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Mission Creepy: DEA Swims In Alphabet Soup of Protest ‘Security’

An agency known for its illegal searches and spying jumps into the free for all. Here's how it affects you.
PA Ave Saturday March

Not surprisingly, the federal government is now using the excuse of the protests to give its federal drug warriors a piece of the action—the action being ginormous crowds of Americans gathering in centralized places, ripe for mass data collection, secret identification and tracking, and maybe even a narcotics bust for good measure.

According to this document reported by Buzzfeed last week, the federal Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) has been deputized with policing powers to conduct surveillance and intelligence sharing and other activities during the protests, including interviews, searches, “intervening” in protection of other federal officers, and making arrests outside its official mission of drug enforcement.

In addition to the National Guard inside D.C. and U.S. troops (including infantry soldiers assigned to the 82nd Airborne) standing “at the ready” outside the city, the Justice Department started deputizing law enforcement officers across the agency spectrum beginning early last week to secure the protests, which have since calmed considerably since May 31 when the DEA memo was signed. No doubt the FBI’s own agents had already infiltrated the crowds in all major cities and were conducting the kind of “intelligence gathering” aka spying, that the DEA wants to do. The need for the DEA now, especially as the violence has largely subsided, is questionable.

But the DEA wanted to leap in and requested they be tasked with this extra duty. For those still unconvinced there is little self-restraint by government when it comes to flexing its “policing” power over its own people, here you are. Remember, this is the same DEA that has used the largely failed Drug War to ramp up a massive spying program on Americans, one that preceded the NSA’s controversial wiretapping by years, according to reports in 2015. Federal agents, including DEA are frequently involved in numerous lawsuits in federal court over intrusive, illegal surveillance and searches.

Make no mistake, this is an aggressive, well-funded  arm of the federal law enforcement state with wide ranging powers to spy, search, arrest, and put away suspects for life.

So for all we know now, DEA agents are infiltrating the George Floyd protests, ostensibly to ferret out violent actors, but who is to say they don’t get a free hand to use the mass gatherings to build DEA databases, eavesdrop, track drug suspects and their friends, and cruise the crowds for busts? This makes the memo all that more troubling. The black community has been on the short end of the 40-year war on drugs for so long it has become a sad cliche: the minimum sentencing and three-strikes laws beginning with the crack epidemic in the 1980’s literally destroyed inner-city communities, exacerbated gang violence, and left millions of young black men incarcerated to this day. 

That the AG invited this aggressive agency into the current mission creep says so much about the Deep State, its absolute need to self-sustain and justify itself and jump on any available bandwagon. Not only does this cost the taxpayers’ money and resources, it puts all of our basic rights—to peacefully assemble, express our opinions and be free of unconstitutional spying, searches, and excessive force by armed authorities—at risk. Remember, if it’s not BLM today, it may be a Second Amendment demonstration tomorrow. As long as you are protesting the government, you’re fair game.

None of this is escaping public scrutiny or the attention of some members of Congress, particularly after reports of surveillance planes over protests last week. In a letter sent to the Department of Justice’s General Council on Tuesday, Democratic lawmakers expressed “deep and profound concerns that the surveillance tactics of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the National Guard Bureau, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), and Customs and Border Protection (CBP) during the recent protests across the U.S. are significantly chilling the First Amendment rights of Americans.”

These lawmakers will no doubt be called out for their partisanship, but their concerns should be shared by all. They cite the “dirtboxes” on those aforementioned surveillance planes over Washington D.C., which we know can collect cell phone location data of individuals below. They also called attention to authorities’ use of facial recognition technology, license plate readers, and “stingray” devices which are similar to the dirtboxes in that they mimic cell phone towers allowing police to pinpoint and track individuals’ location (and all of their contacts) using the targets’ own cell phones. Most importantly, all of this technology can be used as a dragnet, extending the long arm of the law well beyond the suspects of actual violence and criminal wrongdoing and into the swell of law-abiding demonstrators. From CityLab in 2017: 

Cell site simulators have aroused the ire of privacy advocates because they can seize data from thousands of phones nearby that may be irrelevant to an ongoing police investigation. What is known about police use of these tools suggests that these invasive data pulls are not distributed randomly. A recent CityLab analysis, for example, found that interceptions were overwhelmingly deployed in low-income and black neighborhoods. Black Lives Matter and left-wing activists have reported the suspected use of cell site simulators at numerous political demonstrations over the last fifteen years.

According to this report, the DEA was generous enough to lend its own helicopter for surveillance above the Black Lives Matter protests in Scottsdale, Arizona, on Saturday.

“Based on the footprint of the planned event, we felt that an overall aerial view was paramount in ensuring the safety of all participants,” Kevin Watts, local police spokesman, told reporters in an email. “DEA’s asset was available and we took advantage of it.”

Sadly, like conjuring a genie, that’s all it takes.