DEA Pays Informants for Intel that’s Available for Free

The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) can’t seem to stay out of trouble. On the heels of a prostitution scandal that led to the resignation of its beleaguered director, a new audit reveals that the federal law enforcement agency paid a fellow government employee nearly a million dollars to provide information that was available for free.

The transgression involves the use of a paid Confidential Source (CS) working in the nation’s passenger train system, known as Amtrak. As part of a joint task force that works to interdict passengers trafficking contraband on trains the DEA and the Amtrak Police Department (APD) share information and intelligence in the course of their duties. In this particular case the DEA paid an Amtrak employee an alarming $854,460 for information that was available at no cost to the government, according to the Department of Justice Inspector General. This violates federal regulations relating to the use of government property, the watchdog concludes, thereby wasting substantial government funds. Additionally the investigation found that the DEA also violated federal rules by paying a separate Amtrak employee $9,701 in exchange for information.

In a separate but related probe, the DOJ IG also found that the DEA paid another government worker for information that was available for free. This one involves a Transportation Security Administration (TSA) airport screener who was registered as a paid CS to provide information obtained during the course of his official duties. Under the terms of his federal job the TSA employee is obligated to provide information to law enforcement officials that the DEA was paying for, the inspector general found. “Registering a TSA Security Screener as a CS violated DEA policy, which precludes registering as a CS employees of U.S. law enforcement agencies who are working solely in their official capacity with DEA,” the watchdog states in its recently issued findings.

While these infractions may seem minor to some, they are part of a broader crisis at the DEA which has been embroiled in a number a major scandals in the last few years and failed miserably to fulfill its duty of combating the illegal drug trade. The agency has around 5,000 special agents and boasts that it has dismantled the most notorious high-level trafficking and terrorist organizations that threaten America. The reality is that the DEA is best known for its shameful lapses, which include losing weapons and engaging in sex parties with prostitutes provided by drug cartels. In the meantime few would argue that the U.S. is losing the so-called war on drugs despite wasting tens of billions of dollars.

Maybe it’s because the DEA is preoccupied with other things. Last year the agency made international headlines for the prostitution scandal. According to federal investigators agents had for years participated in wild sex parties with hookers paid for by local drug cartels in foreign countries. The parties were held in locations leased by the government where sensitive equipment such as agents’ laptops and electronic devices were laying around. DEA Chief Michele Leonhart resigned over the hooker ordeal, but the agency had long been embroiled in a series of failures and abuses. Incredibly, half of the federal agents investigated for partying with prostitutes actually got financial bonuses from the DEA, according to a federal audit published months after the scandal first broke.

The DEA has also been in hot water for losing weapons and laptops. Years after the DEA’s inspector general issued a report on the weapon and laptop ordeal, the watchdog found that the problem had gotten much worse when it came to agent guns. In a 2008 report the DOG IG writes that a “2002 audit found that over a 26-month period the DEA had 16 weapons and 229 laptop computers lost or stolen. In this follow-up audit, we determined that over a 66-month period 91 weapons and 231 laptop computers were lost or stolen. Comparing the results of these two audits, we found that the DEA’s monthly rate of loss for laptop computers decreased by more than 50 percent, while the rate of loss for weapons more than doubled from 0.61 to 1.37 weapons a month as shown in the following table.”

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