Parallel Construction Revealed: How The DEA Is Trained To Launder Classified Surveillance Info

from the americans-don't-like-it dept

Last summer, Reuters revealed how the NSA and other surveillance organizations would share info with the DEA and other law enforcement agencies, but then tell them to reconstruct the evidence via a process called "parallel construction," so that the surveillance would not then be discussed in court. This is highly questionable, and probably illegal, as a defendant has the right to know all of the evidence being used against him or her, and should also be told how that evidence was gathered, to make sure the collection was legal. But what's being done with parallel construction, is that the intelligence community is able to give "hints" to law enforcement, allowing them to come up with various pretenses for an investigation, avoiding ever having to reveal that the NSA or others used potentially illegal surveillance efforts. One example given in that Reuters report was how DEA agents would suddenly be given a tip like this: "Be at a certain truck stop at a certain time and look for a certain vehicle." The DEA would then have the local police come up with some pretense to stop the truck... and then when evidence is found they can claim it was a random traffic stop, when the reality is anything but that.

After the Reuters report, C.J. Ciaramella used Muckrock to request all DEA training material and official policies concerning "parallel construction" and recently received nearly 300 pages of documents, much of it redacted, but still which reveals that this is common practice at the DEA and widely known. Much of it is in the form of PowerPoint presentations, complete with speaker notes, which say things like how careful DEA agents need to be around classified information because "it can screw up your investigation."
Another slide notes "the devil's in the details" and explains:
Our friends in the military and intelligence community never have to prove anything to the general public. They can act upon classified information without ever divulging their sources or methods to anyway [sic] outside their community. If they find Bin Laden's satellite phone and then pin point his location, they don't have to go to a court to get permission to put a missile up his nose.

We are bound, however, by different rules.

Our investigations must be transparent. We must be able to take our information to court and prove to a jury that our bad guy did the bad things we say he did. No hiding here. However, we are also bound to protect certain pieces of information so as to protect the sources and methods.

To use it....we must properly protect it.
There are also training materials that discuss how parallel construction works, as well as the fact that in "the new post-9/11" era, a "national consensus" has been formed making it easier for the intelligence community and law enforcement to share information. It even refers to the federal courts as the intelligence community's "nemesis."

A lot of the documentation deals with how to deal with having classified information, and the focus seems to be on keeping that information away from anyone involved in the case. There is -- I kid you not -- a special group of prosecutors called "the Taint Review Team" -- to be called in when things get... well... tainted.
In one part of the presentation, they talk about all sorts of ways to try to get a judge to avoid revealing classified information to defendants, and then have a plan "if all else fails" which includes redoing the indictment or dropping the case. That same presentation shows that there should be a "see no evil" plan -- which explains why DEA agents are often just told "go to this truck stop and look for this truck" without knowing any more. That way they "saw no evil" with evil being defined as questionably obtained intelligence.
It appears that much of the DEA's arguments here rely on the Supreme Court's ruling in 1938 in Scher v. United States, in which a law enforcement agent was told some things by a source, and used that information to find and arrest the defendant handling whiskey (during Prohibition). The court said that how the agent found out about the information doesn't matter, so long as the agent saw illegal acts himself. And thus, the Supreme Court "enabled" the idea of parallel construction. That case pops up repeatedly throughout the documents, basically telling DEA agents: expect information to come from intelligence sources, but do your best to never find out why they know this stuff.

Another presentation asks "what is the problem with combining IC (Intelligence Community) collection efforts & LEA (Law Enforcement Agency) investigations in US courtrooms?" and then explains that it presents constitutional problems... and that "Americans don't like it!"
The note on that one points out that "even though we seek to protect our citizens, generally, we can only use techniques to achieve that objective, which are acceptable to our citizens." But that's not what they're actually doing or teaching. Instead, they're teaching how to keep doing the constitutionally questionable things that Americans don't like... and then hiding it from the courts, the American public and even the law enforcement folks themselves, in order to create a sort of plausible deniability that launders the fact that potentially illegal and unconstitutional surveillance was used to create the basis of the legal case.

There's some more information in the documents, but it all basically points to the same basic thing: the less that law enforcement folks know, the better. If the law enforcement knows too much, call in the "Taint Review Team" to see what they can do to clean up, and see what you can use to get the judge to exclude classified evidence. All in all, it adds up to a nice little plan to allow the NSA to illegally spy on people, tell law enforcement just enough to target people, without ever revealing how they were caught via unconstitutional means.


Reader Comments (rss)

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    That One Guy (profile), Feb 3rd, 2014 @ 11:41am

    Misplaced end tag?

    I'm guessing the rest of the text after 'intelligence community's "nemesis." ' wasn't supposed to be italicized, unless it's supposed to be a quote from the source material.

     

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    That One Guy (profile), Feb 3rd, 2014 @ 11:47am

    Someone remind me, but isn't there some saying regarding good intentions and how they can lead people to do really bad stuff?

    Really though, if they've reached the point where they consider the courts, and constitutional law/rules to be 'enemies', then it's pretty obvious they've become the very thing they think they're fighting: criminals and/or enemies of the US and it's citizens.

     

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      wto605 (profile), Feb 3rd, 2014 @ 12:12pm

      Re:

      I'm sure "the road to hell is paved with good intentions." sounds better to the DEA than "the road to hell is paved in flagrant violations of the natural and constitutional rights of those whom you are chartered to protect."

       

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      Anonymous Coward, Feb 3rd, 2014 @ 1:10pm

      Re:

      “Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.”

      -C S Lewis

       

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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 3rd, 2014 @ 12:19pm

    "even though we seek to protect our citizens, generally, we can only use techniques to achieve that objective, which are acceptable to our citizens."

    Was this manual written by Mike "Your privacy can't be violated if you don't know about it" Rogers? You see, it can only an unacceptable technique to the citizens if the citizens know about it, right? That makes everything they don't know about fair game, right?

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 3rd, 2014 @ 12:22pm

    typical police tactic, then!

     

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    John Fenderson (profile), Feb 3rd, 2014 @ 12:23pm

    Good example

    When I say that the corruption problem in the US is less about individual corruption and more about systemic corruption, this is one perfect example of what I mean.

     

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    alan turing, Feb 3rd, 2014 @ 12:31pm

    excellent example

    It's as if they are brainwashing their trainees...oh ya, they are.

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Feb 3rd, 2014 @ 1:33pm

      Re: excellent example

      It's funny, as I thought for a second you were comparign uS enforcement agencies to cults.

      Which doesn't seem to be far from the truth.

       

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        David, Feb 4th, 2014 @ 4:55am

        Re: Re: excellent example

        Cults merely wish to be allowed to beat whomever they don't like into a bloody pulp without consequences.

         

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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 3rd, 2014 @ 12:31pm

    Imagine if defendants could use parallel construction...

    Let's say the SEC is investigating a corporate executive for insider trading. Executive wants to trade based on information he has that isn't publicly available yet so he has his company's PR department contact a buddy of his at a newspaper and leak the information to the press. Right after they leak it, he calls his buddy and asks questions to get his buddy to recite back the information to him before executing his trade so he can claim he got the information in a tip from the press. Yeah that would fly.

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Feb 3rd, 2014 @ 1:51pm

      Re: Imagine if defendants could use parallel construction...

      "Yeah that would fly."

      Does all the time.

       

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        Anonymous Coward, Feb 3rd, 2014 @ 2:08pm

        Re: Re: Imagine if defendants could use parallel construction...

        I'm not saying that executives engaged in insider trading don't try such stunts to cover it up and that that many of them don't get away with it. What I meant was, if they came out later when it was found out that they actually had prior knowledge of it but tried to justify that since they heard it back from the press it was okay and that the SEC would then just let it slide because the presented a plausible justification for gaining the information legally. THAT wouldn't fly at all.

         

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    PRMan, Feb 3rd, 2014 @ 12:53pm

    Don't really have a problem with Parallel Construction

    If people are continuing to commit crimes, they will be caught for the future crimes, not the past ones. The intelligence information is typically only valid for the previous crimes. Generally, if the guy never commits another crime, he won't be found guilty using Parallel Construction.

    If it's just the Feds giving local police tips on who to watch for suspicious activity in the future, they could just call in an anonymous tip and everyone would be fine with it.

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Feb 3rd, 2014 @ 1:13pm

      Re: Don't really have a problem with Parallel Construction

      It doesn't matter how evil the criminal is, or how many crimes he has committed.

      The reason for forbidding evidence from a tainted source is to remove the temptation from law enforcement to become evil themselves, even if "for a just cause".

       

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      Anonymous Coward, Feb 3rd, 2014 @ 1:14pm

      Re: Don't really have a problem with Parallel Construction

      No no no no, you are missing the point. Damn man that is dangerous thinking, that's exactly what leads to your rights being wiped out.

       

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      Brazenly Anonymous, Feb 3rd, 2014 @ 1:45pm

      Re: Don't really have a problem with Parallel Construction

      If it's just the Feds giving local police tips on who to watch for suspicious activity in the future, they could just call in an anonymous tip and everyone would be fine with it.


      No, you are confusing "everyone wouldn't know about it to question it" with "everyone would be fine with it." Besides, anonymous tips should be treated with a heavy dose of skepticism that will not be present with an intelligence tip, even if it should be.

      They are two very different things in both cases.

      In the general case, this "see no evil" approach allows the NSA/FBI/CIA to direct law enforcement for harassment purposes, with the officers so abused not even being aware. Combined with certain other issues currently in existence, the practical implication is that an NSA/FBI/CIA analyst could essentially have anyone they like arrested at any point, for no given reason at all.

      One of those issues would be the shocking amount of legislation that almost ensures that each American citizen has committed multiple felonies a day. Others would be a litany of corruption within certain police forces, which of course should also show up in the NSA dragnet to make sure that a pliable cop is tasked with harassing/arresting the target.

      Is the system used this way right now? We can't say with any degree of certainty, because a self-reporting agency would never report themselves doing that.

       

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      Anonymous Coward, Feb 3rd, 2014 @ 2:01pm

      Re: Don't really have a problem with Parallel Construction

      First of all, NSA does not have a mandate for law enforcement. Second, the FISA only authorizes surveillance on "foreign powers and their agents" for the purpose of preventing sabotage, attacks and espionage. It does not authorize surveillance for law enforcement especially with regards to citizens.

      Law enforcement has to get a warrant based on presenting to a judge a case for probable cause BEFORE they can engage in such activity. And a tip from a citizen is not the same as a tip from another government entity.

      Next, I don't think you get the most exactly what parallel construction actually is. It's using an illegal means to gain information to be used in a case against someone and then finding another way to get the same information all over again so that you can pretend you got it legally. If this were on the defendant side and dealing with ill gained money, it would be considered money laundering. In fact, we should actually drop the whole term "parallel construction" term altogether and just call it what it really is EVIDENCE LAUNDERING.

       

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      That One Guy (profile), Feb 3rd, 2014 @ 2:06pm

      How about, 'No'?

      If the ones who are supposed to be enforcing the laws are allowed to bend or break them, why exactly should anyone else follow the laws?

      Investigations, arrests, charges, all of those things are supposed to be time consuming, require effort, and have careful checks and balances, precisely to protect the innocent from being steam-rolled by the system, weakening the system to catch someone you're 'sure' is guilty just makes the entire system a game of 'Who do I want to harass or throw in a cell today?'

       

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      John Fenderson (profile), Feb 3rd, 2014 @ 2:23pm

      Re: Don't really have a problem with Parallel Construction

      I wouldn't. Whether it's an anonymous tip or official channel, it's still using the results of domestic espionage that shouldn't even be happening against US citizens. Parallel construction is just a nice-sounding term for covering up for illegal activity while trying to legally use the results of that activity.

       

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        That One Guy (profile), Feb 3rd, 2014 @ 2:30pm

        Re: Re: Don't really have a problem with Parallel Construction

        The AC above has the right idea, forget the 'politically correct' phrasing, call it what it is: Evidence Laundering.

         

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          Anonymous Coward, Feb 3rd, 2014 @ 2:31pm

          Re: Re: Re: Don't really have a problem with Parallel Construction

          Thank you.

           

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          Anonymous Coward, Feb 3rd, 2014 @ 10:01pm

          Re: Re: Re: Don't really have a problem with Parallel Construction

          Let's also call "legally compelled" what it is: threatened with being thrown in a cage.

           

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      Anonymous Coward, Feb 3rd, 2014 @ 6:43pm

      Re: Don't really have a problem with Parallel Construction

      "they could just call in an anonymous tip and everyone would be fine with it"

      Feuding mobsters want anonymity. Spies & cops work to trace rumours back to their source.

       

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      Anonymous Coward, Feb 4th, 2014 @ 3:46am

      Re: Don't really have a problem with Parallel Construction

      It's called 'Fruit of the Poisonous Tree' and in the US it not generally admissible in court.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fruit_of_the_poisonous_tree

       

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      btrussell (profile), Feb 5th, 2014 @ 3:52am

      Re: Don't really have a problem with Parallel Construction

      Not just who, but when, where, and what.

      All I can say is, fuck you, for dismissing my privacy so blatantly.

       

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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 3rd, 2014 @ 1:02pm

    In the "Good Old Days" the government would just apply the concept of 'SECRET EVIDENCE' that only the judge - and never the defendant - would ever get to see.

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Feb 3rd, 2014 @ 3:01pm

      Re:

      Well, that is the concerning bit about this. They are specifically mentioning the "post 9/11-world" and "in the old days classified material was poison".

      It is pretty clear that there has been a huge shift in moral since the towers fell. Now illegal means being stupid and getting caught as opposed to breaking the law. In this case, it should be noted that the other agencies' actions are the main problem and completely obliterate due process in these DEA cases.

       

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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 3rd, 2014 @ 1:08pm

    "even though we seek to protect our citizens, generally, we can only use techniques to achieve that objective, which are acceptable to our citizens."

    It's almost as if - call me crazy here - citizens are the ones who employ you

     

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    That Anonymous Coward (profile), Feb 3rd, 2014 @ 1:23pm

    American's don't like it!
    Understatement... they do tend to get really pissed off when the law is broken by those who are supposed to champion it.
    When they violate the law to "win" at all costs, it isn't winning.

     

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    Justin B (profile), Feb 3rd, 2014 @ 1:58pm

    One Country

    What really shocks me is the statement that 'Americans don't like it' is a minor obstacle. Are the users reading these manuals not Americans like us? Without their help, questioning what they see as wrong and reporting it, there will not be any true constitutional liberties.

     

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      John Fenderson (profile), Feb 3rd, 2014 @ 2:24pm

      Re: One Country

      They don't think they are. They seem to think that only they are the "real Americans". The rest of us rabble are just pains in their ass.

       

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        Anonymous Coward, Feb 3rd, 2014 @ 6:50pm

        Re: Re: One Country

        All of us tend towards that us-versus-them mental shortcut.

        Cops triply so. HR looks for loyalty. The force is coercive.

        And spies? You bet. Today's "poison" is clear -- all these double-agents masquerading as "public servants".

         

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    BentFranklin (profile), Feb 3rd, 2014 @ 2:02pm

    They can review my taint.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 3rd, 2014 @ 2:35pm

    "...probably illegal..."

    What do mean "probably"? Falsification of evidence is *ABSOLUTELY* illegal.

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Feb 3rd, 2014 @ 6:54pm

      Re:

      You wish. Falsification of evidence isn't always illegal and we can only know AFTER a court decides a law was broken.

      No matter where we think the evidence points. We aren't the arbitrator of any case, let alone all of them.

       

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        Anonymous Coward, Feb 3rd, 2014 @ 9:56pm

        Re: Re:

        Falsification is always illegal. Courts aren't the arbiters of everything, although those of Surströmming Feinstein's ilk would love the masses to believe that.

         

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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 3rd, 2014 @ 6:22pm

    Amazing. There is not a single person at the DEA with a shred of humanity in them.
    They're told "Americans don't like it", and none of them even wonder why. No empathy, no self-reflection, no doubt. They know what they're doing is hated and illegal, and their only thoughts are on how best to hide their actions from the public.
    No remorse, no feelings of guilt. Just bottomless sociopathy.

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Feb 3rd, 2014 @ 7:00pm

      Re:

      Not lacking a conscience. Merely perpetuating their authority's over-zealous passion for out-smarting the real crooks. Easy to confuse the two.

      That slides merely illustrates a "lesser of two evils" approach to privacy-security.

      They "imagine" their beloved united states has the legal balance correct.

      They cannot imagine the legislation & internal policies of intelligence agencies are (in fact) in the state Snowden shows them to be in.

      Plausible denial. Plausible naivety. Plausible shock 'n bother.

       

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      Anonymous Coward, Feb 3rd, 2014 @ 8:48pm

      Re:

      It's not that there are not many well meaning, good people that are agents in the DEA. The biggest problem is those in charge that condition the others to think and act in a manner that is contrary not only to the law but also to the interests of those they are supposed to serve. This is a TRAINING MANUAL afterall for a curriculum designed to foster this sort of conditioning.

       

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    Ninja (profile), Feb 4th, 2014 @ 2:20am

    It even refers to the federal courts as the intelligence community's "nemesis."

    This should ring all alarm bells at full motherporking loudness. It's one clear indication of an Executive going rogue.

     

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    [redacter], Feb 4th, 2014 @ 7:42am

    This falls under RICO, and gives victims a right to pursue civil damages.

    And no, law enforcement agancies are not exempt from RICO lawsuits. Just ask LAPD (love to be plaintiff's lawyer on that one).

     

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    theBuckWheat, Feb 4th, 2014 @ 12:15pm

    A violation of the officer's oath

    This is so fraudulent and so corrosive to the very concept of a lawfully-acting government that it must be totally purged from our system.

    Recall 18 USC 1001, where it is a felony to lie to a government employee. The law must apply to everyone or to no one. We must make it a felony for the government to lie to us. But wait, every time Parallel Construction is employed, everyone in the chain of the lie commits a crime.

    So, now we not only suspend the Constitution to collect the data in an operation of pervasive surveillance, but it proves to be too tempting to those government employees who are restrained by the law, and when they can't get some secret court to give them permission, they find and institutional lie to permit it anyway.

    Is it time yet to hold a Convention to consider how to amend and repair the relationship the present Leviathan State has with us? Or are too many people still afraid of losing their precious rights? Hello!

     

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