DEA Wants In On The Fun, Asks DOJ To Give It Permission To Surveil George Floyd Protests
from the GTFO-drug-warriors dept
I thought there was still a Drug War being fought in this county. I guess it’s not as important as billions of annual budget dollars would indicate it is. When the going has gotten mildly tougher for US law enforcement agencies, the DEA is there to help out by placing people engaged in First Amendment activities under surveillance.
The demonstrations over George Floyd’s death at the hands of Minneapolis police officers have provoked all sorts of responses from government entities. The DEA’s is one of the worst. As usual, it’s FOIA terrorist Jason Leopold who’s managed to obtain a document the DEA probably didn’t want shared publicly.
The Drug Enforcement Administration has been granted sweeping new authority to “conduct covert surveillance” and collect intelligence on people participating in protests over the police killing of George Floyd, according to a two-page memorandum obtained by BuzzFeed News.
Floyd’s death “has spawned widespread protests across the nation, which, in some instances, have included violence and looting,” the DEA memo says. “Police agencies in certain areas of the country have struggled to maintain and/or restore order.” The memo requests the extraordinary powers on a temporary basis, and on Sunday afternoon a senior Justice Department official signed off.
The DEA has always been able to engage in domestic surveillance. Most of its targets reside in the United States. Domestic surveillance to engage in drug-related investigations isn’t really the problem here. (This is not to say the DEA’s surveillance efforts aren’t problematic.) This is the DOJ saying it’s okay for an agency that’s supposed to be shutting down drug operations to start snooping on protesters. Even if there has been some criminal activity occurring during demonstrations, in recent days this has been the exception, rather than the rule.
The memo [PDF] notes that the law says the DEA’s law enforcement powers are supposed to be limited to drug enforcement activity. But there’s always a loophole. And that’s what the DOJ is using. The memo admits the “federal crimes being committed in the wake of Mr. Floyd’s death are largely not drug-related,” but says the Attorney General can re-task the DEA as the DOJ sees fit. That’s how the DOJ sees it. No further details are discussed in the memo. And the DOJ has nothing to say about what percentage of observed federal crimes to date might have anything to do with drugs.
It appears no one in the DOJ felt the DEA’s assistance was necessary. In other words, the DOJ did not ask the DEA if it would be willing to expend its resources surveilling protests for non-drug-related crime. The DEA asked to do this, suggesting it has some underutilized resources that should be budgeted out of the agency when the next appropriations bill comes up for a vote.
It doesn’t appear many DEA agents think they should be involved in surveilling protests. The DEA only needed 25 volunteers to do god knows what with their drug investigation expertise. It couldn’t get them — not without stripping the tasking of its voluntary nature.
Two sources knowledgeable about the deployment said 15 people from the DEA’s elite Special Response Team and 10 special agents were chosen. Not all 25 volunteered, the sources said.
Kruskall’s email did not describe what specific tasks the detachment would be given. It added that if insufficient numbers of agents volunteered, others would be assigned the job. According to the sources, fewer than 25 agents raised their hands [when asked to volunteer].
Leopold’s DEA sources aren’t happy with the DEA’s actions. Three people who spoke with Leopold said they were “troubled” by the DEA’s desire to send agents to surveil people engaged in protected speech.
And they’re correct. The DEA has no business engaging in “covert surveillance” of protests, especially when there’s no evidence pointing to drug-related federal crimes being committed. The agency also shouldn’t be sending non-volunteers out to help handle protests by “intervening” on regular law enforcement’s behalf or arresting protesters for allegedly engaging in criminal acts.
The DEA saw an opportunity to engage in mission creep, if only for a limited time. A DOJ less in thrall to hypocritical “rule of law” notions would have rejected this naked attempt to put DEA boots on First Amendment ground. But that isn’t the DOJ we have at the moment. And now we have at least 25 DEA agents burning through tax dollars for absolutely no reason whatsoever. Defund the DEA.