Thursday, September 05, 2019

Surveillance Nation: How DEA Agents Search and Seize Property from Amtrak Passengers


Cops can do anything they want in modern America. This is from a 2015 Washington Post piece entitled "Cops took more stuff from people than burglars did last year." Notice the jump in seizures near the end of Obama's first term.

by Thomas Neuburger

As you listen to the panicked fear that the U.S. government will turn authoritarian under Trump, consider the following story about the DEA and drug surveillance on the Amtrak Southwest Chief, the long train between Chicago and Los Angeles.

To "keep you safe," this is what cops get to do:
DEA Agents Ambush Amtrak Passengers With Controversial Searches and Seizures

by Amy Martyn

A few hours characteristically behind schedule, Amtrak’s Southwest Chief rolls into Albuquerque, New Mexico, at the small station that it shares with the Greyhound bus service on the edge of downtown.

Most people step off to stretch their legs or have a cigarette during the layover, the longest smoke break in the entire trip. That’s when two plainclothes agents come aboard the train on a rainy day in March 2019.

One agent walks to the back of the aisle in the first coach car and waits, quietly observing. The other is tasked with getting people to talk and open their bags. His name is Jarrell, or Jay, Perry, and he’s done it hundreds of times before.

Perry is white and looks like he’s in his fifties. He’s bald and slightly overweight, with a weightlifter’s build to compensate, and he’s dressed in a baseball cap, a gray sweatshirt, and jeans. He’s not carrying a visible warrant or a train ticket and has no drug dog with him. When passengers reboard, they seem oblivious to his presence.

Today, he seems confident that he will find someone on board carrying drugs — or at least a substantial amount of money. He flashes a smile and a badge. A young, disheveled man in a seat by the entrance to the car agrees to let Perry search his three bags. The agent flips through the man’s luggage with tactical speed.
The author goes on to note a number of things about these tactics. I've highlighted them in the passage below:
It’s legal for Perry to search people without probable cause, a warrant, or a dog because travelers supposedly realize that they have the right to decline to submit to his searches. Perry and others in his interdiction unit have testified that they receive manifests ahead of time listing the passengers who will be arriving in Albuquerque. The courts have ruled this is also legal-- functioning like a helpful tip sheet on whom to question.

More problematically, Perry has been captured on surveillance footage boarding empty Greyhound buses and pulling bags out of the checked luggage bin. One clip captures him pressing on a bag so aggressively that he appears to be tackling it. But he stops short of opening the bag, which would be blatantly unconstitutional. Several people that Perry has seized cash from insist that they are not drug couriers and, in fact, were never criminally charged as such, though that didn’t help them get their money back.

Perry is not the only cop riding the rails. His tactics offer a case study in how law enforcement targets mass transit in the war on drugs, generating thousands of busts and a steady stream of revenue from seized assets.
To summarize:

     • You can be searched without probable cause, because it's assumed you know you can refuse (but if you do refuse, you're asking for "extra attention" and perhaps a trip to an interrogation room downtown).

     • Amtrak gives passengers lists to DEA agents ahead of time (because they know whose side they're on).

     • Your checked baggage may be searched without your knowledge (illegal, but try and stop them).

     • They can seize your cash if they have reason to suspect you're a courier (if you you're carrying "too much" money, this could be you).

     • Seized cash is part of the lifeblood of the system.

Yes, these tactics do produce arrests. But breaking into every home in every neighborhood in Los Angeles — and a great many Bel Air mansions as well — without warning or a warrant would also produce arrests, the same number or more.

Yet are these illegal tactics justified by these arrests, and given the state of civil (not criminal) asset seizure in this country, consider how strong the incentives are for cops to continue these practices. The DEA has treated the Southwest Chief and other Amtrak trains as a trout farm to fish in for dealers, methods be damned, and has done so since at least the 1990s according to the article, when Bill Clinton was president, and the practice continued unabated through Barack Obama's presidency as well.

This, Surveillance Nation, is the country Democrats are desperately trying to protect ... from Trump.

The Genesis of This Practice

How did this practice, surveilling Amtrak trains and seizing the assets of its passengers, begin? That's an interesting story on its own:
[DEA agents'] presence on the Southwest Chief and other passenger Amtrak trains is a known phenomenon that goes back decades, or at least back to the mid-1990s. That’s when an unknown DEA agent first approached an Amtrak secretary for information about the itinerary of a passenger who was under arrest.

The Amtrak secretary started using his access to Amtrak’s reservation system to regularly look for people who “might be planning to transport illegal drugs or money,” based solely on subtle clues like one-way itineraries for private bedrooms, trips booked on short notice, trips booked by third parties, and trips paid in cash. For each drug bust or cash seizure that the DEA made thanks to this information, the Amtrak secretary was rewarded a cut of the proceeds.

The person who recruited the Amtrak secretary as a DEA snitch described him to Department of Justice auditors in 2015 as “one of the most valuable interdiction informants the DEA has ever known.” ...

The Amtrak Police Department learned about the arrangement in 2014, and by that time, the Amtrak secretary had amassed $854,460 from the DEA for his work snitching on riders.
When the Amtrak police finally heard about this practice, they were upset, but not for the reason you'd expect — "Amtrak police were unhappy because they were cut out of the deal."

Welcome to America, same as it always was for a good long while. I can think of only one Democratic candidate for president under whom this won't get worse. Most of the rest, for all their other virtues, want to keep us too "safe" to be trusted to protect us from our protectors.

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At 12:23 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why hasn't my favorite idiot shown up to blame this on the Democraps? Come on, man! Don't let me down!

At 1:21 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I no longer travel with anything of value. I pack enough clothes for the trip. No camera, cell phone, computer - nothing. I don't take my prescription drugs. I rarely travel more than a couple of days, so I can handle not taking my scrips for that time period. I don't even trave with a razor. They are easy enough to get once I've arrived. I carry my drivers license and one credit card, along with my passport if I go outside the borders.

So if the DEA wants something to steal from me, they are going to be very frustrated.

At 2:10 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

your favorite idiot is you, idiot. Mr. N. already did my job for me. read his notation on who was president when the "legal" thefts spiked upward, because you needed him to connect the dots for you based only on dates.



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