The surveillance data is not being used just for terrorism


It turns out (what a surprise) that the massive collection of data by the NSA is not being used just for detecting terrorist threats.

A secretive U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration unit is funneling information from intelligence intercepts, wiretaps, informants and a massive database of telephone records to authorities across the nation to help them launch criminal investigations of Americans.

Although these cases rarely involve national security issues, documents reviewed by Reuters show that law enforcement agents have been directed to conceal how such investigations truly begin – not only from defense lawyers but also sometimes from prosecutors and judges.

The undated documents show that federal agents are trained to “recreate” the investigative trail to effectively cover up where the information originated, a practice that some experts say violates a defendant’s Constitutional right to a fair trial. If defendants don’t know how an investigation began, they cannot know to ask to review potential sources of exculpatory evidence – information that could reveal entrapment, mistakes or biased witnesses.

A former federal agent in the northeastern United States who received such tips from SOD described the process. “You’d be told only, ‘Be at a certain truck stop at a certain time and look for a certain vehicle.’ And so we’d alert the state police to find an excuse to stop that vehicle, and then have a drug dog search it,” the agent said.

After an arrest was made, agents then pretended that their investigation began with the traffic stop, not with the SOD tip, the former agent said. The training document reviewed by Reuters refers to this process as “parallel construction.”

I wonder how many more uses of the data we are going to learn about.

Comments

  1. Chiroptera says

    For the last few weeks, I’ve been trying to figure out why they don’t use this awesome capability to bust something like an international child pornography ring. I would figure if anything would get a large number of people to support programs like these, that would.

    It’s almost as if these people have no interest in stopping real crimes.

  2. Pteryxx says

    “find an excuse to stop that vehicle”. Which excuse then serves as probable cause, and gets sworn to by a police officer in court. So much for officers’ supposed street experience and hard-won expertise in knowing suspicious activity just by looking at it.

  3. DonDueed says

    Does it seem odd to anyone (but me) that in the wake of the Snowden documents, we suddenly have this massive terror threat / warning going on? I have already heard news stories about how this supposed threat was detected through (unspecified) secret surveillance programs.

    It all seems so… conVEEENient.

  4. Compuholic says

    What a surprise. Or did anyone really believe that billions were spent every year just to foil some 50 terror plots (if you believe that number). Every time data is being collected you can bet it is being used for whatever purpose it can be used.

    My favorite example here in Germany: Toll collect, an automatic system to collect highway fees from truck drivers. The enforcement mechanism consists of license plate scanners which are used to cross-reference the license plates with the database of payments. When the license plate scanners where introduced all the politicians told everyone that the data collected would only be used to catch freeloaders. And of course it only took a truck driver causing a hit-and-run accident and the police demanded access to the toll collect records (and got it).

  5. Pierce R. Butler says

    But drugs are terrorism!

    I’m sure Nancy Reagan or Laura Bush or somesuch authoritative expert said so!

  6. machintelligence says

    If you want to strike terror into the NRA types, consider the following possibility:
    The access numbers to the state background check for gun purchase sites are well known (every gun dealer has them.)
    Why not monitor and record each call to glean the information about each firearm purchaser? The state is not allowed to keep these records, but the illegally obtained copies, well, use them to compile a gun owners data base.

  7. AsqJames says

    My first reaction too, but I think there’s a downside in playing that game.

    Just today it’s been reported that the threat warning was based an intercept of traffic between “the head of AQ and the head of AQ in the Arabian Peninsula” which discussed an attack. Since Snowdon’s revelations, we’ve been told that if the terrorists know we’ve got this capability they’ll change their methods so it’s useless, but if that report is accurate it surely tells AQ exactly which messages were intercepted and thus what communications tools are compromised.

    They’re undermining their own case as to the potential damage Snowdon’s leaks have done.

  8. says

    And it was nice and convenient for all those Al Quaeda intercepts to happen just about now, in order to help justify NSA’s budget and activities.

    Because intelligence that maybe someone is talking about attacking one of 20+ embassies scattered all over the world is not credible intelligence. It’s crap. Even the State Department says the closures are an “excess of caution” and, oh, yeah, a bunch of them were going to be closed for some muslim holiday anyway. But now they can point to some classified reasons that the NSA’s spying has really paid off – of course, we can’t TELL you…

  9. says

    You do know that the postal service gives the FBI all shipping address/recipient information for mail, right? Tracking the guns would be ludicrously easy. Ammo, too. And since the PATRIOT financial filings force every business’ large-dollar transactions into the data-bucket, you can now know pretty easily who’s buying ammo or accessories or damn near anything else. (of course ammo is specially labelled, so that’s all in the database, too)

  10. says

    So much for officers’ supposed street experience and hard-won expertise in knowing suspicious activity just by looking at it.

    Without skin color, they’d be helpless.

  11. left0ver1under says

    It used to be said:

    , “In the US, anything not explicitly forbidden is permitted.
    In the USSR, anything not explicitly permitted is forbidden.

    The US isn’t a communist country, but it certainly is becoming Soviet, and NOT because of its president. It’s becoming a nation of laws run by the wealthy, to turn everyone else into a criminal class.

  12. Acolyte of Sagan says

    And of course it only took a truck driver causing a hit-and-run accident and the police demanded access to the toll collect records (and got it).

    So the police catch a criminal who caused an accident and left the scene by using the available technological evidence, and you think this is a bad thing? It’s OK to pursue ‘freeloaders’ but dangerous drivers are off-limits? Or have I mis-understood you?

  13. Compuholic says

    Your argumentation shows where the problem is. People who argue like you eagerly give up civil liberties.

    The point is that the police now has access to surveillance technology that no court would have ever allowed in the first place. Nobody would have approved to scan the license plates of all vehicles on the highway regardless of suspicion just to catch a few criminals. If the police wants to monitor somebody that closely they need to get a warrant (and in order to get it they need to at least have a good reason to suspect you of a crime). Now the movements of everybody on the highway are recorded independently if you are suspected of a crime or not, totally undermining this principle.

    The same has happened with cell phones. What the police is doing nowaways if somebody reported a crime is to pull a list of people that have been logged into the cell phone towers around the incident (and probably cross reference the data with data from other sources to narrow down the list) and so you might have your house searched just because you had the misfortune of being logged into the same cell phone tower at the same time.

    Is that really something you want?

  14. Acolyte of Sagan says

    Your argumentation shows where the problem is. People who argue like you eagerly give up civil liberties.

    And what about the civil liberties of those who’ve just had a truck plough into their cars and sped off?
    Most British police cars now have plate-recognition cameras on board which automatically check the details of all vehicles that it sees, instantly alerting the police to any vehicles not taxed, not insured, or reported stolen. I don’t have a problem with this, but neither do I see it as an infringement of anybody’s civil liberties; a little un-sporting maybe, but that’s life.

  15. Compuholic says

    I’m sorry but your “argument” can be used to justify pretty much anything. Why not take a DNA sample at birth? That would make law enforcement so much easier. Why not force everybody to submit all their account transaction directly to the government so that they can check if you are not evading any taxes. No matter how unplausible and rare an incident is. You will always find a justification because somebody got wronged.

    Most British police cars now have plate-recognition cameras on board which automatically check the details of all vehicles that it sees, instantly alerting the police to any vehicles not taxed, not insured, or reported stolen. I don’t have a problem with this, but neither do I see it as an infringement of anybody’s civil liberties;

    Well I would consider this to be borderline acceptable if the data collected is only used to check the databases and is instantly erased afterwards. But it would be totally unacceptable if they kept the data and for example used it to build movement profiles. Because that is something only a judge should approve and only if there are good reasons to suspect a person of a crime.

  16. machintelligence says

    Sadly, you could only track the guns to a registered firearms dealer. He would then have to do the background check before releasing them to the buyer.
    Ammunition, on the other hand is pretty much unrestricted, although there are some shipping limitations. Black powder, or any shells loaded with it cannot be sent by mail, since it is an explosive. Smokeless powder is merely inflammable.

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