As if things weren’t already tense enough throughout the country as people protest police brutality, often being met with yet more of it, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has been granted sweeping new authority to “conduct covert surveillance” and collect intelligence on people participating in the protests.
Using the justification that George Floyd’s murder has provoked widespread disturbances that have have included “violence and looting,” the Justice Department has decided it needs the DEA to spy on what most media outlets are characterizing as peaceful gatherings.
U.S. Attorney General William Barr issued a statement recently in which he blamed, without providing any evidence, “anarchistic and far left extremists, using Antifa-like tactics,” for the unrest.
Without explaining who would do what, Barr added that 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.”
One especially wonders what role the DEA will play in crowd control in that it is limited by statute to enforcing drug related federal crimes.
How is the DEA conducting surveillance on protesters?
Timothy Shea, a former US Attorney who was recently named acting administrator of the DEA, received approval from Associate Deputy Attorney General G. Bradley Weinsheimer to go beyond the agency’s mandate “to perform other law enforcement duties” that Barr may “deem appropriate,” reported BuzzFeed.
Shea proceeded to introduce his argument for why the DEA should be given extraordinary powers.
“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.”
ACLU Response to DEA statement on Surveillance of Protesters
“Drug enforcement agents should not be conducting covert surveillance of protests and First Amendment protected speech,” said Hugh Handeyside, a senior attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union (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,” Handeyside said.
BuzzFeed News also reported that three DEA sources 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.”
It sure looks that way.