Parallel Construction Revealed: How The DEA Is Trained To Launder Classified Surveillance Info (Techdirt)
Tuesday February 4th, 2014
Last summer, Reuters revealed how the NSA and other surveillance organizations would share info with the DEA and other law enforcement agencies, but then tell them to reconstruct the evidence via a process called "parallel construction," so that the surveillance would not then be discussed in court. This is highly questionable, and probably illegal, as a defendant has the right to know all of the evidence being used against him or her, and should also be told how that evidence was gathered, to make sure the collection was legal. But what's being done with parallel construction, is that the intelligence community is able to give "hints" to law enforcement, allowing them to come up with various pretenses for an investigation, avoiding ever having to reveal that the NSA or others used potentially illegal surveillance efforts. One example given in that Reuters report was how DEA agents would suddenly be given a tip like this: "Be at a certain truck stop at a certain time and look for a certain vehicle." The DEA would then have the local police come up with some pretense to stop the truck... and then when evidence is found they can claim it was a random traffic stop, when the reality is anything but that.
After the Reuters report, C.J. Ciaramella used Muckrock to request all DEA training material and official policies concerning "parallel construction" and recently received nearly 300 pages of documents, much of it redacted, but still which reveals that this is common practice at the DEA and widely known. Much of it is in the form of PowerPoint presentations, complete with speaker notes, which say things like how careful DEA agents need to be around classified information because "it can screw up your investigation."
Another slide notes "the devil's in the details" and explains:
Our friends in the military and intelligence community never have to prove anything to the general public. They can act upon classified information without ever divulging their sources or methods to anyway [sic] outside their community. If they find Bin Laden's satellite phone and then pin point his location, they don't have to go to a court to get permission to put a missile up his nose. There are also training materials that discuss how parallel construction works, as well as the fact that in "the new post-9/11" era, a "national consensus" has been formed making it easier for the intelligence community and law enforcement to share information. It even refers to the federal courts as the intelligence community's "nemesis."
We are bound, however, by different rules.
Our investigations must be transparent. We must be able to take our information to court and prove to a jury that our bad guy did the bad things we say he did. No hiding here. However, we are also bound to protect certain pieces of information so as to protect the sources and methods.
To use it....we must properly protect it.
A lot of the documentation deals with how to deal with having classified information, and the focus seems to be on keeping that information away from anyone involved in the case. There is -- I kid you not -- a special group of prosecutors called "the Taint Review Team" -- to be called in when things get... well... tainted.
In one part of the presentation, they talk about all sorts of ways to try to get a judge to avoid revealing classified information to defendants, and then have a plan "if all else fails" which includes redoing the indictment or dropping the case. That same presentation shows that there should be a "see no evil" plan -- which explains why DEA agents are often just told "go to this truck stop and look for this truck" without knowing any more. That way they "saw no evil" with evil being defined as questionably obtained intelligence.
It appears that much of the DEA's arguments here rely on the Supreme Court's ruling in 1938 in Scher v. United States, in which a law enforcement agent was told some things by a source, and used that information to find and arrest the defendant handling whiskey (during Prohibition). The court said that how the agent found out about the information doesn't matter, so long as the agent saw illegal acts himself. And thus, the Supreme Court "enabled" the idea of parallel construction. That case pops up repeatedly throughout the documents, basically telling DEA agents: expect information to come from intelligence sources, but do your best to never find out why they know this stuff.
Another presentation asks "what is the problem with combining IC (Intelligence Community) collection efforts & LEA (Law Enforcement Agency) investigations in US courtrooms?" and then explains that it presents constitutional problems... and that "Americans don't like it!"
The note on that one points out that "even though we seek to protect our citizens, generally, we can only use techniques to achieve that objective, which are acceptable to our citizens." But that's not what they're actually doing or teaching. Instead, they're teaching how to keep doing the constitutionally questionable things that Americans don't like... and then hiding it from the courts, the American public and even the law enforcement folks themselves, in order to create a sort of plausible deniability that launders the fact that potentially illegal and unconstitutional surveillance was used to create the basis of the legal case.
There's some more information in the documents, but it all basically points to the same basic thing: the less that law enforcement folks know, the better. If the law enforcement knows too much, call in the "Taint Review Team" to see what they can do to clean up, and see what you can use to get the judge to exclude classified evidence. All in all, it adds up to a nice little plan to allow the NSA to illegally spy on people, tell law enforcement just enough to target people, without ever revealing how they were caught via unconstitutional means.
Full Document: Dea Parallel Construction (PDF) [NOAD]