A startling new report released in January by a Department of Justice watchdog exposed that the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration hired a Transportation Security Administration security screener to deliberately search luggage for cash that the DEA could seize.
The DEA also planned to pay the agent in cash which the Office of Inspector General says “could have violated individuals'” protection against unreasonable searches and seizures -- infringing on the Fourth Amendment -- "if it led to a subsequent DEA enforcement action.”
Some have expressed concern about a contentious practice known as “civil asset forfeiture” which allows government officials to seize property that they assert has been involved in criminal activity. Many are frightened that civil asset forfeiture leads to policing for profit, according to The Huffington Post.
The DOJ’s Office of the Inspector General has determined that the arrangement between the DEA and the TSA “violated DEA policy” on many levels, though the TSA informant hired by the DEA had not yet delivered any information to the DEA, according to Inquistr.
Robert Everett Johnson, an attorney for the libertarian public interest law firm Institute for Justice, says:
“This really is what we see every day around the country -- when law enforcement takes property using civil forfeiture, law enforcement is able to keep that property and use it to fund their budgets and in many cases even to pay the salaries of people who are overseeing the forfeitures.
“That creates an obvious financial incentive to take property from people who haven’t done anything or haven’t been proven to have done anything wrong. It creates an incentive for all kinds of abuse.”
Civil asset forfeiture has come under growing condemnation as it has developed into a crucial source of income for authorities over the past decade, with state and federal bureaus now taking in hundreds of millions of dollars in property, and possibly more, each year, with cash as a preferred target, according to The Huffington Post.
Airports and train stations are a special focus for the DEA. A 2015 OIG report uncovered that from 2009 to 2013, the DEA took $163 million in 4,138 cash seizures. Many of those confiscations were later disputed and overturned, reports The Huffington Post. The DEA has also come under attack for allegedly shaking down citizens.
While not illegal for a person to carry a large amount of cash in checked luggage, it can raise red flags. Officials will regularly confiscate cash based solely on the assumption that the possession of a large sum of it denotes drug activity.
Johnson said the TSA case underlines all of these fears, and proves that the DEA is “willing to go to great lengths to expand its ability to make profitable seizures.”
“That’s really what the OIG is saying: The TSA agents should be focused on doing their job the way the TSA wants them to be doing their job, not what they’re getting paid to do by the DEA,” Johnson said.