‘Dirty War’: How America’s Secret Intelligence Agency Is Improving Prison Security

Could the new Bob Mueller commission delve into the America’s subterranean intelligence network?

Our investigative partner Politico published a lengthy report last month about a new operation run by the Drug Enforcement Administration to infiltrate American prisons in order to glean intelligence on the foreign prisons where criminals — most often terrorists — are held. According to Politico, the program, built in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, has included undercover agents posing as contraband traffickers and drug-addicted prisoners. According to an unnamed federal official, the bureau has received over 1,000 tips from the DEA’s program over the years.

Dozens of federal officials told Politico that while the program had been largely successful, it had also given Homeland Security background reports about American prisons, thereby violating the U.S. Constitution.

And indeed, according to the article, Senator John Cornyn — who has been one of the loudest critics of the program — doesn’t see it as a big deal. He told Politico: “The record of success speaks for itself,” noting that fewer prisoners have been targeted, “but the risk to innocent people in prison has been totally eliminated.”

In some ways, it is a larger issue than this particular operation. It is a recurring theme in the U.S. intelligence world that intelligence-gathering agents pose as terrorists in order to evade security. It is not a particularly novel concept, and — just as invariably — it has drawn bipartisan scorn and legal challenges.

It is also part of an expanding campaign by the intelligence community to demand its role in the criminal justice system. Increasingly, the men charged with fighting terror are now also often men with serious federal records. Perhaps their background in the drug world could have something to say about the nature of the prison system they are working in.

Unlike the drug wars in the ’80s and ’90s, this new round of “dirty war” is not about turf or supremacy. It is about bringing the big guns of the domestic intelligence community inside prisons to spread its influence.

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