By Richard Shrubb
Is a DEA agent reading your emails discussing who you're buying your weed from tonight? There are signs that he may just be, which shows how far the US spy agencies are actually going beyond their remit of national security.
An investigation by the Reuters news agency has uncovered regular use of information from the US National Security Agency (NSA) by the Drugs Enforcement Administration (DEA) to bust drug users and dealers. Though it isn't illegal in US law for the NSA to spy on people abroad who are felt to threaten the US national interests, their use by the DEA is legally questionable.
The investigation alleges "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."
Further, those law enforcement agencies fed information by the DEA's Special Operations Division (SOD) have been asked to conceal their sources of the tips, making prosecution of criminals legally unsound due to the principle of "open justice" where a criminal investigation must be completely legal in order to prosecute a criminal.
Speaking to former Illinois Assistant State Attorney James Geirach, he suggests "this has involved covering up the sources of information that may have come to them through unlawful ways. They may have beaten someone up to get the information out of them for instance." You can't give someone a thrashing to get information out of them as that information would be inadmissible in Court!
Geirach, a member of the US pressure group Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, continues, "the DEA is failing to provide information that would be helpful to the Defence in Court. This circumvents the principle of full and fair disclosure". Full and fair disclosure is enshrined in the US Constitution as part of the Sixth Amendment of the Bill of Rights.
According to the Reuters investigation where the information given to local police might be dodgy at source, they are asked by the SOD to make up convincing stories of the provenance of the information to feed to the Courts. Several times the stories haven't convinced lawyers and the case has collapsed.
"The NSA aren't supposed to spy on US citizens!" Geirach complains. This has repeatedly shown to be exactly what the NSA has been doing with the release of information from former consultant Edward Snowden. His allegations are that the NSA has been spying for reasons of national security on citizens of the US. Geirach says, "they are only supposed to be keeping records of whom is calling who and when, but not recording the calls".
This might not be the case. Unlike many parts of Europe, US law does permit wiretapping - recording phone calls and bugging your home - in certain areas of law enforcement. The Reuters investigation suggests that "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."
Wiretapping is only permitted with strict restrictions on its use by a US Federal Court. Geirach explains the restrictions, "The 'Necessity' Requirement. Title III places a high burden on prosecutors before a court will authorize a wiretap, making this investigation technique something of a last resort for prosecutors... This showing requires a 'full and complete statement' that wiretaps are necessary to further the government's investigation."
Geirach goes on, explaining "The government must also support its wiretap application with sufficient probable cause." This would mean that they can't just drop a wire on any old junky's home phone without sound evidence that they are likely to find something out.
The SOD's approach may contravene the Fourth Amendment of the US Constitution, which states that "The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated..."
Geirach says, "the SOD has an easier time of collecting information than police, using Homeland Security to pass on information to other agencies!" It is well known that as well as internal information sharing, intelligence agencies share certain data with friendly countries on their citizens. Would the NSA pass on information to UK police and ask them to cover up their original sources of information? Given the Special Relationship this isn't far beyond the realms of possibility.
According to US law the NSA is only supposed to spy on people who present a risk to national security, and this does not include drug crimes. Russia Today reported that "that NSA searches allowed by the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act court may have been authorized with tainted reasoning". The White House is apparently investigating these allegations made by Reuters.
Geirarch feels that the war on drugs is easy money for local police in the US. He remembers that in Illinois "they built a $4 million police building from drug busts alone. Didn't cost the taxpayer a buck!" In the US, proceeds of a criminal investigation are shared between the law enforcement agencies involved. They seize a plane or a house, and they can sell it and the money will go into their bank. They get to trouser cash as well - a wad of Twenties in a dealer's flat will end up in the police department's bank.
Consequently, Geirach says local police are "focusing on drugs, taking resources away from serious crime! They are spying on people doing drug deals, rather than focusing on more costly investigations such as murder and burglaries. The police making a fast buck on drugs busts, so they are incentivised financially to fight the losing battle on the war on drugs. He concludes, "this is just SOD skulduggery to justify the war on drugs".
Richard Shrubb is a freelance journalist with a specific interest in medical science and sailing, for more info about Richard, see his web site www.richardshrubb.co.uk and you can follow Richard on Twitter #Shrubb