It is completely unsurprising that the DEA’s Special Operations Division has been targeting Americans, based on information obtained about Americans by the NSA. Nonetheless:
What is surprising – and troubling and likely illegal – is that investigators are trained to dummy up the source of their information, creating a false evidentiary trail to hide the illegal origin of the information. This is distinctly different from the Inevitable Discovery Doctrine. The DEA’s SOD is arguably a legitimate investigative activity. Where it goes astray is when it and the NSA violate FISA and other relevant Federal laws by 1) sharing information in the first place, and 2) creating a false history of the case to present to the court, defendants, and jurors.
If the actual origins of the evidence are disclosed to the court and, more importantly, to the defense in the course of discovery, then the problem of #2 above goes away. Problem #1, however, remains at issue.
How did we get here?
In late 2001 and into 2002, we collectively shat ourselves. We tore down the firewall between intelligence agencies when we created the Department of Homeland Security and passed the unread, oxymoronic USA-PATRIOT Act. As though on cue, our counter-terrorism chickens – much like our Afghani Freedom Fighters in the 1980s returned as the core of al Qaeda in the 2000s – have come home to roost. It was foolish to assume the tools we gave our government to fight outsiders wouldn’t be turned inward. They almost always are.
The grand bargain of intelligence agencies has always been “do what you want out there, but not in here.” With that tacit approval, the NSA, the NRO, the CIA, the DIA, and other alphabet agencies went to work. They built the tools, arms, and matériel to fight the “Terrorists.” By all accounts, they’ve been substantially effective. But today we learned of at least one case where the sights were pointed inwards. Americans everywhere should be chilled by this news. This particular Rubicon was crossed years ago, to be sure, but reasonable people can no longer deny that their government is treating the people as a threat.
It is a strange formulation in a country where the government is ostensibly “of, for, and by the people.”
The question I have is this: who is threatened by the people? Are we a threat to ourselves?
To be clear, they are intercepting communications about actual crimes. But the Constitution and its concomitant protections are not there for the innocent citizen with nothing to hide, or at least not the unsuspected citizen who isn’t doing anything wrong and would never be bothered by the government. They are there because, in its zeal, the government will sometimes sweep up an innocent person. To protect against this, the protections apply to everyone – even criminals. If a government agent ever knocks on your door (or as is increasingly likely, breaks it down in the middle of the night and storms in with a baker’s dozen of his like-minded fellow armed-to-the-teeth commandos), you will be glad for those protections. You are, after all, innocent. And you have nothing to hide.