Federal Domestic Spying May Target Cannabis Growers


Michael Montgomery/California Watch
A federal drug agent stands in a marijuana field near Redding. The 2010 raid led to federal charges against 27 people.

​The pattern of the American government using domestic spying on its own citizens — begun after the 9/11 attacks and the PATRIOT Act — may soon be going to a new level. Congress may empower federal intelligence agencies to participate in the struggle against marijuana cultivation in national forests and on other federal land.

One provision in the 2012 intelligence authorization bill calls on James Clapper, the director of national intelligence, to report on how federal spy agencies can help park rangers, fish and wildlife wardens, and other federal agents eradicate cannabis gardens, report Andrew Becker and Michael Montgomery at California Watch.
The bill also directs the top spy to work with federal public land managers to identify intelligence and information-sharing gaps related to drug trafficking. The House passed its version of the bill, HR 1892, in September; it is now before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.

Rep. Mike Thompson: “They’re here ruining our national resources”

​The nation’s intelligence network needs to deal with marijuana grown on public land because of the presence of “foreign drug traffickers” and the accompanying threat of violence, claimed U.S. Rep. Mike Thompson (D-Calif.), who wrote the provision.
(The reason Rep. Thompson always seems to put the word “foreign” in front of “drug traffickers” is because that makes it seem more acceptable to spy on them.)
“We don’t know what they’re doing with the money, where the money goes, whose bank account it ends up in,” Thompson said of marijuana cultivators who operate on public land. “They’re here ruining our national resources, and they’re putting our citizens at risk. Hikers can’t go into the field for fear they’ll be harmed. Wildlife doesn’t have a chance.”
U.S. law enforcement agents believe that hundreds of millions of dollars made from marijuana gardens on public land flows to Mexico, according to David Prince, assistant special agent in charge of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement office in San Francisco.


​Federal officials suspect that Mexican drug cartel bosses might be involved, but authorities admit they haven’t proven a direct link between cannabis gardens on public land and organized crime south of the border.
“The amount of money being generated by this activity can’t possibly be happening without Mexican cartels wanting to get their hands on it,” Prince said. “My presumption is money can’t be made without cartels knowing and taxing at a minimum.”
This isn’t the first time the intelligence apparatus of the U.S. has been involved with domestic marijuana eradication efforts. Back in the 1980s, state and federal law enforcement in California used high-altitude U-2 spy planes in an effort to spot pot gardens.
That effort had very little success.
The U.S. Forest Service and the Department of the Interior, which includes the national parks, already work with intelligence and law enforcement agencies to fight cannabis cultivation. The Interior Department also has agents at the National Counterterrorism Center and also at another hush-hush, nameless major drug intelligence-sharing hub.

Wikimedia Commons

​Other spy agencies, such as the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, have been assigned to individual marijuana cultivation cases.
The expanded involvement of spy agencies would, however, be a new wrinkle in the battle against cannabis farmers who have used remote public lands to reap billions in profits, according to federal law enforcement officials.
Most federal officials are still playing shut-mouth about the possible involvement of spy agencies in the fight against pot. A spokesman for national intelligence director Clapper wouldn’t comment on the pending legislation. Neither would spokesmen for the Interior Department and the Forest Service.
Land managers need help to take a bigger role in fighting pot gardens, since 65 to 70 percent of marijuana eradicated nationwide — and as much as 80 percent in California — comes off federal land, according to Tommy LaNier, who directs the White House-funded National Marijuana Initiative.

Jennifer Cappuccio Maher/Ontario Now
Tommy LaNier, National Marijuana Initiative: “Bringing in the (intelligence community) to help public land managers have a better understanding of the threats is an essential part of managing the problem of marijuana cultivation on public lands”

​”Bringing in the (intelligence community) to help public land managers have a better understanding of the threats is an essential part of managing the problem of marijuana cultivation on public lands,” LaNier said.
Others, however, question involving the director of national intelligence in the fight against marijuana, of all things.
They say there are much greater security threats requiring that office’s attention, and that other agencies, such as the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) — drug czar Gil Kerlikowske’s office — already know the issue.
Serious civil liberties and transparency concerns also come into play, of course, when we’re talking about having the intelligence community spying on people inside the U.S.
The provision comes with the ratcheting-up of federal attention against marijuana production, especially on public lands. Meanwhile, California Gov. Jerry Brown recently cut funding in the 2012 state budget for the infamous,&nbs
p;nearly 30-year-old boondoggle, I mean cannabis eradication program known as the Campaign Against Marijuana Plating (CAMP).

Federation of American Scientists
Stephen Aftergood, Project on Government Secrecy: “We have a right to ask for greater transparency”

​U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), has called a Senate drug caucus hearing next month on marijuana cultivation on federal public and tribal lands. The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, headed by Feinstein, is expected to take up the authorization bill, and support Rep. Thompson’s spying provision, in the coming weeks.
Among the intelligence agencies that could be used against marijuana growers if the bill becomes law are the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency for its unclassified satellite imagery of public lands, and the Department of the Treasury’s intelligence office to track illicit money, according to LaNier.
The National Security Agency (NSA) could be assigned, on a “limited basis,” (yeah right) to intercept public two-way radio communications. The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) would supposedly not be involved, since it supposedly is forbidden from spying within the U.S.
The provision is yet another example of the blurring of intelligence and law enforcement after 9/11 and the PATRIOT Act, according to Stephen Aftergood, who directs the Project on Government Secrecy at the Federation of American Scientists.
“The barriers between federal intelligence and domestic security that existed in the past have all but disappeared,” Aftergood said. “We have a right to ask for greater transparency.”
Ronald Brooks, who heads the federally funded Northern California HIgh Intensity Drug Trafficking Area program, admitted that domestic marijuana eradication is not a traditional intelligence community role. But he claimed the threat of “foreign drug traffickers” warrants the use of spy equipment on federal public land, where, he said, there’s no reasonable expectation of privacy.
Brooks admitted that the DEA or White House drug czar might be a “better fit” to tackle the issue than the spy agency, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.
“The question is, what specific constraints are there on the use of imagery — pictures of individuals and their activities?” asked Jeffrey Richelson, a senior fellow with The National Security Archive. “Inevitably, it gets you into the area of domestic spying by using overhead surveillance for law enforcement purposes.
“It always raises questions of what’s the next step,” Richelson said. “Where does it go next?”