A US government practice of hiding information used to investigate and help build criminal cases against American citizens is being challenged by defense lawyers, according to a new report.
Reuters reported on Monday that the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) has been hiding a secret program which uses a massive database of wiretaps, telephone records, and intelligence intercepts to launch criminal investigations.
Documents obtained by Reuters show that the DEA program is run by a secretive unit called the Special Operations Division, or SOD.
The SOD uses the tips it receives from US intelligence agencies like the NSA and FBI and then recreates an investigative trail to hide from defendants, judges and attorneys how and why individuals were targeted for investigation in the first place.
The practice of recreating the investigative trail by the SOD has been highly criticized by former prosecutors and defense lawyers. They say the previously secret program can prevent a fair trial in US courts.
Kenneth Bailey, who defends drug cases in Ohio, said his firm was bringing the issue to court so a decision can be made about the case.
“Evidence which could prove my clients’ innocence is being intentionally concealed,” Bailey said. “This is why criminal defense lawyers are working so hard to protect the [US] Constitution, because the government is working so hard to destroy it.”
The revelation about the program comes just months after top-secret surveillance programs run by the National Security Agency were revealed by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.
The Obama administration has insisted that such programs are lawful, overseen by both Congress and courts, and strike the right balance between privacy and security.