DEA secretly uses NSA to prosecute crime

(By Deutsche Welle) Recent national security leaks have focused on NSA mass surveillance aimed at stopping acts of terrorism. But law enforcement may be secretly using information from intelligence agencies to prosecute organized crime.

A special unit of the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) has allegedly gleaned information from National Security Agency (NSA) surveillance programs to prosecute drug traffickers and organized crime, in a possible demonstration of growing cooperation between normal law enforcement and the US national security establishment.

According to reporting by the Reuters news agency, the DEA’s Special Operations Division (SOD) sanitizes classified information for use by prosecutors in the US judicial system. But investigators are told to cover up the SOD’s footprint on cases through a technique called “parallel reconstruction.” The technique fakes the origins of sensitive information, giving the impression that SOD tips come from a different source.

The practice has raised concern that defendants are being denied basic constitutional rights to review the evidence against them. Some civil libertarians are also worried that SOD activities demonstrate an expansion of the national security and intelligence agencies’ involvement in the normal criminal justice system.

According to William C. Banks, law enforcement agencies such as the DEA are allowed to use evidence obtained through the NSA’s PRISM surveillance program, so long as certain conditions are met. The practice is based on a lax interpretation of the US constitution’s fourth amendment, which normally protects against unreasonable search and seizure.

“The lower courts and the special FISA court have held that so long as the purpose of the surveillance is to collect foreign intelligence, then the protections of the fourth amendment are relaxed, because the intelligence collection itself does not anticipate the kind of criminal prosecution that would trigger more rigorous fourth amendment scrutiny,” Banks, director of the Institute for National Security and Counterterrorism at Syracuse University, told DW.

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