An exclusive report released today by Reuters outlines a long-running campaign of the federal government knowingly withholding evidence in numerous cases involving the DEA, and a highly classified multi-agency wing of the DEA known as the Special Operations Division (SOD). By withholding the true sources of their investigations, critics contend that defendants’ rights to a fair trial are being compromised daily.
Over 10,000 law enforcement agents on the federal, state, and local level have access to a billion-document database of phone logs and internet transmissions gathered through wide ranging DEA subpoenas, arrests, and search warrants from across the country. Also included in the database, known as DICE, are tips discovered through NSA intercepts and wiretaps by foreign governments, which are then used in cases that have nothing to do with “national security”.
Law enforcement agents say they use the information to “connect the dots”. Critics argue that the program is abused in a way that allows law enforcement to line up the dots as they see fit. Furthermore, undated documents referenced in the Reuters report show that federal agents are literally being trained on how to cover up investigative trails in domestic criminal cases.
In a well-worn law enforcement tactic known as “Parallel Construction”, agents “recreate” the investigative trail to cover up the initial source of their probe. Finn Selander, a former DEA agent from 1991-2008 and now a member of LEAP (Law Enforcement Against Prohibition) likens the “Parallel Construction” method of case-building to money laundering, saying, “You work it backwards to make it clean.”
So if the DEA gets a wiretap tip that a certain vehicle will be transporting a large quantity of illegal drugs, they may call upon local law enforcement to find a reason, any reason, to pull that vehicle over and perform a search. Later, when the case goes to trial, the fact that the initial lead came from a DEA wiretap is never brought into evidence, and the traffic stop is made out to be a random lucky catch. In doing so, agents are withholding evidence not only from their rival defense attorneys, but from their own prosecutors and even judges.
By hiding this potentially exculpatory evidence, untold numbers of defendants over the years have been stripped of their Constitutional right to a fair trial. With agents admitting on the record to lying under oath to protect the DICE program, as well as conceding that DICE tips are only accurate about 60% of the time, the DEA has promised to perform an internal review on the SOD. Internal, as in, we’ll never get to see it.
One recently retired agent was quoted as saying, “It was an amazing tool. Our big fear was that it wouldn’t stay secret.”
Reuters goes out of their way to draw the distinction between their reporting, and recent headlines surrounding Edward Snowden and the NSA wiretapping program, but if there is one glaring similarity or lesson to be learned from each storyline, it’s that in 2013 and beyond, there are no more secrets.