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According to a memorandum first obtained by BuzzFeed, the United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has been granted temporary authority by the Department of Justice (DOJ) to conduct “covert surveillance” and collect intelligence on protesters.
The DEA is only granted the authority to enforce drug-related federal laws. However, according to the document, Associate Deputy Attorney General Bradley Weinsheimer gave his approval to Timothy Shea – the acting administrator of the DEA – to perform “any other law enforcement duties” that Attorney General William Barr may “deem appropriate” on Sunday.
“In order for the DEA to assist to the maximum extent possible in the federal law enforcement to protests which devolve into violations of the Federal law, DEA requests that it be designated to enforce any federal crime committed as a result of protests over the death of George Floyd,” wrote Shea in the memo addressed to Weinsheimer.
“DEA requests this authority on a nationwide basis for a period of fourteen days.”
In addition to “covert surveillance” Weinsheimer’s approval of the memo will grant the DEA the authority to “share intelligence with Federal, State, Local and Tribal counterparts,” “intervene” to “protect” participants and spectators of the protests as well as engage in “investigative activity” such as “conducting interviews and searches” and arresting those who violate federal law.
In response, senior attorney for the ACLU Hugh Handeyside said, “Drug enforcement agents should not be conducting covert surveillance of protests and First Amendment protected speech. That kind of monitoring and information sharing may well constitute unwarranted investigation of people exercising their constitutional rights to seek justice. The executive branch continues to run headlong in the wrong direction.”
Three DEA sources who spoke to BuzzFeed on the condition of anonymity also expressed concern that the DOJ could abuse its power to smear the protests and violate the First Amendment rights of citizens.
With demonstrations often descending into violence across the country, Barr issued a statement on Saturday last week warning, “The Department of Justice (including the FBI, Marshals, ATF, and DEA), and all of our 93 U.S. Attorneys across the country, will support local efforts and take all action necessary to enforce federal law.”
At present, it remains unknown if the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), US Marshals and ATF (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives) have been granted the same authority as the DEA.
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