Apparently not satisfied with the already obscene amounts of cash and stuff our government takes from Americans each year under the guise of civil asset forfeiture, the DEA hired a TSA agent to rifle through airline passengers’ luggage looking for cash the drug agency could confiscate.
Here’s how the process worked:
An “investigative summary” posted this month by the Justice Department’s inspector general criticizes the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) for hiring a federal airport security screener to help find seizable cash in passengers’ luggage. Under the arrangement, the DEA designated the screener a “confidential source” and promised him a cut of any money he found while rummaging through people’s bags.
So not only did the TSA agent get paid for facilitating what basically amounts to federal theft, but he was incentivized to find “suspicious” money because the more he found, the more he’d earn. The DEA could not have come up with a more unethical situation if they’d tried.
The good news is that the DOJ investigators agree, noting that TSA agents are already supposed to report anything illegal they see in the course of their duties, so there was no justification for this arrangement in the first place.
Furthermore, the set-up violated the DEA’s own department rules—not to mention “individuals’ protection against unreasonable searches and seizures.”
The bad news is that civil asset forfeiture still happens all the time, even without shady TSA partnerships.
“This really is what we see every day around the country,” explained Robert Everett Johnson of the Institute for Justice. “When law enforcement takes property using civil forfeiture, law enforcement is able to keep that property and use it to fund their budgets and in many cases even to pay the salaries of people who are overseeing the forfeitures.”
“That creates an obvious financial incentive to take property from people who haven’t done anything or haven’t been proven to have done anything wrong,” he added. “It creates an incentive for all kinds of abuse.”
And we’re talking big money. “Between 2004 and 2009, Philadelphia collected some $36 million via civil forfeiture,”mainly from young, black men. Long Island police took in $31 million in a single year. The State of Virginia seized assets and cash worth more than $18 million in 2013 alone. In the same year, Michigan’s civil asset forfeiture profits topped $16 million, and the State of Texas took a whopping $106 million from its citizens.
In fact, in 2014 federal agents used civil asset forfeiture to confiscate more money and property from Americans than burglars took. (Seriously.)
So good for the DOJ for shutting down this DEA-TSA corruption. Next, maybe it can shut down every other civil asset forfeiture program, too.