Ever since Edward Snowden, a former contractor for the National Security Agency, emerged from the shadows to reveal that the United States government was using its resources to spy on American citizens, the subject of mass surveillance and how this controversial practice violates the privacy rights of innocent people has stirred up a national uproar that has most intelligent occupants of this nation convinced that Uncle Sam has eyes and ears on the people at all times.
After this surveillance scandal was blown out of the water nearly two years ago, federal officials came forward in an attempt to explain that they had only utilized these super secret tactics following the attacks of 9/11, and that the program was no longer a functional aspect of national security.
Not surprisingly, however, an exposé published last week by USA Today reveals that the practice of spying on American citizens had nothing to do with monitoring terrorist activity post 9/11, but that it was actually a program launched in the early nineties by the Drug Enforcement Administration as a means to further combat the drug war. This far-reaching concept was put into place because DEA administrators were convinced that by monitoring an extensive majority of the international calls made by the citizens of this fair land that they could close in on the mega dope dealings being conducted via Ma Bell, and smash the onslaught of drug trafficking operations that had infiltrated the United States.
The program, which reportedly tracked billions of international calls over the course of a 20-year period, was successful enough that the National Security Agency copycatted the nuts and bolts of the DEA’s sneaky regime and used the framework to go for the throats of both foreign and domestic terrorism. Yet, while it may be easy to get pop culture on board with the implementation of spy tactics to protect the stability of national security, it is unnerving that the government was, and perhaps still is, allowing the general surveillance of a collective America to eavesdrop into the private conversations of citizens without any investigational basis or criminal suspicion.
That is exactly the level of underhandedness that was occurring in the ’90s as a result of the drug war, according to USA Today journalist Brad Heath, who found throughout a series of interviews that the DEA’s supposedly discontinued telecommunications spy program monitored “virtually all telephone calls from the USA to as many as 116 countries,” including Canada, Mexico, Italy, the Middle East, South & Central America, Africa, Asia, and Europe.
Federal officials, who had knowledge of the DEA’s surveillance program, make no apologies for the government’s use of technology against the American citizen. “It has been apparent for a long time in both the law enforcement and intelligence worlds that there is a tremendous value and need to collect certain metadata to support legitimate investigations,” George Terwilliger III, a former U.S. Deputy Attorney General, told USA Today.
Perhaps the most disturbing element of the drug war spy program is that the DEA fought tooth and nail to keep its underhanded efforts as far away as possible from the public eye. Even though reports indicate that the agency sometimes used phone data in their criminal prosecutions, they did everything possible to maintain the secrecy of the program in order to prolong its survival. DEA agents were allegedly trained to file reports that excluded nationwide phone surveillance, which legal experts argue raped the integrity of the U.S. Constitution.
“Whatever constitutional wiggle room that might exist in the national security context vanishes when the surveillance program is aimed at enforcement of domestic criminal laws, like drug trafficking laws,” Mark Rumfold, an attorney specializing in privacy rights, told The Atlantic.
And while officials with the NSA claim that phone sweeps were immediately discontinued following the whistleblower actions of Edward Snowden, there remain enough inconsistencies in the statements issued by the federal government not to consider, even for a second, that the population is completely removed from Uncle Sam’s all-seeing, all-intrusive eye.
As a matter of fact, earlier this year, a report by the ACLU found that the DEA is still using advanced spy tactics to track down potential drug offenders, long before a crime has ever been committed. Since 2008, the DEA has been collecting data on motorists across the country with the help of their National License Plate Recognition Initiative, which frighteningly enough documents the every day habits of innocent Americans.
Assume the government has your whole world tapped, because they probably do.