A new Inspector General report reveals that the DEA has been engaging in a racist, manipulative form of theft.
Civil asset forfeiture has come under recent fire because it allows government agencies like local police and the IRS to confiscate property and cash from citizens
–all without criminal convictions or charges. A new Inspector General report reveals that the DEA has been engaging in its own, racist form of this theft, calling it “cold consent” and conducting it in the nation’s airports and bus and train stations.
“Cold consent,” as Forbes explains, is employed when “a person is stopped if an agent thinks that person’s behavior fits a drug courier profile.” It can be prompted by no “particular behavior.” Officers ask the stopped subject for consent to question them and sometimes to search their property. In doing so, they avoid the need for a warrant. The Inspector General found that DEA interdiction task force groups seize cash, then urge people to sign documents that relinquish their money and “waive their rights.”
The DEA was able to seize $163 million in cash from 4,138 seizures from 2009-2013 (the DEA does not report how many of the seizures are cold consent, so a portion of this total might have been attained with other tactics). Cold consent, the Department of Justice has found, can have racist undertones. The DOJ said it was “more often associated with racial profiling than contacts based on previously acquired information.”
There were at least two instances from the Inspector General report of black women being targeted at airports. One was an attorney for the Pentagon who was traveling on government business. Agents reportedly subjected her to “aggressive and humiliating questioning.”
The other woman was stopped for “pacing nervously” before a flight. When a drug dog smelled cash on her, agents found $8,000. According to the Inspector General, they attempted to have her “sign a disclaimer of ownership form abandoning her money, but she declined to do so.” The DEA settled her case, but she was only allowed to keep $3,600 of her money.
Cold consent has been compared to stop and frisk, a notoriously racist program the NYPD is known for using. Further, civil asset forfeiture on the whole has been called racist, as well. Rand Paul said it “predominantly has targeted black individuals, poor individuals, Hispanic individuals.” In January, Eric Holder took steps to curtail the federal government’s involvement in the practice (the feds were taking 20% of police seizures).
The Inspector General’s report unfortunately confirms what many already know: that the government engages in a wide variety of exploitative and often racist campaigns in order to increase its own wealth and power at the expense of civil rights and liberties.
In the new report, the Inspector General’s office made several recommendations to the DEA, including keeping track of demographic data on cold consent stops and ensuring proper training for agents. The DEA “concurs” with all of the recommendations, but no suggestions were made to stop the practice outright or to curb the Drug War–the foundational problem underlying cold consent.
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