The existence of an IRS manual that detailed a program used by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration has been revealed. The manual funneled tips to federal agents and then instructed them on how to scrub the investigative trail clean.
A 350-word entry in the Internal Revenue Manual instructed agents of the U.S. tax agency to omit any reference to tips supplied by the DEA’s Special Operations Division, especially from affidavits, court proceedings or investigative files. The entry was published and posted online in 2005 and 2006, and was removed in early 2007. The IRS is among two dozen arms of the government working with the Special Operations Division, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the National Security Agency and the Central Intelligence Agency.
On Monday, Reuters reported that the sources of the tips included information from overseas NSA intercepts, domestic wiretaps, a large database of DEA phone records, and informants from other investigations.
The Special Operations Division of the DEA uses this information to help them launch criminal investigations of Americans. It is worth noting that the DEA phone database (called DICE) is distinct from the NSA phone database exposed by Edward Snowden. The DEA database consists mainly of phone log and Internet data gathered legally by the DEA through subpoenas, arrests and search warrants. DICE includes about 1 billion records, which are kept for about a year and then purged, according to DEA officials.
Monday’s Reuters report cited internal government documents that show that law enforcement agents have been trained to hide how such investigations actually begin – to ‘recreate’ the investigative trail to effectively cover up the original source of the information. DEA officials maintain that this practice is legal and has been used regularly since the 1990s, and that the purpose is not to withhold evidence, but to protect its sources.
Some legal professionals disagree. They say that hiding potential evidence from defendants violates the U.S. Constitution. Documents and interviews have revealed that agents use a process they call “parallel construction” to recreate the investigative trail. For example, they may state that an investigation began with a traffic stop instead of an SOD tip.
The IRS document includes details on the parallel construction program:
Special Operations Division has the ability to collect, collate, analyze, evaluate, and disseminate information and intelligence derived from worldwide multi-agency sources, including classified projects,” the IRS document says. “SOD converts extremely sensitive information into usable leads and tips which are then passed to the field offices for real-time enforcement activity against major international drug trafficking organizations.
The IRS document states that the information is restricted to use in drug-related investigations, but DEA officials said the SOD role was recently expanded and now includes organized crime and money laundering.
According to the document, IRS agents are to use the tips to find new, “independent” evidence:
Usable information regarding these leads must be developed from such independent sources as investigative files, subscriber and toll requests, physical surveillance, wire intercepts, and confidential source information. Information obtained from SOD in response to a search or query request cannot be used directly in any investigation (i.e. cannot be used in affidavits, court proceedings or maintained in investigative files).
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House Intelligence Committee Chairman, Mike Rogers, R-Michigan (who is a former FBI agent), expressed concern over the revelations:
If they’re recreating a trail, that’s wrong and we’re going to have to do something about it. We’re working with the DEA and intelligence organizations to try to find out exactly what that story is.
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Kentucky, said he was troubled that DEA agents have been “trying to cover up a program that investigates Americans.”
“National security is one of government’s most important functions. So is protecting individual liberty,” Paul said. “If the Constitution still has any sway, a government that is constantly overreaching on security while completely neglecting liberty is in grave violation of our founding doctrine.”
The Department of Justice is now investigating the issue and has declined to comment.