Use of Patriot Act Sneak-And-Peek Powers for Drug War Further Eclipsed Terrorism Uses in 2009

Article by Jim Cook.


In a statement on January 26 2011, House Judiciary Chair Lamar Smith declared that the extension of Patriot Act surveillance powers is necessary to stop terrorists:

The intelligence and law enforcement communities that are responsible for preventing terrorist attacks need to know that the tools they rely on to keep the American people safe will not be weakened or allowed to expire. We need the PATRIOT Act to prevent attacks and apprehend terrorists. This short-term extension is a step toward the long-term reauthorization of important and necessary national security provisions. It gives Congress time for an open and meaningful debate, while ensuring that our law enforcement and intelligence communities can continue to prevent attacks and save lives.

Available-ish evidence suggests otherwise.

Two years ago, a document released by the U.S. Senate showed that in fiscal year 2008, 62% of sneak-and-peek searches carried out by authorities under provisions of the Patriot Act were in cases having to do with illegal drugs. By comparison, only 0.4% of the Patriot Act sneak-and-peek searches in fiscal year 2008 had to do with terrorism. In these searches, contrary to the 4th Amendment to the Constitution, targets of search aren’t informed that the government has been searching through their property or personal effects.

Was fiscal year 2008 a fluke? Congresional records show that an update of the same statistics for fiscal year 2009 was provided to the U.S. Senate on July 13 2010 and to the U.S. House of Representatives on September 14 2010. These statistical updates were sent by the Obama administration’s Administrative Office of the United States Courts, but unfortunately the AOUSC has declined to publish those same statistics on its website. The Congress, upon receiving these fiscal year 2009 statistics, forwarded them on to the House Judiciary and Senate Judiciary committees, neither one of which has published the statistics for public consumption. Indeed, the Senate Judiciary Committee actively chose not to release this letter in its publication of committee correspondence for the 111th Congress. These statistics are not for public consumption.

Fortunately, reporter Ken Marshall of the Cleveland Plain Dealer did get his hand on a copy of the Patriot Act sneak-and-peek statistics for fiscal year 2009. Those statistics show that 50.6% more Patriot Act sneak-and-peek searches were carried out by federal agents in 2009 than in 2008. Here are the reasons the government gave for carrying out those searches in 2009:

Drugs: 73.7%
Fraud: 4.8%
Unspecified: 3.3%
Extortion/Racketeering: 3.2%
Fugitive/Escape: 2.2%
Robbery/Theft: 1.9%
Immigration: 1.5%
Weapons: 1.3%
Currency: 1.2%
International Emergency Economic Powers Act: 0.7%
Terrorism: 0.5%

Searches under the auspices of the International Emergency Economic Powers Act can have to do with terrorist threats, or weapons proliferation, or drug trafficking, or cyberattacks, or other threats of an “economic” nature, so it’s hard to say whether they qualify as terrorist-related or not. But even if we were to assume that each IEEPA sneak-and-peek search during the year 2009 was terrorism-related, the use of these Patriot Act powers in terrorism cases would only top out at 1.2% of all uses.

Defenders of the Patriot Act proclaim to the rafters that it’s being deployed to nab the rascally terrorists. They don’t and they won’t mention that the Patriot Act is overwhelmingly being used to fight the Drug War and to conduct criminal investigations against its own citizens, all on the sly.

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