U.S.: Groups Call on Congress to Hold Hearings on the DEA
Sign-On Letter Highlights Numerous Recent DEA Scandals: Secret Use of NSA and CIA Surveillance Records, Unfettered Access to Citizens’ Phone Records, and Many More
Signatories Call on Congress to Hold the DEA Accountable for Systematic, Illegal Practices
By Steve Elliott
More than 120 groups from across the political spectrum and around the globe, including the ACLU, Witness for Peace, Drug Policy Alliance, and the International Drug Policy Consortium (a global network of 106 NGOs) sent a letter to Congress on Thursday, calling on key legislators from the House and Senate Judiciary and Oversight Committees to hold hearings on the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).
“For too long Congress has given the DEA a free pass,” said Bill Piper, director of national affairs at the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA). “Our hope is that Congress does its job and provides oversight because this agency has a deeply troubling track record of unregulated and out of control behavior. The DEA must be reined in and held accountable.”
The catalyst for the letter is a series of investigative articles from early August and September by Reuters and The New York Times. The Reuters articles outline how the DEA has used certain CIA and NSA programs to pursue drug convictions in the United States. The revelations have added to the current controversy surrounding NSA programs.
Defenders of NSA programs have hitherto claimed that their sole use was to prevent terrorist attacks, not domestic spying on nearly all Americans. Perhaps more worryingly, the letter notes that “DEA agents are actively creating and encouraging other agencies to create fake investigative trails to disguise where the information originated, a scheme that prosecutors, defense attorneys, judges and others are arguing has robbed defendants of their right to a fair trial.”
On September 2, The New York Times published a story detailing how, over several years, the DEA has had unlimited access to an AT&T database of all calls that pass through its phones and switches. Under the Hemisphere Project, the U.S. government pays AT&T to place its employees inside the DEA, so that the DEA can use these experts to gain access to decades of detailed records of U.S. citizens’ phone calls.
Both stories expose what is merely the latest in a long line of controversial incidents involving the DEA. Among some of the other episodes of concern cited by the signatories are:
• The case of Daniel Chong, a San Diego student who was left unattended and unfed in a holding cell by the DEA for five days, and who subsequently sued and settled for $.4.1 million in July of this year.
• A Drug War operation in Honduras in which the DEA took part, and which led to the killing of four innocent civilians. The incident has never been properly investigated by authorities.
• DEA’s role in the “Fast and Furious” scandal, where the agency smuggled and laundered millions of dollars in drug war profits for Mexican drug cartels as part of an ill-conceived sting operation.
• DEA administrator Michele Leonhart’s role in overruling the DEA’s own administrative judges after they made decisions based on medical science.
• Defense attorneys in Arizona are claiming government misconduct because the DEA has rehired Andrew Chambers, a government informant who was terminated by the Justice Department years ago amid accusations of serial perjury.
The letter calls on Congress “to investigate the DEA and hold it accountable for its actions,” noting that although it has been 40 years since President Nixon established the DEA, “Congress has rarely held hearings on the DEA, its actions, and its efficacy.”