D.E.A. Secretly Collected Bulk Records of Money-Counter Purchases

The Drug Enforcement Administration secretly collected data on Americans’ purchases of money-counting machines in an effort to find drug traffickers, according to an inspector general report. The D.E.A. also took steps to hide the effort from the courts and defendants, then quietly ended the program when former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden disclosed the activity. In 2008, the D.E.A. began to issue administrative subpoenas to vendors selling money counters to learn who was buying the machines. However, the subpoenas were not part of any investigation and did not have court oversight. As a result of the subpoenas, the agency collected tens of thousands of records showing the names and addresses of people who bought money counters. The inspector general report shows that D.E.A. agents first learned the names of potential suspects from the money counter purchasing database, resulting in a high volume of low-quality leads. The D.E.A. provided a statement responding to the inspector general’s report, citing “the importance of protecting the techniques and procedures that D.E.A. agents rely upon to protect our nation.”