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.
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.
“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)
The Answer from the GOP is Always “NO”! Besides we have no ideas to contribute! So “NO” is our only strategy!
Pope Francis On Gays: Who Am I To Judge Them?
By Paul Brandeis Raushenbush posted: 07/29/2013 8:01 am EDT | Updated: 07/29/2013 11:34 am EDT Huffington Post
ABOARD THE PAPAL AIRCRAFT — Pope Francis reached out to gays on Monday, saying he wouldn’t judge priests for their sexual orientation in a remarkably open and wide-ranging news conference as he returned from his first foreign trip.
“If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?” Francis asked.
His predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, signed a document in 2005 that said men with deep-rooted homosexual tendencies should not be priests. Francis was much more conciliatory, saying gay clergymen should be forgiven and their sins forgotten.
Francis’ remarks came Monday during a plane journey back to the Vatican from his first foreign trip in Brazil.
He was funny and candid during a news conference that lasted almost an hour and a half. He didn’t dodge a single question, even thanking the journalist who raised allegations reported by an Italian newsmagazine that one of his trusted monsignors was involved in a scandalous gay tryst.
Francis said he investigated and found nothing to back up the allegations.
Francis was asked about Italian media reports suggesting that a group within the church tried to blackmail fellow church officials with evidence of their homosexual activities. Italian media reported this year that the allegations contributed to Benedict’s decision to resign
While stressing Catholic social teaching that calls for homosexuals to be treated with dignity and not marginalized, Francis said it was something else entirely to conspire to use private information for blackmail or to exert pressure.
Francis was responding to reports that a trusted aide was involved in an alleged gay tryst a decade ago. He said he investigated the allegations according to canon law and found nothing to back them up. But he took journalists to task for reporting on the matter, saying the allegations concerned matters of sin, not crimes like sexually abusing children.
And when someone sins and confesses, he said, God not only forgives but forgets.
“We don’t have the right to not forget,” he said.
“Who am I too judge them” a great question for Christians. For the past 30 years the Republicans have used “homosexuality” as a wedge issue and the Catholic Church was complicit in the persecution of the gay community. Today Pope Francis took the first step in pivoting the Holy Roman Catholic Church back to focusing on social issues, income inequality, hunger, healthcare and the plight of the poor. The comments from the Pope are Biblically rooted and for years have been ignored and overlooked by conservative Christian religions around the world.
Jesus Christ spoke for the poor, sick and disenfranchised. As Christians we are asked to be Christ-like and the Holy Scriptures are clear, we are not to judge each other:
Matthew 7:3 “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?”
Luke 6:37 “Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven;”
Romans 14:1-23 As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions. One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him. Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand. One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. …
Corinthians 4:1-21 This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found trustworthy. But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself. For I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one will receive his commendation from God. ..
John 8:7 “And as they continued to ask him, he stood up and said to them, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.”
Matthew 7:1 “Judge not, that you be not judged.”
Matthew 5:22 “But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire”
Romans 2:1 “Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things.”
John 3:16 “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.”
One more “wedge” issue has fallen. Again I urge “ALL” atheist, agnostics, progressives, liberals and Democrats to hold the “Party of Christian Values, the GOP” to the tenets of the Holy Scriptures. Take the judgmental wedge issues from them and use the Bible to do it! The Republican time of division is over…
“As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him…”
GOP-pa the HUTT…..more is never enough….GOP gluttony!
The Republican Party has released its menu to destroy the American Middle Class, further proof of their disdain for those that are not in the 1%, entrepreneurs, Corporate Chieftains or the investor class. Their misguided belief that Americans have no value unless they are part of the aforementioned groups is despicable and insulting to those hard-working Americans that have chosen a different path for themselves.
19 Firefighters, members of the Prescott Fire Department’s Granite Mountain Hotshots, were killed this month while fighting the Yarnell Hill fire, northwest of Phoenix. These Firefighters were men of honor that put their lives on the line for other Americans.
Among the dead was Eric Marsh, the unit’s 43-year-old superintendent.
Also killed, according to the city of Prescott: Andrew Ashcraft, 29; Robert Caldwell, 23; Travis Carter, 31; Dustin Deford, 24; Christopher MacKenzie, 30; Grant McKee, 21; Sean Misner, 26; Scott Norris, 28; Wade Parker, 22; John Percin, 24; Anthony Rose, 23; Jesse Steed, 36; Joe Thurston, 32; Travis Turbyfill, 27; William Warneke, 25; Clayton Whitted, 28; Kevin Woyjeck, 21; and Garret Zuppiger, 27.
These men were not Wall Street tycoons, they were not Corporate moguls, Millionaires or Billionaires. But they were Heroes. These men were worth every penny of their salaries, pensions and more.
I am sick and tired of hearing Republicans putting everyone else down for not wanting to open their own business, for not wanting to dedicate their lives to making money. Some of us want to be nurses, firemen, police and teachers. For some Americans a job is just a job and they get their fulfillment from participating in their church activities, being a Scout Master, coaching their son’s baseball team. There was a time in America when “We the People” could choose a simple life without the Republican Party calling us deadbeats, moochers and lazy leaches. There was a time when the Senate and House were men of honor, Statesmen and they protected the interests of the American Middle Class. They knew a strong Middle Class was good for America.
There was a time when the House of Representatives didn’t hold the Nation hostage to extract every concession they could from the Middle Class. Penalizing them and decrying them for simply being part of the working class. The Republicans want more and more concessions from the Middle Class as Corporate America has dramatically increased its cash piles over the past few years, stashing more and more dollars every year since 2007. In 2012, U.S. non-financial companies filled their coffers with an additional $130 billion, taking their total cash to a record $1.45 trillion as the economy has stagnated and the labor market has moved sideways. At the same time U.S. firms hoard 58% of their cash, or $840 billion, overseas according to Forbes Magazine.
Trickle down supply-side economics is a failure. Avarice and hoarding prevents the Voodoo economic theory from working. It is the Governments job to watch out for it Citizens, I dare say they are not doing their job. It is not the job of the Republicans to fill the pockets of shareholders, but to insure that “We the People” are treated fairly and that justice is applied to our economy so that everyone in the United States can benefit from the fruits of their labor. Wages in the United States have not kept up with the increasing productivity of the American Worker. From 1973 to 2011, worker productivity grew 80 percent, while median hourly compensation, after inflation, grew by just one-eighth that amount, according to the Economic Policy Institute, a progressive research group. And since 2000, productivity has risen 23 percent while real hourly pay has essentially stagnated. Americans are working their butts off and the Republicans do everything within their power to keep as much of those profits for the 1%.
The Romney Ryan Campaign used “We Built That” as their slogan. You were able to build that because American productivity increased 80%. Donald Trump is not out there welding steel beams in his newest skyscraper, it is American Labor that is building that! American Labor build the bridges, harbors, roads, skyscrapers, ships, dams, airports, hospitals, schools and universities that made this Country great and don’t ever let some rich fat cat make you feel guilty about touting your accomplishments and contributions to America.
It is time for the American Middle Class to unite and demand their share of the profits, we have increased our productivity and now it is time for Corporate America to stop hoarding money and to pay a “LIVING WAGE”.
As the debt ceiling raises its ugly head again, listen closely to what the GOP is asking for; if you are a Middle Class Republican listen closely and ask yourself, how do these “ransom” demands help “ME” and “My Family”.
- “For a long-term deal, one that gives Treasury borrowing authority for three and a half years, Obama would have to agree to premium support. The plan to privatize Medicare, perhaps the most controversial aspect of the Ryan budget, is the Holy Grail for conservatives who say major deficit-reduction can only be achieved by making this type of cut to mandatory spending. “If the president wants to go big, there’s a big idea,” said Scalise.”
- “For a medium-sized increase in the debt limit, Republicans want Obama to agree to cut spending in the SNAP food-stamp program, block-grant Medicaid, or tinker with chained CPI.”
- ”For a smaller increase, there is talk of means-testing Social Security, for example, or ending certain agricultural subsidies.”
Privatizing Medicare? How does privatizing Medicare help any Senior or Family making less than $100,000 per year (80% of American households)? Medicare is one of the American Middle Class’ most beloved benefits. When the Republicans talk about cutting Medicare, remember that they want spend the money saved from Medicare on border security. The cost of the 20,000 additional agents alone was put at $30 billion over a decade. The cost of building and maintaining a double set of steel fences along 700 miles of the U.S.-Mexico border could be five to 25 times greater than congressional leaders forecast last year, or as much as $49 billion over the expected 25-year life span of the fence, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service. So cutting Medicare to reduce the deficit is a GOP red herring and they are lying to you Middle Class.
Tinkering with Social Security? Chained CPI? “Social Security has nothing to do with the deficit. Social Security is totally funded by the payroll tax levied on employer and employee. If you reduce the outgo of Social Security, that money would not go into the general fund to reduce the deficit. It would go into the Social Security Trust Fund. So Social Security has nothing to do with balancing a budget or erasing or growing the deficit.”—Ronald Reagan https://yahoothom.wordpress.com/2013/07/11/privatizing-social-security-not-worth-the-gamble/
The Republicans continue to talk about jobs, but have done nothing in 30 years to create good-paying American jobs, falling back on the free market ideas that have only served to outsource good-paying American jobs to low-wage third world Countries to line the pockets of the Investor Class, more HOARDING! The on-going Middle Class recession; good paying Union jobs replaced by low paying jobs at Walmart and McDonalds have created a class of hard working poor Americans that have to rely on food assistance to make ends meet. Where is the compassion in the GOP as they cut food assistance to working class Americans while giving “Corporate Agriculture” the most generous farm subsidies in history?
The American Middle Class does not have the luxury to be partisan lemmings. Wake up Middle Class America! These are not sports teams, the Republican Party is trying to destroy the American Middle Class standard of living to create a pool of low-wage workers, while gorging themselves like gluttonous Jabba the Hutt on our productivity and to extract every cent they can from our pockets.
Is the GOP “Intellectually Exhausted”?
- Outsourcing of high Paying Jobs
- Stagnant wages
- A “Living Wage”
- Rising College Tuitions/access to higher education for the Middle Class
- Job security
- Income inequality
- Rising suburban poverty rates
- Hunger in America
- Crumbling American Cities
- Aging, dangerous and crumbing infrastructure
- Middle Class mobility and opportunities
- 30,000 Americans dying from gun violence
- Voting rights
- Social justice
- Race relations
- Income disparity between Men and Women
- Women’s right to control her own body
- Women’s health
- The failed War on Drugs
- Broken immigration system
- Climate Change
- The Environment
- Mass imprisonment of American Citizens
- Online Privacy
- NSA spying of American Citizens