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DEA Paid $237M to Random Citizens to Spy On Your Stuff

 

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From 2011 to 2015, the DEA paid about $237 million to 10,000 or so “voluntary” confidential sources to riffle through the luggage and mail of ordinary citizens. The Department of Justice spent more than two years investigating the system, which is a potential violation of privacy rights and the Fourth Amendment, releasing a report in September and briefing the House oversight committee Wednesday. The system worked like this: The DEA would recruit employees at Amtrak, airlines, and parcel companies and give them cash rewards any time they came to the DEA with evidence, typically large amounts of shipped cash. These sources were supposed to just be volunteering any evidence they came across, but that’s not what happened.

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The Justice Department report found that the “voluntary” sources were basically unofficial paid DEA employees, with some even getting federal health benefits (possibly illegally). One parcel company employee made more than $1 million providing information to the DEA. And TSA employees were taking tips about suspicious packages to the DEA for cash rewards instead of going to their superiors. The DEA can’t say how successful this expensive, potentially privacy-invading system was, because it didn’t keep stats on false searches or bad information that came from the sources.

Members of Congress on Tuesday were frequently frustrated by the lack of information available.

“Are there any metrics on convictions, drug seizures? Like, what did we get for $237 million?” asked Oversight Committee chairman Jason Chaffetz.

But Patterson was only able to say that the DEA is working to be able to answer those questions in the future.

“We are working on properly staffing and reviewing a number of these issues at the headquarters level, making sure that the data getting into our system is proper,” he said.

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