In a secret intelligence project seen as "more troubling" than the NSA's far-reaching data-mining operations, the DEA has been passing along to other law-enforcement agencies "information from intelligence intercepts, wiretaps, informants and a massive database of telephone records"—and instructing the agencies to lie about where they got it.

Documents leaked to Reuters show DEA agents instructing other federal agents in "parallel" construction"—its term for recreating (and fabricating) an investigative trail to conceal the involvement of the DEA's intelligence operations. The intelligence gathered, and the investigations in which it's used, are rarely national-security cases. Experts interviewed by Reuters were shocked:

"I have never heard of anything like this at all," said Nancy Gertner, a Harvard Law School professor who served as a federal judge from 1994 to 2011. Gertner and other legal experts said the program sounds more troubling than recent disclosures that the National Security Agency has been collecting domestic phone records. The NSA effort is geared toward stopping terrorists; the DEA program targets common criminals, primarily drug dealers.

"It is one thing to create special rules for national security," Gertner said. "Ordinary crime is entirely different. It sounds like they are phonying up investigations."

The information comes from the DEA's Special Operations Division, a two-decade-old unit created in partnership with several other federal agencies to thwart South American drug cartels. SOD tips other agencies off—the example given by one federal agent who'd received tips was "You'd be told only, ‘Be at a certain truck stop at a certain time and look for a certain vehicle.' And so we'd alert the state police to find an excuse to stop that vehicle, and then have a drug dog search it"—and then helps those agencies construct trial-ready investigative chains.

The criminal defense lawyers with whom Reuters spoke agreed: This is unconstitutional. ""You can't game the system," a former prosecutor said. "You can't create this subterfuge."

[image via AP]