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Far more intrusive than NSA, U.S. drug agency tries to cover tracks over surveillance

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
August 5th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

With concern rising high over the intrusion wrought by the National Security Agency, with the emails and telephone calls of U.S. citizens being recorded, the low-profile U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration unit has been up to similar tactics. The DEA is funneling information from intelligence intercepts, wiretaps, informants and a massive database of telephone records. The chief difference is that these methods are being used to help launch criminal investigations of Americans.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Documents reviewed by Reuters reveal law enforcement agents have been directed to conceal how such investigations begin, ranging from defense lawyers as well as prosecutors and judges.

Federal agents are trained to "recreate" the investigative trail to effectively cover up where the information came from. This practice, many feel violates a defendant's Constitutional right to a fair trial. If defendants don't know how an investigation began, they are unable to review potential sources of exculpatory evidence, which is information that could reveal entrapment, mistakes or biased witnesses.
 
"I have never heard of anything like this at all," Nancy Gertner, a Harvard Law School professor who served as a federal judge from 1994 to 2011 says. Gertner along with other legal experts say the program sounds more troubling than recent disclosures that the NSA has been collecting domestic phone records.

There is a crucial difference: Whereas 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 'phony-ing' up investigations."

The unit of the DEA that distributes the information is called the Special Operations Division, or SOD. Created in 1994 to combat Latin American drug cartels, SOD has grown from several dozen employees to several hundred.

The majority of SOD's work is classified. Officials declined that its precise location in Virginia not be revealed.

"Remember that the utilization of SOD cannot be revealed or discussed in any investigative function," a document presented to agents reads.

The document then 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."

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