DEA Kept Database Of People Who Bought Money Counters To Get Drug Convictions

By Victoria Kim 04/18/19

Over a six-year period, the agency collected “tens of thousands of records, including the names, addresses, and phone numbers" from sellers of money counters.

money counters

For years, the Drug Enforcement Administration collected data on purchases of money counters hoping to net drug convictions. But the controversial program not only pushed the limits of government surveillance, it wasn’t very successful either.

“Program B,” as it is referred to in a report by the U.S. Department of Justice Office of Inspector General (OIG), which audited the DEA, collected bulk purchaser data on “tens of thousands of records, including the names, addresses, and phone numbers of buyers” from 2008 to 2014, Forbes reports.

The DEA would issue “administrative” subpoenas to sellers of money counters, and send the data to field offices to cross-reference against law enforcement databases, including records from more than 15 different federal agencies including the ATF, FBI and ICE.

Even more troubling is that the DEA sought data on people buying money counters with no specific target in mind. The subpoenas were “unrelated to a specific drug trafficking investigation or target,” the report said. The practice of issuing blanket subpoenas “wasn’t predicated on individual cases or individual suspicions,” but was “just a general fishing expedition,” as one FBI agent who questioned the integrity of the DEA’s activities explained.

“You can’t just take any innocent activity that Americans engage in and go grab all their records knowing that a small percentage of it is potentially connected to illegal activity,” the FBI agent added. “And that sounded exactly like what the DEA was looking to do.”

The program did little to “win” the war on drugs. Of all the people it collected data on, the program netted only 131 arrests. The DEA declined to say how many of these resulted in convictions.

While the American public had little to show for Program B, the agency certainly benefited from it. From 2008 to 2014, the surveillance program helped the DEA seize $48 million in cash, $4 million in real estate, 88 vehicles, 179 firearms, nearly 1,500 pounds of cocaine and over 21,300 pounds of marijuana.

Overall, it was “troubling” to the Inspector General that the DEA failed to consider the legal limits of its surveillance program. Scandals are not new to the agency, and the Inspector General seemed to imply that this likely won’t be the last.

As Forbes reported, “Although both the Justice Department and the DEA say they have ‘no plans to reinstate any of the discontinued bulk collection programs,’ the Inspector General noted that ‘there is nothing preventing the DEA or the Department from seeking to start such a program at any time in the future.'”

According to a 2015 report by the Drug Policy Alliance, the agency has been investigated by the OIG for numerous scandals including the massacre of Honduran civilians, the use of NSA data to spy on Americans and fabricate evidence, controversial uses of confidential informants, and airline passenger searches.

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Victoria is interested in anything that has to do with how mind-altering substances impact society. Find Victoria on LinkedIn or Tumblr