Tags: Edward Snowden | Homeland Security | NSA/Surveillance | War on Terrorism | DEA | secret program | billions

Report: DEA Secretly Tracked Americans' Phone Calls for Years

By    |   Tuesday, 07 Apr 2015 09:07 PM

The Department of Justice and the DEA started a secret program in 1992 that collected phone records of Americans' calls made to more than 100 foreign countries, according to a new report.

An in-depth USA Today story pulls the lid off the program, which was run by the Drug Enforcement Administration. The covert program's goal was to track drug cartels and help fight the war on drugs. It eventually created a database of billions of records of phone calls made between the United States and as many as 116 countries.

The phone records were also used, according to USA Today, during the investigation into the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing and other investigations.

The list of countries included Canada, Mexico, the majority of Central and South America, and nations in western Africa, Europe, and Asia.

The program started in 1992 and was actually revealed in January, but USA Today dug deeper and discovered more details.

It was stopped in 2013 by Attorney General Eric Holder after other secret spying programs were revealed by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, who leaked thousands of pages of classified documents related to government surveillance programs. Snowden is currently living in Russia, on the run from U.S. authorities.

The roots of the DEA's phone spying program began in the 1980s, when the agency was looking for another method of taking on the Columbian drug cartels that were flooding America with illegal drugs.

The DEA eventually reached out to the Pentagon, which installed two supercomputers in the DEA's Arlington, Virginia, headquarters to house and process the phone data, along with intelligence analysts.

"The system they built ultimately allowed the drug agency to stitch together huge collections of data to map trafficking and money laundering networks both overseas and within the USA," the USA Today report reads.

"It allowed agents to link the call records its agents gathered domestically with calling data the DEA and intelligence agencies had acquired outside the USA. (In some cases, officials said the DEA paid employees of foreign telecom firms for copies of call logs and subscriber lists.) And it eventually allowed agents to cross-reference all of that against investigative reports from the DEA, FBI, and Customs Service."

Former DEA administrator Thomas Constantine told USA Today the program "produced major international investigations that allowed us to take some big people."

The data was collected not in real-time but via bulk deliveries from phone companies, reports USA Today. All that was included in the data were phone numbers, which agents were able to match up with known individuals.

The USA Today report draws parallels between the DEA program and the NSA's bulk surveillance practices, which started in 2001 following the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

"The foundation of the NSA program was a mirror image of what we were doing," a former Justice Department official told USA Today.

Several programs that spied on Americans have been outed in recent months. One DEA program, for example, is stockpiling Americans' license plate numbers and driving habits.

The DEA also received a proposal from a federal agent to collect license plate numbers near gun shows in 2009.

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The Department of Justice and the DEA started a secret program in 1992, collecting phone records of American calls made to more than 100 foreign countries, with the goal of tracking drug cartels. It eventually created a database of billions of records of phone calls.
DEA, secret program, billions, phone calls, US, foreign countries, DOJ, drug cartels, database
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2015-07-07
Tuesday, 07 Apr 2015 09:07 PM
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