And Of Course DEA Had Its Own Database Of Metadata On All Calls From Inside The US To Certain Foreign Countries

from the because-of-course-it-did dept

It's both interesting and troubling to see just how frequently the DEA keeps popping up in various stories about the intelligence community and surveillance. We've written about how the DEA was getting classified information and then trained to "launder" the details of how it got it via parallel construction, how it had "embedded" AT&T employees who could help the DEA look up any info it needed and how it had its own HEMISPHERE database of call record info going back to 1987.

But it wasn't entirely clear how much information was in that database. And yet, in a recently revealed declaration from a DEA agent, it was revealed that the DEA had a database on every phone call from inside the US to certain countries outside the US, which it could then query using the typical RAS -- "reasonable articulable suspicion" -- standard that the NSA has used to query its giant database as well. That is, rather than targeting just suspicious calls, the DEA got a database of all calls to certain key countries.
This database [REDACTED] consisted of telecommunications metadata obtained from United States telecommunications service providers pursuant to administrative subpoenas served upon the service providers under the provisions of 21 U.S.C. § 876. This metadata related to international telephone calls originating in the United States and calling [REDACTED] designated foreign countries, one of which was Iran, that were determined to have demonstrated a nexus to international drug trafficking and related criminal activities. This metadata consisted exclusively of the initiating telephone number; the receiving telephone number; the date, time, and duration of the call; and the method by which the call was billed.
The program was shut down in September of 2013, just as the NY Times wrote about the program (funny, that...). As Marcy Wheeler notes, there's at least a decent chance this effort was just about trying to support sanctions against Iran (tracking if someone in the US is actually doing business with Iran) rather than drug trafficking. Either way, it shows yet another example of how much the government seems willing to scoop up tons of information on innocent people in hopes that there's a needle in all those stacks of hay.

Filed Under: dea, metadata, surveillance


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  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 20 Jan 2015 @ 2:25am

    The program may or may not have been shut down, but does anyone think the database was destroyed, rather than shuffled off elsewhere? Government agencies have an addiction to data, there's no way they would have gotten rid of a 'fix' like that unless forced to, and even then I wouldn't trust them to do so.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 20 Jan 2015 @ 4:07am

      Re:

      Too bad the government's addiction to data can't cause an overdose or get them arrested.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        David, 20 Jan 2015 @ 5:21am

        Re: Re:

        What do you mean, "can't cause an overdose"? There is a reason that no plausible terrorist plots have been thwarted since the Patriot act went on, in spite of pointed warnings by different agencies about those terrorist plots (including Boston marathon and 09/11): those warnings were measured against the haystack (which any terrorist plot in significant state of progress will keep away from) and considered low-priority.

        The haystack overdose is keeping the whole system from achieving anything but a violation of the constitution, without any return value apart from illegal blackmail material.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 20 Jan 2015 @ 8:57am

        Re: Re:

        There's no one to arrest them that's the sad thing , every single one of our agencies that are supposed to protect the citizens are doing the same.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Anon E. Mous (profile), 20 Jan 2015 @ 5:29am

      Re:

      I agree with you. I am also of the belief that like musical chairs they just shuffled else where so they can say, " we don't have that database "

      Now this makes me thing what other US. government agencies have a database like this? We know the NSA does, I would bet the CIA and FBI have one as well.

      The other thing I would like to know is how long have the had it and how are they hiding the funding for it? I have never seen mention of this in any budget that is set for the DEA.

      The fact that it does not come up in any budget documents means it's is either blended in with some other item or there is a separate fund set up.

      The other thing that I am wondering is how they got the authorization to collect and retain this data on an ongoing basis?

      I highly doubt a court allowed them to collect and retain data indefinitely.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      John Fenderson (profile), 20 Jan 2015 @ 7:30am

      Re:

      In my experience "shut down" is governmental code for "moved and/or renamed".

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 20 Jan 2015 @ 7:51am

        Re: Re:

        Moving not needed; just renamed. And never shut down.

        Not to mention those "programs" that have an automatic name change set to occur periodically.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 20 Jan 2015 @ 4:11am

    "Billed"

    Another aspect that is not nearly enough reported on......like what can they do/use with this......when everyone is required by many to provide accurate non negotible discretional information under threat of.........im not saying its bad, im saying its perfect for abuse, .........well, not bad as long as only the bare minimum information is required for a sucessfull transaction, and not a conditioned acceptance that they can demand any information under threat of law that has no use in the purpose of a transaction...........

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 20 Jan 2015 @ 4:26am

    While much of this is creating giant useless haystacks, how much of it is running the budget to the last penny?
    Government types have this strange mentality that if you don't hit the budget cap, then they are giving you to much money & cut it back.
    How many of those running these different departments are just sucking up everything they can remotely justify to make sure they get more in the next funding round. Collecting & storing all of this data is a great way to burn cash. Trot out 1 or 2 needles that fell into your lap in a press conference and the powers that be oooh and ahhh and sign off on the next years larger budget & expansion of powers.

    As we saw in the coverage of Palintar (sp) they tools they developed in house to search & sift the haystacks suck so badly that they have to pull in an outside contractor to help look for the needles.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    AjStechd (profile), 20 Jan 2015 @ 5:10am

    The police state the U.S. now enjoys continues to simply desensitize it's people with example after example of alphabet agencies routinely breaking the only "laws" that really matter, the constitution. The casualness of it sickens me.

    Seems the entire system is corrupted, from those that introduce these ideas to useless judges that find ways to justify them. Occasionally holding up a righteous act as proof everything is fine for a public determined to stay in denial.

    I don't respect the DEA or the "laws" that allow it to continue it's needless criminal activity. They, along with so many others, simply need to go. I'm not concerned with "blue lives" nearly as much as I am with my country's freedoms.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Coyne Tibbets (profile), 20 Jan 2015 @ 5:18am

    Government waste

    We desperately need to rein this in; if for no other reason than to eliminate government duplication, waste.

    I mean, how many copies are there? NSA, CIA, DEA, FBI, DOJ, DIA, DHS, Secret Service, NYPD,...there's got to be thousands of copies of this data. Because everyone's gotta have it and none of them will share.

    Talk about your waste, fraud and abuse.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Ninja (profile), 20 Jan 2015 @ 5:27am

    The program was shut down in September of 2013, just as the NY Times wrote about the program (funny, that...).

    And reopened with a different name and more secrecy. Probably.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    New Mexico Mark, 20 Jan 2015 @ 6:10am

    Broadband backwater

    I'm finally starting to understand the real reason the U.S. is such a broadband backwater. Every packet generated on the Internet has to be copied from multiple locations to multiple three-letter agencies. "Hello world" probably generates a few megabits of traffic (and flags your account for "suspicious communication" in those agencies).

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 20 Jan 2015 @ 7:04am

      Re: Broadband backwater

      Exactly. That is the true reason for phone and internet companies restricting your data caps. They have trouble saving all of the data you access if it goes past a certain point.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 20 Jan 2015 @ 6:32am

    My initials are a three letter acronym. Can I have my own phone records database like so many other three letter acronyms already have?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    justme, 20 Jan 2015 @ 12:32pm

    We hold these truths to be self-evident. .

    Anyone,

    List any of the objective's of the war on drugs, that has been successfully achieved? List any other positive effect on society, as a whole, that directly resulted from the war on drugs??

    Now do that same thing for failed objectives and negative effects!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      John Fenderson (profile), 20 Jan 2015 @ 1:28pm

      Re: We hold these truths to be self-evident. .

      "List any of the objective's of the war on drugs, that has been successfully achieved?"

      A massive amount of money has been successfully diverted to large corporations and shady government agencies.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        GEMont (profile), 21 Jan 2015 @ 7:17pm

        Re: Re: We hold these truths to be self-evident. .

        "List any of the objective's of the war on drugs, that has been successfully achieved?"

        " A massive amount of money has been successfully diverted to large corporations and shady government agencies."

        Proving that the "War On" Drugs has been and remains a tremendous success and that the "War On" process can be used for almost anything, from Terrorism to Poverty, to generate huge amounts of accountability-free revenue while having absolutely no real effect upon the particular subject of that particular "War On".

        A near perfect business plan.

        ----

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 20 Jan 2015 @ 1:57pm

      Re: We hold these truths to be self-evident. .

      The official objectives, or the classified objectives?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 20 Jan 2015 @ 3:05pm

    "The program was shut down in September of 2013, just as the NY Times wrote about the program (funny, that...)"

    And then the program was promptly reopened under a different name, or using another agency's existing program.

    They twist words until words no longer have any meaning. Never forget that fact.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    GEMont (profile), 21 Jan 2015 @ 7:09pm

    Fixing a small typo...

    "The program was shut down in September of 2013, just as the NY Times wrote about the program..."

    Ummm... shouldn't that read:

    The program was renamed and its operation center relocated in September of 2013, just as the NY Times wrote about the program...

    These programs never actually end. They just get hidden in another layer of secrecy.

    ---

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 22 Jan 2015 @ 9:07pm

    United Fascists of America are the land of the free!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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