An investigation by Reuters revealed that a secretive unit of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) is using information gathered by Intelligence Agencies to facilitate criminal investigations of US residents. The information gathered by intelligence agencies, including the NSA, CIA, and Department of Homeland Security, are supposed to be used for national security and counter-terrorism purposes. Instead, the DEA unit is using intelligence information to go after individuals who are not connected to terrorism. This DEA unit, named the Special Operations Division (SOD) was created in 1994 to target Latin American drug cartels, but since then has warped into a domestic spying operation utilizing unconstitutional powers and procedures.
Examples of the unconstitutional procedures used by SOD include “parallel construction.” The practice of “parallel construction” was exposed by documents reviewed by Reuters. “Parallel construction” is where law enforcement officers, once they begin an investigation based on information from SOD, reconstruct the investigative trail to cover up the information’s origins, and thus deceive the defendant or the defendant’s defense attorney, along with prosecutors and judges involved in the criminal case. The documents also reveal that federal agents and local police are specifically instructed to “omit the SOD’s involvement from investigative reports, affidavits, discussions with prosecutors and courtroom testimony.” Experts, including Harvard law professor and former federal judge Nancy Gertner, believe that this practice violates a defendant’s constitutional right to a fair trial. If the defendant or the defendant’s defense attorney are not aware of how the investigation began, they cannot know how best to explore potential sources of exculpatory evidence – information that may reveal entrapment, mistakes or biased witnesses. Speaking to Reuters, former federal prosecutor Henry E. Hockeimer Jr. criticized SOD’s powers, saying “you can’t game the system, you can’t create this subterfuge. These are drug crimes, not national security cases.”
US law enforcement has imprisoned millions of people on drug-war convictions over the last 20 years. Due to their authorized yet unconstitutional deception caused by “parallel construction,” the number of those drug cases which resulted from evidence collected by spy agencies will never be known. The Reuters article, which broke this story, quotes DEA officials as saying that the DEA has utilized the “parallel construction” procedure “virtually every day since the 1990s.” The amount of phone data the DEA has collected now surpasses the amount of data collected by the National Security Agency (NSA).