The Drug Enforcement Administration is reportedly in the business of trolling Americans’ travel information to pinpoint people who may be carrying large sums of money for narcotics traffickers, rarely making arrests but confiscating the cash to build its war chest.
According to a USA Today investigation, the DEA has looked at the travel itineraries of passengers on Amtrak trains and on close to every big U.S. airline operator. The agents rely on a network of travel industry informants that include people who work at the ticket counters, all the way to the back offices. The paper noted DEA agents operating in airports and train stations have also stopped innocent passengers for acts such as traveling one way to California or buying their ticket with cash.
Citing Justice Department data, the report said the DEA units assigned to the airports in the U.S. have seized $209 million in cash from upwards of 5,200 people during the last decade. The agents concluded the cash was associated with the trafficking of drugs. A large portion of the money gets handed over to local law enforcement tasked with helping the DEA catch drug dealers and traffickers.
“They count on this as part of the budget,” said Louis Weiss, a former supervisor of the DEA group assigned to Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport said in the report. “Basically, you’ve got to feed the monster.”
Although the DEA declined to comment to USA Today regarding how it gets the travel information on Americans moving around in the U.S. or the scale of the operations, agents who requested anonymity said it’s an extensive operation, with the paper pointing to a 2009 court filing in which agents took $44,010 from two travelers going by train to Denver. They were singled out based on a so-called routine review of the computerized travel manifest for Amtrak.