Tuesday, August 06, 2013

Tuesday's news and notes -- Government misbeheaving edition

Any one of these stories is breathtaking, but all three together... wow.

1.  FBI informants commit a lot of crimes -- with the FBI's approval.  USA Today's Brad Heath has the depressing story here:

WASHINGTON — The FBI gave its informants permission to break the law at least 5,658 times in a single year, according to newly disclosed documents that show just how often the nation's top law enforcement agency enlists criminals to help it battle crime.
Agents authorized 15 crimes a day, on average, including everything from buying and selling illegal drugs to bribing government officials and plotting robberies. FBI officials have said in the past that permitting their informants — who are often criminals themselves — to break the law is an indispensable, if sometimes distasteful, part of investigating criminal organizations.
USA TODAY obtained a copy of the FBI's 2011 report under the Freedom of Information Act. The report does not spell out what types of crimes its agents authorized, or how serious they were. It also did not include any information about crimes the bureau's sources were known to have committed without the government's permission.
"The million-dollar question is: How much crime is the government tolerating from its informants?" said Alexandra Natapoff, a professor at Loyola Law School Los Angeles who has studied such issues. "I'm sure that if we really knew that number, we would all be shocked."
A spokeswoman for the FBI, Denise Ballew, declined to answer questions about the report, saying only that the circumstances in which its informants are allowed to break the law are "situational, tightly controlled," and subject to Justice Department policy. The FBI almost always keeps its informants' work secret. The agency said in a 2007 budget request that it has a network of about 15,000 confidential sources.
2.  So how to federal cases actually get started?  The government has asked DEA to cover up and fabricate the answers. This is insane, if true. From Reuters:

A secretive U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration unit is funneling information from intelligence intercepts, wiretaps, informants and a massive database of telephone records to authorities across the nation to help them launch criminal investigations of Americans.
Although these cases rarely involve national security issues, documents reviewed by Reuters show that law enforcement agents have been directed to conceal how such investigations truly begin - not only from defense lawyers but also sometimes from prosecutors and judges.The undated documents show that federal agents are trained to "recreate" the investigative trail to effectively cover up where the information originated, a practice that some experts say violates a defendant's Constitutional right to a fair trial. If defendants don't know how an investigation began, they cannot know to ask to review potential sources of exculpatory evidence - information that could reveal entrapment, mistakes or biased witnesses."I have never heard of anything like this at all," said Nancy Gertner, a Harvard Law School professor who served as a federal judge from 1994 to 2011. Gertner and other legal experts said the program sounds more troubling than recent disclosures that the National Security Agency has been collecting domestic phone records. The NSA effort is geared toward stopping terrorists; the DEA program targets common criminals, primarily drug dealers.

3. And if the government is doing anything wrong, there is nothing that you can do about it. Huffington Post has this long read about misbehaving prosecutors and how the system protects them. Here's a little snippet of a really great article:

Over the last year or so, a number of high-profile stories have fostered discussion and analysis of prosecutorial power, discretion and accountability: the prosecution and subsequent suicide of Internet activist Aaron Swartz; the Obama administration's unprecedented prosecution of whistleblowers; the related Department of Justice investigations into the sources of leaks that have raised First Amendment concerns; and aggressive prosecutions that look politically motivated, such as the pursuit of medical marijuana offenders in states where the drug has been legalized for that purpose. In May, an 82-year-old nun and two other peace activists were convicted of "sabotage" and other "crimes of violence" for breaking into a nuclear weapons plant to unfurl banners, spray paint and sing hymns. Even many on the political right, traditionally a source of law-and-order-minded support for prosecutors, have raised concerns about "overcriminalization" and the corresponding power the trend has given prosecutors.

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