Tag Archives: Police

Senator Feinstein your Credibility is on the Line…a letter from Dianne to Yahoo Thom

On July 17th I received this reply from my United States Senator Dianne Feinstein to a letter I sent her in regard to my concerns over NSA spying on American Citizens.

Dear Thom :

I received your communication indicating your concerns about the two National Security Agency programs that have been in the news recently. I appreciate that you took the time to write on this important issue and welcome the opportunity to respond.

First, I understand your concerns and want to point out that by law, the government cannot listen to an American’s telephone calls or read their emails without a court warrant issued upon a showing of probable cause. As is described in the attachment to this letter provided by the Executive Branch, the programs that were recently disclosed have to do with information about phone calls – the kind of information that you might find on a telephone bill – in one case, and the internet communications (such as email) of non-Americans outside the United States in the other case. Both programs are subject to checks and balances, and oversight by the Executive Branch, the Congress, and the Judiciary.

As Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, I can tell you that I believe the oversight we have conducted is strong and effective and I am doing my level best to get more information declassified. Please know that it is equally frustrating to me, as it is to you, that I cannot provide more detail on the value these programs provide and the strict limitations placed on how this information is used. I take serious my responsibility to make sure intelligence programs are effective, but I work equally hard to ensure that intelligence activities strictly comply with the Constitution and our laws and protect Americans’ privacy rights.

These surveillance programs have proven to be very effective in identifying terrorists, their activities, and those associated with terrorist plots, and in allowing the Intelligence Community and the Federal Bureau of Investigation to prevent numerous terrorist attacks. More information on this should be forthcoming.

· On June 18, 2003, the Director of the National Security Agency (NSA) testified to the House Intelligence Committee that there have been “over 50 potential terrorist events” that these programs helped prevent.

· While the specific uses of these surveillance programs remain largely classified, I have reviewed the classified testimony and reports from the Executive Branch that describe in detail how this surveillance has stopped attacks.

· Two examples where these surveillance programs were used to prevent terrorist attacks were: (1) the attempted bombing of the New York City subway system in September 2009 by Najibullah Zazi and his co-conspirators; and (2) the attempted attack on a Danish newspaper that published cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed in October 2009 by U.S. citizen David Headley and his associates.

· Regarding the planned bombing of the New York City subway system, the NSA has determined that in early September of 2009, while monitoring the activities of Al Qaeda terrorists in Pakistan, NSA noted contact from an individual in the U.S. that the FBI subsequently identified as Colorado-based Najibullah Zazi . The U.S. Intelligence Community, including the FBI and NSA, worked in concert to determine his relationship with Al Qaeda, as well as identify any foreign or domestic terrorist links. The FBI tracked Zazi as he traveled to New York to meet with co-conspirators, where they were planning to conduct a terrorist attack using hydrogen peroxide bombs placed in backpacks. Zazi and his co-conspirators were subsequently arrested. Zazi eventually pleaded guilty to conspiring to bomb the NYC subway system.

· Regarding terrorist David Headley, he was also involved in the planning and reconnaissance of the 2008 terrorist attacks in Mumbai, India that killed 166 people, including six Americans. According to NSA, in October 2009, Headley, a Chicago businessman and dual U.S. and Pakistani citizen, was arrested by the FBI as he tried to depart from Chicago O’Hare airport on a trip to Europe. Headley was charged with material support to terrorism based on his involvement in the planning and reconnaissance of the hotel attack in Mumbai 2008. At the time of his arrest, Headley and his colleagues were plotting to attack the Danish newspaper that published the unflattering cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed, at the behest of Al Qaeda.

Not only has Congress been briefed on these programs, but laws passed and enacted since 9/11 specifically authorize them. The surveillance programs are authorized by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), which itself was enacted by Congress in 1978 to establish the legal structure to carry out these programs, but also to prevent government abuses, such as surveillance of Americans without approval from the federal courts. The Act authorizes the government to gather communications and other information for foreign intelligence purposes. It also establishes privacy protections, oversight mechanisms (including court review), and other restrictions to protect privacy rights of Americans.

The laws that have established and reauthorized these programs since 9/11 have passed by mostly overwhelming margins. For example, the phone call business record program was reauthorized most recently on May 26, 2011 by a vote of 72-23 in the Senate and 250-153 in the House. The internet communications program was reauthorized most recently on December 30, 2012 by a vote of 73-22 in the Senate and 301-118 in the House.

Attached to this letter is a brief summary of the two intelligence surveillance programs that were recently disclosed in media articles. While I very much regret the disclosure of classified information in a way that will damage our ability to identify and stop terrorist activity, I believe it is important to ensure that the public record now available on these programs is accurate and provided with the proper context.

Again, thank you for contacting me with your concerns and comments. I appreciate knowing your views and hope you continue to inform me of issues that matter to you. If you have any additional questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to contact my office in Washington, D.C. at (202) 224-3841.

Sincerely yours,
Dianne Feinstein
United States Senator

Dear Senator Feinstein…your credibility is on the line, I have never been so disappointed!

NSA, DEA, IRS Lie About Fact That Americans Are Routinely Spied On By Our Government: Time For A Special Prosecutor

By Jennifer Stisa Granick and Christopher Jon Sprigman

It seems that every day brings a new revelation about the scope of the NSA’s heretofore secret warrantless mass surveillance programs. And as we learn more, the picture becomes increasingly alarming. Last week we discovered that the NSA shares information with a division of the Drug Enforcement Administration called the Special Operations Division (SOD). The DEA uses the information in drug investigations. But it also gives NSA data out to other agencies – in particular, the Internal Revenue Service, which, as you might imagine, is always looking for information on tax cheats.

The Obama Administration repeatedly has assured us that the NSA does not collect the private information of ordinary Americans. Those statements simply are not true. We now know that the agency regularly intercepts and inspects Americans’ phone calls, emails, and other communications, and it shares this information with other federal agencies that use it to investigate drug trafficking and tax evasion. Worse, DEA and IRS agents are told to lie to judges and defense attorneys about their use of NSA data, and about the very existence of the SOD, and to make up stories about how these investigations started so that no one will know information is coming from the NSA’s top secret surveillance programs.

“Now, wait a minute,” you might be saying. “How does a foreign intelligence agency which supposedly is looking for terrorists and only targets non-U.S. persons get ahold of information useful in IRS investigations of American tax cheats?” To answer that question, let’s review this week’s revelations.

Back in 2005, several media outlets reported that NSA has direct access to the stream of communications data, carried over fiber optic cables that connect central telephone switching facilities in the U.S. with one another and with networks in foreign countries. Reports suggested that the NSA had installed equipment referred to as “splitter cabinets” at main phone company offices, where they make a copy of all data traveling on the fiber optic cable and route it into a secret room where computers scan through the information – searching for names and terms that are themselves secret — as it goes by. For years, the federal government refused to comment on these reports. But on August 8, an unnamed senior administration official confirmed this practice to the New York Times.

We also learned that the NSA can grab information off these fiber optic cables in near real time using a tool called XKeyscore (XKS). Searching the firehose of Internet and telephone data as it flows takes an immense amount of computing power. The XKS system dumps a portion of the communications information NSA snatches into a truly immense local storage “cache.” This cache can keep network information for a few days, depending on the amount of traffic. This gives the NSA’s computers time to search through what otherwise would be an unmanageable torrent of emails, phone calls, chats, social network posts, and other communications. And importantly, XKS searches do not involve just communications “metadata”. The XKS system searches the contents of our Internet and telephone communications. Which is directly at odds with repeated Administration statements suggesting that NSA mass surveillance was limited to metadata.

To seize and search through all of this information without a warrant, the agency must comply with just a few legal limitations. Under the FISA Amendments Act, the NSA is not allowed to intentionally collect purely domestic information. That is, the NSA can search communications it believes begin or terminate in another country, either based on the facility where the information is collected (for example, an undersea cable) or other signifier, like an IP address that suggests origination abroad. Of course, these determinations are subject to error, particularly when the surveilled facility is in the U.S. and carries a substantial amount of purely domestic traffic.

To reduce the amount of purely domestic traffic that ends up on the desks of NSA analysts, the agency relies on post-seizure “minimization” procedures. For several reasons, however, these procedures are fundamentally inadequate to protect communications privacy. First, the minimization procedures are themselves secret. Moreover, by law, purely domestic communications that the NSA inadvertently collects need be deleted only if they “could not be” foreign intelligence information – a provision that requires the NSA to delete very little. Some minimization procedures have been leaked to the public, and these show that the government may “retain and make use of “inadvertently acquired” domestic communications if they contain usable intelligence, information on criminal activity, threat of harm to people or property, are encrypted, or are believed to contain any information relevant to cyber security.” Even otherwise privileged communications between individuals and their lawyers are not deleted. The agency merely stores those in a separate database so they are not sent to a law enforcement agency for use in a criminal case.

Once the NSA identifies the subset of international or “one-end” foreign communications (i.e., those where a foreigner is either a sender or recipient), analysts are supposed to search only for “foreign intelligence” information. But since “foreign intelligence” includes anything relevant to the conduct of U.S. foreign affairs, this limitation alone imposes no real restraint on NSA’s warrantless spying. Certainly, the NSA isn’t limited to counterterrorism operations.

In undertaking their searches, NSA analysts use either “strong” or “soft” selectors. “Soft” selectors are a broad kind of search that pulls up messages based on content or even the language in which a message is written. When the NSA uses soft selectors, it can search the vast amounts of information it collects to retrieve all Internet users’ discussions of particular topics or in particular languages. The potentially very broad scope of searches using soft selectors is quite frightening, as ordinary Americans’ communications are likely to show up in search results.

“Strong” selectors pull up information associated with a particular known individual. The Obama Administration has repeatedly assured us that these strong selectors may only target non-U.S. persons. But screenshots of the user interface for submitting selector queries tell a different story. Published by the Guardian, they show that NSA analysts are presented with dropdown lists of preapproved factors the NSA accepts as sufficient proof that a person is a foreigner, including being “in direct contact with (a) target overseas” or the use of storage media (like a server located abroad) seized outside the U.S. So any U.S. person who talks to a foreigner that the NSA has identified as a target, or who stores data on a server outside the U.S. (as someone might well do if emailing from a foreign hotel room) may be presumed to be a foreigner. And that’s not even the worst of it. Leaked NSA documents also suggest that the agency will presume that a person is a foreigner whenever there is no information suggesting otherwise. That sort of willful blindness gives the NSA a lot of leeway to target Americans.

Worse, we now know that the NSA’s assertion that it does not “target” U.S. persons is either a lie, or is about to become one. Leaked NSA documents show that in 2011, the NSA changed its “minimization” rules to allow its operatives to search for individual Americans’ communications using their name or other identifying information. Such a change would turn “minimization” into a blanket authority to warrantless spying on Americans – in defiance of specific legal restrictions prohibiting this sort of domestic spying. Senator Ron Wyden has said that the law provides the NSA with a loophole potentially allowing “warrantless searches for the phone calls or emails of law-abiding Americans”, and raised the issue when he met with President Obama on August 1. This is the first time we’ve had evidence that the NSA has — or will have — the authority to warrantlessly search its databases with the specific intent of digging up information on specific U.S. individuals.

We can sum up very simply – at this moment, the NSA enjoys virtually unrestricted power to spy on Americans, without a warrant or any particular suspicion that any person spied upon has done anything wrong. Our phone, email and potentially other records are fair game for bulk collection. The contents of our communications with people overseas are also fair game, so long as there is an approved foreign intelligence purpose for the collection. The NSA does not believe that any stored emails are protected by the Fourth Amendment, so it can collect them from providers with little restraint. As far as we know, the only category of information the NSA currently believes is off limits to mass surveillance are the contents of phone calls it knows in advance are solely between Americans.

This is an astonishing development in the U.S., a nation that, until recently, carefully restricted the power of its domestic spying agencies by forcing them to submit narrow requests for spying authority to a court, which would issue a warrant if the government showed probable cause to believe that the surveillance target was engaged in some sort of wrongdoing. At this point, it’s clear those limits are gone. The United States is now a mass surveillance state.

In last week’s press conference, President Obama reassured the nation that “America isn’t interested in spying on ordinary people.” In other words, do not worry, because the information will only be used for narrow counterterrorism or broader foreign intelligence purposes. But the latest revelations show that these assurances too are a lie. Under current U.S. surveillance law, the NSA may share with domestic law enforcement information obtained both through authorized surveillance, and information unlawfully but unintentionally collected, if it contains evidence of a crime. This rule was worrisome when the NSA was only conducting targeted surveillance of foreign powers. It is terrifying now that the NSA scans virtually all American cross-border communications. And this is especially true in light of the recent reports showing that any number of other three-letter agencies are howling for access to NSA data for use in investigations of Americans’ drug use, tax evasion, and even copyright infringement. Usually, these agencies would need at least warrants based on probable cause that an individual was committing a crime before they could obtain the contents of our communications, and would need to certify to a public court that email or phone records are relevant to an ongoing criminal investigation before it could collect such traffic data. But if they get their hands on NSA data, all these bothersome civil liberties protections simply vanish.

Which brings us to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). As we noted previously, the DEA has a secret division called the Special Operations Division or SOD. The SOD receives intelligence intercepts, wiretaps, informants and a massive database of telephone records from its partner agencies, of which the NSA is just one, to distribute to authorities across the nation to help them launch criminal investigations of Americans. The SOD gets information from the NSA and shares it with, among other agencies, the IRS. And this is where things get truly ugly. When agents receive SOD information and rely on it to trigger investigations, they are directed to omit the SOD’s involvement from investigative reports, affidavits, discussions with prosecutors and courtroom testimony. Agents are instructed to then use “normal investigative techniques to recreate the information provided by SOD.” IRS agents receiving SOD data, which presumably can include information from the NSA, have been similarly instructed. They are instructed, in other words, to create a fake investigative file, and to lie. To lie, in particular, to defense lawyers and to judges, about the source of the evidence used in criminal prosecutions.

By hiding the fact that information comes from NSA surveillance, the government both masks the extent to which NSA’s domestic spying is used to trigger investigations of Americans, and prevents legal challenges to highly questionable surveillance practices like bulk phone record collection, warrantless access to American communications with friends and family overseas, and retention and use of illegally obtained domestic calls and emails.

This is outrageous conduct. It is the sort of thing you expect from the Chinese government, or one of the now-vanished governments of the Warsaw Pact. And there is no stronger proof of the dangers of the NSA’s domestic spying effort than the fact that the government has consistently lied about it and attempted to cover it up. Think for just a moment about the stories J. Edgar Hoover could have plausibly concocted about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. or any other civil rights activist with this kind of detailed information. The Obama Administration has gone after leakers, and the journalists at outlets like the Associated Press or the New York Times who use them as sources, with unprecedented force. Think about what the current Attorney General, Eric Holder, could do to bring down these reporters who cover – sometimes in ways the Obama Administration doesn’t like — the conduct of American foreign policy. At this point, it’s plain to see that the Obama Administration has no intention of honestly fixing this mess. So it’s time now for Congress to act. A good first step would be to appoint a Special Prosecutor with wide power to subpoena Administration officials, and to bring criminal indictments where appropriate. Congress should then begin the process of reforming surveillance law to make absolutely clear that the NSA has no power to conduct warrantless mass surveillance of Americans. First they came for the terrorists and the foreigners, and no one did anything. Then they came for the drug dealers. Then the tax cheats. Then the journalists. And that’s just what we know about. How much worse does it have to get before we say enough is enough?

“Lunch Pail” Republicans…GOP betrayal of the Middle Class White Guy!

How the GOP betrayed the “Lunch Pail” Republicans…

From the Lunch Pail Republican Website:

“All across America, many life-long Republicans are feeling completely disconnected from their Party and their candidates in Washington. They want their Party to return to the issues that define what it means to be a Republican. We hear you loud and clear. It’s time to take back our party.

 Are you a Lunch Pail Republican?

Do you believe in…?

  • A strong economy?
  • Less government?
  • Good paying jobs?
  • Less government intrusion in the private sector?
  • Employee-sponsored health care?
  • Labor-Management cooperation?

If you answered “yes” to 3 or more of the above questions, then you are a Lunch Pail Republican. It’s time to take back our party. We invite you to join us.

Who Are We?

We are Republicans who are focused on providing for ourselves and our families, protecting our rights and our property from intrusion, and keeping our country on a path toward recovery and prosperity. We’re not taking the Party in a new direction. We’re simply returning it to the traditional core Republican values that used to define who we are.

About the Lunch Pail Republicans

Statement of Principles

  • We the Lunchpail Republicans believe in building and maintaining an America with a strong economy, unrivaled liberty, and a government that unobtrusively empowers the middle class.
  • We believe that the Republican Party has abandoned its traditional principles by advancing an agenda that negatively impacts workers’ wages, benefits and quality of life.
  • We believe that the current anti-worker agenda ultimately harms the Republican Party by discouraging middle-class Republicans from voting for Republican candidates whose policies would harm them, or worse, from participating in the election process at all.
  • We believe that the interests of workers and businesses are reliant upon each other, and without one, the other cannot stand.
  • We believe that elected officials have an obligation to protect workers’ interests as well as corporate interests, and that a growing disparity between the two is harmful to America’s long-term viability.
  • We believe that America’s economy is strongest with the presence of a robust middle class.
  • We believe that enemies of the middle class exist on both the left and the right, and the middle class must mobilize to remove them from office.

We are the Republicans who are focused on providing for ourselves and our families, protecting our rights and our property from intrusion, and keeping our country on a path toward recovery and prosperity.

We are not being represented.

Too many “Republicans” are far more focused on pushing someone else’s agenda and playing politics to get re-elected than looking out for us, the working people who they are sent there to protect.

Our beliefs are simple.

We believe in freedom of speech, the right to bear arms, and most of all, in limited government. Our parents’ and grandparents’ Republican Party would never stand for the type of attacks that are being leveled against working people. We are pro-business and pro-labor because neither one can survive without the other; we will stand with candidates who stand with us.

Hands off our unions.

If we work under a union contract, chances are we are paid better than we would be without it. That means something to us. If a union helps us earn more money to support our families, paying our union a little bit is only fair. We aren’t freeloaders, and we don’t want the government forcing our union to represent freeloaders, because it will just weaken our ability to bring home those better wages.

If you think you have the right to tell any union, business, or independent organization that it has to work for nothing, stop calling yourself a Republican. Stay out of it. It’s none of your business.

We are looking for a few good working men and women.

Too many of our leaders have forgotten what is important to working people, so it is time for them to go.”

The Republican Party has moved so far to the “WACKO-EXTREME” even those that call themselves “Lunch Pail” Republicans can see that the GOP has left them behind.  The Republicans wrongfully believe that “EVERYONE” that supports them is either a Corporate Executive, Investor or an Entrepreneur.   1% is 1%…and 1% is not a majority.  There are working class Republicans that are increasingly feeling alienated by the Party of Lincoln.

Two years ago, 100,000 Wisconsin residents, working class Republicans, Democrats and Independents alike surrounded and occupied the state capitol. Police, Fire, Teachers and Wisconsin Citizens mobilized in one of the largest labor protests in modern American history. Gov. Scott Walker’s efforts to strip public sector workers of collective bargaining rights lifted the veil of the anti-worker agendas of the new Republican leadership.

All across this Nation there are “Blue Collar Working Class” Republicans who are paid through tax dollars.  Police and Fire are part of those constituencies.  As the Republican Governors focus on breaking their Unions, Police and Fire need to wake up and see the direction the Party is going.  The family of a firefighter killed with 18 colleagues while battling a summer wildfire is waging a campaign urging the city of Prescott, Ariz., to provide his survivors with full health and pension benefits. Firemen all across this Country need to ask themselves what are Republican Governors, Representatives and Senators doing to protect the rights of their families.  Fire and Police put their lives on the line every day and all they ask in return is that their families are taken care of.  Blindly trusting that the GOP has your interest at heart because you are a White Male is misplaced.  You need to ask the question, what are you doing for me and my family?

Prescott, which employed Firefighter, Andrew Ashcraft and other members of the Granite Mountain Hotshots, says Ashcraft and 12 others who died were seasonal employees, leaving their survivors ineligible for benefits that would go to a full-time employee.  State, Local and Federal Representatives need to be pushed to act on “BEHALF” of Police and Fire.  What are GOP Representatives in Arizona doing to make this situation right?  Andrew Ashcraft gave his life for Arizona, what is Arizona a Red State doing to take care of its heroic firefighters and men in blue? What are the Democrats doing in that State for that matter?

“I want to be able to just be mourning my husband, be supporting my children, be figuring out what our new normal is,” Juliann Ashcraft, Andrew’s widow and mother of their four children, said at a news conference Wednesday outside the Yavapai County courthouse in Prescott. “As shocked as I was that my husband went to work and never came home, I’m equally shocked in how the city has treated our family since then,” she said.

For those Republican Firefighters and Republican Police, these are the words of widow left behind, she represents your wife and your children.  Will your wife have to fight this battle all alone, will your children be left to fend for themselves?  Is breaking Police and Fire Unions in your family’s best interest?

White “Lunch Pail” Republicans take too much for granted.  As the GOP leadership points the fingers at women and minorities, the 1% of “YOUR” tribe betrays “YOUR” interest.

In Detroit an epic battle ensues as workers and pensioners filed suit against Republican Gov. Rick Snyder and state Treasurer Andy Dillon, seeking to prevent them from filing a possible municipal bankruptcy petition for Detroit because, they argue, such a move would violate Michigan’s constitutional protections of public pension benefits. This should be a warning to Police and Fire in every major City, your State Constitutions will not help you and the Republican Governors seem to fighting against the interest of Police and Fire and not for you.

What have the Republicans in the House of Representatives done to “STOP” the outsourcing of good paying American jobs?  Nothing!  Absolutely nothing, but Corporate America has shipped “OUR” jobs overseas, reaped gargantuan profits and then hoarded those profits offshore. A state of denial exists among Republican policymakers and outsourcing’s corporate champions about the adverse effects on the US.  As they outsource our jobs leaving us unemployed, the GOP politicians then call us lazy takers.  They expect us to take 2 or 3 low paying service jobs and refuse to pass legislation that would provide a living wage.

In what might be an underestimate, a University of California study concludes that 14 million white-collar jobs are vulnerable to being outsourced offshore. These are not only call-center operators, customer service and back-office jobs, but also information technology, accounting, architecture, advanced engineering design, news reporting, stock analysis, and medical and legal services. The authors of the study note that these are the jobs of the American Dream, the jobs of upward mobility that generate the bulk of the tax revenues that fund our education, health, infrastructure, and social security systems. Ask yourself, what are the “REPUBLICANS” doing to stop this bleeding to strengthen the American Middle Class? Again NOTHING!  These are “WHITE COLLAR” jobs, so those of you with College Degrees are not immune from your tribe betraying you either.  The 1% are loyal to the 1%, they hoard money, they do not trickle it down to you…that trickle you feel is not money…

“The Department of Labor reports that more than one in three workers who are displaced remains unemployed, and many of those who are lucky enough to find jobs take major pay cuts. Many former manufacturing workers who were displaced a decade ago because of manufacturing that went offshore took training courses and found jobs in the information technology sector. They are now facing the unenviable situation of having their second career disappear overseas.”

What has the GOP proposed to fix this Middle Class concern?  Again nothing!  The misplaced loyalty that White Males have given to the GOP is being betrayed as they laugh at you behind your back and defraud you with divisive issues, like gay marriage, prayer in school, English only, banning abortion, demonizing minorities, gun rights, LGBT rights and women’s rights.  How does any one of those issues improve or strengthen the American Middle Class…the 1% is laughing at you as they pick your pockets clean…there is no loyalty from the 1% to the “TRIBE” their “TRIBE” is the 1% and you are only there to provide the spoils not too share them.

real-housewives-beverly-hills

Demand that the GOP acts in “YOUR” interest or tell them to take a hike “Lunch Pail” Republicans!

Exclusive: U.S. directs agents to cover up program used to investigate Americans

By John Shiffman and Kristina Cooke                                 WASHINGTON |          Mon Aug 5, 2013 3:25pm EDT

(Reuters) – 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.

Although these cases rarely involve national security issues, documents reviewed by Reuters show that law enforcement agents have been directed to conceal how such investigations truly begin – not only from defense lawyers but also sometimes from prosecutors and judges.

The undated documents 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.

“I have never heard of anything like this at all,” said Nancy Gertner, a Harvard Law School professor who served as a federal judge from 1994 to 2011. Gertner and other legal experts said the program sounds more troubling than recent disclosures that the National Security Agency has been collecting domestic phone records. The NSA effort is geared toward stopping terrorists; the DEA program targets common criminals, primarily drug dealers.

“It is one thing to create special rules for national security,” Gertner said. “Ordinary crime is entirely different. It sounds like they are phonying up investigations.”

THE SPECIAL OPERATIONS DIVISION

The unit of the DEA that distributes the information is called the Special Operations Division, or SOD. Two dozen partner agencies comprise the unit, including the FBI, CIA, NSA, Internal Revenue Service and the Department of Homeland Security. It was created in 1994 to combat Latin American drug cartels and has grown from several dozen employees to several hundred.

Today, much of the SOD’s work is classified, and officials asked that its precise location in Virginia not be revealed. The documents reviewed by Reuters are marked “Law Enforcement Sensitive,” a government categorization that is meant to keep them confidential.

“Remember that the utilization of SOD cannot be revealed or discussed in any investigative function,” a document presented to agents reads. The document specifically directs agents to omit the SOD’s involvement from investigative reports, affidavits, discussions with prosecutors and courtroom testimony. Agents are instructed to then use “normal investigative techniques to recreate the information provided by SOD.”

A spokesman with the Department of Justice, which oversees the DEA, declined to comment.

But two senior DEA officials defended the program, and said trying to “recreate” an investigative trail is not only legal but a technique that is used almost daily.

A former federal agent in the northeastern United States who received such tips from SOD described the process. “You’d be told only, ‘Be at a certain truck stop at a certain time and look for a certain vehicle.’ And so we’d alert the state police to find an excuse to stop that vehicle, and then have a drug dog search it,” the agent said.

“PARALLEL CONSTRUCTION

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.”

A dozen current or former federal agents interviewed by Reuters confirmed they had used parallel construction during their careers. Most defended the practice; some said they understood why those outside law enforcement might be concerned.

“It’s just like laundering money – you work it backwards to make it clean,” said Finn Selander, a DEA agent from 1991 to 2008 and now a member of a group called Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, which advocates legalizing and regulating narcotics.

Some defense lawyers and former prosecutors said that using “parallel construction” may be legal to establish probable cause for an arrest. But they said employing the practice as a means of disguising how an investigation began may violate pretrial discovery rules by burying evidence that could prove useful to criminal defendants.

A QUESTION OF CONSTITUTIONALITY

“That’s outrageous,” said Tampa attorney James Felman, a vice chairman of the criminal justice section of the American Bar Association. “It strikes me as indefensible.”

Lawrence Lustberg, a New Jersey defense lawyer, said any systematic government effort to conceal the circumstances under which cases begin “would not only be alarming but pretty blatantly unconstitutional.”

Lustberg and others said the government’s use of the SOD program skirts established court procedures by which judges privately examine sensitive information, such as an informant’s identity or classified evidence, to determine whether the information is relevant to the defense.

“You can’t game the system,” said former federal prosecutor Henry E. Hockeimer Jr. “You can’t create this subterfuge. These are drug crimes, not national security cases. If you don’t draw the line here, where do you draw it?”

Some lawyers say there can be legitimate reasons for not revealing sources. Robert Spelke, a former prosecutor who spent seven years as a senior DEA lawyer, said some sources are classified. But he also said there are few reasons why unclassified evidence should be concealed at trial.

“It’s a balancing act, and they’ve doing it this way for years,” Spelke said. “Do I think it’s a good way to do it? No, because now that I’m a defense lawyer, I see how difficult it is to challenge.”

CONCEALING A TIP

One current federal prosecutor learned how agents were using SOD tips after a drug agent misled him, the prosecutor told Reuters. In a Florida drug case he was handling, the prosecutor said, a DEA agent told him 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.

“I was pissed,” the prosecutor said. “Lying about where the information came from is a bad start if you’re trying to comply with the law because it can lead to all kinds of problems with discovery and candor to the court.” The prosecutor never filed charges in the case because he lost confidence in the investigation, he said.

A senior DEA official said he was not aware of the case but said the agent should not have misled the prosecutor. How often such misdirection occurs is unknown, even to the government; the DEA official said the agency does not track what happens with tips after the SOD sends them to agents in the field.

The SOD’s role providing information to agents isn’t itself a secret. It is briefly mentioned by the DEA in budget documents, albeit without any reference to how that information is used or represented when cases go to court.

The DEA has long publicly touted the SOD’s role in multi-jurisdictional and international investigations, connecting agents in separate cities who may be unwittingly investigating the same target and making sure undercover agents don’t accidentally try to arrest each other.

SOD’S BIG SUCCESSES

The unit also played a major role in a 2008 DEA sting in Thailand against Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout; he was sentenced in 2011 to 25 years in prison on charges of conspiring to sell weapons to the Colombian rebel group FARC. The SOD also recently coordinated Project Synergy, a crackdown against manufacturers, wholesalers and retailers of synthetic designer drugs that spanned 35 states and resulted in 227 arrests.

Since its inception, the SOD’s mandate has expanded to include narco-terrorism, organized crime and gangs. A DEA spokesman declined to comment on the unit’s annual budget. A recent LinkedIn posting on the personal page of a senior SOD official estimated it to be $125 million.

Today, the SOD offers at least three services to federal, state and local law enforcement agents: coordinating international investigations such as the Bout case; distributing tips from overseas NSA intercepts, informants, foreign law enforcement partners and domestic wiretaps; and circulating tips from a massive database known as DICE.

The DICE database contains about 1 billion records, the senior DEA officials said. The majority of the records consist of phone log and Internet data gathered legally by the DEA through subpoenas, arrests and search warrants nationwide. Records are kept for about a year and then purged, the DEA officials said.

About 10,000 federal, state and local law enforcement agents have access to the DICE database, records show. They can query it to try to link otherwise disparate clues. Recently, one of the DEA officials said, DICE linked a man who tried to smuggle $100,000 over the U.S. southwest border to a major drug case on the East Coast.

“We use it to connect the dots,” the official said.

“AN AMAZING TOOL”

Wiretap tips forwarded by the SOD usually come from foreign governments, U.S. intelligence agencies or court-authorized domestic phone recordings. Because warrantless eavesdropping on Americans is illegal, tips from intelligence agencies are generally not forwarded to the SOD until a caller’s citizenship can be verified, according to one senior law enforcement official and one former U.S. military intelligence analyst.

“They do a pretty good job of screening, but it can be a struggle to know for sure whether the person on a wiretap is American,” the senior law enforcement official said.

Tips from domestic wiretaps typically occur when agents use information gleaned from a court-ordered wiretap in one case to start a second investigation.

As a practical matter, law enforcement agents said they usually don’t worry that SOD’s involvement will be exposed in court. That’s because most drug-trafficking defendants plead guilty before trial and therefore never request to see the evidence against them. If cases did go to trial, current and former agents said, charges were sometimes dropped to avoid the risk of exposing SOD involvement.

Current and former federal agents said SOD tips aren’t always helpful – one estimated their accuracy at 60 percent. But current and former agents said tips have enabled them to catch drug smugglers who might have gotten away.

Police Spying

“It was an amazing tool,” said one recently retired federal agent. “Our big fear was that it wouldn’t stay secret.”

DEA officials said that the SOD process has been reviewed internally. They declined to provide Reuters with a copy of their most recent review.

(Edited by Blake Morrison)