So the DEA is now part of "national security"?

So the DEA is now part of "national security"?

by digby

I know that most people seem to feel that the US has a God given right to spy on any person of foreign soil for any reason it chooses, but I wonder how many liberals think it's such a fine idea to use all this spying capability in the expensive and useless War on Drugs?
The U.S. intelligence community routinely justifies its massive spying efforts by citing the threats to national security posed by global terrorism and unpredictable rival nations like Russia and Iran. But the NSA documents indicate that SOMALGET has been deployed in the Bahamas to locate “international narcotics traffickers and special-interest alien smugglers” – traditional law-enforcement concerns, but a far cry from derailing terror plots or intercepting weapons of mass destruction.

“The Bahamas is a stable democracy that shares democratic principles, personal freedoms, and rule of law with the United States,” the State Department concluded in a crime and safety report published last year. “There is little to no threat facing Americans from domestic (Bahamian) terrorism, war, or civil unrest.”

By targeting the Bahamas’ entire mobile network, the NSA is intentionally collecting and retaining intelligence on millions of people who have not been accused of any crime or terrorist activity. Nearly five million Americans visit the country each year, and many prominent U.S. citizens keep homes there, including Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), Bill Gates, and Oprah Winfrey.

In addition, the program is a serious – and perhaps illegal – abuse of the access to international phone networks that other countries willingly grant the United States for legitimate law-enforcement surveillance. If the NSA is using the Drug Enforcement Administration’s relationship to the Bahamas as a cover for secretly recording the entire country’s mobile phone calls, it could imperil the longstanding tradition of international law enforcement cooperation that the United States enjoys with its allies.

“It’s surprising, the short-sightedness of the government,” says Michael German, a fellow at New York University’s Brennan Center for Justice who spent 16 years as an FBI agent conducting undercover investigations. “That they couldn’t see how exploiting a lawful mechanism to such a degree that you might lose that justifiable access – that’s where the intelligence community is acting in a way that harms its long-term interests, and clearly the long-term national security interests of the United States.”
There is much  more to this story at the link.

There has been some evidence already that this capability was being used for the drug war but this seems to be a pretty clear cut example of how "national security" has become a very, shall we say, fluid term that excuses the NSA using its massive powers beyond the threat of terrorism or even economic espionage (which is also a very dicey use of its power considering the multi-national nature of "American" firms.) They will undoubtedly term this "narco-terrorism" and attempt to convince the public that drug trafficking and terrorism are inextricably linked but that has not been determined and neither has anyone ever debated whether the use of these national security powers should be used in this way.
The DEA has long been in a unique position to help the NSA gain backdoor access to foreign phone networks. “DEA has close relationships with foreign government counterparts and vetted foreign partners,” the manager of the NSA’s drug-war efforts reported in a 2004 memo. Indeed, with more than 80 international offices, the DEA is one of the most widely deployed U.S. agencies around the globe.
But what many foreign governments fail to realize is that U.S. drug agents don’t confine themselves to simply fighting narcotics traffickers. “DEA is actually one of the biggest spy operations there is,” says Finn Selander, a former DEA special agent who works with the drug-reform advocacy group Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. “Our mandate is not just drugs. We collect intelligence.”
It's yet another example of how the government has secretly folded several law enforcement functions into its extra-judicial counter-terrorism powers without proper oversight or public input. The mere fact that they've done this should be enough to raise serious alarms about whether they should have these powers in th first place.