The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) is a federal agency whose mission is to combat drug use and smuggling in the United States. Although action movies depict DEA agents as stoic heroes who save the day, the reality regarding what the agency does and how it works is far more nuanced. Sadly and frustratingly, many DEA investigations lead to injustices and less than ideal outcomes for everyone touched by them. The mission, in other words, may be noble, but the practice often leaves a lot to be desired.
Most cases are completely classified. The government tells its agents not to discuss investigations or surveillance, even in court. This strategy can lead to false testimony or hearsay becoming the basis for certain criminal investigations.
Recently, a report revealed that a secret US DEA unit funneled information from wiretaps and telephone records to launch criminal investigations against Americans. This issue had nothing to do with homeland security, so critics argued that the unit’s actions were illegal. Per a Reuters report: “The unit of the DEA that distributes the information is called the Special Operations Division, or SOD. Two dozen partner agencies comprise the unit, including the FBI, CIA, NSA, Internal Revenue Service and the Department of Homeland Security. It was created in 1994 to combat Latin American drug cartels and has grown from several dozen employees to several hundred. Today, much of the SOD’s work is classified, and officials asked that its precise location in Virginia not be revealed. The documents reviewed by Reuters are marked “Law Enforcement Sensitive,” a government categorization that is meant to keep them confidential.”
In one investigation, a DEA agent pretended to be someone else by creating a fake Facebook account in an individual’s real name. Retaliating against this identity requisition, 28-year-old Sondra Arquiett sued the DEA in federal court after the agent impersonated her on Facebook.
The agent actually used her personal information and took pictures from her cell phone after Arquiett’s arrest in a cocaine case. The DEA agent then posted status updates and pictures of Arquiett with her children. The Justice Department defended the DEA agent, who hoped to extract incriminating information from Arquiett’s Facebook friends. The Justice Department decided the case did actually need reviewing, and Facebook pointedly told the DEA to stop letting its agents violate the site’s privacy policies.
From 1973 to 2014, the DEA’s budget increased fortyfold: from $75 million to nearly $3 billion. These numbers are surprising, especially considering how U.S. drug policies have evolved over the past 40 years.
In 2012, the DEA held a suspect in a room for five days without food or water. Agents detained 24-year-old Daniel Chang because his friend’s house was a target for a drug raid. They locked him in a room and said they would release him later that day. Agents heard him calling out over his five-day captivity, but no one stopped to check on him. He drank his own urine to survive and tried to kill himself with his eye glass lenses.
The organization has begun to lose some credibility after releasing the stories above. As DEA investigations grow worldwide, many critics have been calling for greater transparency and oversight related to agency operations and agents. If you or someone you love has come under investigation, call our experienced criminal defense attorneys to schedule a confidential consultation about your rights.