Colombia’s Secret Narco-Police (2006)
April 13, 2016
Claims of Collaboration with Drug Traffickers and Paramilitaries Sting the Country’s DAS Security Service and Support Allegations of DEA Corruption Published in Narco News
Though it has barely registered in the U.S. press, a national scandal is currently unfolding in Colombia, where a jailed high official of the Administrative Department for Security (DAS, in its Spanish initials) has been speaking freely with journalists about the extensive collaboration between the secret police agency and right-wing paramilitary groups.
Rafael García lost his post as DAS’ information technology chief after being charged with taking bribes from rightwing paramilitaries and narcos (often, one and the same). He now claims that DAS has been working for years, at least since Uribe’s 2002 election, in conjunction with the paras and their narco allies, sharing documents and intelligence to help kill and intimidate activists and unionists, help powerful drug traffickers avoid prosecution and murder informants. And investigative journalists in Colombia have verified and shed more light on a number of these claims.
Sound familiar? Narco News for the past four months has been uncovering a web of corruption linking the U.S.’s own DEA agents and other law enforcement personnel with drug traffickers and paramilitaries in Colombia. The new allegations about paramilitary and narco infiltration of the DAS make the “Kent Memo” (the internal Justice Department document claiming corruption in the DEA’s Bogotá office) all the more believable. They give a picture of a war on “drugs and terror” in Colombia that is corrupt to the core, and in which the most powerful narcos are seasoned experts at working with the same law enforcement entities charged with bringing them down.
Jorge Noguera on the cover of Cambio magazine.
The DAS is a strange beast, jumping in to many roles that in most countries would be handled by several different agencies. It handles immigration and tourist visas in the airports, provides security to important political figures, does intelligence work for the ongoing civil war (occasionally combating rebels alongside the army), and functions as a secret police force that can arrest and interrogate anyone deemed to be a security threat. What narco with half a brain wouldn’t try to infiltrate an organization that holds the keys to so many doors?
The DAS does not fall under any justice department but rather is directly controlled by the president’s office. It is small wonder, then, that such revelations about the DAS would surface under the watch of Álvaro Uribe Vélez, the narcopresidente himself. The scandal has been brewing since last fall, when a DAS chief — who received his post shortly after Uribe took office — resigned after the Bogotá newspaper El Tiempo discovered some tapes that let the cat out of the bag. As Ramón Acevedo reported for Narco News in November:
After many years of international and national pressure to abide by international human rights, the Colombian government continues to use the military and paramilitary “death squads” as main weapons against the civilian population and political opposition. For decades, the Colombian military and their paramilitary allies have enjoyed a high level of impunity from judicial processes. Most recently, on October 23rd the head of Colombia’s secret police (DAS), Jorge Noguera, resigned after the discovery of tapes discussing the agency’s alleged plans to give intelligence information to the paramilitaries. In addition, the paramilitaries have boasted many times of how they control more than 35 percent of the Colombian congress.
Until this scandal broke, Noguera had been living with his family in a luxury Bogotá penthouse that the DNE (Colombia’s drug control administration) had seized from a drug trafficker and turned over to him, with the DAS footing the bill for the hundreds of dollars a month in administration and utilities, according to Cambio magazine. The Colombian government claims it is now investigating Noguera, but Uribe quickly took him out of the spotlight by whisking him away to work at the Colombian consulate in Milan, Italy.
Semana magazine, one of the two major glossy newsmagazines in Colombia along with Cambio, published an extensive interview earlier this month with Rafael García. García spoke mainly of “Jorge 40,” one of the most powerful paramilitary chiefs in the country (and under indictment for drug trafficking in the U.S.). Semana’s journalists asked who else wielded influence over the spy agency.
SEMANA: Apart from paramilitary groups, was there also infiltration from and collaboration with known narco-traffickers?
R.G.: Giancarlo (Auqué, a former DAS intelligence director) and Jorge Norguera passed privileged information to Diego Montoya, and the idea wasn’t for him to hide but to warn him that there was a snitch in his organization who was reporting his location. Giancarlo himself told me this while he was working as intelligence director. Giancarlo told me that an intelligence report had arrived that said “Don Diego” was being pursued around the Cimitarra valley, and that we had to find a way to warn him because there was a snitch inside of his organization. If it was someone from the DAS, the police or the attorney general’s office, I don’t know. But we had to help him so that he could locate the informant. Jorge Noguera used Jimmy Nassar (one of his advisors) as his messenger because it was Nasser who had direct relations with the North Valley Cartel.
Wílber Alirio Varela
Photo: State Department
García is not the only one who has talked. DAS sub-director José Miguel Narváez turned on his boss, Noguera, last fall and was one of the main forces behind Noguera’s downfall. In September, Carlos Moreno, an agent who claimed he had been fired unfairly came to complain to Narváez, who recorded their conversation. Cambio obtained a copy of the recording and revealed its contents two weeks ago. According to that story:
The conversation’s content is hair-raising, and refers to extrajudicial killings apparently ordered by DAS’ Intelligence Directorate, deaths of informants that were no longer useful or represented some danger because they had too much information; theft of files from the Fiscalía (attorney general’s office) which mentioned DAS officials, such as files on drug trafficker Wílber Alirio Varela, alias “Jabón,” and the theft of reports from intelligence files on paramilitary boss Martín Llanos in return for huge payments.
Moreno says on tape that he personally stole files from the Fiscalía and believes that Varela requested this.
Damage Control: Attacking the Messenger
With just weeks to go in Colombia’s presidential race, in which Uribe stands for reelection on May 28, the DAS scandal threatens to tarnish his golden-boy image and dent his popularity, often seen by supporters and demoralized opponents as invincible.
Former DAS information chief Rafael García, for one, doesn’t buy Uribe’s cries of innocence. From his interview with Semana:
SEMANA: On several occasions you accompanied Noguera to the Palacio de Nariño (Colombia’s White House). How much did President Álvaro Uribe know about all this?
RG: I can’t answer that for you. I will tell the Fiscalía or a foreign government after I know my family is protected.
What I would say to the public is, could it be that (Peruvian president) Fujimori didn’t know what Vladimiro Montesinos was doing? I don’t know how someone could have done so many things without his superior finding out. What I am saying is the truth. If I have to pay with my life for daring to tell the truth, I will assume the consequences.
Predictably, both Noguera and Uribe have responded by lashing out at their critics in the press. Instead of any substantial reply to their questions or response to García’s claims, Cambio’s reporters received these answers when they contacted Noguera by phone at his bunker in Milan:
“I don’t care what a delinquent like Rafael García says about me.”
“García is capable of selling his own mother to get away with what he’s done. His claims are the product of an old grudge.”
“His words should have the same credibility as Pablo Escobar’s did in his time.”
“For a long time I have asked the Fiscalía to take my statement in order to definitively close this chapter.”
“I don’t trust the journalists of Colombia because they have done me a lot of damage. They publish whatever they want.”
Intimidating the press is certainly nothing new to DAS, though it is usually done more subtly. Last June, journalist and friend of Narco News César Jérez of Prensa Rural, who with his all-volunteer staff fearlessly reports on rural struggles in Colombia, especially around the paramilitary-infested oil town of Barrancabermeja and the Cimitarra valley, found himself being followed through the streets of that city by DAS agents.
And President Uribe has lived up to his reputation of total intolerance toward any criticism from civil society. In a recent interview with RCN radio, he said:
…You see, I am very respectful of the media and never take any action against them. But the media cannot hope to, they have to decide if they are serious or if they practice yellow journalism. If they are media that are part of a the democratic rule of law, or if they are media that stand in for the justice system. If they are media that respect instructions and exercise their right to the free press within those, or if they stand in for the justice system. If they are media that respect the Constitution, that respect people’s basic rights such as the right to their own dignity, or if they are media that commit any act of responsibility just to make sales.
The thing is that they are making hasty accusations here. Who knows what kind of political manipulation is behind journalism to create scandals or produce yellow journalism. These media outlets, like the one you cite [referring to Semana magazine], to make money, without daring to look at the other side, take people down and condemn them without even listening to them. They attack the good names of people and institutions if they feel like it, without listening to them…
This is Uribe’s favorite tactic: to separate his critics, be they human rights groups or commercial journalists, into “bad guys” and “good guys.” It reminds one of Joe McCarthy’s flailing in the face of Ed Murrow’s journalism, answering serious charges supported by evidence with accusations of subversion and communism.
That arrogant contempt for the press, for honest, independent investigation of elected officials, was eventually McCarthy’s downfall.
Overlap with Alleged DEA Corruption
Drug warriors will point to cases such as this one as proof that the U.S. needs to be involved in Colombia, as a sort of check to the corruption of local law enforcement. But the DAS is not the only law enforcement agency now accused of outing informants to help drug-trafficking allies.
Among the claims in the Kent memo is the allegation that corrupt Bogotá DEA agents leaked the name of one of their informants as part of their work protecting an unnamed narco-trafficker. The informant, former North Valley Cartel leader Jose Nelson Urrego, was trying to help Miami DEA agents investigate the guerrillas of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and their supposed involvement in the drug trade. But the Bogotá agents put as many obstacles in the Miami agents’ path as possible, eventually revealing him as an informant. As Bill Conroy reported in February:
Not only was Urrego in a position to reveal intimate details about the operations of Colombian drug traffickers, including possibly any links they might have to the allegedly corrupt DEA agents in Colombia, but he also could have opened up a can of worms with respect to narco-financing of Colombian political candidates.
In any event, the efforts by Fields and his fellow DEA agents in Miami to bring Urrego in-house as an informant came to an abrupt end, according to the Kent memo, when someone sent a document to Urrego containing confidential DEA information that revealed he was cooperating with the DEA. Whoever sent this document to Urrego was essentially threatening Urrego’s life, as being pointed out as a DEA collaborator can be a death sentence in the drug underworld.
A narco-trafficker alleged to be the source of that fax later took a lie detector test and told investigators he had received internal documents from DEA agents. Though he passed the polygraph, sources told Conroy, the results were covered up.
Other informants for the Florida agents also mysteriously ended up dead after running up against the allegedly corrupt Bogotá agents. From Conroy’s original story:
During the course of an investigation into a Colombian narco-trafficking operation, a group of DEA agents in Florida had zeroed in on several targets, with the help of several Colombian informants. Once the targets were identified as being part of the drug ring, they began to cooperate with the Florida-based agents.
“… They made startling revelations concerning DEA agents in Bogotá,” Kent writes. “They alleged that they were assisted in their narcotics activities by the [Bogotá] agents. Specifically, they alleged that the agents provided them with information on investigations and other law enforcement activities in Colombia.”
The traffickers eventually gave the Florida agents copies of confidential DEA reports, which the Bogotá agents allegedly had handed over to the traffickers. After the Florida agents turned these documents over to the OPR and OIG, one of them was put on “administrative leave” — the first sign that a cover-up was underway.
While the Florida agent was out on leave, the Bogotá agents set up a meeting with one of the informants.
“As the informant left that meeting, he was murdered,” Kent states. “Other informants … who also worked with the DEA group in Florida were also murdered. Each murder was preceded by a request for their identity by an agent in Bogotá.”
Beyond the similarity in the DEA and DAS agents’ alleged behavior — both outing informants to protect narcos — the names of the narco-traffickers involved also overlap.
David Tinsley, a supervisor with the DEA’s Miami office, oversaw “Operation Cali-Man,” and a follow-up operation called “Rainmaker.” Both were undercover operations targeting Colombian drug traffickers. Rainmaker, though, focused in part on corrupt Colombian law enforcers. It was just when Cali-Man was wrapping up and Rainmaker was beginning that Bogotá agents, including Leo Arreguin who was at the time in charge of the DEA’s Bogotá office, complained to headquarters about the operations and eventually convinced Washington to shut them down and place Tinsley on administrative leave. (Arreguin accused Tinsley of corruption involving one of his informants, Baruch Vega.) Several of the major traffickers that Tinsley had made cases against in Cali-Man were not indicted or prosecuted for years due to the charges against him.
A source in the DEA familiar with operations Cali-Man and Rainmaker has confirmed to Narco News that the same North Valley Cartel leaders that infiltrated the DAS — Diego Montoya and Wílber Varela — were Tinsley’s targets with Cali-Man. Conroy’s investigations have suggested that the Bogotá agents did everything possible to shut down Rainmaker, Cali-Man and other operations run by the Florida office, either to protect allies in organized crime or to protect themselves from the revelation of embarrassing information.
Former FBI, DEA and CIA informant Baruch Vega told Narco News that Wílber Varela and Diego Montoya were both players in what he calls the “Devil’s Cartel.” As Bill Conroy reported on March 18:
Vega says the many pieces of this dark mystery make it appear very complicated to unravel.
“But, if they are lined up in the right way, it becomes easy to understand,” he adds. “It’s a matter of putting the right players in the right place.”
The way things lined up, according to Vega, involved what amounts to the perfect narco-trafficking organization, which he describes as the “Devil’s Cartel.”
This so-called Devil’s Cartel was an alliance of North Valley traffickers, many of them former Colombian National Police officials, along with active members of the Colombian National Police under the direction of a corrupt Colombian National Police colonel named Danilo Gonzalez.
Paramilitary forces under the leadership of Carlos Castaño, who headed the murderous United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (the AUC), provided the muscle and protection for this Devil’s Cartel and its operations, Vega contends.
The U.S. government indicted Castaño in 2002 on narco-trafficking charges. Two years later, Castaño disappeared, after a reported attempt on his life in Colombia. He is presumed dead, although his body was never found.
The intelligence arm of this Devil’s Cartel, Vega claims, was composed of corrupt U.S. federal agents with DEA and U.S. Customs.
Read the full story for more background on Vega. Not all of his claims can be independently verified, but as more and more comes out about the DAS scandal, what Vega says sounds more and more plausible.
It’s also difficult to imagine that DEA and CIA agents in Colombia haven’t worked with Noguera and other DAS officials named in the scandal at some point. In fact, early in the tape obtained by Cambio, Carlos Moreno, the fired DAS agent, refers to a CIA agent that worked with alleged DAS hitmen:
AGENT THAT ACCOMPANIED MORENO: Look, doctor (Narváez), the thing is that they had this boy here, Carlos… as a hit man. Ariza [then chief of intellegence] told him that he had to do it. They bought him the motorcycle, the gun, all that, and they went around knocking people off, throwing them (in the garbage). That’s the truth.
MORENO: Yes, that is the truth, doctor.
JOSÉ MIGUEL NARVÁEZ: But how did it work? Tell me more…
MORENO: When Enrique Ariza was approved as chief of intelligence, they called me to have me meet with some guys that are in a little group that works with Scott. I know Scott, he’s from the CIA. At that time there was a group forming, out of DAS people themselves, to do “limpieza” [literally, “cleansing”]. Many times, I did the job of killing informants. They ordered me to do it, so I did it.
OTHER AGENT: Yes, he has done this for the institution… They are looking for him in order to kill him, and he doesn’t deserve to be left out in the cold, doctor…
No further information has come out regarding this supposed CIA agent. Nor is it clear in the transcript what exactly is meant by “cleansing” — whether this meant cleansing the DAS of agents that were somehow problematic, or something more sinister such as eliminating informants and witnesses.
Narco News continues to dig deeper into the DEA and other U.S. agencies’ corruption and involvement with narco-traffickers, trying to flesh out the connections, separate the fact from the fiction, the truth from the spin. Hopefully, the few honest reporters among the Colombian media — usually as bought and sold as their U.S. counterparts — will continue to reveal the depths to which the DAS and other Colombian state entities have sunk. Uribe may well survive this scandal and win his reelection… with the usual help from his DAS, narco and paramilitary allies, along with his friends in Washington. Either way, how much longer will people in Colombia and the U.S. put up with life in the crossfire of a war on drugs in which the two sides have become so indistinguishable?
By Dan Feder
April 29, 2006
Find this story at 29 April 2006
In Secret AT&T Deal, U.S. Drug Agents Given Access to 26 Years of Americans’ Phone Records
September 6, 2013
The New York Times has revealed the Drug Enforcement Administration has an even more extensive collection of U.S. phone records than the National Security Agency. Under a secretive DEA program called the Hemisphere Project, the agency has access to records of every phone call transmitted via AT&T’s infrastructure dating back to 1987. That period covers an even longer stretch of time than the NSA’s collection of phone records, which started under President George W. Bush. Each day, some four billion call records are swept into the database, which is stored by AT&T. The U.S. government then pays for AT&T employees to station themselves inside DEA units, where they can quickly hand over records after agents obtain an administrative subpoena. The DEA says the collection allows it to catch drug dealers who frequently switch phones, but civil liberties advocates say it raises major privacy concerns. We speak with Scott Shane, national security reporter for The New York Times and co-author of the report, “Drug Agents Use Vast Phone Trove, Eclipsing NSA’s.”
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: In a moment we’ll be talking about the death of David Frost with the director Ron Howard, but first we turn to news that one government agency has an even more extensive collection of U.S. phone records than the National Security Administration, the NSA. That agency is the Drug Enforcement Administration. In a front-page article, The New York Times has revealed a secretive operation inside the DEA called the Hemisphere Project. Under this program, the DEA has access to records of every phone call over AT&T’s network dating back to 1987. That period covers a longer stretch of time than the NSA’s collection of phone records, which began under President George W. Bush. Some four billion call records are gathered to the DEA’s database every day. It’s unclear if other major phone companies are involved.
Unlike with the NSA, the DEA’s phone records are actually stored by AT&T. The U.S. government then pays for AT&T employees to station themselves inside DEA units, where they can quickly hand over data after agents obtain an administrative subpoena. The U.S. government says the program allows DEA agents to keep up with those in the drug trade who often switch phones. In a statement, Justice Department spokesperson Brian Fallon said that “subpoenaing drug dealers’ phone records is a bread-and-butter tactic in the course of criminal investigations” and that Hemisphere “simply streamlines the process.”
The disclosure of the DEA’s Hemisphere program follows another major revelation involving the DEA and government surveillance. It was revealed last month a secretive DEA unit has used information taken from NSA wiretaps for cases unrelated to terrorism. The DEA has also provided classified intelligence obtained by the NSA and other sources to the Internal Revenue Service to help in their investigations of Americans.
Well, for more, we’re joined by Scott Shane, national security reporter for The New York Times. His front-page article, co-written with Colin Moynihan, appeared in Monday’s New York Times, “Drug Agents Use Vast Phone Trove, Eclipsing N.S.A.’s.”
Welcome to Democracy Now!, Scott Shane. Explain exactly how it’s done and how you found out about this.
SCOTT SHANE: Well, as you mentioned, I wrote this article with Colin Moynihan, a colleague at The New York Times, and he received from an activist in Washington state, named Drew Hendricks, a 27-slide PowerPoint, which was prepared by AT&T and government agents, apparently DEA or possibly other government agencies, and essentially they’re training slides to introduce folks who are going to be working on the Hemisphere Project, how it works and what it can do. And Drew Hendricks, the activist in Washington, got these slides as part of a series of public information requests. He’s sort of a peace activist out there, and he had been helping some folks with a lawsuit and just, you know, fired off a bunch of public information requests to police agencies in Washington state and other places on the West Coast. This set of slides came back with one of those requests.
Drew Hendricks believes it may have been sent actually by accident, included by accident. And so—but, in fact, it’s unclassified. It’s marked “Law enforcement sensitive,” but it’s unclassified, and it actually states that the Hemisphere Project is unclassified. What’s kind of remarkable to us is that this has been going on for at least six years under the name Hemisphere Project, and it’s unclassified, but no one has ever learned about it. I couldn’t find a single reference to it in the Nexis database or on the web. And so, they’ve kept it very well hidden, and indeed some of the slides say, if you get information from Hemisphere, never reveal the source of the information. So, the government has kept this very, very well hidden, along with AT&T.
AMY GOODMAN: And explain what exactly it is, what AT&T is keeping records of and how the government uses this information.
SCOTT SHANE: AT&T operates what are called switches, through which telephone calls travel all around the country. And what AT&T does in this program is it collects all the—what are called the CDRs, the call data records, the so-called metadata from the calls that we’ve heard about in the NSA context. This is the phone number—phone numbers involved in a call, its time, its duration, and in this case it’s also the location. Some are cellphone calls; some are land line calls. Anything that travels through an AT&T switch, even if it’s not made by an AT&T customer—for example, if you’re using your T-Mobile cellphone but your call travels through an AT&T switch somewhere in the country, it will be picked up by this project and dumped into this database. So AT&T collects the information on all these calls, basically who called who when all over the country. And as you mentioned, there is a slide that says four billion—with a B—call data records are added to the database every day. I’m told by some technical experts that it’s possible one call can create more than one call data record. Apparently, if a cellphone, for example, in a moving car switches from one tower to another, that could be another record, so—because those numbers sound pretty high, 12—you know, maybe 12 or so calls per American per day.
But anyway, all that call data goes into this giant database, and then when a drug agent at one of three centers around the country—in Los Angeles, Houston and Atlanta—finds a number of interest, they can ask the AT&T person sitting next to them, “Check this out.” The AT&T person accesses the database, the Hemisphere database, and they can come back with a record of, you know, “Here’s the other numbers called by this number, the number you’re interested in,” and when and where, in many cases, and then they can follow up.
I should say that in order to access the database, the government says that the agent asking AT&T to make the search has to produce at least what’s called an administrative subpoena, which is essentially a form, a DEA form, not approved by a court or by a judge, but simply a DEA form saying, you know, here’s why we’re interested in this number. So there’s no judicial oversight, but it is—these administrative subpoenas are used routinely in a criminal investigation. So the government’s side of the story is that this is no different from kind of routine criminal investigation that happens every day.
AMY GOODMAN: Scott Shane, very quickly, my final question is about the issue of privacy. What does this raise for Americans?
SCOTT SHANE: Well, I think what it shows is that, apart from the program we’ve learned about with the NSA in recent months, there are many other programs that the government has, many of them related to law enforcement as well as to intelligence gathering, and also that the government works extremely closely with some telecommunications and Internet companies, sometimes using court orders but often using voluntary arrangements like this one, and often paying the companies to participate, so that the universe of data that’s gathered and has implications for American privacy goes way beyond any one agency or even beyond the government itself into the corporate sector.
AMY GOODMAN: Scott Shane, I want to thank you for being with us, national security reporter for The New York Times. We’ll link to your front-page article yesterday, “Drug Agents Use Vast Phone Trove, Eclipsing N.S.A.’s.”
Tuesday, September 3, 2013
Find this story at 3 September 2013
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DEA has more extensive domestic phone surveillance op than NSA
September 6, 2013
For at least six years, US anti-drug agents have used subpoenas to routinely gain access to an enormous AT&T database. It’s an intrusion greater in scale and longevity than the NSA’s collection of phone calls, revealed by Edward Snowden’s leaks.
As part of the secret Hemisphere Project the government has been paying AT&T to place its employees in drug-fighting units around the country, the New York Times reports.
The US’s largest telecoms operator has been supplying phone data to the Drug Enforcement Administration since 1987.
The project covers every call that passes through an AT&T switch, including those made by clients of other operators, with some four billion call records added to the database on a daily basis.
And, unlike the much debated NSA data, the Hemisphere data includes information on the location of those, making the calls.
The New York Times found out about the surveillance program after it received slides, describing the Hemisphere Project, from peace activist, Drew Hendricks.
The activist said he was sent the PowerPoint presentation – which is unclassified, but marked “Law enforcement sensitive” – in response to a series of public information requests to West Coast police agencies.
The slides revealed that the program was launched back in 2007 and has been carried out in great secrecy since then.
“All requestors are instructed to never refer to Hemisphere in any official document,” one of the slides said.
The paper performed a search of the Nexis database, but found no reference to the program in news reports or Congressional hearings.
The US administration has acknowledged that Hemisphere is operational in three states, adding that the project employed routine investigative procedures used in criminal cases for decades and posed no novel privacy issues.
Justice Department spokesman, Brian Fallon, stressed that it’s crucial that the phone data is stored by AT&T, and not by the government like in the NSA case. It has requested phone numbers of interest mainly using what are called “administrative subpoenas,” those issued not by a grand jury or a judge, but by a federal agency, the DEA.
According to the spokesman, Hemisphere proved especially effective in finding criminals, who frequently discard their cellphones in order to avoid being tracked by polices.
“Subpoenaing drug dealers’ phone records is a bread-and-butter tactic in the course of criminal investigations,” he said in a statement.
The 27-slide PowerPoint presentation highlights several cases, in which Hemisphere solved big crimes, with not all of them being drug-related.
For example, this March it found the new phone number and location of a man, who impersonated a general at a San Diego Navy base and then ran over a Navy intelligence agent.
In 2011, Hemisphere tracked Seattle drug dealers, who were rotating prepaid phones, leading to the seizure of 136 kilos of cocaine and $2.2 million.
AT&T spokesman, Mark A. Siegel, declined to answer detailed questions on Hemisphere, only saying that AT&T “like all other companies, must respond to valid subpoenas issued by law enforcement.”
Representatives from Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile all declined to comment when asked by the New York Times whether their companies participated in Hemisphere or any other similar programs.
An undisclosed federal law enforcement official told the paper the Hemisphere Project was “singular” and that he knew of no comparable program involving other phone companies.
It’s not the first time AT&T has been involved in federal surveillance programs, the company operated a telecommunication interception facility for the NSA between 2003 and 2006.
Published time: September 02, 2013 23:41
Edited time: September 04, 2013 09:04
Find this story at 4 September 2013
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Drug Agents Use Vast Phone Trove, Eclipsing N.S.A.’s
September 6, 2013
For at least six years, law enforcement officials working on a counternarcotics program have had routine access, using subpoenas, to an enormous AT&T database that contains the records of decades of Americans’ phone calls — parallel to but covering a far longer time than the National Security Agency’s hotly disputed collection of phone call logs.
The Hemisphere Project, a partnership between federal and local drug officials and AT&T that has not previously been reported, involves an extremely close association between the government and the telecommunications giant.
The government pays AT&T to place its employees in drug-fighting units around the country. Those employees sit alongside Drug Enforcement Administration agents and local detectives and supply them with the phone data from as far back as 1987.
The project comes to light at a time of vigorous public debate over the proper limits on government surveillance and on the relationship between government agencies and communications companies. It offers the most significant look to date at the use of such large-scale data for law enforcement, rather than for national security.
The scale and longevity of the data storage appears to be unmatched by other government programs, including the N.S.A.’s gathering of phone call logs under the Patriot Act. The N.S.A. stores the data for nearly all calls in the United States, including phone numbers and time and duration of calls, for five years.
Hemisphere covers every call that passes through an AT&T switch — not just those made by AT&T customers — and includes calls dating back 26 years, according to Hemisphere training slides bearing the logo of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy. Some four billion call records are added to the database every day, the slides say; technical specialists say a single call may generate more than one record. Unlike the N.S.A. data, the Hemisphere data includes information on the locations of callers.
The slides were given to The New York Times by Drew Hendricks, a peace activist in Port Hadlock, Wash. He said he had received the PowerPoint presentation, which is unclassified but marked “Law enforcement sensitive,” in response to a series of public information requests to West Coast police agencies.
The program was started in 2007, according to the slides, and has been carried out in great secrecy.
“All requestors are instructed to never refer to Hemisphere in any official document,” one slide says. A search of the Nexis database found no reference to the program in news reports or Congressional hearings.
The Obama administration acknowledged the extraordinary scale of the Hemisphere database and the unusual embedding of AT&T employees in government drug units in three states.
But they said the project, which has proved especially useful in finding criminals who discard cellphones frequently to thwart government tracking, employed routine investigative procedures used in criminal cases for decades and posed no novel privacy issues.
Crucially, they said, the phone data is stored by AT&T, and not by the government as in the N.S.A. program. It is queried for phone numbers of interest mainly using what are called “administrative subpoenas,” those issued not by a grand jury or a judge but by a federal agency, in this case the D.E.A.
Brian Fallon, a Justice Department spokesman, said in a statement that “subpoenaing drug dealers’ phone records is a bread-and-butter tactic in the course of criminal investigations.”
Mr. Fallon said that “the records are maintained at all times by the phone company, not the government,” and that Hemisphere “simply streamlines the process of serving the subpoena to the phone company so law enforcement can quickly keep up with drug dealers when they switch phone numbers to try to avoid detection.”
He said that the program was paid for by the D.E.A. and the White House drug policy office but that the cost was not immediately available.
Officials said four AT&T employees are now working in what is called the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area program, which brings together D.E.A. and local investigators — two in the program’s Atlanta office and one each in Houston and Los Angeles.
Daniel C. Richman, a law professor at Columbia, said he sympathized with the government’s argument that it needs such voluminous data to catch criminals in the era of disposable cellphones.
“Is this a massive change in the way the government operates? No,” said Mr. Richman, who worked as a federal drug prosecutor in Manhattan in the early 1990s. “Actually you could say that it’s a desperate effort by the government to catch up.”
But Mr. Richman said the program at least touched on an unresolved Fourth Amendment question: whether mere government possession of huge amounts of private data, rather than its actual use, may trespass on the amendment’s requirement that searches be “reasonable.” Even though the data resides with AT&T, the deep interest and involvement of the government in its storage may raise constitutional issues, he said.
Jameel Jaffer, deputy legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union, said the 27-slide PowerPoint presentation, evidently updated this year to train AT&T employees for the program, “certainly raises profound privacy concerns.”
“I’d speculate that one reason for the secrecy of the program is that it would be very hard to justify it to the public or the courts,” he said.
Mr. Jaffer said that while the database remained in AT&T’s possession, “the integration of government agents into the process means there are serious Fourth Amendment concerns.”
Mr. Hendricks filed the public records requests while assisting other activists who have filed a federal lawsuit saying that a civilian intelligence analyst at an Army base near Tacoma infiltrated and spied on antiwar groups. (Federal officials confirmed that the slides are authentic.)
Mark A. Siegel, a spokesman for AT&T, declined to answer more than a dozen detailed questions, including ones about what percentage of phone calls made in the United States were covered by Hemisphere, the size of the Hemisphere database, whether the AT&T employees working on Hemisphere had security clearances and whether the company has conducted any legal review of the program
“While we cannot comment on any particular matter, we, like all other companies, must respond to valid subpoenas issued by law enforcement,” Mr. Siegel wrote in an e-mail.
Representatives from Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile all declined to comment on Sunday in response to questions about whether their companies were aware of Hemisphere or participated in that program or similar ones. A federal law enforcement official said that the Hemisphere Project was “singular” and that he knew of no comparable program involving other phone companies.
The PowerPoint slides outline several “success stories” highlighting the program’s achievements and showing that it is used in investigating a range of crimes, not just drug violations. The slides emphasize the program’s value in tracing suspects who use replacement phones, sometimes called “burner” phones, who switch phone numbers or who are otherwise difficult to locate or identify.
In March 2013, for instance, Hemisphere found the new phone number and location of a man who impersonated a general at a San Diego Navy base and then ran over a Navy intelligence agent. A month earlier the program helped catch a South Carolina woman who had made a series of bomb threats.
And in Seattle in 2011, the document says, Hemisphere tracked drug dealers who were rotating prepaid phones, leading to the seizure of 136 kilos of cocaine and $2.2 million.
September 1, 2013
By SCOTT SHANE and COLIN MOYNIHAN
Find this story at 1 September 2013
© 2013 The New York Times Company
Release of DEA Agent Kiki Camarena’s “Murderer” Is Game Changer for CIA
September 6, 2013
Narco-Trafficker Rafael Caro Quintero Knows Where All the Skeletons Are Buried in the US’ Dirty Drug War
The recent release from a Mexican prison of Rafael Caro Quintero — a godfather in Mexico’s narco-trafficking world — rips a scab off a long metastasizing tumor in the US drug war.
A Mexican federal court on Friday, Aug. 9, overturned Caro Quintero’s 40-year sentence after 28 years served because, the court contends, he was tried wrongly in a federal court for a state offense. Caro Quintero was convicted of orchestrating the brutal torture and murder of US DEA agent Enrique “Kiki” Camarena — who was abducted on Feb. 7, 1985, after leaving the US Consulate in Guadalajara, Mexico, to meet his wife for lunch. His body was found several weeks later buried in a shallow grave some 70 miles north of Guadalajara.
Caro Quintero’s release from prison brings to the surface once again some longstanding, unsettled questions about the US government’s role in the war on drugs. The recent mainstream media coverage of Caro Quintero’s release has focused, in the main, on the shock and anger of US officials — who are now waving the Camarena case in the public arena like a bloody flag, arguing his honor, and that of the nation’s, must be avenged in the wake of Mexico’s affront in allowing Caro Quintero to walk free.
What is not being discussed is the US government’s complicity in Caro Quintero’s narco-trafficking business, and, yes, even in the Camarena’s gruesome murder.
Breaking It Down
In his definitive book about the US drug war, titled “Down by the River,” journalist Charles Bowden reveals that DEA special agent Camarena spent some time in Mexico with another DEA agent, Phil Jordan, in May 1984, prior to Camarena’s abduction. Jordan, at the time, pointed out to Camarena that they were being followed.
Camarena replied calmly that the individuals who were tailing them worked for Mexico’s intelligence service, the Federal Security Directorate, or DFS in its Spanish initials.
From Bowden’s book:
Camarena brushes off Jordan’s alarm by noting that DFS is trained by the CIA and is functionally a unit in their mysterious work. And he says they are also functionally “the eyes and ears of the cartels.”
That is a stunning revelation, that the CIA and DFS were “functionally” working in unison and simultaneously the DFS also was in league with Mexico’s narco-traffickers — which at the time included Caro Quintero along with his partners Miguel Angel Felix Gallardo and Ernesto Fonseca Carrillo, considered the top dogs in Mexico’s then-dominate drug organization, The Guadalajara Cartel.
In fact, the DFS also was accused of being complicit in the kidnapping and murder of Camarena and the subsequent attempt to provide protection to Caro Quintero — who was eventually apprehended in Costa Rica after allegedly getting to that country with the help of the DFS.
Caro Quintero and Fonseca Carrillo were eventually convicted and jailed for their roles in Camarena’s murder and the killing of his pilot, Alfrado Zavala Avelar. Each was sentenced to serve 40 years in a Mexican prison. Caro Quintero was 37 at the time.
But Camarena was not the only victim of DFS corruption during that era. A famous Mexican journalist, Manuel Buendia, who in the mid-1980s was investigating the connections between corrupt Mexican officials and narco-traffickers, including Caro Quintero, was murdered in 1984 allegedly with the assistance of DFS’ leadership.
A story by noted Mexican newspaper columnist Carlos Ramirez, translated and published by Narco News in 2000, describes the circumstances surrounding Buendia’s murder as follows:
Buendía was assassinated on May 30, 1984, on a street near the Zona Rosa of México City. The investigation was covered-up by the Federal Security Agency [DFS]. The last investigations undertaken by Buendía into drug trafficking led him into the rural indigenous areas of the country. Buendía had responded to a newspaper ad by the Catholic bishops in the south of the country where they denounced the penetration of the narco in rural Mexico but also the complicity of the Army and police corps.
Buendía did not finish his investigation. His assassination came almost a year before… the assassination of US anti-drug agent Enrique Camarena Salazar in Guadalajara had exposed the penetration of drug traffickers in the Mexican police.
… Agents of the the Political and Social Investigations Agency and of the Federal Security Agency were discovered as protectors of drug trafficking in México. The Attorney General of the Republic, in the investigation of the assassination of Camarena, found credentials of the Federal Security police in the name of drug traffickers. Caro Quintero escaped to Costa Rica using a credential of the Federal Security Agency [DFS] with his photo but with another name. ….
That which Buendía was investigating months before was confirmed by the assassination of Camerena, a DEA agent assigned to the US Consulate in Guadalajara. …
The DFS was disbanded in 1985, after Camarena’s murder, and integrated into Mexico’s version of the CIA, called CISEN in its Spanish initials. CISEN still works closely with US agencies and officials, including the CIA, but it is the legacy of DFS and its partnership with the CIA that is being brought to the surface once again with the recent release of Caro Quintero.
In particular, a DEA Report of Investigation, prepared in February 1990 and obtained by Narco News, provides some detailed insight into the DFS/CIA connection. The DEA report was referenced in media coverage of the US trial of four individuals accused of playing a role in Camarena’s murder.
From a July 5, 1990, report in the Los Angeles Times:
The [DEA] report is based on an interview two Los-Angeles based DEA agents conducted with Laurence Victor Harrison, a shadowy figure who, according to court testimony, ran a sophisticated communications network for major Mexican drug traffickers and their allies in Mexican law enforcement in the early and mid 1980s.
On Feb. 9, according to the report, Harrison told DEA agents Hector Berrellez and Wayne Schmidt that the CIA used Mexico’s Federal Security Directorate (DFS) “as a cover, in the event any questions were raised as to who was running the training operation.”
That training operation, according to the DEA Report of Investigation, involved “Guatemalan Guerrillas” who “were training at a ranch owned by Rafael Caro-Quintero” in Veracruz on Mexico’s East Coast.
More from the DEA report:
The operations/training at the camp were conducted by the American CIA, using the DFS as cover, in the event any questions were raised as to who was running the [camp].
…. Representatives of the DFS, which was the front for the training camp were in fact acting in consort with major drug overlords to insure a flow of narcotics through Mexico and into the United States.
… Using the DFS as cover, the CIA established and maintained clandestine airfields to refuel aircraft loaded with weapons, which were destined for Honduras and Nicaragua.
Pilots of these aircrafts would allegedly load up with cocaine in Barranquilla, Colombia, and in route to Miami, Florida, refuel in Mexico at narcotic trafficker operated and CIA maintained airstrips.
Tosh Plumlee was one of the CIA contract pilots flying drug loads into the US at the time. Plumlee told Narco News that among the places where his aircraft landed while working these missions was the Caro Quintero-owned ranch in Veracruz, Mexico.
“I was flying sanctioned operations transporting cocaine out of Colombia and into the United States,” Plumlee says. “[DEA agent Kiki] Camarena knew all about those operations.”
Plumlee attempted to blow the whistle on the arms-and-drugs transshipment operations in the early 1980s, prior to Camarena’s death.
The following excerpts are from a February 1991 letter written by former US Sen. Gary Hart and sent to US Sen. John Kerry, then chairman of the Subcommittee on Terrorism, Narcotics and International Communications.
In March of 1983, Plumlee contacted my Denver Senate Office and met with Mr. Bill Holen of my Senate Staff. During the initial meeting, Mr. Plumlee raised certain allegations concerning U.S. foreign and military policy toward Nicaragua and the use of covert activities by U.S. Intelligence agencies.
… Mr. Plumlee also stated that Mexico, Costa Rica, Guatemala and El Salvador were providing U.S. military personnel access to secret landing field and various staging areas scattered throughout Central America.
He specifically cited the Mexican government’s direct knowledge of illegal arms shipments and narcotic smuggling activities that were taking place out of a civilian ranch in the Veracruz area which were under the control and sponsorship of Rafael Caro-Quintero and the Luis Jorge Ochoa branch of the Medellin Escobar Cartel.
… Mr. Plumlee raised several issues including that covert U.S. intelligence agencies were directly involved in the smuggling and distribution of drugs to raise funds for covert military operations against the government of Nicaragua. …
Heads in the Sand
Even prior to Caro Quintero’s surprise prison release on Aug. 9, it appears he was being allowed to carry out his narco-business from a comfortable jailhouse condo with little interference from authorities in Mexico. As evidence of that fact, in June of this year DEA announced that the US Department of the Treasury had “designated 18 individuals and 15 [business] entities” as being linked to Rafael Caro Quintero.
“Today’s action,” the DEA press release states, “pursuant to the Kingpin Act, generally prohibits US persons from conducting financial or commercial transactions with these designees, and also freezes any assets they may have under US jurisdiction.”
In other words, the US government is alleging that even while he was incarcerated, Caro Quintero continued to run his drug empire through third parties who were laundering millions of dollars in ill-gotten gains on his behalf.
How is that possible, unless Caro Quintero continues to have extremely good connections within the Mexican government that have an interest in assuring his drug money is laundered?
If that’s the case, why would those same government officials have any interest in extraditing him to the US to stand trial?
Similarly, why would those with any real juice in the US government want to put Caro Quintero on trial, at least in an open court, if he has the knowledge to expose corrupt covert US operations that played a role in the murder of a US DEA agent?
The only way to hide that complicity would be to shield Caro Quintero’s trial from public view under a national-security cloak — even though the charges against him are criminal in nature (drug-trafficking and murder) and should not implicate national security. As further evidence of that fact, the CIA has already told the media that the allegations about the Agency’s involvement in Caro Quintero’s Veracruz ranch are bogus.
”The whole story is nonsense,” CIA spokesman Mark Mansfield told the Associated Press in 1990. ”We have not trained Guatemalan guerrillas on that ranch or anywhere else.”
But its worth noting that since the CIA issued that statement, a UN-sponsored truth commission found that the US, through agencies like the CIA, did play a role in training the death squads responsible for murdering or disappearing some 200,000 Guatemalans – most of them civilians – during the course of that nation’s bloody 34-year civil war. Some 626 massacres played out in the 1980s alone, when the CIA-sponsored Veracruz, Mexico, “Guatemalan Guerrilas” training operation was allegedly underway.
From a 1999 Washington Post story on the truth commission’s findings:
… The commission found that the “government of the United States, through various agencies including the CIA, provided direct and indirect support for some state operations.”
… Documenting the atrocities, the report found the army “completely exterminated Mayan communities, destroyed their dwellings, livestock and crops” and said that in the northern part of the country, where the Mayan population is largest, the army carried out a systematic campaign of “genocide.”
Given that backdrop, it appears Caro Quintero, now 61, is clearly a man who may well know too much about US national security operations.
The DEA issued a statement after Caro Quintero was ordered released from prison, making it clear, at least from a public-relations perspective, that the agency still very much wants to track him down and put him behind bars in the US.
The Drug Enforcement Administration is deeply troubled to learn of the decision by a Mexican court to release infamous drug trafficker Rafael Caro-Quintero from a Mexican prison. Caro-Quintero had been serving a 40 year prison sentence in connection with the kidnapping, torture and murder of DEA Special Agent Enrique “Kiki” Camarena in February 1985.
Caro-Quintero was the mastermind and organizer of this atrocious act. We are reminded every day of the ultimate sacrifice paid by Special Agent Camarena and DEA will vigorously continue its efforts to ensure Caro-Quintero faces charges in the United States for the crimes he committed.
But why stop with Caro Quintero? Why not go after everyone who had a hand in the drug-war corruption that led to Camarena’s death? Why isn’t DEA clamoring for that outcome?
I think we all know the answer to that question. And you can bet Caro Quintero does as well, and will do everything in is power to assure he isn’t held up as the lone scapegoat in some drug-war fairy tale.
So what are our drug-war warriors to do when faced with such a house of mirrors? Well, that’s what rival narco-traffickers and shadowy intelligence-agency assets are used for in the Big Game, no?
Posted by Bill Conroy – August 10, 2013 at 10:17 pm
Find this story at 10 August 2013
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The NSA-DEA police state tango; This week’s DEA bombshell shows us how the drug war and the terror war have poisoned our justice system
September 6, 2013
So the paranoid hippie pot dealer you knew in college was right all along: The feds really were after him. In the latest post-Snowden bombshell about the extent and consequences of government spying, we learned from Reuters reporters this week that a secret branch of the DEA called the Special Operations Division – so secret that nearly everything about it is classified, including the size of its budget and the location of its office — has been using the immense pools of data collected by the NSA, CIA, FBI and other intelligence agencies to go after American citizens for ordinary drug crimes. Law enforcement agencies, meanwhile, have been coached to conceal the existence of the program and the source of the information by creating what’s called a “parallel construction,” a fake or misleading trail of evidence. So no one in the court system – not the defendant or the defense attorney, not even the prosecutor or the judge – can ever trace the case back to its true origins.
On one hand, we all knew more revelations were coming, and the idea that the government would go after drug suspects with the same dubious extrajudicial methods used to pursue terrorism suspects is a classic and not terribly surprising example of mission creep. Both groups have been held up as bogeymen for years, in order to scare the public into accepting ever nastier and more repressive laws. This gives government officials another chance to talk to us in their stern grown-up voices about how this isn’t civics class, and sometimes they have to bend the rules to catch Really Bad People.
On the other hand, this is a genuinely sinister turn of events with a whiff of science-fiction nightmare, one that has sounded loud alarm bells for many people in the mainstream legal world. Nancy Gertner, a Harvard Law professor who spent 18 years as a federal judge and cannot be accused of being a radical, told Reuters she finds the DEA story more troubling than anything in Edward Snowden’s NSA leaks. It’s the first clear evidence that the “special rules” and disregard for constitutional law that have characterized the hunt for so-called terrorists have crept into the domestic criminal justice system on a significant scale. “It sounds like they are phonying up investigations,” she said. Maybe this is how a police state comes to America: Not with a bang, but with a parallel construction.
By Andrew O’Hehir
Saturday, Aug 10, 2013 06:30 PM +0200
Find this story at 10 August 2013
Copyright © 2013 Salon Media Group, Inc.
Exclusive: IRS manual detailed DEA’s use of hidden intel evidence
September 6, 2013
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Details of a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration program that feeds tips to federal agents and then instructs them to alter the investigative trail were published in a manual used by agents of the Internal Revenue Service for two years.
The practice of recreating the investigative trail, highly criticized by former prosecutors and defense lawyers after Reuters reported it this week, is now under review by the Justice Department. Two high-profile Republicans have also raised questions about the procedure.
A 350-word entry in the Internal Revenue Manual instructed agents of the U.S. tax agency to omit any reference to tips supplied by the DEA’s Special Operations Division, especially from affidavits, court proceedings or investigative files. The entry was published and posted online in 2005 and 2006, and was removed in early 2007. The IRS is among two dozen arms of the government working with the Special Operations Division, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the National Security Agency and the Central Intelligence Agency.
An IRS spokesman had no comment on the entry or on why it was removed from the manual. Reuters recovered the previous editions from the archives of the Westlaw legal database, which is owned by Thomson Reuters Corp, the parent of this news agency.
As Reuters reported Monday, the Special Operations Division of the DEA funnels information from overseas NSA intercepts, domestic wiretaps, informants and a large DEA database of telephone records to authorities nationwide to help them launch criminal investigations of Americans. The DEA phone database is distinct from a NSA database disclosed by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.
Monday’s Reuters report cited internal government documents that show that law enforcement agents have been trained to conceal how such investigations truly begin – to “recreate” the investigative trail to effectively cover up the original source of the information.
DEA officials said the practice is legal and has been in near-daily use since the 1990s. They have said that its purpose is to protect sources and methods, not to withhold evidence.
Defense attorneys and some former judges and prosecutors say that systematically hiding potential evidence from defendants violates the U.S. Constitution. According to documents and interviews, agents use a procedure they call “parallel construction” to recreate the investigative trail, stating in affidavits or in court, for example, that an investigation began with a traffic infraction rather than an SOD tip.
The IRS document offers further detail on the parallel construction program.
“Special Operations Division has the ability to collect, collate, analyze, evaluate, and disseminate information and intelligence derived from worldwide multi-agency sources, including classified projects,” the IRS document says. “SOD converts extremely sensitive information into usable leads and tips which are then passed to the field offices for real-time enforcement activity against major international drug trafficking organizations.”
The 2005 IRS document focuses on SOD tips that are classified and notes that the Justice Department “closely guards the information provided by SOD with strict oversight.” While the IRS document says that SOD information may only be used for drug investigations, DEA officials said the SOD role has recently expanded to organized crime and money laundering.
According to the document, IRS agents are directed to use the tips to find new, “independent” evidence: “Usable information regarding these leads must be developed from such independent sources as investigative files, subscriber and toll requests, physical surveillance, wire intercepts, and confidential source information. Information obtained from SOD in response to a search or query request cannot be used directly in any investigation (i.e. cannot be used in affidavits, court proceedings or maintained in investigative files).”
The IRS document makes no reference to SOD’s sources of information, which include a large DEA telephone and Internet database.
CONCERN IN CONGRESS
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers, R-Michigan, expressed concern with the concept of parallel construction as a method to hide the origin of an investigation. His comments came on the Mike Huckabee Show radio program.
“If they’re recreating a trail, that’s wrong and we’re going to have to do something about it,” said Rogers, a former FBI agent. “We’re working with the DEA and intelligence organizations to try to find out exactly what that story is.”
Spokespeople for the DEA and the Department of Justice declined to comment.
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Kentucky, a member of the Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee, said he was troubled that DEA agents have been “trying to cover up a program that investigates Americans.”
“National security is one of government’s most important functions. So is protecting individual liberty,” Paul said. “If the Constitution still has any sway, a government that is constantly overreaching on security while completely neglecting liberty is in grave violation of our founding doctrine.”
Officials have stressed that the NSA and DEA telephone databases are distinct. The NSA database, disclosed by Snowden, includes data about every telephone call placed inside the United States. An NSA official said that database is not used for domestic criminal law enforcement.
The DEA database, called DICE, consists largely of phone log and Internet data gathered legally by the DEA through subpoenas, arrests and search warrants nationwide. DICE includes about 1 billion records, and they are kept for about a year and then purged, DEA officials said.
(Research by Hilary Shroyer of West, a Thomson Reuters business. Additional reporting by David Lawder. Edited by Michael Williams)
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Wed, Aug 7 2013
By John Shiffman and David Ingram
Find this story at 7 August 2013
© Thomson Reuters
DEA and NSA Team Up to Share Intelligence, Leading to Secret Use of Surveillance in Ordinary Investigations
September 6, 2013
UPDATE: Add the IRS to the list of federal agencies obtaining information from NSA surveillance. Reuters reports that the IRS got intelligence tips from DEA’s secret unit (SOD) and were also told to cover up the source of that information by coming up with their own independent leads to recreate the information obtained from SOD. So that makes two levels of deception: SOD hiding the fact it got intelligence from the NSA and the IRS hiding the fact it got information from SOD. Even worse, there’s a suggestion that the Justice Department (DOJ) “closely guards the information provided by SOD with strict oversight,” shedding doubt into the effectiveness of DOJ earlier announced efforts to investigate the program.
A startling new Reuters story shows one of the biggest dangers of the surveillance state: the unquenchable thirst for access to the NSA’s trove of information by other law enforcement agencies.
As the NSA scoops up phone records and other forms of electronic evidence while investigating national security and terrorism leads, they turn over “tips” to a division of the Drug Enforcement Agency (“DEA”) known as the Special Operations Division (“SOD”). FISA surveillance was originally supposed to be used only in certain specific, authorized national security investigations, but information sharing rules implemented after 9/11 allows the NSA to hand over information to traditional domestic law-enforcement agencies, without any connection to terrorism or national security investigations.
But instead of being truthful with criminal defendants, judges, and even prosecutors about where the information came from, DEA agents are reportedly obscuring the source of these tips. For example, a law enforcement agent could receive a tip from SOD—which SOD, in turn, got from the NSA—to look for a specific car at a certain place. But instead of relying solely on that tip, the agent would be instructed to find his or her own reason to stop and search the car. Agents are directed to keep SOD under wraps and not mention it in “investigative reports, affidavits, discussions with prosecutors and courtroom testimony,” according to Reuters.
“Parallel construction” is really intelligence laundering
The government calls the practice “parallel construction,” but deciphering their double speak, the practice should really be known as “intelligence laundering.” This deception and dishonesty raises a host of serious legal problems.
First, the SOD’s insulation from even judges and prosecutors stops federal courts from assessing the constitutionality of the government’s surveillance practices. Last year, Solicitor General Donald Verilli told the Supreme Court that a group of lawyers, journalists and human rights advocates who regularly communicate with targets of NSA wiretapping under the FISA Amendments Act (FAA) had no standing to challenge the constitutionality of that surveillance. But Verrilli said that if the government wanted to use FAA evidence in a criminal prosecution, the source of the information would have to be disclosed. When the Supreme Court eventually ruled in the government’s favor, finding the plaintiffs had no standing, it justified its holding by noting the government’s concession that it would inform litigants when FAA evidence was being used against them.
Although the government has been initially slow to follow up on Verrilli’s promises, it has begrudgingly acknowledged its obligation to disclose when it uses the FAA to obtain evidence against criminal defendants. Just last week DOJ informed a federal court in Miami that it was required to disclose when FAA evidence was used to build a terrorism case against a criminal defendant.
Terrorism cases make up a very small portion of the total number of criminal cases brought by the federal government, counting for just 0.4 percent of all criminal cases brought by all U.S. Attorney offices across the country in 2012. Drug cases, on the other hand, made up 20 percent of all federal criminal cases filed in 2012, the second most prosecuted type of crime after immigration cases. If the government acknowledges it has to disclose when FAA evidence has been used to make a drug case—even if it’s a tip leading to a pretextual traffic stop—the number of challenges to FAA evidence will increase dramatically.
SOD bypasses the Constitution
Even beyond the larger systemic problem of insulating NSA surveillance from judicial review, criminal defendants whose arrest or case is built upon FISA evidence are now deprived of their right to examine and challenge the evidence used against them.
Taken together, the Fifth and Sixth Amendments guarantee a criminal defendant a meaningful opportunity to present a defense and challenge the government’s case. But this intelligence laundering deprives defendants of these important constitutional protections. It makes it harder for prosecutors to comply with their ethical obligation under Brady v. Maryland to disclose any exculpatory or favorable evidence to the defense—an obligation that extends to disclosing evidence bearing on the reliability of a government witness. Hiding the source of information used by the government to initiate an investigation or make an arrest means defendants are deprived of the opportunity to challenge the accuracy or veracity of the government’s investigation, let alone seek out favorable evidence in the government’s possession.
Courts must have all the facts
The third major legal problem is that the practice suggests DEA agents are misleading the courts. Wiretaps, search warrants, and other forms of surveillance authorizations require law enforcement to go to a judge and lay out the facts that support the request. The court’s function is to scrutinize the facts to determine the appropriate legal standard has been met based on truthful, reliable evidence. So, for example, if the government is using evidence gathered from an informant to support its request for a search warrant, it has to establish to the court that the informant is reliable and trustworthy so that the court can be convinced there is probable cause to support the search. But when law enforcement omits integral facts—like the source of a tip used to make an arrest—the court is deprived of the opportunity to fulfill its traditional role and searches are signed off without the full knowledge of the court.
Ultimately, if you build it, they will come. There’s no doubt that once word got out about the breadth of data the NSA was collecting and storing, other law enforcement agencies would want to get their hands in the digital cookie jar. In fact, the New York Times reported on Sunday that other agencies have tried to get information from the NSA to “curb drug trafficking, cyberattacks, money laundering, counterfeiting and even copyright infringement.”
Teaming up to play fast and loose with criminal defendants and the court, the DEA and NSA have made a mockery of the rule of law and the legal frameworks intended to curb abuses.
August 6, 2013 | By Hanni Fakhoury
Find this story at 6 August 2013
A Domestic Surveillance Scandal at the DEA? Agents Urged to Cover Up Use of NSA Intel in Drug Probes
September 6, 2013
The U.S. Department of Justice has begun reviewing a controversial unit inside the Drug Enforcement Administration that uses secret domestic surveillance tactics — including intelligence gathered by the National Security Agency — to target Americans for drug offenses. According to a series of articles published by Reuters, agents are instructed to recreate the investigative trail in order to conceal the origins of the evidence, not only from defense lawyers, but also sometimes from prosecutors and judges. “We are talking about ordinary crime: drug dealing, organized crime, money laundering. We are not talking about national security crimes,” says Reuters reporter John Shiffman. Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, says this is just the latest scandal at the DEA. “I hope it is a sort of wake-up call for people in Congress to say now is the time, finally, after 40 years, to say this agency really needs a close examination.”
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: The Justice Department has begun reviewing a controversial unit inside the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration that uses secret domestic surveillance tactics, including intelligence gathered by the National Security Agency, to target Americans for drug offenses. According to a series of articles published by the Reuters news agency, agents are instructed to recreate the investigative trail in order to conceal the origins of the evidence—not only from defense lawyers but also sometimes from prosecutors and judges. DEA training documents instruct agents to even make up alternative versions of how such investigations truly begin, a process known as “parallel construction.”
On Monday, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney was asked about the Reuters investigation.
PRESS SECRETARY JAY CARNEY: It’s my understanding, our understanding, that the Department of Justice is looking at some of the issues raised in the story. But for more, I would refer you to the Department of Justice.
AMY GOODMAN: The unit of the DEA that distributes the secret intelligence to agents is called the Special Operations Division, or SOD. Two dozen partner agencies comprise the unit, including the FBI, CIA, NSA, Internal Revenue Service and the Department of Homeland Security. The unit was first created two decades ago, but it’s coming under increased scrutiny following the recent revelations about the NSA maintaining a database of all phone calls made in the United States. One former federal judge, Nancy Gertner, said the DEA program sounds more troubling than recent disclosures that the NSA has been collecting domestic phone records. She said, quote, “It is one thing to create special rules for national security. Ordinary crime is entirely different. It sounds like they are phonying up investigations.”
For more, we’re joined by the reporter who broke this story, John Shiffman, correspondent for Reuters, which published his exclusive story Monday, “U.S. Tells Agents to Cover Up Use of Wiretap Program.”
Welcome to Democracy Now!, John. Why don’t you start off by just laying it out and what exactly this cover-up is.
JOHN SHIFFMAN: Thanks very much for having me.
Well, my colleague Kristina Cooke and I spoke with about a dozen or two dozen agents and obtained some internal documents that showed that what federal agents, not just DEA agents but other agents who work with the DEA and do drug investigations—what they’re doing is, is they are starting—they are claiming that their investigations start, say, at step two. They are withholding step one from the investigations. And, I should say, it’s not just NSA intercepts. It’s informant information, information obtained from court-ordered wiretaps in one case, and using those for information in a second case. They also have a large database of phone records. Whenever the DEA subpoenas or does a search warrant and gets phone records for someone suspected of involvement in drugs or gang involvement, they put all those numbers into one giant database they call DICE, and they use that information to compare different cases. All of the collection is—seems perfectly legitimate, in terms of being court-ordered. What troubles some critics is the fact that they are hiding that information from drug defendants who face trial. The problem with that is that—is that these defendants won’t know about some potentially exculpatory information that may affect their case and their right to a fair trial.
AMY GOODMAN: So explain exactly how this information is being hidden from judges, prosecutors and sometimes defense attorneys, as well.
JOHN SHIFFMAN: Sure. Well, just to give an example, through any of these four different ways, including the NSA intercepts, the DEA’s Special Operations Division will send the information to a DEA agent in the field or a FBI agent or an ICE agent or state policeman, and they’ll give him the information. Then they’ll say, “Look, you know, we understand that there will be a truck going to a certain park in Texas at a certain time. It’s a red truck. It’ll be two people involved.” And the state trooper or the DEA will find you reason to pull the truck over, say for a broken tail light or for speeding, that sort of thing. And, lo and behold, inside the trunk they’ll find, you know, a kilo of cocaine. The people who have been arrested will never know that—why the police or the DEA pulled them over. They’ll think it’s just luck. And that’s important because if those people try to go to trial, there are pieces of information about how that evidence was obtained and what it shows and what other pieces of it show—might affect their trial.
AMY GOODMAN: On Monday, I spoke with Guardian columnist Glenn Greenwald just after your story broke about how the DEA is using material gathered in part by the NSA in its surveillance of Americans. Glenn Greenwald has, of course, broken several major stories about the NSA’s domestic activity. This was his response.
GLENN GREENWALD: So this should be a huge scandal for the following reason. The essence of the Constitution is that the government cannot obtain evidence or information about you unless it has probable cause to believe that you’ve engaged in a crime and then goes to a court and gets a warrant. And only then is that evidence usable in a prosecution against you. What this secret agency is doing, according to Reuters, it is circumventing that process by gathering all kinds of information without any court supervision, without any oversight at all, using surveillance technologies and other forms of domestic spying. And then, when it gets this information that it believes it can be used in a criminal prosecution, it knows that that information can’t be used in a criminal prosecution because it’s been acquired outside of the legal and constitutional process, so they cover up how they really got it, and they pretend—they make it seem as though they really got it through legal and normal means, by then going back and retracing the investigation, once they already have it, and re-acquiring it so that it looks to defense counsel and even to judges and prosecutors like it really was done in the constitutionally permissible way. So they’re prosecuting people and putting people in prison for using evidence that they’ve acquired illegally, which they’re then covering up and lying about and deceiving courts into believing was actually acquired constitutionally. It’s a full-frontal assault on the Fourth, Fifth and Sixth Amendments and on the integrity of the judicial process, because they’re deceiving everyone involved in criminal prosecutions about how this information has been obtained.
AMY GOODMAN: John Shiffman, if you could elaborate on that and also talk about the differences between what the DEA is doing and what Glenn Greenwald exposed around the NSA?
JOHN SHIFFMAN: Sure. These are two very—I think they’re different topics, for one main reason, which is that the NSA revelations by Mr. Greenwald and Mr. Snowden are related to terrorism—or at least that’s what we’re told by the government. And the DEA, what the DEA is doing is only—very rarely do they get involved in terrorism. I mean, they do some narcoterrorism, but inside the United States we’re talking about ordinary crime. We’re talking about drug dealing, organized crime, money laundering. We’re not talking about national security crimes.
The one thing I would say is that the defense analysts I’ve spoken with, meaning defense attorney analysts, they emphasize less the probable cause aspect of it than they find—they don’t find that as troubling. What they find really troubling is the pretrial discovery aspects of this and a prosecutor’s, you know, obligation to turn over any exculpatory evidence. What they really have a problem with is that this program systematically excludes or appears to systematically exclude all evidence obtained, you know, that’s hidden from view, so the defense doesn’t know to request it. They find that a lot more troubling than the probable cause aspects of it. The Supreme Court has given a pretty wide pro-police interpretation of when probable cause can be obtained, and there are a variety of exceptions. But it’s really the pretrial discovery part of it that seems to trouble a lot of the former judges and defense attorneys and prosecutors.
AMY GOODMAN: One of the two slides Reuters obtained that were used to train agents with the Drug Enforcement Agency instructs them in the use of parallel construction. According to the slide, this is, quote, “the use of normal investigative techniques to recreate the information provided by the [Special Operations Division],” such as subpoenaed domestic telephone calls. A second slide instructs agents that such evidence, quote, “cannot be revealed or discussed.” The slide is titled “Special Operations Division Rules.” Describe what you uncovered about those rules and this concept of parallel construction, which until now had not been publicly discussed in writing.
JOHN SHIFFMAN: Well, what really surprised me was talking to agents, current and former agents, who said, “Sure, we do that.” They—half of them said, “Yeah, you know, I could see how people might have a problem with that.” The other half said, “You know, look, this is a hard job that we do, and we’re going after criminals and drug dealers.” The people that got the most offended, I think, were the lawyers, the prosecutors and the—you know, and the judges and the former judges. One current prosecutor told me that he had a case where—in Florida, where a DEA agent came to him with a case and said that it began with an informant. So they were proceeding with the case, and the prosecutor asked the DEA agent more information. He said, you know, “I need to know more about your informant.” Turns out, ultimately, that he found out that there was no informant. It was an NSA wiretap. And what—overseas. And that really upset the prosecutor, because he said that it really offended his sense of fair play and honesty. And he said, “It’s just a bad way of starting an investigation, if you’re going to start with a lie.”
AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to bring Ethan Nadelmann into this discussion, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance. Ethan, why is—are the revelations by Reuters, John Shiffman’s investigation, so significant for your work?
ETHAN NADELMANN: Well, I think what it plays into, Amy, is that there’s been this remarkable lack of oversight of DEA by Congress, by other federal oversight agencies, for decades now. I mean, this year marks the 40th anniversary of the DEA, which Nixon created as a merger of police agencies, of drug enforcement agencies, back during the—one of the earlier drug wars. And what you see is an organization with a budget of over $2 billion. You see an organization getting involved in all sorts of shenanigans, hiring informants who land up to be tied up with murderers, you know, locking up some poor drug—you know, I don’t think even drug dealer, drug—low-level offender, and forgetting about him in a prison cell in this case of Daniel Chong, who was left in a prison cell for five days and forgotten. But beyond that, you have the agency serving as a propaganda agency, with no—with none of its statements being compared or held to any sort of scientific standards. You have an administrator who testifies before Congress and is almost a laughing stock when it comes to talking about drugs. So I think that this report by Reuters and by John Shiffman—I hope it’s a sort of wake-up call for people in Congress to say, “Now is the time, finally, after really 40 years, to say this agency really needs a close examination.”
AMY GOODMAN: Ethan, the Drug Enforcement Administration has agreed to pay $4.1 million in a settlement to a San Diego college student who nearly lost his life after being left handcuffed in his cell for more than four days without food or water. He ultimately drank his urine as he lay there, yelling out to agents right outside. His name was Daniel Chong. He was arrested for a 420 celebration of marijuana culture. He was never charged with any crime, and ultimately he was released.
ETHAN NADELMANN: You know, I think—I mean, that’s the case I was mentioning before. I mean, part of—you know, one can say, “Oh, this is just an accident, and accidents happen.” But, of course, accidents like that should never happen when you’re talking about a police agency, much less a federal police agency, being allowed to just sort of forget about somebody. And in the end, what happens? The taxpayers bail out the DEA for almost killing somebody for no cause whatsoever. So, you know, each year the DEA goes through its own little, you know, appropriations hearings in Congress. Each year it gets approved. And each year they just sort of get a ride. I think these things are piling up in a way that can no longer be sustained—should no longer be sustained.
AMY GOODMAN: So what has been, John Shiffman, the response to your investigation by the DEA, by the NSA, by the FBI and others?
JOHN SHIFFMAN: Well, they say it’s perfectly legal, what they do. And they say that—one DEA official told us that, you know, “This is a bedrock principle, parallel construction. We use it every day.” They’re pretty unabashed about it and said that—you know, that they’ve been doing this since the late ’90s, and there’s really nothing wrong with it. Yesterday the Justice Department said they are going to review it. But DEA has said, you know, there’s no problem with this.
AMY GOODMAN: How many people does this impact?
JOHN SHIFFMAN: Well, it would impact—I would think it would impact everyone, because, you know, it’s—we’re talking about a principle of law here. Not to get too legal, but, I mean, if you’re arrested, one of the fundamental rights that you have is to see the evidence against you. You know, when I was at the DEA and doing the interview, they cited the Ted Stevens case, which involved prosecutorial misconduct, which had—in which the senator’s charges were thrown out, because evidence was concealed. They said that after that there had been a review of all of the discovery procedures throughout the Justice Department, including at Special Operations Division. But they said that—and so I asked, I said, “Great, can I see a copy of the review?” And they said, “No.”
AMY GOODMAN: So, Ethan Nadelmann, it’s all legal.
ETHAN NADELMANN: Well, you know, that’s what happens when any agency gets to just do what it wants to do for years and years and years without anybody looking over its shoulder. You know, I mean, Amy, this agency has also done things in the areas of medical marijuana, scientific research, the scheduling process of drugs, whereby they will go through an entirely legal process, through their own administrative law process hearings. It will have an internal judge, an administrative law judge, come down with recommendations that are scientifically based, that are credible, and then they will have the politically appointed head of this agency overrule those recommendations for no purpose whatsoever.
Once again, Congress is not asking any questions. It’s their job to look at the—I mean, obviously, it’s the Obama administration’s job, as well, and Eric Holder’s job, as well, but it’s ultimately Congress, as well, that has to care about these things. And I’m hoping that it’s not just Democrats in the Senate, but also Republicans in the House, who will say, “This agency has gone too far.” Republicans have never been great friends of overextensions of federal police power, and I hope they can find some common cause with Democrats, saying, “Wait a second. Let’s call the DEA in here. Let’s look at what—you know, what John Shiffman has found with his investigative report. Let’s look at all these other patterns of abuse and misbehavior.”
AMY GOODMAN: We want to thank you both for being with us, John Shiffman, for your reporting at Reuters, and Ethan Nadelmann. Thanks so much for joining us. We’ll link to the story at democracynow.org.
JOHN SHIFFMAN: Thanks.
AMY GOODMAN: Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance. When we come back, we’re going to Richmond, California, to speak with the mayor. Stay with us.
Tuesday, August 6, 2013
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Undercover police ‘gave drugs to dealers in return for information’
April 19, 2013
Former detective Christian Plowman writes book claiming that unit targeted low-level criminals rather than criminals at top of chain
Christian Plowman claims that he often found himself targeting crack addicts instead of dealers and spying on ordinary people. Photograph: Toby Melville/PA
Heroin and crack cocaine bought with taxpayers’ money was routinely given to drug dealers in return for information, a former Scotland Yard undercover officer has alleged.
Christian Plowman, 39, claims that officers from SO10, the elite covert operations unit of the Metropolitan police, would allow dealers to take amounts of class-A drugs as a form of bribe.
Although not illegal, the practice of officers handing over illicit drugs in return for leads is likely to reignite the debate over the ethics of undercover policing and bring fresh accusations of a lack of control over covert operatives.
“We were treading a line. Often we’d buy some drugs off somebody who would be a junkie and he would promise to take us directly to the dealer the next time, but in return for that he’d want some of the drugs he’d bought for us. We had to be careful that if we agreed to that, he took the drugs himself so he couldn’t say that we supplied him,” said Plowman.
But Plowman said they never sold drugs, unlike detective constable Nicholas McFadden of West Yorkshire police, who was jailed for 23 years last Thursday after stealing more than £1.2m-worth of drugs seized in police raids and selling them back onto the streets.
Speaking publicly for the first time about his experiences as a covert operative since leaving the Met in 2011, Plowman also accused the undercover unit of targeting “low-hanging fruit” instead of individuals at the top of the criminal chain. He said some covert operations became focused upon getting “heads on sticks”, which Plowman said meant “let’s bag as many as people as possible for whatever offence we can”.
As a result, the full-time undercover officer claims he often found himself targeting crack addicts instead of dealers and spying on ordinary people.
Plowman spent 16 years in the Met and was one of around 10 full-time covert operatives. He was a close friend of Mark Kennedy, 43, the undercover officer who had at least one sexual relationship with a woman while infiltrating eco-activists. Plowman has written a book about his experiences, Crossing the Line, which is published next month.
Although he praises his colleagues, the former officer describes the culture of SO10 as riven with machismo, to the extent that undercover officers who requested psychological help were seen as not fit for the job.
“You need a culture where you can go and see a shrink and you won’t be blacklisted, but there was a proper locker-room culture,” said Plowman, who now lives abroad and works as a security manager for a fashion firm. Unable to ask for support and struggling to balance his aliases with his own identity, Plowman admits he contemplated suicide.
He reveals that some former colleagues have threatened him since he left. “One of them said ‘next time you’re in London, I’m gonna headbutt you’, but who’d do that anyway? You’re a policeman for starters.”
Plowman’s last job was working at a north London pawnshop called TJ’s Trading Post that was set up by Scotland Yard to trade in stolen goods, but which he believes operated as a “honey trap” that lured people to commit crime. More than 100 people are believed to have been convicted, many for illegally trading their own passports and driving licences.
Plowman claims the store encouraged people in a poor area to commit offences by giving the impression that they could make easy money by trading ID documents. “They were not people whose arrest would make any visible impact on the community. If TJ’s had never opened, those people would not have been in prison for any offence,” he said.
The Met declined to comment.
The Observer, Saturday 6 April 2013 15.40 BST
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FBI agents caught sexting and dating drug dealers
April 19, 2013
Dating drug dealers, harassing ex-boyfriends with naked pictures, and pointing guns at pet dogs: these were just a few of the offences committed recently by serving FBI agents, according to internal documents.
Disciplinary files from the Bureau’s Office of Professional Responsibility record an extraordinary range of transgressions that reveal the chaotic personal lives of some of America’s top law enforcers.
One male agent was sacked after police were called to his mistress’s house following reports of domestic incident. When officers arrived they found the agent “drunk and uncooperative” and eventually had to physically subdue him and wrestle away his loaded gun.
A woman e-mailed a “nude photograph of herself to her ex-boyfriend’s wife” and then continued to harass the couple despite two warnings from senior officials. The Bureau concluded she was suffering from depression related to the break-up and allowed her to return to work after 10 days.
But the sexually explicit picture was only one of what FBI assistant director Candice Will described to CNN as a “rash of sexting cases”. The network was the first to obtain the logs.
Two other employees, whose genders were not specified, sent sexually explicit messages to fellow members of the Bureau, one a work Blackberry during office hours.
The second employee included a nude photograph which “created office gossip and negatively impacted office operations”.
By Raf Sanchez, Washington
4:06AM GMT 22 Feb 2013
Find this story at 22 February 2013
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From a Mexican kingpin to an FBI informant
April 19, 2013
After agents arrest a drug cartel chieftain named Jesus Audel Miramontes-Varela, he becomes one of the bureau’s most valuable sources of information, according to confidential interview reports.
WASHINGTON — Police and federal agents pulled the car over in a suburb north of Denver. An FBI agent showed his badge. The driver appeared not startled at all. “My friend,” he said, “I have been waiting for you.”
And with that, Jesus Audel Miramontes-Varela stepped out of his white 2002 BMW X5 and into the arms of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Over the next several days at his ranch in Colorado and an FBI safe house in Albuquerque, the Mexican cartel chieftain — who had reputedly fed one of his victims to lions in Mexico — was transformed into one of the FBI’s top informants on the Southwest border.
Around a dining room table in August 2010, an FBI camera whirring above, the 34-year-old Miramontes-Varela confessed his leadership in the Juarez cartel, according to 75 pages of confidential FBI interview reports obtained by The Times/Tribune Washington Bureau.
He told about marijuana and cocaine routes to California, New York and the Great Lakes. He described the shooting deaths of 30 people at a horse track in Mexico, and a hidden mass grave with 20 bodies, including two U.S. residents.
He told them about his African lions, which he had acquired as circus cubs. The story about feeding one of his enemies to them was false, he claimed, but he said he had seen plenty of “violence and suffering.” He told agents he was desperate to trade his knowledge for government protection. He wanted a new life for himself and his wife and three daughters.
A week later Miramontes-Varela pleaded guilty in federal court in New Mexico to a minor felony as an illegal immigrant in possession of a firearm. Then he disappeared, almost certainly into the federal witness protection program.
FBI officials in Arizona and Washington declined to comment about Miramontes-Varela, citing bureau policy against discussing informants. But the documents tell plenty.
During the interview sessions, Miramontes-Varela “provided significant information about drug trafficking activity,” the documents said, leading to several successful unnamed law enforcement operations in the U.S. and Mexico.
After Miramontes-Varela was stopped in Brighton, Colo., agents took him back to his ranch. They advised him and his wife, Mari, that he was “the subject of an FBI investigation for his involvement in drug trafficking, firearms trafficking, money laundering and the interstate transportation of stolen property.”
In Spanish, they read him his Miranda rights. He called an attorney; they spoke quietly in Spanish. Miramontes-Varela hung up and turned to the agents. “Yes,” he said. “He told me to do as much as I can for you.”
Miramontes-Varela signed the Miranda waiver and looked up at the agents. He asked, “Where do you want to start?”
First, they said, any guns?
Miramontes-Varela mentioned a black 9-millimeter semiautomatic Glock pistol he said he bought after being shot at in El Paso. The agents asked to see it. “Yes, yes, no problem,” he said. He walked to a floor safe in a far corner of the living room, unlocked it and handed the weapon over.
Agents drove the couple to the FBI safe house in Albuquerque. Inside, they pointed to two cameras. One was in the master bedroom, where Miramontes-Varela and his wife would stay. Agents showed that that it was unplugged and that they had covered it with a white plastic bag. “Very nice,” Miramontes-Varela said.
Miramontes-Varela talked to them around the dining room table. That is where the other camera was. It stayed on.
His story poured out. He was born the third of 10 children in Terrero, Mexico, and grew up in Namiquipa, northern Mexico. He married when he was 18, his bride 15. They sneaked though Nogales, Ariz., coming to the U.S., he said, “to make money.”
They settled in Denver. Miramontes-Varela installed drywall. But in the late 1990s a brother, Yovany, lost an arm in a tractor mishap, and Miramontes-Varela returned home. He grew apples and traded in cattle.
In early 2002, he said, the Juarez cartel came to Namiquipa. Pedro Sanchez, known as El Tigre, controlled things. He offered Miramontes-Varela a job collecting a monthly $35,000 “tax” from marijuana growers.
Every 15 days, growers carted 20 tons to a local warehouse. It was shipped north through El Paso, the proceeds funneled back to the cartel and the growers.
One day the military arrived and gunfire ensued. “The mayor and town treasurer were killed,” Miramontes-Varela said. Later, El Tigre was arrested.
In 2008, Miramontes-Varela said, he fled with his family to El Paso. When he failed to return, the cartel burned his ranch and stole his cattle, all 120 cows. He was done with the violence, he said.
That part, according to the FBI, was not true. Miramontes-Varela shuffled between ranches in New Mexico and Colorado, they said, often in an armored car with bodyguards, and set up his own drug- and gun-smuggling operation.
When a courier was arrested with 18 kilos of cocaine, Miramontes-Varela offered the man’s family the choice of one of his 16 homes in Mexico, including his “big house,” according to telephone wiretaps outlined in the documents.
In March 2010, the FBI listed him as head of the “Miramontes-Varela Drug Trafficking Organization,” tied to the Juarez, Sinaloa and Los Zetas cartels. From two confidential sources and two wiretaps, agents learned that his organization had stolen tractors in the U.S. and driven them to Mexico as payment for lost loads. One debt alone reached $670,000. They learned that one of Miramontes-Varela’s bosses in Mexico, “Temoc,” was tortured and killed by the Sinaloans.
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives also wanted him arrested. It had tracked $250,000 in illegal gun purchases to Miramontes-Varela and his brother through its ill-fated Fast and Furious gun-smuggling surveillance operation in Arizona.
FBI agents rigged a 24-hour pole camera outside his ranch near Santa Teresa, N.M. But Miramontes-Varela figured it out. Five of his men in two vehicles followed a surveillance agent for 90 minutes, then slashed his tire.
By Richard A. Serrano, Los Angeles Times
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Mexican official: CIA ‘manages’ drug trade
August 13, 2012
Spokesman for Chihuahua state says US agencies don’t want to end drug trade, a claim denied by other Mexican officials.
Juarez, Mexico – The US Central Intelligence Agency and other international security forces “don’t fight drug traffickers”, a spokesman for the Chihuahua state government in northern Mexico has told Al Jazeera, instead “they try to manage the drug trade”.
Allegations about official complicity in the drug business are nothing new when they come from activists, professors, campaigners or even former officials. However, an official spokesman for the authorities in one of Mexico’s most violent states – one which directly borders Texas – going on the record with such accusations is unique.
“It’s like pest control companies, they only control,” Guillermo Terrazas Villanueva, the Chihuahua spokesman, told Al Jazeera last month at his office in Juarez. “If you finish off the pests, you are out of a job. If they finish the drug business, they finish their jobs.”
A spokesman for the CIA in Washington wouldn’t comment on the accusations directly, instead he referred Al Jazeera to an official website.
Accusations are ‘baloney’
Villanueva is not a high ranking official and his views do not represent Mexico’s foreign policy establishment. Other more senior officials in Chihuahua State, including the mayor of Juarez, dismissed the claims as “baloney”.
“I think the CIA and DEA [US Drug Enforcement Agency] are on the same side as us in fighting drug gangs,” Hector Murguia, the mayor of Juarez, told Al Jazeera during an interview inside his SUV. “We have excellent collaboration with the US.”
Under the Merida Initiative, the US Congress has approved more than $1.4bn in drug war aid for Mexico, providing attack helicopters, weapons and training for police and judges.
More than 55,000 people have died in drug related violence in Mexico since December 2006. Privately, residents and officials across Mexico’s political spectrum often blame the lethal cocktail of US drug consumption and the flow of high-powered weapons smuggled south of the border for causing much of the carnage.
Drug war ‘illusions’
“The war on drugs is an illusion,” Hugo Almada Mireles, professor at the Autonomous University of Juarez and author of several books, told Al Jazeera. “It’s a reason to intervene in Latin America.”
“The CIA wants to control the population; they don’t want to stop arms trafficking to Mexico, look at [Operation] Fast and Furious,” he said, referencing a botched US exercise where automatic weapons were sold to criminals in the hope that security forces could trace where the guns ended up.
The Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms lost track of 1,700 guns as part of the operation, including an AK-47 used in 2010 the murder of Brian Terry, a Customs and Border Protection Agent.
Blaming the gringos for Mexico’s problems has been a popular sport south of the Rio Grande ever since the Mexican-American war of the 1840s, when the US conquered most of present day California, Utah, Nevada, Arizona and New Mexico from its southern neighbour. But operations such as Fast and Furious show that reality can be stranger than fiction when it comes to the drug war and relations between the US and Mexico. If the case hadn’t been proven, the idea that US agents were actively putting weapons into the hands of Mexican gangsters would sound absurd to many.
“I think it’s easy to become cynical about American and other countries’ involvement in Latin America around drugs,” Kevin Sabet, a former senior adviser to the White House on drug control policy, told Al Jazeera. “Statements [accusing the CIA of managing the drug trade] should be backed up with evidence… I don’t put much stake in it.”
Villanueva’s accusations “might be a way to get some attention to his region, which is understandable but not productive or grounded in reality”, Sabet said. “We have sort of ‘been there done that’ with CIA conspiracy theories.”
In 1996, the San Jose Mercury News published Dark Alliance, a series of investigative reports linking CIA missions in Nicaragua with the explosion of crack cocaine consumption in America’s ghettos.
In order to fund Contra rebels fighting Nicaragua’s socialist government, the CIA partnered with Colombian cartels to move drugs into Los Angeles, sending profits back to Central America, the series alleged.
“There is no question in my mind that people affiliated with, or on the payroll of, the CIA were involved in drug trafficking,” US Senator John Kerry said at the time, in response to the series.
Other newspapers, including the Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times, slammed Dark Alliance, and the editor of the Mercury News eventually wrote that the paper had over-stated some elements in the story and made mistakes in the journalistic process, but that he stood by many of the key conclusions.
“It’s true, they want to control it,” a mid-level official with the Secretariat Gobernacion in Juarez, Mexico’s equivalent to the US Department of Homeland Security, told Al Jazeera of the CIA and DEA’s policing of the drug trade. The officer, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said he knew the allegations to be correct, based on discussions he had with US officials working in Juarez.
Acceptance of these claims within some elements of Mexico’s government and security services shows the difficulty in pursuing effective international action against the drug trade.
Jesús Zambada Niebla, a leading trafficker from the Sinaloa cartel currently awaiting trial in Chicago, has said he was working for the US Drug Enforcement Agency during his days as a trafficker, and was promised immunity from prosecution.
“Under that agreement, the Sinaloa Cartel under the leadership of [Jesus Zambada’s] father, Ismael Zambada and ‘Chapo’ Guzmán were given carte blanche to continue to smuggle tonnes of illicit drugs… into… the United States, and were protected by the United States government from arrest and prosecution in return for providing information against rival cartels,” Zambada’s lawyers wrote as part of his defence. “Indeed, the Unites States government agents aided the leaders of the Sinaloa Cartel.”
The Sinaloa cartel is Mexico’s oldest and most powerful trafficking organisation, and some analysts believe security forces in the US and Mexico favour the group over its rivals.
Joaquin “El Chapo”, the cartel’s billionaire leader and one of the world’s most wanted men, escaped from a Mexican prison in 2001 by sneaking into a laundry truck – likely with collaboration from guards – further stoking rumours that leading traffickers have complicit friends in high places.
“It would be easy for the Mexican army to capture El Chapo,” Mireles said. “But this is not the objective.” He thinks the authorities on both sides of the border are happy to have El Chapo on the loose, as his cartel is easier to manage and his drug money is recycled back into the broader economy. Other analysts consider this viewpoint a conspiracy theory and blame ineptitude and low level corruption for El Chapo’s escape, rather than a broader plan from government agencies.
After an election hit by reported irregularities, Enrique Pena Nieto from the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) is set to be sworn in as Mexico’s president on December 1.
He wants to open a high-level dialogue with the US about the drug war, but has said legalisation of some drugs is not an option. Some hardliners in the US worry that Nieto will make a deal with some cartels, in order to reduce violence.
“I am hopeful that he will not return to the PRI party of the past which was corrupt and had a history of turning a blind eye to the drug cartels,” said Michael McCaul, a Republican Congressman from Texas.
Find this story at 24 July 2012
Chris Arsenault Last Modified: 24 Jul 2012 14:16
Follow Chris Arsenault on Twitter: @AJEchris
Al Jazeera And Agencies
KRO Reporter International: Politie dikt exportcijfers nederwiet aan
June 13, 2012
De exportcijfers van nederwiet die de Taskforce Aanpak Georganiseerde Hennepteelt veelvuldig in de media bracht, zijn sterk overdreven. Dit blijkt uit een vertrouwelijk rapport van het Korps Landelijke Politie Diensten dat openbaar wordt gemaakt door KRO Reporter International. Het rapport maakt duidelijk dat de export van nederwiet een “bescheiden omvang” heeft. “Het grootste deel van de productie is bedoeld voor de binnenlandse markt”, aldus het KLPD. Donderdag debatteert de Tweede Kamer over het drugsbeleid.
Volgens de politie is 80 procent van de totale Nederlandse cannabisproductie bestemd voor het buitenland. Jaarlijks zou 500.000 kilo worden uitgevoerd ter waarde van 2,4 miljard euro. In 2008 start de politie met het beleidsprogramma Versterking Aanpak Georganiseerde Hennepteelt. Een speciale Taskforce moet het maatschappelijk draagvlak vergroten om de teelt van nederwiet harder aan te pakken. Vertegenwoordigers van de politie verschijnen regelmatig in de media om te vertellen dat het gedoogbeleid volkomen uit de hand is gelopen.
Nederland zou zijn uitgegroeid tot “de grootste producent” van marihuana en jaarlijks 500.000 kilo naar het buitenland exporteren, zo’n 80 procent van de totale nederwietproductie. Deze opzienbarende cijfers zijn volgens de Taskforce gebaseerd op een onderzoek van het Korps Landelijke Politie Diensten. Het KLPD heeft het nooit openbaar willen maken, omdat het onderzoek “intern en vertrouwelijk” is. Het televisieprogramma KRO Reporter International wist er de hand op te leggen, zowel op een conceptversie als op de definitieve tekst. Het blijkt te gaan om De cannabismarkt in Nederland. Raming van aanvoer, productie, consumptie en uitvoer uit 2006.
Uit het onderzoek blijkt dat de politie eigenlijk geen idee heeft van de totale Nederlandse cannabisproductie. De schattingen lopen wijd uiteen, van 323 tot 766 ton per jaar. Ook ontbreekt elk zicht op de omvang van de export. “In hoeverre de hier geproduceerde cannabis wordt verkocht in coffeeshops en andere verkooppunten dan wel wordt geëxporteerd, is niet duidelijk”, aldus het KLPD. In het onderzoek wordt een enquête aangehaald van het Openbaar Ministerie onder regionale politiekorpsen “waaruit naar voren komt dat het grootste deel van de productie is bestemd voor de binnenlandse markt”.
Het veelvuldig door de Taskforce genoemde exportcijfer van 80 procent wordt in het onderzoek juist ongeloofwaardig genoemd. “Vooral gezien de betrekkelijk geringe hoeveelheden nederwiet die in buurlanden worden onderschept, is deze uitkomst niet erg aannemelijk.” Het KLPD houdt het er daarom op dat de uitvoer van nederwiet van “bescheiden omvang” is.
Volgens drugsonderzoeker Martin Jelsma van het Transnational Institute in Amsterdam heeft de Taskforce met het aanhalen van alleen de hoogste schattingen het KLPD-onderzoek misbruikt. “Die cijfers zijn voor een groot deel uit de lucht gegrepen. Die 80 procent mythe van de export, die blijft maar rondzingen in de media en in de Tweede Kamer. Het is absoluut een opgeklopt cijfer. Die 80 procent mythe heeft de politieke besluitvorming over de aanscherping van het hele gedoogbeleid absoluut mogelijk gemaakt,” zegt Jelsma in KRO Reporter International.
Bekijk de uitzending van 2 maart 2012
Berekening ministerie van Financiën belastingopbrengsten legalisering cannabis
De cannabismarkt in Nederland – Raming van aanvoer, productie, consumptie en uitvoer
De cannabismarkt in Nederland – Raming van aanvoer, productie, consumptie en uitvoer – CONCEPT