A couple of weeks ago, I mused about uses of metadata and the fact that I didn’t trust the government with mine. I know that the Obama apologists (and government apologists in general) were promising us this was nothing new, we’d been spied on before and nothing bad was happening, etc., etc.,
Well, it turns out I was right. Per Reuters by way of The Huffington Post, the NSA has been turning over information to the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), which has the thankless (but remunerative) task of pursuing drug criminals. Since marijuana is still illegal, that means Pot, too. Apparently the program, called Special Operations Division, or SOD, has been around since the early 1990’s, when there was a foreign policy interest in confronting drug dealers, especially those from South America. I’d point you to the books by renegade DEA agent Michael Levine for more on that. And with the fading of the US drug wars in Central and South America, the whole ‘foreign policy’ window-dressing that covered the illegal use of NSA information by the DEA went south. But after 9/11, the DEA had a free hand to use NSA information again–and thanks to advances in technology, several orders of magnitude more information to choose from.
Now as all of us good crime porn addicts know by watching Law and Order, there’s this whole concept of ‘fruit of the poisoned tree’. What it means is that if you’ve illegally obtained evidence (say by questioning a witness without reading him his rights or conducting a search without a warrant), you cannot turn around and use information you discovered as a result of the illegal act after the initial incident/questioning/search is thrown out. But the caveat is that the defense has to know the source of the information. And that’s the rub here–the DEA was providing local law enforcement with not only the information, but a believable narrative of how it was obtained. If I were a defense attorney with multiple high-profile drug clients in lockup, I’d demand to re-open cases to see if NSA information was in fact used.
The other complication: Since the FISA courts and NSA surveillance was strictly about terrorism, the congresscreatures and senators signed on were told that the information was not going to be used in other ways. But the back-door on this is that the briefed legislators could not talk about the testimony, since they were sworn to secrecy. So nobody in government could blow the whistle, even if they knew what was happening. This gives the lie to the whole counter-argument about people like Edward Snowden–even if he felt comfortable going to his local elected official with what he knew, the official could not confirm it and would probably be in great trouble for bringing up the allegations.
And meanwhile, thanks to the DEA, the government has plenty of interesting weapons to use against those who don’t think right and have hobbies involving drugs. There was nothing Abbie Hoffman was doing that could have caused his arrest as a political activist, but there’s more than a hint of entrapment in his 1973 Cocaine arrest and conviction. And if you’re an uber-conspiracy theorist, there’s always the idea that the whole ‘war on drugs’ meme was a way to take hundreds of thousands of young men off the streets and create a permanent underclass of people of color.
Sometimes I think Conspiracy theorists aren’t paranoid enough.