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US taxmen told to hush up shadowy drug squad unit laundering NSA intel
IRS ordered to help fudge real source of evidence for narcotics busts
A manual for America's taxmen detailing US drug squads' access to NSA intelligence has emerged - and revealed that the controversial supply of information has been an open secret in government for years.
Reuters reports that the handbook, which was issued to IRS tax collectors between 2005 and 2006, instructs officials to omit reference to any tip-offs supplied by the US Drug Enforcement Administration's Special Operations Division, especially from affidavits and court proceedings.
It was revealed this week that division has a hotline to Uncle Sam's spooks, who feed the DEA with intercepted communications to snare drug lords.
The IRS was instructed to conceal the use of the eavesdropping National Security Agency (NSA) in order to keep details of the spooks' methods confidential. Federal agents were told to insist the information came from informants or as the result of routine traffic stops.
The practice of fudging the evidence trail to conceal its origins has been widely criticised by former prosecutors and defence lawyers since it was exposed earlier this week.
Today's discovery of the eight-year-old IRS manual demonstrates that the laundering of secret intelligence by the DEA was common knowledge among parts of the US federal government.
A 350-word entry in the Internal Revenue Manual referring to the spooks was removed from online versions in 2007, but Reuters recovered previous editions from the archives of the Westlaw legal database, which is owned by the news agency's parent company Thomson-Reuters Corp.
The DEA's Special Operations Division takes intelligence from overseas NSA intercepts, domestic wiretaps, informants and a DEA-run database of telephone records to supply investigative tips to police and law enforcement agencies across the US. Reuters previously reported that g-men were trained to "recreate" the investigative trail in order to protect the original source of tips.
DEA officials have since defended the practice as lawful and said it was designed to safeguard sources and methods, and not to withhold evidence from defendants and their lawyers.
The 2005 vintage IRS manual fleshes out the detail on how the programme worked and what the DEA's Special Operations Division (SOD) offered to law enforcement.
"Special Operations Division has the ability to collect, collate, analyze, evaluate, and disseminate information and intelligence derived from worldwide multi-agency sources, including classified projects," the IRS explained, via Reuters.
"SOD converts extremely sensitive information into usable leads and tips which are then passed to the field offices for real-time enforcement activity against major international drug trafficking organizations."
The manual adds that the US Justice Department "closely guards the information provided by SOD with strict oversight". Although the handbook suggests that SOD intelligence was restricted for use in drugs enforcement investigations, DEA officials said the role of the division had been expended to include organised crime and money laundering.
IRS bean-counters were ordered to construct cases and explain the source of leads by referencing new "independent" evidence, rather than the true source of tips in cases involving Special Operations Division-sourced intelligence.
"Usable information regarding these leads must be developed from such independent sources as investigative files, subscriber and toll requests, physical surveillance, wire intercepts, and confidential source information. Information obtained from SOD in response to a search or query request cannot be used directly in any investigation (i.e. cannot be used in affidavits, court proceedings or maintained in investigative files)," the manual states.
The DEA telephone database, DICE, contains phone logs and internet usage data put together by the DEA and sourced through court subpoenas, arrests and search warrants across the US. DICE includes around a billion records, and keeps individual files for a year.
DICE is separate from the NSA's records of people's phone calls, as revealed by whistleblower and ex-CIA techie Edward Snowden. An NSA official told Reuters that its database is not used for domestic law enforcement.
White House spokesman Jay Carney said on Monday that the Department of Justice is "looking into" the issues raised by Reuters' reporters. ®