The DEA Given Permission To Covertly Investigate Protesters

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16 Aug 2020, 3:36 am

The DEA Has Been Given Permission To Investigate People Protesting George Floyd’s Death

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The Drug Enforcement Administration has been granted sweeping new authority to “conduct covert surveillance” and collect intelligence on people participating in protests over the police killing of George Floyd, according to a two-page memorandum obtained by BuzzFeed News.

Floyd’s death “has spawned widespread protests across the nation, which, in some instances, have included violence and looting,” the DEA memo says. “Police agencies in certain areas of the country have struggled to maintain and/or restore order.” The memo requests the extraordinary powers on a temporary basis, and on Sunday afternoon a senior Justice Department official signed off.

Attorney General William Barr issued a statement Saturday following a night of widespread and at times violent protests in which he blamed, without providing evidence, “anarchistic and far left extremists, using Antifa-like tactics,” for the unrest. He said the FBI, DEA, US Marshals, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives would be “deployed to support local efforts to enforce federal law.”

Barr did not say what those agencies would do.

The DEA is limited by statute to enforcing drug-related federal crimes. But on Sunday, Timothy Shea, a former US attorney and close confidant of Barr's who was named acting administrator of the DEA last month, received approval from Associate Deputy Attorney General Bradley Weinsheimer to go beyond the agency’s mandate “to perform other law enforcement duties” that Barr may “deem appropriate.”

Citing the protests, Shea laid out an argument for why the agency should be granted extraordinary latitude.

“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,” Shea wrote in the memo. “DEA requests this authority on a nationwide basis for a period of fourteen days.”

The metadata on the memo says it was prepared by Robert Gleason, deputy chief counsel of the DEA. A spokesperson for the DEA declined to comment.

On Tuesday afternoon, Keith Kruskall, associate special agent in charge of the DEA’s New York division, sent an urgent email seeking 25 volunteers to assist with “security” to the Capitol in Washington, DC from Tuesday through Friday.

Two sources knowledgeable about the deployment said 15 people from the DEA’s elite Special Response Team, which among other activities conducts surveillance, and 10 special agents were chosen.

Kruskall’s email did not describe what specific tasks the detachment would be given. It added that if insufficient numbers of agents volunteered, others would be assigned the job. According to the sources, fewer than 25 agents raised their hands

“Drug enforcement agents should not be conducting covert surveillance of protests and First Amendment protected speech,” said Hugh Handeyside, a senior attorney for the ACLU. “That kind of monitoring and information sharing may well constitute unwarranted investigation of people exercising their constitutional rights to seek justice. The executive branch continues to run headlong in the wrong direction.”

Three DEA sources told BuzzFeed News they are troubled by the memo and see it as an example of the Justice Department potentially abusing its power in an attempt to smear the protests and crack down on protected First Amendment activity.


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