The steady drip of leaks from the fugitive National Security Agency (NSA) whistleblower Edward Snowden continue to reveal the magnitude to which our own government’s spy agencies are snooping on Americans and the world. Earlier, we learned the NSA partnered with global telecom firms to gather “metadata” on nearly every domestic phone call. We also learned NSA hacked the personal cell phone of German Chancellor Angela Merkel and today we learn NSA recorded nearly all the cell phone calls from the island nation of the Bahamas.
Last year, we learned that the NSA was handing over some of that phone data to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), who’d use the intelligence in a little shell game called “parallel construction.” This is a technique DEA taught to local law enforcement agencies so when DEA gave them a tip based on NSA spy information, local cops would find another excuse to detain the suspect and cover up any reference to the original DEA tip. “Parallel construction” makes it impossible for the suspect’s defense attorney to question the admissibility of the DEA’s tip or the NSA’s intelligence in a court of law.
It turns out now that the NSA and DEA collaboration is far more extensive than previously imagined. The latest bombshell is the revelation of an NSA memo dated 4/20/2004 (oh, the irony!) that NSA is “blurring the lines between [counterterrorism and counter-narcotics] missions.”
“When you think about our top national security threats, chances are that terrorism and military conflict come quickly to mind -- and for good reason,” the memo begins. “But how many of us list illegal narcotics among the top threats to our society? Our national leadership recognized the seriousness this problem poses and declared a war on drugs two decades ago. This ‘war’ has all the risks, excitement, and dangers of conventional warfare, and the stakes are equally high.” Excitement? Isn’t war supposed to be hell, something you fight out of necessity, something you hope to see come to an end? “Excitement” is not a word we’d associate with “war.”
The memo’s writer, a manager of the DEA’s account at the NSA, describes how “from the start NSA has been at the forefront of Intelligence Community (IC) support” for DEA’s mission and explains how “novel collection and analysis techniques NSA developed and refined against … criminal hard targets have … resulted in major successes in the war on drugs…” NSA spying to fight terrorism has proven so effective in thwarting drugs that the DEA “recognizes the unique access and sole source information NSA provides…”
Congress granted the NSA these USA PATRIOT ACT spying powers to help stop the next 9/11, not to help the DEA stop the next 4:20. The War on Terror has become The War on Us.
Russ Belville is the host of The Russ Belville Show.