Search And Seizure, Misunderstood
Jan. 26, 2016 (Mimesis Law) — What do the DEA, a TSA agent, and a confidential informant have in common? A blind adherence to the failed war on drugs? No respect for people’s constitutional rights? They strike fear in the heart of an innocent citizen? All of the above?
All of the above might be a good answer, but it’s not the best one. A recent report suggests these three sinister figures have an even more sinister goal in common: civil asset forfeiture. Like most stories involving civil asset forfeiture, the Constitution is thrown out the window the second the possibility of grabbing large amounts of cash comes into play.
The DEA and a TSA agent recently teamed up to search through people’s bags looking for money. The federal government’s utter lack of understanding of the Constitution’s protection against warrantless search and seizure is startling. Actually, not so startling, which is unfortunate. But it is scary.
After the September 11 attacks, the federal government responded in its usual manner. Attempts to legislate the trouble out of existence started right away. Within weeks of those terrorist attacks, the Transportation Security Administration, or TSA, was founded. As alleged attacks on airplanes were thwarted, security measures were put in place piece by piece.
Between taking off your shoes and jackets and throwing away any liquids over three ounces, air travel has never been safer, right? Not so much. TSA and its added security measures have done little, if anything, to make air flight safer:
An internal investigation of the Transportation Security Administration revealed security failures at dozens of the nation’s busiest airports, where undercover investigators were able to smuggle mock explosives or banned weapons through checkpoints in 95 percent of trials, ABC News has learned.
The series of tests were conducted by Homeland Security Red Teams who pose as passengers, setting out to beat the system.
According to officials briefed on the results of a recent Homeland Security Inspector General’s report, TSA agents failed 67 out of 70 tests, with Red Team members repeatedly able to get potential weapons through checkpoints.
Having contributed almost nothing to the government’s war on terror, at least one TSA agent figured out a way to get in on the other government war, the war on drugs. He signed up as a paid DEA confidential informant. Not during his off hours. This wasn’t a way to fill up his boring days off. He was a paid confidential informant during his work as a TSA screener at an airport. So while he is supposed to be half-heartedly failing at finding weapons being smuggled on to airplanes, he was actually looking for large amounts of cash to seize from travelers engaged in travelling with large amounts of cash.
After receiving information about the screener’s registration as a confidential informant, the Department of Justice’s Office of the Inspector General launched an investigation. Referred to in the Daily Signal’s article as a “government watchdog,” the Office of the Inspector General is supposed to ferret out waste and corruption within the Department of Justice:
The Office of the Inspector General (OIG) in the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) is a statutorily created independent entity whose mission is to detect and deter waste, fraud, abuse, and misconduct in DOJ programs and personnel, and to promote economy and efficiency in those programs.
That sounds like an extremely busy job. Of course, with the lack of reports of any discipline for federal agents or prosecutors, maybe it’s not as busy as it sounds. Whatever they are doing over at that office, they aren’t telling the public about it.
At least they stopped this screener from robbing airline passengers. Finding that a TSA security screener acting as a paid confidential informant violated DEA policy, they sternly warned against the action.
There was only a stern warning because the TSA screener had already been fired as a confidential informant by the DEA.
The CS was deactivated for inability to provide any useful information.
Apparently, TSA screeners seriously can’t find anything in people’s luggage. But the fact that DEA agents recruited an airport screener to look for cash to seize reveals a lot about the motivations behind civil asset forfeiture. Intended to be a way to cut off the profit element in the drug trade, it has turned into a way to finance the cops’ games and toys.
The Office of Inspector General gave people an insight into how the government views the governed. Its concern with the TSA agent’s partnership with the DEA centered on what might happen to a later case, apparently.
The OIG further determined that asking the TSA Security Screener to notify the DEA of passengers carrying large sums of money in exchange for a reward based on money seized by the DEA … could have violated individuals’ protection against unreasonable searches and seizures if it led to a subsequent DEA enforcement action.
Here is a newsflash for the Department of Justice. It’s not a constitutional violation only after the feds decide to bring the weight of a civil or criminal action crashing down on a person’s head. An illegal search does not violate the United States Constitution only if the government later decides to prosecute. It violated the Constitution the second it happened.
A constitutional violation occurs when there is a search without probable cause. The ability to root through any property just for the hell of it isn’t found in the Constitution. These “writs of assistance” were one of the major reasons we threw all that British tea into Boston Harbor and started a war with the British empire.
While it may be a good thing DOJ disapproved of the use of a TSA screener to conduct general searches for the DEA, it missed the more important point. The Constitution protects everyone from search and seizure, not just people who are prosecuted. Until the government understands and honors that protection, there is no telling what else they are searching behind your back.