A startling new Reuters story shows one of the biggest dangers of the surveillance state: the unquenchable thirst for access to the NSA’s trove of information by other law enforcement agencies.
As the NSA scoops up phone records and other forms of electronic evidence while investigating national security and terrorism leads, they turn over “tips” to a division of the Drug Enforcement Agency (“DEA”) known as the Special Operations Division (“SOD”). FISA surveillance was originally supposed to be used only in certain specific, authorized national security investigations, but information sharing rules implemented after 9/11 allows the NSA to hand over information to traditional domestic law-enforcement agencies, without any connection to terrorism or national security investigations.
But instead of being truthful with criminal defendants, judges, and even prosecutors about where the information came from, DEA agents are reportedly obscuring the source of these tips. For example, a law enforcement agent could receive a tip from SOD—which SOD, in turn, got from the NSA—to look for a specific car at a certain place. But instead of relying solely on that tip, the agent would be instructed to find his or her own reason to stop and search the car. Agents are directed to keep SOD under wraps and not mention it in “investigative reports, affidavits, discussions with prosecutors and courtroom testimony,” according to Reuters.
“Parallel construction” is really intelligence laundering
The government calls the practice “parallel construction,” but deciphering their double speak, the practice should really be known as “intelligence laundering.” This deception and dishonesty raises a host of serious legal problems.