The Slatest

Things That Are No Longer Secret: The NSA Is Giving Your Phone Records to the DEA

Drug Enforcement Agency officers have been making use of national security intelligence to investigate and prosecute American citizens.

Photo by GABRIEL BOUYS/AFP/Getty Images

Adding to a summer dominated by revelations of unsettling government behavior, Reuters today released an exclusive report detailing the workings of a previously secret federal unit that covered up its use of national security information to investigate American citizens. The Special Operations Division is part of the Drug Enforcement Administration, but cooperates with agencies like the NSA, FBI, CIA and IRS, which provide the DEA division with phone and internet records (which number more than 1 billion) as well as intelligence from foreign and domestic informants. That collaboration was meant to remain secret – Reuters explains how and why:

The undated documents [obtained by Reuters] show that federal agents are trained to “recreate” the investigative trail to effectively cover up where the information originated, a practice that some experts say violates a defendant’s Constitutional right to a fair trial. If defendants don’t know how an investigation began, they cannot know to ask to review potential sources of exculpatory evidence - information that could reveal entrapment, mistakes or biased witnesses. …

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.”

The two senior DEA officials, who spoke on behalf of the agency but only on condition of anonymity, said the process is kept secret to protect sources and investigative methods. “Parallel construction is a law enforcement technique we use every day,” one official said. “It’s decades old, a bedrock concept.”

Advocates of SOD’s practices point to its successes, like the nabbing of high-profile drug dealers and criminals who collaborate with violent groups like Colombia’s FARC. Its detractors, on the other hand, have spoken frankly about the program’s unsettling tactics – not to mention its questionable constitutionality. “You can’t create this subterfuge. These are drug crimes, not national security cases,” former federal prosecutor Henry E. Hockeimer Jr. told Reuters. “If you don’t draw the line here, where do you draw it?” There’s a lot more to SOD, so head over to Reuters to get the full briefing.