By John Shiffman
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A coalition of two dozen civil-liberties groups called Thursday for broad congressional hearings on the Drug Enforcement Administration, citing recent revelations by Reuters about the DEA's use of National Security Agency data to build non-terrorism cases against Americans.
Last month, Reuters reported that the DEA funnels tips from overseas NSA intercepts, informants, court-ordered wiretaps and a massive telephone database to police and federal agents nationwide, including tax investigators at the Internal Revenue Service.
The DEA instructs the agents and police to never reveal the source of the information and to instead "recreate" the investigative trail, records seen by Reuters show. This DEA process, which agents call "parallel construction," disturbs some judges, former prosecutors and defense lawyers, who say it systematically eliminates potential evidence that defendants may need to ensure a fair trial.
The DEA says the programs follow the law.
"The implications of the Reuters revelations are serious and far-reaching," the groups wrote Thursday to Congressional leaders on judiciary, homeland security and oversight committees.
"For too long Congress has given the DEA a free pass," said Bill Piper of the Drug Policy Alliance, which signed the letter along with groups including the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. "Our hope is that Congress does its job and provides oversight of an agency that has a long track record of deeply troubling behavior."
Thus far, two senior Republicans have raised questions about the DEA programs, and eight congressional Democrats submitted questions to Attorney General Eric Holder. House aides say the matter will be raised during a classified hearing this month.
(Reporting by John Shiffman; Edited by Michael Williams)