The Feds: DEA Doesn't Follow Own Rules on Snitches, Inspector General Says 7/29/05

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The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) makes extensive use of confidential informants to provide information allowing it to make drug busts, but the agency does a poor job of judging their credibility and documenting the amount of money they are paid, a report from the Justice Department's Office of the Inspector General has concluded.

Inspector General Glenn Fine released a summary of the report on July 17. The complete report will only be released to the DEA and congressional overseers because it contains "sensitive law enforcement information," the summary said.

The review of DEA snitch control procedures came about after a series of scandals involving DEA informants earlier this decade. The most well-known of those was Andrew Chambers, the agency's "supersnitch," who netted at least $2.2 million for ratting out some 400 people. Problem was, he got caught repeatedly perjuring himself, but different DEA agents and US Attorneys continued to use him.

According to the report, the agency has some 4,000 active informants, who are paid -- in some cases very well -- for implicating other people in illicit drug activities. Unlike property crimes or crimes of violence, drug law violations occur between consenting individuals and in most cases no one is filing complaints, so the DEA must ferret out law violators by other methods, such as paying others to inform on them. "DEA officials state that without confidential sources, the DEA could not effectively enforce the controlled substances laws of the United States," the report noted.

But the reliance on paid snitches has its inherent dangers, said the Inspector General. "Although confidential sources can be critical to an investigation, special care must be taken to carefully evaluate and closely supervise their use. Confidential sources can be motivated by many factors, including fear, financial gain, avoidance of punishment, competition, and revenge; therefore, the credibility of a source must be balanced against the information they provide."

The agency fails to do that, the summary said. In practice, DEA agents and supervisors routinely violated regulatory requirements of the agency itself and the Office of the Attorney General for both initial and on-going assessments of informants' credibility. Cases of informants gone bad "highlight the need for special care and guidance in dealing with confidential sources," the Inspector General concluded.

And then there's the money trail. The Inspector General hoped to find a system that accurately and completely tracked confidential informant payments. He didn't: "We also concluded that the DEA does not have an effective system that accounts for and reconciles all confidential source payments."

So, let's get this right: The DEA relies on confidential informants to make its cases. But it does not effectively weigh their credibility or keep track of how much money it gives them. Even by its own standards, the agency has once again earned a failing grade.

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Issue #397 -- 7/29/05

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