- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Senior members of drug trafficking rings and criminal organizations serving as informants for the Drug Enforcement Administration often aren’t thoroughly vetted before getting a free pass to buy and sell drugs, a new watchdog report revealed Tuesday despite the agency’s resistance to the investigation.

According to the report from the Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General, the DEA’s policies for approving informants and their authorized illegal activities, including buying and selling drugs and committing acts of violence, do not meet with guidelines set by the attorney general’s office for all law enforcement confidential-source programs.

DEA’s policies allow the agency to bypass thorough screenings for high-risk confidential sources ranging from drug traffickers to journalists, the report said.

Investigators cautioned that the lack of oversight could create unforeseen consequences that could pose a risk to the American public.

“For instance, confidential sources may engage in illegal activity that has not been adequately considered, or may overstep their boundaries with a mistaken belief that the DEA sanctions any illegal activities in which they participate,” investigators wrote in the report.

Auditors also found that the agency improperly paid informants more than $1 million in federal workers’ compensation benefits between July 2013 and June 2014.

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The report, which comes 10 years after similar concerns were laid out in a report by the same inspector general, has prompted some watchdog groups to question the responsibility of the agency.

“Federal law enforcement agencies that don’t follow the law present a real and present danger to our nation,” said Richard Manning, president of Americans for Limited Government. “Recognizing that the world of undercover drug enforcement is extremely difficult and dangerous and that those who go to great personal risk to infiltrate some of the worse drug cartels deserve a large benefit of the doubt, it is unacceptable for the DEA as a whole to be run like a 1950s Frat House.”

Over a 9-year period, DEA spent “minimal” time meeting with long-term informants to determine the appropriateness of their continued use, according to the new report.

Auditors found that the DEA utilized over 240 confidential sources without rigorous review and, in most instances, without following the same guidelines established across all law enforcement agencies.

In several cases informants that were injured received disability payments under the Federal Employees’ Compensation Act (FECA) without the DEA establishing and processes or controls over the disability payments. At the same time, DEA continued to use and pay confidential sources who were already receiving full disability payments.

“Although the exact amount of DEA confidential source (benefit) payments is unknown, it is clear that significant taxpayer dollars have been expended,” auditors wrote in the report.

In one case, investigators wrote, the DEA paid out more than $1.3 million between 1989 and 2012 to the widow of a killed informant. Payments have been ongoing in other cases since 1974.

Investigators are continuing to inspect the DEA’s confidential source program but wrote that their audit work “thus far has been seriously delayed by numerous instances of uncooperativeness from the DEA.”

According to the report, DEA attempted to prohibit and delayed, for months at a time, providing investigators with requested documentation and files on confidential sources.

The opposition from the DEA was so strong, that Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz said in a podcast released with the report that whenever his investigators were blocked, “the matters were resolved only after I personally elevated them to the level of the DEA administrator.” He called the DEA’s resistance “just unacceptable.”

In a response letter to the report, Daniel Grooms, associate deputy attorney general wrote that the “DEA’s goal throughout this process has been to cooperate with the OIG review,” and added “we regret any delays to OIG’s work.”

Auditors made seven recommendations to DEA to realign their confidential source program policies with the attorney general’s guidelines. DEA agreed with all of the recommendations and assured that it will improve its cooperations with the auditing process going forward.

The Justice Department said in a statement Tuesday that it has suspended new approvals for workers’ compensation payments to DEA informants while auditors continue to review the payments.

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