DEA So Forfeiture-Focused It Hired a TSA Screener to Check Travelers and Baggage For 'Guilty' Cash

by Tim Cushing
Jan. 20, 2016

Here you are: written evidence that asset forfeiture leads to law enforcement activity, rather than the other way around. (h/t Brad Heath)

The DEA has already been blasted by the DOJ's Inspector General for its confidential informant program. The DEA's informants were paid when they weren't producing intel. They were paid and sheltered from prosecution when they committed criminal acts falling outside their purview as informants. And the entire program was adrift in a sea of corruption and chaos, subject to no real oversight. To top it all off, Inspector General Michael Horowitz had to battle the DEA for every document and piece of relevant information just to arrive at these conclusions.

It's not just common criminals being added to the DEA's payroll as confidential informants. It's also other government employees. The DEA isn't running a government employee-focused sting, however. It's just looking for money. More eyes mean more money. And the eyes that will see the most money in transit will be those located at commuter hubs.

First off, the one-page report (which follows up its comprehensive report on the DEA's informant program) notes that the DEA is throwing away tax dollars by paying a TSA agent to do something they should be doing anyway: reporting evidence of criminal activity to law enforcement.
The OIG determined that registering a TSA Security Screener as a CS violated DEA policy, which precludes registering as a CS “employees of U.S. law enforcement agencies who are working solely in their official capacity with DEA.” The OIG also found that TSA Security Screeners are obligated to report to law enforcement suspected criminal activity that they observe in the course of their duties. Therefore, by registering a TSA Security Screener as a CS, the DEA agreed to pay for information that the screener was already obligated to provide to law enforcement.
So, that's misuse of funds. Now we get to the reason the DEA felt compelled to throw tax dollars at a fellow government employee.
The OIG further determined that asking the TSA Security Screener to notify the DEA of passengers carrying large sums of money in exchange for a reward based on money seized by the DEA violated the DEA’s interdiction manual, and could have violated individuals’ protection against unreasonable searches and seizures if it led to a subsequent DEA enforcement action.
Judging from the DEA's enthusiasm for confiscating cash from travelers, it's highly unlikely this is a unique arrangement. This one just happened to get exposed.

For those of you playing along at home by counting your remaining tax dollars, there is an upside: the DEA is apparently so inept at choosing confidential informants that no money ever exchanged hands (from the DEA to the TSA screener or, it would seem, from travelers to the DEA).
While the OIG concluded that the DEA violated its policies by registering the TSA Security Screener as a CS and by offering the screener a reward for money seized based on information he provided, the OIG found that the TSA Security Screener did not provide DEA any actionable information while a CS, and was not paid any money by the DEA. The CS was deactivated for inability to provide any useful information.
This short summary shows the DEA's real interest is in cash seizures, not eliminating drug trafficking. It's so obsessed with the immediacy of cash forfeitures that it's willing to cut other government employees in on the deal. The incentives are already severely perverted. Drafting a security screener as a Junior G-Man on a contingency basis shifts that person's focus from airline security to eyeballing carry-on baggage for non-threatening cash. This partnership makes each participant weaker and we, the taxpayers, are paying for both.

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