The Father of the DEA Dragnet Sics It on Free Speech

BuzzFeed had an important scoop yesterday, revealing that Timothy Shea — the Billy Barr flunky who presided over the US Attorney’s Office in DC long enough to interfere in the Mike Flynn and Roger Stone prosecutions who has since been put in charge of the DEA — requested authority to engage in domestic surveillance targeting George Floyd protestors.

On top of the problematic implications of the move, in the abstract, it’s worth considering what it might mean more specifically. It might be best understood as Barr deploying all the investigative tools he finds so inexcusable when used against Trump associates being cultivated by a hostile foreign government, using them against Americans exercising their Freedom of Speech and Assembly.

Using the DEA to surveil protestors gives Barr a number of things (in addition to more bodies to throw at the problem). While the DOJ IG Report on Carter Page revealed the FBI has a source with tentacles into all branches of society, the DEA’s informant network is understood to be even more extensive, and often more easily leveraged because of steep war on drug sentences.

There’s good reason to believe the DEA’s access to Stingrays used to track cell phone location escapes the close scrutiny of other agencies. As Kim Zetter noted on Twitter, that may include Dirtboxes, plane-based Stingray technology.

But the FBI and, especially, the US Marshals also have that technology.

What they don’t necessarily have, however, is access to a surveillance program the precursor to which Barr approved, with no legal review, the last time he was Attorney General.

In 1992, Barr authorized the DEA to use a drug related subpoena authority, 876(a), to start collecting the call records between certain foreign countries and the United States. Over time, the dragnet came to include every country the government could claim had any involvement in narcotics trafficking. That dragnet was the model for the phone dragnet that Edward Snowden revealed in 2013. While it was shut down in the wake of the Snowden revelations (and after it became clear DOJ was using it for entirely unrelated investigations), OLC had initiated the process of reauthorizing it in 2014. Given Barr’s fondness for surveillance, it would be unsurprising if he had gotten Trump’s supine OLC to reauthorize and possibly expand its use.

So one thing Barr may be using is the kind of dragnet civil libertarians are celebrating the cessation of in Section 215.

But there’s another DEA dragnet that would be more powerful in this circumstance, and would not need reauthorization: Hemisphere, which was first disclosed in 2013. That’s a program operated under the Drug Czar’s authorities (and therefore substantially hidden under White House authorities). Rather than collect a dragnet itself, the government instead relies on the dragnet AT&T has collected over decades. It asks AT&T to do analysis, not just of call or text records, but also co-location.

A DOJ IG Report on the DEA’s various dragnets released in March 2019 makes it clear (based on redactions) that Hemisphere is still active.

There are many reasons why Barr might want his flunky at DEA to get involved in surveilling Americans exercising their First Amendment rights. Chief among them probably include DEA’s extensive informant network and DEA’s practice of mapping out entire networks based solely on subpoenas served on AT&T.

Both of those are things that Barr has said were totally inappropriate surveillance techniques deployed against political activity.

Curiously, he no longer has any apparent concern about deploying invasive surveillance against sensitive political issues.

87 replies
  1. harpie says:

    From the document at the article:

    […] DEA investigative authority, as set forth in 28 C.F.R [symbol] 0.100 and in the Controlled Substances Act, is limited to enforcing Federal crimes related to drugs. As the [alleged] federal crimes being committed in the wake of Mr. Floyd’s death are largely not drug-related, DEA’s ability to assist our counterparts is limited. Under 21 U.S.C. [symbol] 878(a)(5), however, the Attorney General is authorized to designate DEA to perform other law enforcement duties as he may deem appropriate. Accordingly, in order for DEA to assist to the maximum extent possible in the federal law enforcement response to protests which devolve into violations of federal law, DEA requests that it be designated to enforce any federal crime committed as a result of protests over the death of George Floyd. DEA requests this authority on a nationwide basis for a period of fourteen days. […]

    It’s questionable whether Shea wrote this.
    He’s probably put his name on something Barr wrote.
    BARR may be the the conductor of this entire opera.

  2. PhoneInducedPinkEye says:

    Thanks for this post, I wasn’t sure what capabilities the DEA had that would make them useful in Barr’s eyes, other than a pliant underling.

    Maybe looking to gin up testimony from informants which has been massaged to fit a narrative Barr thinks is useful to Trump?

  3. harpie says:

    5/31/20 – The request was signed [approved] by Gerard Weinsheimer

    6/1/20 – FBI:
    5:47 PM · Jun 1, 2020

    The FBI is seeking information and digital media depicting individuals inciting violence during First Amendment protected peaceful demonstrations: [link]

    Maybe these are some of the “counterparts” they’re talking about.

      • earlofhuntingdon says:

        If they were, it would take until Doomsday. The USG has spent the last twenty years providing surplus and grade A war materiel to every podunk local PD in America.

        • John K says:

          I live in Harahan, LA, population less than 10,000, about ten miles west of New Orleans. There is virtually no crime here at all, many residents still leave their doors unlocked and valuables are left outside by many with no worries that they might disappear. I used to amuse myself by reading the police reports that came unsolicited with my weather reports. The most common call was for suspicious characters in neighborhoods where everyone knows everyone else and a stranger happened to pass through. I had a friend from Berlin staying with me for a few weeks and he was stopped for that reason when he went out for a stroll one morning. (He had long hair and was wearing a jacket- cause for suspicion) My neighbor stopped to inform the police that he was a guest at my house. Most residents are on a first name basis with the mayor, police chief, council members, etc. I can’t recall any murders or armed robberies.
          Imagine my surprise a few years back when, during the annual Christmas parade, the city showed off its shiny new SWAT tank! This place is Mayberry, USA and we have a fucking SWAT tank! I still can’t wrap my mind around it.

    • Rayne says:

      Thanks for sharing that. Wonder if they were up and at it earlier than in other parts of the country because DEA has already been doing this along the border?

    • Rollo T says:

      N508BH Cessna Caravan

      The city of Anaheim, California owns some aircraft. For several years, I have watched their Cessna Caravan fly unusual patterns in the middle of the night. The ACLU had a lawsuit against them in 2016. The other night when protesters were out I again saw this aircraft up flying circles. It’s hard to imagine good reasons for the City of Anaheim to have a Stingray or Dirtbox, but it seems pretty clear that they do.

    • blueedredcounty says:

      Paul, the second image of your phone app showing the police helicopter flight path is over my neighborhood. I’m not sure the time of day is shown in that image, though. We frequently have police flights over this area, I live out near San Diego State.

      There was a helicopter circling and hovering over the area last night (about 8PM maybe, definitely after sunset and full dark). It was using a PA system to alert residents to be on the lookout for a black suspect dressed all in black, with a black mask, near 56th street. If I heard correctly…it was a little hard to make out.

      I wondered if it was related to the protests, or something else entirely. And with how dark it was, I also wondered how anyone could tell the skin color of someone dressed all in black wearing a black mask. I didn’t see any reports of protesting or looting in the area, so I put it out of my mind after the helicopter flew off.

      • earlofhuntingdon says:

        That description narrows the suspects down to tens of thousands. Sounds like a move to shift toward a new normal.

        The SD police do not have a reputation for being racially tolerant. Like the city fathers, it seems to prefer serving and protecting the Grants and the Benjamins, who come to stay and then go away.

  4. Molly Pitcher says:

    So was Amy Klobuchar’s announcement of the change in charges for Chauvin and charges against the other three police, short stopping the Attorney General, an attempt to resuscitate her chance to be VP ? I find it very odd that she would tweet this information before any official announcement.

    • bmaz says:

      Apparently. There is no reason in the world she should be announcing anything on the state based case as she is nowhere in the prosecutorial chain.

    • Rugger9 says:

      Yes, it undoubtedly was as bmaz noted. However, it will not work since her record shows servile treatment of bad cops.

      This is why accountability needs to be part of policing like it is in the military. However, the cops’ unions don’t want it, and here we are with armed military (probably with bayonets) surrounding the St. John’s clergy-led meeting. What are they afraid of?

      Also, Sen. Tom Cotton decided to write an op-ed for the NYT, expanding upon his tweet for shoot-first policing. Never mind he’s calling for summary justice on US citizens in violation of the Constitution (and therefore his oath to it). One wonders what else he was involved in in Iraq (as a platoon leader on patrol) and as a FOBbit later. There seem to be pix of him and his team posing with gold bars on the net “liberated” I would guess from Baghdad.

      • BobCon says:

        Times Editor Bennet is feeling heat on this, probably a lot of it internal, and he wrote some mewling tweets justifying running it.

        Obvious questions for Bennet are why he thinks Cotton’s views lack circulation, or why he thinks a better approach wouldn’t be letting a smarter person write about what Cotton has already put on the easily available record.

        • harpie says:

          Here’s the statement from the News Guild of New York:

          10:19 PM · Jun 3, 2020

          The Guild statement – which I helped draft with many, many others – fully recognizes that the op-ed desk has a responsibility to publish a diverse array of opinions, many of which people may find disagreeable! Cotton’s op-ed, however, clearly crosses a line. [link]

          Also, there’s this:
          10:40 PM · Jun 3, 2020

          Three New York Times journalists said they had informed their editors that sources told them they would no longer provide them with information because of the Tom Cotton Op-Ed. [link]

      • AndTheSlithyToves says:

        As I said on another post here at EW, too many of our DC public servants don’t live in the District.
        On top of that, we have Park Police (National Park Service/part of Interior Dept.has jurisdiction over Federal Parkland in DC including Farragut Square), Secret Service, IMF/World Bank Police, Embassy Police, University Police, Private Security, and the DC Metropolitan Police Department. They’re all here to protect property, not citizens. MPD was nowhere near Farragut Square during Trump’s stunt. They were all up on 16th pushing protesters north to corral and arrest them. Despite the absolute saturation with police/security in DC, we still had a lot of vandalism and looting. Things are going to have to change.

        • earlofhuntingdon says:

          DC’s legal status is similar to that of a US fort or military reservation – or about 85% of Nevada. It just has a large civilian component. The Feds control all of it. The authority of Metro Police, like all local government, is delegated by Congress.

          Trump’s perp walk to the church was adjacent to Lafayette Square, but Farragut is only a block away and it’s one of the places I assume protesters were pushed when thrown out of Lafayette, until they were pushed further away. If you were there, you know how badly it went.

          But that’s all on Trump. In reality, the WH is virtually impregnable to civilian protest, certainly after being heavily reinforced after 9/11. The fence is substantial. Inside it, the defenses are numerous and less than subtle. The immediate neighborhood is heavily monitored, including by a pervasive physical presence on the rooftops. And that’s normal. But like Cheney, Trump cannot tolerate seeing dissent. Even less can he tolerate allowing others a good photo op near him.

          Living where you work, once a requirement for public servants, is unaffordable for many government workers. If you live near DC, you know how astronomical the rents are, even for basement one-bedrooms, especially after three decades of gentrification.

        • bmaz says:

          Not positive on this, but it is my understanding that the DC Metro police are still under the control of Mayor Bowser, and that is why Barr called in “other” agencies.

        • earlofhuntingdon says:

          It won’t go anywhere for now, but CT’s Sen. Chris Murphy introduced legislation to require forces supporting US civilian law enforcement to wear adequate insignia to identify them. Some of Barr’s army wear none at all, or obscure insignia, but no names or rank, etc. Some say they report to the DoJ, but that’s vague enough to include private contractors as well as non-DoJ employees. That’s wrong.

        • vvv says:

          I just cannot think of a valid explanation for that.

          Public servants on the public dime, not engaged in intelligence or other work where a colorable argument for secrecy could be made …

          The only real rationale is to intimidate, and to provide some measure of deniability when inevitably some of these armed “little green men” themselves violate the law.

          Re the latter, as a civil guy ( my default filter), I have always loved (even made a few bucks) with 42 USC sec. 1983.

          But the potential actual evasion of accountability for immediate systemic civil rights violations – clearly already happening, but on a massive scale and not ruling out but apparently even contemplating injuries and death … it’s offensive, dangerous, unfathomable, perhaps even un-precedented; I’m at a loss for descriptors, and out of edit time.

        • Punctuated Equilibrium says:

          I remember seeing the black bands on badges after four Lakewood cops were killed in 2009. It is a sign of mourning.

        • Rayne says:

          Really? Come on now. If cops are performing an off-duty function wearing black bands for mourning, great — but we’re talking about cops ON DUTY who are shielding themselves from identification by the public.

          Mourning my left foot.

          EDIT: Mourning. Right.

        • bmaz says:

          No, this is no “sign of mourning”, it is a sign of imperious impunity and unaccountability.

        • P J Evans says:

          The mourning bands aren’t supposed to cover the badge numbers. Even non-LEO people like me know that much.

        • P J Evans says:

          I think the regulations in most cities require that badge numbers be visible at all times.
          Hiding the numbers should get them fired and decertified.

        • AndTheSlithyToves says:

          EoH: As I noted elsewhere here at EW, I live four blocks from the White House and have for many years. Bmaz is correct in that DCMPD is a separate entity, and not under the jurisdiction of the Feds. In 1976, we obtained a home rule charter, and, although not a state, we are self-governing with a mayor, City Council and a Superior Court and Appeals Court. I’ve sat on juries for DC and one grand jury a few years ago for the Feds. It’s a one-party town (Dems gave Hillary 90% of the vote), and, as a result, more easily controlled and corrupted. In the midst of the Tuesday mayhem, we held a primary election and finally rid ourselves of a corrupt Ward 2 (in which the White House, and my residence, lies) council member who has been on the take for nearly 30 years.
          You are correct that the mayhem is on Trump & Co. for the Farragut Square mess, but, in fact, DCMPD had no jurisdiction there nor should it have been playing the game it was with the demonstrators, a few blocks away in my neck of the woods. And while the White House and environs may be the most surveilled spaces in the US, it’s overkill and prone to more human error because of its extent. There’s a reason Terry Gilliam’s “Brazil” has been one of my favorite movies since it debuted.

    • HopefulButWorried says:

      I thought the same at first but it’s entirely possible that this was planned for some reason, maybe to calm things down or maybe to gauge the reaction.

  5. JamesJoyce says:

    Frank Church vomits.

    This was done in the 60’s-70’s.

    Gestapo and Savak actually sucked….

    Deja Vu.

    Guess you had to be there, as many of us were.

    Most are gone..

      • earlofhuntingdon says:

        I’ve met a few people who would agree with you, that the CIA-trained Savak was effective and brutal as hell, and, like the CIA, no respecter of international boundaries.

        • madwand says:

          I passed through an Iranian protest in Philadelphia circa 73 74 and the protesters were all wearing clown masks. That evening the masks were explained by the local news. The purpose of the masks was that SAVAK was watching the protests as they unfolded in real time. Since most of these people were students, if they were identified, the result would be SAVAK apprehending their parents back in Iran as enemies of the regime. SAVAK was not known to have a gentle hand.

          In 79 a CIA operative who lived in a villa near Tehran was at work as events unfolded. His villa was invaded (they were hoping to find him) and his wife and young child killed which was his fate if they found him. The operative came home later, found his wife and child and then exited the country. A few years later he was found working for the FAA as a flight inspector and check airman, most likely to gain his government pension.

          We shouldn’t under estimate what can actually happen. These things affect real people and stories like above are just noise in the narrative, but real to those who know them.

          Additionally, there are guys running around DC in fatigues with no designations or name tags and so far they have resisted all attempts to identify them. Since they are not being challenged by the government one supposes they are the government. Time will tell. As noted the DEA guy has “volunteered” to use his agency for surveillance of protesters.

        • harpie says:

          Many are Bureau of Prisons:

          A dangerous new factor in an uneasy moment: Unidentified law enforcement officers

          June 3, 2020 at 11:35 p.m. Philip Bump

          […] As it turns out, each of these encounters was apparently with elements of the Bureau of Prisons, called to the region by Attorney General William P. Barr this week. Friedman confirmed with BOP that the men he encountered were with the agency; Haake’s Twitter followers picked out BOP insignia on their clothing. [internal links] […]

          11:23 PM · Jun 3, 2020

          NEW: a senior Justice Department official brushed off concerns about having anonymous federal law enforcement officers who won’t even identify their agency on the streets of D.C. [HuffPost link]

          The official credits Barr with coming up with the idea of putting federal prison riot officers on D.C. streets. Said it was an example of his “outside the box” thinking.

          I sent BOP a photo of the line to see if they’d confirm they were with BOP. “We cannot verify the individuals in the photos you referenced. For safety and security reasons, we are not providing more specific information about law enforcement operations.” […]

        • madwand says:

          Yeah thanks, this is actually a time immemorial ruse, demonstrated in the movie Braveheart where the Scots use it to gain entrance to an English fort and then burn it after executing the English lord. In my experience we used it in VN where we were transferred in 68 to a hot spot, the ruse lasting a couple of days before we changed back into uniforms with insignia, name tags etc.

          Good to see a lot of 4 stars making noise also, Millen, Mattis, Stavidris, they are realizing they also have a lot invested in this country and if they don’t want it to go the way of all civilizations they have to stand up.

  6. Molly Pitcher says:

    OT, but I had to share:

    Regarding Trump: “This is an awful man, waving a book he hasn’t read, in front of a church he doesn’t attend, invoking laws he doesn’t understand, against fellow Americans he sees as enemies, wielding a military he dodged serving, to protect power he gained via accepting foreign interference, exploiting fear and anger he loves to stoke, after failing to address a pandemic he was warned about, and building it all on a bed of constant lies and childish inanity.”
    — Robert Hendrickson, Rector at St. Philip’s Episcopal Church in Tucson, Arizona.

    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      You’d think even the Dems could find enough truth there to attack successfully.

    • Molly Pitcher says:

      “A Prince, whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.”

      • Molly Pitcher says:

        couldn’t make the edit work, this is the citation for the quote above:

        In 1776, the Declaration of Independence cited King George’s perceived failure to redress the grievances listed in colonial petitions, such as the Olive Branch Petition of 1775, as a justification to declare independence:

  7. Jenny says:

    Not sure where to post this; however note the difference regarding protests and police.

    Rob Szczerba on Twitter: 11:17 PM · Jun 3, 2020
    This is why the rest of the civilized world thinks we’re idiots


    Robert Wolf on Twitter: 7:24 AM · Jun 4, 2020
    Wake up with a smile🇺🇸
    Fantastic 👏
    Nebraska signed the “Hold Cops Accountable” pledge then celebrated with Black Community Leaders #CupidShuffle (Video @EllisWiltsey)

  8. AGoodEsq says:

    Not sure I have seen this but thought here would be a good place to raise it: Isn’t deploying the BoP SORT teams just an end run around Posse Comitatus?

  9. harpie says:

    DEA is right next to BOP, under FBI on the DOJ organization chart:

    BARR is just replaying his 1991 response to the riots in LA reacting to the [also captured on video] police killing of Rodney King.
    That was one of the objections the NAACP brought against Barr’s nomination.
    There’s more about that at this comment on Rayne’s post:
    Partial quote:

    Mr. Barr acknowledges his role in preparing a plan “overnight” to send over 2000 federal officers—FBI, SWAT, a border patrol special operations group, U.S. marshals, prison special operations, etc.—to Los Angeles to make clear that, in his own words, “we’re not going to tolerate any of this stuff out in the streets.” 20 Mr. Barr told President Bush that an alternative to his plan to send in the federal officers would be to send in “the regular army.”

    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      Sound bite for rubes and the credulous MSM. It’s the sort of official lie Uebermenschen tell, to quell the masses.

    • P J Evans says:

      He also says that the president has the right to walk over to St John’s any time he wants.

      At his afternoon press event, William Barr said that Trump "should have the right" to walk to St. John's church any time he wants.

      In other news, Barr is preventing the Episcopal bishop from walking to St. John's church.

      (and also all the members…none of whom are named Trump.)

      • earlofhuntingdon says:

        So does any member of the public. What they can’t do is walk through the middle of a protest in order to use their presence as an excuse to use riot control gear on peaceful protesters.

        Trump is remarkably safe inside the White House, indeed, anywhere in the world. His reaction is not about his physical safety, but his psychic comfort. He is fearful and angry at protesters because they refuse to validate his false self-image. That’s heresy and an existential threat.

        Trump walked to a church he never attends for a photo-op he’ll never use. He held a bible he never reads to impress people with his depth and sincerity. Except that he has the depth of a rain puddle and used the wrong bible, one that few of his evangelical supporters would recognize as valid.

        As for Barr, his religion is all imperial Roman army and no peasant Jewish healers. Barr is the guy who lost to Judah Ben-Hur in that chariot race.

  10. earlofhuntingdon says:

    “Pelosi to unveil sweeping police reform bill next week.”

    I’m relieved. Aren’t you? Now, I can throw shade at my old college roommate, who will text me that the organization of police is a state matter. Barring, that is, filling up their larders with arms, electronic gear, seized assets, and Michelin Man apparel that would make the average Spetsnaz operator green with envy.

    For a few months, I thought the Democrats weren’t getting anything done. Beyond, that is, piling mountains of paper onto Mitch McConnell’s desk, which he will shortly use as kindling for the bonfire he will light to celebrate his unprecedented single-term 200th judicial appointment.

    I can see why the Dems are so tired of winning. But I’m not sure their business-as-usual approach is sufficient to deal with either what Trump is now or what he and Bill Barr plan to do over the next several months.

Comments are closed.