A secretive U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration unit is relaying information from intelligence intercepts, wiretaps, informants, and a massive database of telephone records to authorities across the nation to help them launch criminal investigations of Americans.

Although these cases rarely involve national security issues, law enforcement agents have been directed to conceal how such investigations truly begin—not only from defense attorneys but also sometimes from prosecutors and judges, according to undated documents reviewed by Reuters.

Attorneys say the activities of the DEA’s Special Operations Division, which was created in 1994 to combat Latin American drug cartels, skirt established court procedures by which judges privately examine sensitive information to determine whether it is relevant to the defense.

“You can’t game the system,” said former federal prosecutor Henry E. Hockeimer, Jr., who leads Ballard Spahr’s White Collar Defense/Internal Investigations Group. “You can’t create this subterfuge. These are drug crimes, not national security cases. If you don’t draw the line here, where do you draw it?”

Related Practice

White Collar Defense/Internal Investigations