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DEA's Crazy Train

Discussion in 'Marijuana News from The USA' started by Superjoint, Apr 17, 2001.

  1. By Joel Miller
    Source: WorldNetDaily

    Ever think it'd be fun, spur of the moment, to hop aboard an Amtrak and just head south or north or any old place on the route -- you know, see where 40 bucks will take you?
    Stop thinking. While Ozzy Osbourne may be going off the rails on a crazy train, the DEA and Amtrak are just getting aboard. "Amtrak is providing federal drug police in Albuquerque with ticketing information about passengers," writes Jeff Jones in the April 11 Albuquerque Journal, "and Amtrak police get 10 percent of any cash seized from suspected drug couriers at the Downtown station."

    The way the arrangement works is that the local DEA office is privy, via a computer linkup, to Amtrak ticket information. This window on travelers' souls allows drug enforcement agents to scan ticket buyers' names, their itineraries, when they bought their tickets and whether they used cash or credit.

    Red flags, anyone?

    "What they are doing raises serious issues about invasions of privacy, about Fourth Amendment protections against unwarranted search and seizures, and about equal protection rights related to profiling by racial or income types," said the ACLU's Peter Simonson in an April 15 New York Times write-up on the Amtrak deal.

    The DEA, of course, doesn't quite see it in that light. "I don't consider that to be an invasion of privacy," said Steven Derr, assistant special agent in charge of the Albuquerque DEA office, answering charges coming from civil libertarians like Simonson. "The whole idea of why we do it this way is so we're not randomly stopping people."

    Great response -- if you can ignore the fact that, in just those two sentences, Derr has done more violence to the English language than all the rap lyricists from the Fat Boyz to present.

    Privacy, let's recall, implies confidentiality, a limit on the spread of a particular piece of information. How "private" is it that Amtrak allows the DEA to spy its passenger manifests without letting you know? At the point the eyeballs of someone other than the people directly involved in the transaction roll across the ticket information, it ceases being private -- by definition.

    How about "random"? Random implies lack of care in selection, no rationale.

    A few years back, before taking an Amtrak from Sacramento, Calif., down to San Jose, I called the Capitol City DEA office to find out about profiles used to sniff out drug-couriers on trains. The agent I spoke with told me that a sure tip-off to a drug officer would be someone buying their ticket right before getting on the train. For my every trip aboard Amtrak, that fits my modus operandi to a "T." I always buy my ticket at the station minutes before boarding.

    Next, the agent said that carrying no luggage was a good clue for a narcotics cop. "Whew," I thought, "I've always got at least one suitcase." Apparently reading my mind, he then said that another tip-off was carrying just one bag. (Mental note: Better pack extra socks and underwear next trip -- anything to fill another bag.)

    Despite all those chats you had with dad in the den as a teen about avoiding debts, you might want to reconsider your use of cash, too. Paying for tickets with hard currency is considered a good sign that someone is packing dope along with those extra socks and BVDs.

    "What we looked for are the consistent factors [that] all the seizures we've made have in common," said DEA agent Kevin Small. "And those factors are usually one-way cash tickets bought within three days of the date of departure." So buy with credit, right?


    "DEA doesn't limit its train searches to those who buy one-way cash tickets on short notice," explains Jones, adding, "credit-card purchases made just before departure sometimes raise the suspicion of agents."

    Not random? You can tip off the narcs if you carry one bag -- or no bag; if you pay with cash -- or you don't; if you buy tickets, one, two or three days before hitting the rails. It may not be random in the quantum physics sense of the word, but it sure seems random in the common English sense.

    "By the DEA encouraging this kind of action, they put under criminal suspicion people who have no reason to be confronted with a search by the DEA," said Simonson. People like me, for instance, whose only involvement with drugs involves Tylenol and writing too many columns on the subject.

    Considering the locale from which this story emerged, however, don't think you're free from Big Brother's gaze unless you do the Bugs Bunny routine and make a wrong turn at Albuquerque.

    "I can't tell how long it has been going on," said Amtrak spokeswoman Debbie Hare, as quoted in the Times, "but this program exists all over the country." The DEA's Small sings harmony here, admitting that tips garnered from Amtrak are passed out across the country.

    "This would disturb anybody," said Randi McGinn, an Albuquerque defense attorney. "You buy a ticket, and the DEA is looking over your shoulder."

    But, while it may disturb anybody, it apparently doesn't disturb everybody.

    "If I had any drugs on me, I guess I'd be pretty pissed off," said one traveler on a 30-day train tour of the country, "but I don't." This is the flipside of the condescending question that so often pops out of the mouths of drug cops when asking to search someone's bags: "If you don't have anything to hide, why do you care if we have a look?" Both miss the mark.

    The question is never "Do I have something to hide?" The question is always, "Do you have probable cause to think I do?" The presumption of innocence means none of us have anything to hide as far as the law is concerned. The police should only be interested in looking through your duffle if you do something to blow that presumption. And since buying a ticket with cash is completely legal, packing only one bag is still lawful and even paying for the ticket 10 minutes before leaving the station has yet to be declared verboten, the DEA has no business scanning Amtrak passenger lists.

    "It stinks," said McGinn. "What they're trying to do is get around the Fourth Amendment."

    And around the Fifth, which is supposed to protect citizens from the federal government nabbing their property without due process. A sidebar in the April 11 Albuquerque Journal addressed the asset forfeiture angle on the story.

    In February 2000, federal drug agents seized $148,000 from Vietnamese immigrant On Hoang Thach on an Amtrak train in Albuquerque. The feds claim that because he has no credible answer for how he got the money -- Thach says he's a lucky gambler -- they should be able keep the cash. No drugs were found, and as of April 11, Thach had not been charged with any crime.

    Thach paid cash for his ticket, was traveling from Los Angeles and was carrying a cell phone -- all of which were cited as reasons for nabbing the money, because we know that only drug couriers leave Los Angeles with cell phones and pay cash for train tickets, right?

    As for the money itself, two drug-sniffing dogs ran noses over it; one signaled dope residue on the bundles of cash, while the other did not. Hardly a resounding "affirmative," considering that 50 percent positive is still 50 percent negative here, and that vast amounts of money in circulation have drug taint.

    In one test in Florida, drug residues were found on the bills from the pockets of, among others, Jeb Bush, the Archbishop of Miami and Janet Reno. Nobody said, "Book 'em, Dan'l," when these lab results came back -- for obvious reasons. "It is conceivable," said one judge in the Sunshine State, "that anyone in South Florida who was carrying U.S. currency would 'alert' a narcotics-sniffing dog."

    The further outrage here is the complete denial of the presumption of innocence. Cops grabbed Thach's money and now demand he have a good reason for having it. You must be guilty, they reason, so prove it to us you're not. This is due process turned on its head, while feds shake loose change out the victims' pockets. Crazier still, no charge of wrongdoing has been made; the feds are just keeping the money under the assumption of guilt.

    Amtrak is, of course, encouraged in this sort of informing, partnering with DEA in what Simonson called "an insidious alliance." As is the case with other such forfeiture deals between the DEA and snitches, Amtrak gets a 10 percent cut of the assets seized by ticket salespersons morphing into ratfinks -- making the Amtrak alliance yet another case in which the drug war provides the incentive for cash to triumph over the Constitution.

    "This intrusion on all passengers sounds like the workings of a police state, not a nation where its citizens are constitutionally protected against unreasonable search and seizure," the Journal editorialized on April 12.

    Just think of that next time you take the last train to Clarksville. More than coffee-flavored kisses, you might get a taste of nazi-flavored justice.

    Joel Miller is the commentary editor of WorldNetDaily. His publishing company, MenschWerks,recently published "God Gave Wine" by Kenneth L. Gentry Jr.

    Source: WorldNetDaily (US Web)
    Author: Joel Miller
    Published: April 17, 2001
    Copyright: 2001, WorldNetDaily.com, Inc.
    Contact: letters@worldnetdaily.com
    Website: http://www.worldnetdaily.com/
  2. well written.

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