The Drug Enforcement Agency has used a vast network of travel-industry informants to monitor, profile, and seize information from any Amtrak railway passengers and customers at nearly every major airline who fit a certain critera, according to an investigation by USA Today. Agents will regularly pull aside travelers that they deem “suspicious” to interrogate them, and inevitably seize cash, before letting the suspect carry on with their travels. The report reveals that the DEA has seized at least $209 million from suspected drug dealers since 2006.
The DEA has been monitoring Airports since 1975. Their original goal was to intercept large quantities of drugs that were being smuggled via commercial airline flights. Changes in airport security procedures have made it much more difficult to smuggle drugs. In response the DEA has started openly started targeting suspected drug dealers or drug mules suspected of couriering cash from drug deals. They’re “in it for the cash” and they’re not afraid to admit it.
Louis Weiss, a former supervisor of the DEA group assigned to Atlanta’s airport, openly admitted to USA Today that the DEA is targeting people they believe to be carrying large sum of cash so that it can be seized and used to financially support local police departments. He stated during an interview:
“They [local police] count on this as part of the budget. Basically, you’ve got to feed the monster.”
Other DEA agents have echoed Weiss’ sentiments. The DEA’s goal is to siphon money from the black market and use it to pad the budget law enforcement agencies so they can effectively fight local drug dealers and crime. George Hood, who supervised a drug task force assigned to O’Hare International Airport in Chicago, told reporters:
“We want the cash. Good agents chase cash. It was just easier to get the asset, and that’s where you make a dent in the criminal organization.”
The DEA doesn’t have access to data bases from the Homeland Security terrorism flight databases. Instead they’ve “mined” the information using informants paid with taxpayer money from the DEA’s budget. Amtrak’s inspector general revealed that the DEA paid a single secretary approximately $854,460 over the course of 20 years for providing them with information from the company’s database. DEA agents claim that there are several more informants at different airports and Amtrak stations providing the agency with information on passengers they deem suspicious.
DEA agents can target travelers for something as inconspicuous as buying a one-way ticket, listing non-working cellphone numbers, purchasing their travel tickets with cash, or checking luggage. Many of the cash seizures happen without a warrant and arrests are rarely made. Suspected criminals have their cash seized and are provided with a receipt for the cash which can be used to redeem their money in court. Very few receipts ever make it to court and even fewer ever result in the passenger getting their cash back.
The practice has raised many questions about whether the practice is constitutional or even ethical. Many critics argue that civil asset forfeiture used as a tool to raise funds for law enforcement agencies creates a need to generate arrests and seizures where no crime has been committed. They call it a clear violation of a citizens Fourth Amendment rights.