• DEA Secretly Tracked Billions of Americans’ Calls a Decade Before 9/11

    April 9, 2015

    Tags: , , ,
    Posted in: Democracy, Military, NSA

    phone



    While the Snowden-NSA revelations continue to shock Americans on a daily basis, and illustrate how intrusive the government is in our lives, and how casually it violates our Fourth Amendment right against unwarranted searches, it just got worse.

    It turns out the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) was spying on Americans, gathering metadata on our phone calls, almost a decade before 9/11, and right up to 2013. With help from the U.S. military.



    Decades of Metadata Spying

    In an exclusive report, USA Today learned the U.S. government started keeping secret records of Americans’ international telephone calls nearly a decade before the 9/11 terrorist attacks, harvesting billions of calls in a program that provided a blueprint for the far broader National Security Agency surveillance that followed. The DEA spying only stopped, supposedly, in 2013, no longer needed due to the NSA.

    For more than two decades, the Justice Department and the DEA amassed databases of virtually all telephone calls from the U.S. to as many as 116 countries “linked to drug trafficking.” The State Department officially says there are 195 countries out there, so the DEA was monitoring most of them. The Justice Department revealed in January that the DEA had collected data about calls to “designated foreign countries.” But the comprehensive scale of the operation has not been disclosed until now.

    Federal investigators claim they used the call records — metadata — to track drug cartels’ distribution networks. They say they also used the records to help rule out foreign ties to the bombing in 1995 of a federal building in Oklahoma City and to identify U.S. suspects in other investigations.

    Still believing metadata is not intrusive? Read this.



    Telecoms Roll Over

    America’s telecommunications and phone companies apparently turned over their records voluntarily and without asking for warrants. Officials said a few telephone companies were reluctant to provide so much information, but none ever challenged the issue in court. Those that hesitated received letters from the Justice Department urging them to comply.

    The data collection was “one of the most important and effective Federal drug law enforcement initiatives,” the Justice Department said in a 1998 letter to Sprint. The previously undisclosed letter noted the operation had “been approved at the highest levels of Federal law enforcement authority,” including then-Attorney General Janet Reno and her deputy and later Attorney General during the NSA-spying era, Eric Holder.

    The data collection began in 1992 during the administration of George H.W. Bush, nine years before his son, George W., authorized the NSA to gather its own logs of Americans’ phone calls in 2001. The program was re-approved by top Justice Department officials in the Clinton and Obama administrations. There was no oversight or court approval.



    U.S. Military Involvement

    The DEA program also employed U.S. military assets. When the volume of data threatened to overwhelm DEA, the military responded with a pair of supercomputers and intelligence analysts who had experience tracking the communication patterns of Soviet military units. The supercomputers were installed in DEA headquarters in Arlington, Virginia.

    To keep the whole program secret and thus outside of any legal challenge, the DEA did not to use the information as evidence in criminal prosecutions per se. Instead, its Special Operations Division passed the data to field agents as tips, a process approved by Justice Department lawyers.

    That process is know as “parallel construction,” and has a sordid history. Read this.



    The Template

    They just did it. The template for the NSA’s later spying on America was set long before 9/11. All the elements were already in place: no-questions-asked cooperation from the telcoms, no warrants or oversight, near-perfect secrecy, near-perfect pointless, dragnet security on American citizens in their homes. Multiple administrations, and multiple corporate executives of publicly-traded companies, kept silent.

    One notes that despite all this spying, drugs are still quite available in the U.S. and while it is nice that there was no foreign connection to the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, the DEA spying did miss a whopper of a terror attack some years later. At least 9/11 was not drug-related.

    And for those criminal defense attorneys who might want to reopen some old cases and challenge guilty verdicts based on the unconstitutionality of these searches, sorry. The DEA has destroyed the databases.


    BONUS: The DEA is still mass-targeting Americans, only now via large-scale subpoenas.



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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

  • Recent Comments

    • Rich Bauer said...

      1

      “To keep the whole program secret and thus outside of any legal challenge, the DEA did not use the information as evidence in criminal prosecutions per se. Instead, its Special Operations Division passed the data to field agents as tips, a process approved by Justice Department lawyers.”

      This is the definition of Organized Crime.

      And Murder Incorporated:

      http://thinkprogress.org/justice/2015/04/07/3644189/everything-police-said-walter-scotts-death-video-showed-really-happened/

      04/9/15 8:49 AM | Comment Link

    • Kyzl Orda said...

      2

      Hmmm…so basically, with all this metadata intelligance going on in-country, the spooks STILL FAILED to catch 9/11

      The question posed by the supporters of the surveillance state is often why not let this surveillance happen, if we have nothing to hide?

      With (self)-waiving the laws, that just can’t make the surveillance process any easier for people whom oath-taking to uphold the Constitution is a ‘meh’ thing. Only ‘libtards’ who haven’t been in a foxhole would complain so, isn’t that the standard argument in favour of mass surveillence?

      The real question, as this situation becomes more crystal clear, should be reposed –if these supporters of mass state surveillance FAIL to catch something like 9/11 (let’s not visit, for today’s theme, the issue FBI NY did become aware of someting and the interagency turf ego battle that ensued), why should we trust mass surveillance if the supporters of it STILL FAIL do the job?? Just how many chances are we supposed to permit before these guys, after 20 years now at least??? (Let’s be generous and look only a the last 20 years, not prior, and focus on the technological innovations that feed this whimsical process)

      If you were a 9/11 terrorist, basically with this information coming out, you don’t need to even consider hiding illegal actions, because the surveillance process cannot protect the public. So the question, why should you care if you have nothing to hide, is moot. The question is — we can’t make this process any easier for the surveillance supporters — so why are they still failing at doing the job?

      04/9/15 9:04 AM | Comment Link

    • Rich Bauer said...

      3

      “The question is — we can’t make this process any easier for the surveillance supporters — so why are they still failing at doing the job?”

      Because McDonalds wasn’t hiring.

      04/9/15 9:19 AM | Comment Link

    • bloodypitchfork said...

      4

      “They just did it.”

      Exactly. And THAT is the real point. The NSA did too. Only the DOJ knew that they couldn’t support BOTH agencies breaking the law. So they closed down DEA’s in the view that “national security” trumps drug investigations.

      Meanwhile, Congress keeps codifying usurping the 4th Amendment.

      “To keep the whole program secret and thus outside of any legal challenge, the DEA did not use the information as evidence in criminal prosecutions per se. Instead, its Special Operations Division passed the data to field agents as tips, a process approved by Justice Department lawyers.”

      Indeed. Not only were US Attorney prosecutors instructed by SOD to blatantly lie to a judges face to keep parallel construction from being disclosed, in those cases where Stingray’s were used, even by local Sheriff offices, even the purchase of Stingrays was precluded by signing a non-disclosure agreement with the FBI to the point if ever a Judge rendered an order forcing the law enforcement agency in question, to disclose their use of Stingrays, they had to notify the FBI so the FBI could “intervene”, notwithstanding signing a non disclosure agreement with Harris Inc. itself, which on it’s face, seems illegal, not to mention what it says about this stinking corporation.

      http://www.nyclu.org/files/20120629-renondisclsure-obligations%28Harris-ECSO%29.pdf

      “This is the definition of Organized Crime.”

      Indeed, is there any question our government has redefined the words ..crime syndicate as well?

      …With Justice and Liberty for All. right.

      In a fucking “parallel” universe maybe.

      04/9/15 12:10 PM | Comment Link

    • bloodypitchfork said...

      5

      meanwhile, I’ma thinkin this.

      We’re all witnessing the actual,in real time sinking of the USS Titanic. Regardless of what you see around you daily. The foundations of the Framers ideas captured on a piece of paper, underwritten by 200 years of belief and support by virtue of millions of human lives given in up freely in the hopes that LIBERTY, JUSTICE, and GODGIVEN FREEDOMS would last eternally, the living truth that those aspirations written in blood.. is disappearing around you daily.

      Youbetcha. I’ma thinkin.

      Meanwhile.. I’ma thinkin Satchmo and Peggy Lee sang the living proof that cognitive dissonance is alive and well:

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E2VCwBzGdPM

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LCRZZC-DH7M

      ok.. bartender..ah.you already knew you sly fox.

      04/9/15 6:28 PM | Comment Link

    • Steve Livacich said...

      6

      I thought that it was known that the DEA/NSA was doing so — legal loopholes existed !!

      04/9/15 7:46 PM | Comment Link

    • Steve Livacich said...

      7

      It once was that the telephone companies would have its operators listen to conversations and could eavesdrop on conversations through telephones (pulse tone type). Martin Luther King,
      the Black Panthers, and targeted criminals all were eavesdropped upon — without warrant in routine fashion during the period of the 1940’s to the 1980’s !
      This is now merely a return of this practice updated with new technology.

      04/9/15 7:57 PM | Comment Link

    • Rich Bauer said...

      8

      “This is now merely a return of this practice updated with new technology.”

      They couldn’t indict them with illegal evidence so they killed them.

      04/10/15 1:23 PM | Comment Link

    • Rich Bauer said...

      9

      04/10/15 1:26 PM | Comment Link

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