the Obama Administration and others that such programs do not constitute a domestic spying program, and that the programs are solely used for counterterrorism purposes. The news that the DEA is using such programs in domestic drug cases directly contradicts both these assertions," the coalition said in a letter sent to relevant committee chairs and ranking members and copied to Attorney General Holder.
"Additionally, we believe that by covering up the origins of evidence it obtained, the DEA has violated the constitutional rights of many Americans and created judicial chaos," the letter continued. "Indeed, lawyers seeking to review certain cases and convictions have been stymied by the fact that authorities will not inform them when and where such methods were used."
The letter was signed by more than 120 groups, both domestic and international and from across the political spectrum. Signatories included the ACLU, Witness for Peace, the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, Global Exchange, Witness for Peace, the Drug Policy Alliance and numerous US drug reform groups, including StoptheDrugWar.org (publisher of this newsletter), and the International Drug Policy Consortium, which represents more than 160 non-government organizations.
"For too long Congress has given the DEA a free pass," said Bill Piper, director of national affairs at the Drug Policy Alliance. "Our hope is that Congress does its job and provides oversight because this agency has a deeply troubling track record of unregulated and out of control behavior. The DEA must be reined in and held accountable."
While the recent revelations about the DEA and the NSA and AT&T have been the catalyst for the hearings call, the letter also cited a small selection of other issues and scandals associated with the DEA (which should be familiar to Chronicle readers), including:
- The case of Daniel Chong, a San Diego student who was left unattended and unfed in a holding cell by the DEA for five days, and who subsequently sued and settled for $.4.1 million in July of this year.
- A drug war operation in Honduras in which the DEA took part, and which led to the killing of four innocent civilians. The incident has never been properly investigated by authorities.
- DEA's role in the "Fast and Furious" scandal, where the agency smuggled and laundered millions of dollars in drug war profits for Mexican drug cartels as part of an ill-conceived sting operation.
- DEA administrator Michele Leonhart's role in overruling the DEA's own administrative judges after they made decisions based on medical science.
- Defense attorneys in Arizona are claiming government misconduct because the DEA rehired Andrew Chambers, a government informant who was terminated by the Justice Department years ago amid accusations of serial perjury.
In July, the DEA marked its 40th anniversary of its creation by President Richard Nixon. As the letter noted, "Congress has rarely held hearings on the DEA, its actions, and its efficacy." It is time for Congress "to investigate the DEA and hold it accountable for its actions," the letter's signatories said.