Report: DEA Blowing Money On Liars, Thieves, And Amtrak Employees

from the nothing-like-spending-other-people's-money dept

If the Drug War is US law enforcement’s wildly-swinging fist, the DEA is its middle finger. Once the pointless brutality stops, the finger is extended to everyone — especially taxpayers.

Even the agency’s name inadvertently belies its twisted motivations: “Drug Enforcement Administration.” Without further information, the name, on its own, seems to suggest a shoring up of the drug trade, rather than an adversarial force.

The DEA has a lot of skin in the drug game. Without the steady flow of drugs, it ceases to exist. It operates with a great deal of autonomy and is often excused its worst excesses because most people agree (without much thought) that drugs are bad.

The DEA controls a vast network of confidential informants. Actually, to state it more accurately, the DEA oversees… Never mind. The DEA pays a great deal of money to confidential informants. Beyond handing out cash, the DEA apparently does little else to keep its informants in line.

A just-released Inspector General’s report [PDF] on the DEA’s use of confidential informants finds the agency has no problem paying out vast sums of money to lying informants and that it maintains a small army of otherwise-employed citizens who moonlight as cash/drug-sniffing humans for the nation’s top drug warriors.

This year’s report builds on the lowlights of last year’s examination of the DEA’s informant program, in which the OIG basically stated the entire program runs without sufficient oversight. Nothing has changed in the interim. This report includes even more details of excess, abuse, and stupidity.

Fun fact: lying to prosecutors, judges, and the DEA itself isn’t enough to prevent the agency from giving an informant even more chances to lie — all the while being paid handsomely for making stuff up.

[W]hile DEA policy prohibits paying deactivated sources who were deactivated because of an arrest warrant or for committing a serious offense, we found two concerning instances of payments to previously-deactivated sources. In one case, the DEA reactivated a confidential source who previously provided false testimony in trials and depositions. During the approximate 5-year period of reactivation, this source was used by 13 DEA field offices and paid $469,158. More than $61,000 of the $469,158 was paid after this source was once again deactivated for making false statements to a prosecutor.

That’s just one case. There are many more. The OIG notes that $9.4 million in tax dollars was shelled out to deactivated informants, suggesting that not working for the DEA is a great way to make a living.

Then there’s the so-called “limited use” informants. These are Amtrak, airline, and parcel service employees the DEA pays to keep any eye out for cash and drugs. Lots of money is misspent here with even less oversight than goes into the paying-people-for-doing-nothing program.

Another area of concern is the DEA’s oversight of confidential sources it categorized as “Limited Use,” often referred to as “tipsters,” which DEA policy specifies are sources who make information available independently without direction by the DEA. The Limited Use category is regarded by the DEA as low-risk and therefore DEA policy requires the least supervision. Yet we found that Limited Use sources were some of DEA’s highest paid sources, with 477 Limited Use sources during the period of our review having received an estimated $26.8 million.


Some of these sources received significant payments for their assistance, including an airline employee who received more than $600,000 in less than 4 years, and a parcel employee who received over $1 million in 5 years.

Unsurprisingly, the DEA is very interested in cash, despite its supposed drug focus. Consequently, “limited use” informants need a bit more hands-on treatment to keep them zeroed in on seizable currency. As the OIG points out, the extra attention paid to handling “limited use” informants makes them no longer “limited use” — and therefore supposedly subject to stricter oversight. Not that this happened either.

We believe that DEA Agents directed the actions of these sources extensively enough that they could not reasonably be understood to have acted “without direction” and therefore do not fit the definition or purpose of “Limited Use.”


We also found the DEA did not appropriately track all confidential source activity; did not document proper justifications for all source payments; and, at times, did not adequately safeguard traveler information.

The DEA is given billions of dollars to work with every year. Some of this goes to its informants, some of which are very unreliable. Apparently none of the budget goes towards recordkeeping.

Because DEA’s files do not detail the universe of information provided by its sources, it is unable to examine their reliability and whether they frequently or rarely provide useful information, or whether the information DEA agents acted upon resulted in identifying individuals involved in illegal activity or instead caused DEA to regularly approach innocent civilians for questioning. We are deeply concerned about this inability to assess source reliability, which seriously impairs DEA’s ability to oversee and manage the activity of these sources and the Confidential Source Program overall.

As if its lying informants weren’t troublesome enough, the DEA also gave informants free reign to act as contractors and “hire” their own informants to work underneath them. Unlike other Ponzi schemes, the sucker here is at the top of the pyramid, rather than the bottom.

Additionally, we were extremely concerned to discover the DEA condoned its confidential sources’ use of “sub-sources,” who are individuals a source recruits and pays to perform activities or provide information related to the source’s work for the DEA. During our review of DEA files, we found evidence of sources who were paid based, in part, on the need to pay “sub-sources,” but the information in the files was insufficient to allow us to determine the full extent of such payments.

As for the lying, the DEA seems completely unconcerned that it may be doing little more than funding a network of bullshit artists.

[T]he DEA does not independently validate the credibility of sources used for intelligence programs or the accuracy of the information they provide…

And the DEA spends money like any entity blessed with piles of unearned cash.

Additionally, when we asked the DEA Intelligence Division to provide us with an itemized list and overall total of payments to intelligence-related confidential sources, it was unable to do so. We reviewed DEA records and estimated that, during the 5-year period of our review, the Intelligence Division paid more than $30 million to sources who provided narcotics-related intelligence and contributed to law enforcement operations, $25 million of which went to just 9 sources. Additionally, we identified one source who was paid over $30 million during a 30-year period, some of it in cash payments of more than $400,000. We concluded the Intelligence Division’s management and oversight of its sources was not commensurate with the large amount of payments it made to them.

The entire report is an indictment of the DEA’s willingness to throw good money after bad, and its unwillingness to perform even the most perfunctory of oversight. The joke, of course, is that the report will not result in any indictments, even if the behavior detailed borders on fraudulent.

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Comments on “Report: DEA Blowing Money On Liars, Thieves, And Amtrak Employees”

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Anonymous Coward says:

I'm a little skeptical of the knee jerk reaction.

When you consider how this can be addressed with big data, there is some question whether turning to private sources isn’t a better move.

I think everybody would like to see the DEA get smaller, and the drug problem get smaller at the same time. And there probably are plenty of opportunities for small private firms to do some good.

The issue here is formalization and procedure. If the DEA took an open architecture view of this problem, my guess is their performance figures COULD go way up.

Of course the more likely scenario, is that they will SAY they are moving in an open architecture direction. But some mega corp will get half of congress blown, (or buy the oval office) and then step in to semi-privatize the DEA in some congressional sweetheart deal. After which, private corporations will be authorized to seize your shit and there will be no legal recourse for it.

You can thank SCOTUS and Citizens United v. FEC for this. And every indication is that it is going to get a whole lot worse over the next 4 years, regardless of who wins.

art guerrilla (profile) says:

didn't see this one...

(as i recall from article)
DEA recruits ‘parcel service’ employee (apparently, unbeknownst to the company) to forward ‘suspicious’ packages to their offices, employee does so, to the tune of about 1.3 million paid over 12 years for 180 ‘suspicious’ pkgs…
here is the fun part: NONE of the ‘suspicious’ pkgs had drugs in them…
say wha ?
either there was a lot more than 180 and the ones with drugs and money got ‘lost’, or it is a total sham…

trollificus (profile) says:

Re: Re:

“…shoveling cash to anyone who wants to take it and is willing to say what we want to hear about whomever we want to hear it said.”


Lack of transparency? Inadequate oversight? Casual waste of taxpayers’ money? Psht.That’s FedGov SOP. Prosecutorial overreach and a corrupt system of payoffs to well-connected “Friends of Law Enforcement” seem like relatively harmless outliers. No big deal. So many government agencies can be/have been turned to the abuse of citizens and the suppression of legitimate demands for reform, and few of them have the weaponry, legal muscle and (sadly) public support the DEA has.

More investigation will only show the agency being used as so many others are: To ensure the money keeps flowing to the right people and stays in the right pockets, forever, if possible. Directed persecutions of problematic individuals may be rare now, but the powers-that-be may soon find it desirable to ‘cull the herd’ of rude, inadequately-indoctrinated badthinkers. The DEA will be pretty useful then.

TOPDOG1 (profile) says:


Because of the misuse and abuse of responsibility and credibility as well as incompetence. The enforcement power of the D.E.A. should be removed and placed back into the hands of the state. A semi-secret elite police force within what is already a police state is way over the top. America does not need this throwback to the cold war era. These Federal offices have become a renegade haven of Authoritarian despots and tyrants commandeering and miss-directing hundreds of millions even billions into their drug war against citizens and likewise funding state police regimes both within the U.S. and worldwide.It is these federal agency’s that have created the drug problem solely to commandeer funding and as their power base. Over sixty percent of D.E.A. employees go to work for the pharmaceutical industry. These renegade authoritarians need to be controlled or removed.

Wendy Cockcroft (profile) says:

The DEA is given billions of dollars to work with every year. Some of this goes to its informants, some of which are very unreliable. Apparently none of the budget goes towards recordkeeping.

Bu-b-but red tape and bureaucracy gets in the way of us doing our job!
– The DEA

free reign

It’s “free rein,” Tim. A king reigns, there are reins on a horse. When you give the horse free rein, it goes where it wants. /spelling nazi

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