The Outrageous Ways the DEA Enriches Snitches at Taxpayers' Expense

According to a report by Justice Department’s inspector general, the DEA used its resources to pay confidential informants without suitable supervision and used sources in ways that are against the Constitution. The DOJ (Department of Justice) released its 65-page report last week questioning the use of the Drug Enforcement Administration’s funds paid to informants and recommending the agency to tighten its policies and procedures.

Inspector General Michael E. Horowitz found that a closer look at the DEA’s cases led to “instances of fraud and abuse”. Here’s one case, for example; the DEA paid more than $469,000 over a five-year period to a previously deactivated informant. The source was swept away because he lied at trials and depositions. In another instance, the DEA paid an Amtrak employee hundreds of thousands of dollars “for information that was available at no cost to the government,” according to the inspector general’s research.

An official response from the DEA states the agency had already made improvements to the use of confidential informants and “would work to make even more”.

Amtrak (National Railroad Passenger Corporation) on the other hand, said employees are forbidden from sharing information for personal gain and the Drug Enforcement Administration “violated federal regulations by selectively approaching and paying Amtrak employees for information that the DEA would have received for free. Amtrak was also working to apply what we have learned from this incident and further strengthen our procedures.”

Confidential informants are key to the DEA’s work to uncover illegal drug activities. The report shows the agency had more than 18,000 active informants between October 2010 and September 2015 and more than half of them received the total of $237 million.

The sources included criminals providing information on their associates to airline, train and parcel service employees providing tips on suspected drug traffickers’ movements. The work can result in great income, even hundreds of thousands of dollars a year.

During his research, the inspector general found out that not all payments were made with the proper oversight. The DEA’s Intelligence Division, for example, paid $25 million to eight sources over a five-year period and “did not independently validate the credibility of these sources, or the accuracy of the information they provide,” the inspector general wrote. The Intelligence Division, according to the report, generally relied on “DEA field offices’ risk assessments and determinations that confidential sources are reliable.”

Deactivated sources have also been a problem to the Drug Enforcement Administration, the inspector general wrote. According to the report, the agency paid about $9.4 million to more than 800 previously deactivated informants between 2011 and 2015.

The inspector general argued the ways the DEA used transportation and parcel service employees in ways that pushed the boundaries of agency guidelines and the Constitution. The agency did not only get tips from the informants, but they requested sources to search proprietary databases, transfer packages to the DEA, or turn over suspicious travel journeys. In some cases, agents would ask almost daily for passenger manifests.

TSA (Transportation Security Administration) informants were rather troublesome, as TSA screeners “are obligated to report to law enforcement suspected criminal activity that they observe in the course of their duties,” the inspector general found.

“Together, these factors call into question whether the source is truly providing information independently or is acting as DEA’s agent, the latter of which could have implications relating to compliance with the Fourth Amendment’s protections against unreasonable searches and seizures,” the inspector general wrote in the report.


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