Yesterday, the US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) was thrust into the spotlight when Reuters published a story about its practice of recreating the investigative trail to conceal leads it receives from the NSA. Now we’re learning that the practice isn’t limited to the DEA; Reuters reports that between 2005 and 2006, the Internal Revenue Service instructed its agents to scrub affidavits, investigative files, and court proceedings for references to tips provided by the DEA’s Special Operations Division. The directive formed part of the agency’s Internal Revenue Manual, but Reuters reports that it was removed as early as 2007. The IRS declined to comment on either the entry or its removal.
"SOD converts extremely sensitive information into usable leads and tips"
Previous reports state that the special Operations Division within the DEA is able to draw from sources (including classified material) in multiple agencies, including the NSA. It then processes the information before handing it on in the form of usable leads. The IRS describes in this way: "SOD converts extremely sensitive information into usable leads and tips which are then passed to the field offices for real-time enforcement activity."
The concern is that these leads could contain intelligence derived from the NSA’s mass surveilance programs, including PRISM — systems ostensibly designed to gather intelligence on potential foreign terrorist threats, not domestic tax crimes. In June, leaked documents obtained by The Guardian revealed that even though the NSA’s guidelines require it to "minimize" the amount of data collected about "US persons," it can retain their communications if they meet certain criteria, like if they are "reasonably believed to contain evidence of a crime that has been, is being, or is about to be committed."
"The SOD role has recently expanded to organized crime and money laundering"
Reuters points out that although the IRS manual says SOD leads can only be used for drug investigations, "DEA officials said the SOD role has recently expanded to organized crime and money laundering." Earlier today, the Department of Justice announced it was "looking into" the issue of secret NSA and DEA collaboration.