DEA Awarded Millions to Volunteers Searching Luggage, Mail
For five years, the Drug Enforcement Administration recruited and payed “voluntary” sources from Amtrak, airline companies, and parcel companies to search through luggage and mail for illegal items they could turn in for cash rewards.
These searches and the resulting widespread privacy violations were the topic of a House hearing Wednesday.
“If you incentivize an Amtrak employee or an airplane employee or a cargo company employee [to seize shipments of money for a reward], how many boxes are they opening? How many passenger manifests are they providing? How many people are getting pulled out of line to find the person or persons where a seizure results in a reward?” Department of Justice Inspector General Michael Horowitz told the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.
Investigators with the Department of Justice investigated this confidential source program for two and half years. Their findings, released in September, outline a system defined by numerous and far-reaching problems.
In one instance, TSA employees who monitored the X-ray machines at airports would tell DEA about suspicious packages in hopes of receiving a cash reward, instead of alerting their own supervisor.
This program was designed to incentivize voluntary, confidential tipsters to hand over information to the DEA.
In reality, however, federal investigators discovered that “these sources had become a de facto arm of the agency. The informants did repeat business, were well-compensated, and took direction from the DEA on what information to pass on,” reports Buzzfeed.
A few volunteers even made more money tipping off DEA than they did from their day jobs. One airline employee made $600,000 in four years and a parcel employee received more than $1 million over five years.
Overall, DEA awarded $237 million to around 10,000 sources from 2011 to 2015, but cannot conclusively say what they got in return.
“Are there any metrics on convictions, drug seizures? Like, what did we get for $237 million?” asked Oversight Committee chairman Jason Chaffetz.
While DEA recorded instances of success, they failed to log false searches or misinformation.
In reply, DEA Chief of inspections Rob Patterson said DEA is working to be able to answer those questions in the future.
Image: Wikimedia Commons
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