It isn’t exactly controversial to say that the Drug Enforcement Agency is a bit of a mess. In the past few years the DEA has been plagued by systemic incompetence, lost their chief, and seen its entire purpose subverted by the rise of well-funded cannabis reform legislation at the state level. But until this week the full extent of the DEA’s issues were not immediately apparent. Today drug reform advocates are smiling from ear to ear after the release of an audit by the Inspector General of the DOJ (OIG) exposed horrendous mismanagement of the DEA’s confidential informant program.
Government audits usually embody the fine bureaucratic tradition of putting their readers into a boredom-induced coma. However it seems like the OIG was so thoroughly disgusted by what they saw (along with continued stonewalling from DEA leadership) that they decided to more or less ether the entire confidential source program:
“..the DEA’s Confidential Source Program lacks sufficient oversight. Moreover, the DEA’s policies lack consistency with the rules governing other DOJ law enforcement components and this undermines the intent of a uniform set of guidelines for all DOJ law enforcement components.”
If you think that sounds like a fancy way of saying “DEA is acting like a bunch of fucking cowboys by allowing people to commit crimes willy-nilly,” you would be correct. As it turns out, our friends at the DEA were allowed special permission in 2004 to deviate from the standard DOJ categorization of snitches (thanks Bush). Since that time they have used that limited amount of discretion to create a monster where no one knows what the hell is going on:
Because of the lack of detail in the DEA’s formal policies addressing OIA1 we asked DEA officials to explain the process for reviewing, approving, and revoking DEA authorization for confidential sources to participate in activities that would constitute OIA. In response, we were provided several differing explanations. Initially, we were told by a DEA official that the DEA does not authorize any type of OIA. Subsequently, the OIG was told that the purchase of drugs or other undercover activities that are routinely performed by DEA Special Agents and confidential sources during the normal course of their duties are activities performed under the legal authority granted to DEA under Title 21. Still other DEA officials told us that prior to utilizing a confidential source in an operation (including a drug buy), Special Agents prepare a written operations plan and submit it to senior field division officials for approval.
So let’s break down what this report is telling us: the DEA, the organization designed by the dark lord/grandfather of the drug war Harry Ainslinger to make the world entirely drug free, is itself facilitating large scale drug trafficking and then doing a half-assed job of monitoring these operations. Oh and it gets worse.
We believe the DEA’s policies do not adequately address the concerns and risks involved in authorizing confidential sources to conduct and participate in OIA and do not correspond to the AG Guidelines’ requirements in place to mitigate these risks. Moreover, because OIA is not comprehensively addressed in the DEA policies regarding sensitive circumstances or confidential sources, DEA personnel do not appear to have a solid understanding of OIA, or the expectations for DEA’s procedures that involve OIA. Further, the fact that the DEA confidential source files we reviewed did not contain documentation authorizing the confidential source to conduct narcotics-related OIA limits supervision and oversight of these activities.
The DEA is freely handing out hall passes to folks in the drug trade who are resourceful and persistent enough to secure a government contract for their illicit activities. Well done everyone. Great job!
But it wasn’t all bad news from the OIG report. As it turns out the DEA is quite the benevolent employer when it comes to disability payments for their confidential sources:
Between July 1, 2013, and June 30, 2014, it appears that the DEA paid approximately $1,034,000 for FECA benefits to 17 confidential sources or their dependents. In some cases, the DEA has been paying FECA benefits since 1974, but we could not determine the total historical cost because the DEA and DOL do not track payments to confidential sources receiving FECA benefits. In one particular case we reviewed, the confidential source was killed in July 1989 and his surviving family, which included a widow and dependents, began receiving FECA payments of $4,287 every 4 weeks. At the time of her death in 2012, the widow’s 4-week payment amount had increased to $6,311. Therefore, this family alone received over $1.3 million in FECA benefits since 1989. Although the exact amount of DEA confidential source FECA payments is unknown, it is clear that significant taxpayer dollars have been expended.
The DEA and its predecessor agencies have always existed as a catastrophe of corruption, mismanagement, and an unquestioning adherence to upholding the some of the worst laws ever passed by our beclowned Congress. This report only confirms what drug reform advocates already knew: that the present structure and purpose of the DEA should be thrown into the dumpster fire of history and never spoken about again. The drug war is a disaster of staggering proportions, and revelations that the DEA is basically the only entity keeping this effort alive should be reason enough to end this embarrassing chapter of public policy making.
[Post image via Shutterstock]
OIA is “Otherwise Illegal Activity” ↩