Justice IG Finds Issues with DEA's Confidential Source Program
An audit of the Drug Enforcement Administration’s (DEA) confidential source policies identified several inconsistencies with Justice Department standards for law enforcement components.
The audit, performed by the Justice Department Office of Inspector General (OIG), remains in progress due to “numerous instances of uncooperativeness from the DEA, including attempts to prohibit the OIG’s observation of confidential source file reviews and delays, for months at a time, in providing the OIG with requested confidential source information and documentation.”
Only after the Justice Inspector General raised the issues to the DEA Administrator were the access issues resolved.
The audit found that DEA incorporated provisions from the Attorney General’s Guidelines Regarding the Use of Confidential Informants (AG Guidelines) that apply to all Justice Law Enforcement Agencies (JLEA), including the DEA, related to establishing, approving, utilizing, and evaluating confidential sources into existing DEA policy in the DEA Special Agents Manual, rather than implementing the AG Guidelines as a separate policy.
Failure to establish the AG Guidelines as the DEA policy resulted in an agency policy that differed significantly in several respects, which “has resulted in areas in which the DEA is not fully addressing the concerns underlying the AG Guidelines and, as a result, the DEA’s Confidential Source Program lacks sufficient oversight and lacks consistency with the rules governing other DOJ law enforcement components.”
Consequentially, DEA’s policies have resulted in DEA personnel being able to use high-risk individuals, such as those who are part of drug trafficking organization leadership, as well as lawyers, doctors, and journalists, as confidential sources “without the level of review as would otherwise be required by the AG Guidelines for high-level and privileged or media-affiliated sources.”
The OIG recommended the DEA’s policy be revisited by DEA and DOJ leadership to ensure alignment with the AG Guidelines and to provide appropriate oversight.
Similarly, the OIG found that the DEA’s policies and practices failed to adhere to the AG Guidelines’ requirements for reviewing, approving, and revoking confidential sources’ authorization to conduct Otherwise Illegal Activity (OIA), presenting liabilities and potential unforeseen consequences for the agency and operations. This area too was recommended for DEA and DOJ leadership oversight.
The audit also found that DEA wasn’t adhering to its own policy regarding evaluating the use of long-term confidential sources, and that the agency “spent minimal time meeting to determine the appropriateness of the continued use of long term sources.” As a result, “this created a significant risk that improper relationships between government handlers and sources could be allowed to continue over many years, potentially resulting in the divulging of sensitive information or other adverse consequences for the government.”
The OIG also found that DEA’s confidential source policies did not include specific mention of recruiting, establishing, or using sources who are also subject to regulation by the DEA because they hold a DEA-provided controlled substance registration number. “DOJ guidance emphasizes the need for controls to ensure that no licensee is led to believe that the continued validity of their license is in any way predicated on their status as a source,” the audit reads, and was an issue previously highlighted by the OIG in a report on the Bureau of the Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) Operation Fast and Furious, where ATF was obtaining information in connection with its criminal investigations from individuals who were also Federal Firearm Licensees.
Lastly, the audit found that the DEA was providing Federal Employees’ Compensation Act (FECA) benefits to confidential sources, yet had not established a process or any controls regarding the awarding of them, resulting in the payment of over $1 million to 17 confidential sources in a one year period absent a control or evaluation process for such payments.
The full audit, Audit of the Drug Enforcement Administration’s Confidential Source Policies and Oversight of Higher-Risk Confidential Sources, which contains seven specific recommendations for DEA and DOJ leadership, can be accessed here.
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