DEA's Crazy Train

DEA's Crazy Train
Posted by FoM on April 17, 2001 at 07:13:15 PT
By Joel Miller
Source: WorldNetDaily
Ever think it'd be fun, spur of the moment, to hop aboard an Amtrak and just head south or north or any old place on the route -- you know, see where 40 bucks will take you? Stop thinking. While Ozzy Osbourne may be going off the rails on a crazy train, the DEA and Amtrak are just getting aboard. "Amtrak is providing federal drug police in Albuquerque with ticketing information about passengers," writes Jeff Jones in the April 11 Albuquerque Journal, "and Amtrak police get 10 percent of any cash seized from suspected drug couriers at the Downtown station." 
The way the arrangement works is that the local DEA office is privy, via a computer linkup, to Amtrak ticket information. This window on travelers' souls allows drug enforcement agents to scan ticket buyers' names, their itineraries, when they bought their tickets and whether they used cash or credit. Red flags, anyone? "What they are doing raises serious issues about invasions of privacy, about Fourth Amendment protections against unwarranted search and seizures, and about equal protection rights related to profiling by racial or income types," said the ACLU's Peter Simonson in an April 15 New York Times write-up on the Amtrak deal. The DEA, of course, doesn't quite see it in that light. "I don't consider that to be an invasion of privacy," said Steven Derr, assistant special agent in charge of the Albuquerque DEA office, answering charges coming from civil libertarians like Simonson. "The whole idea of why we do it this way is so we're not randomly stopping people." Great response -- if you can ignore the fact that, in just those two sentences, Derr has done more violence to the English language than all the rap lyricists from the Fat Boyz to present. Privacy, let's recall, implies confidentiality, a limit on the spread of a particular piece of information. How "private" is it that Amtrak allows the DEA to spy its passenger manifests without letting you know? At the point the eyeballs of someone other than the people directly involved in the transaction roll across the ticket information, it ceases being private -- by definition. How about "random"? Random implies lack of care in selection, no rationale. A few years back, before taking an Amtrak from Sacramento, Calif., down to San Jose, I called the Capitol City DEA office to find out about profiles used to sniff out drug-couriers on trains. The agent I spoke with told me that a sure tip-off to a drug officer would be someone buying their ticket right before getting on the train. For my every trip aboard Amtrak, that fits my modus operandi to a "T." I always buy my ticket at the station minutes before boarding. Next, the agent said that carrying no luggage was a good clue for a narcotics cop. "Whew," I thought, "I've always got at least one suitcase." Apparently reading my mind, he then said that another tip-off was carrying just one bag. (Mental note: Better pack extra socks and underwear next trip -- anything to fill another bag.) Despite all those chats you had with dad in the den as a teen about avoiding debts, you might want to reconsider your use of cash, too. Paying for tickets with hard currency is considered a good sign that someone is packing dope along with those extra socks and BVDs. "What we looked for are the consistent factors [that] all the seizures we've made have in common," said DEA agent Kevin Small. "And those factors are usually one-way cash tickets bought within three days of the date of departure." So buy with credit, right? Wrong. "DEA doesn't limit its train searches to those who buy one-way cash tickets on short notice," explains Jones, adding, "credit-card purchases made just before departure sometimes raise the suspicion of agents." Not random? You can tip off the narcs if you carry one bag -- or no bag; if you pay with cash -- or you don't; if you buy tickets, one, two or three days before hitting the rails. It may not be random in the quantum physics sense of the word, but it sure seems random in the common English sense. "By the DEA encouraging this kind of action, they put under criminal suspicion people who have no reason to be confronted with a search by the DEA," said Simonson. People like me, for instance, whose only involvement with drugs involves Tylenol and writing too many columns on the subject. Considering the locale from which this story emerged, however, don't think you're free from Big Brother's gaze unless you do the Bugs Bunny routine and make a wrong turn at Albuquerque. "I can't tell how long it has been going on," said Amtrak spokeswoman Debbie Hare, as quoted in the Times, "but this program exists all over the country." The DEA's Small sings harmony here, admitting that tips garnered from Amtrak are passed out across the country. "This would disturb anybody," said Randi McGinn, an Albuquerque defense attorney. "You buy a ticket, and the DEA is looking over your shoulder." But, while it may disturb anybody, it apparently doesn't disturb everybody. "If I had any drugs on me, I guess I'd be pretty pissed off," said one traveler on a 30-day train tour of the country, "but I don't." This is the flipside of the condescending question that so often pops out of the mouths of drug cops when asking to search someone's bags: "If you don't have anything to hide, why do you care if we have a look?" Both miss the mark. The question is never "Do I have something to hide?" The question is always, "Do you have probable cause to think I do?" The presumption of innocence means none of us have anything to hide as far as the law is concerned. The police should only be interested in looking through your duffle if you do something to blow that presumption. And since buying a ticket with cash is completely legal, packing only one bag is still lawful and even paying for the ticket 10 minutes before leaving the station has yet to be declared verboten, the DEA has no business scanning Amtrak passenger lists. "It stinks," said McGinn. "What they're trying to do is get around the Fourth Amendment." And around the Fifth, which is supposed to protect citizens from the federal government nabbing their property without due process. A sidebar in the April 11 Albuquerque Journal addressed the asset forfeiture angle on the story. In February 2000, federal drug agents seized $148,000 from Vietnamese immigrant On Hoang Thach on an Amtrak train in Albuquerque. The feds claim that because he has no credible answer for how he got the money -- Thach says he's a lucky gambler -- they should be able keep the cash. No drugs were found, and as of April 11, Thach had not been charged with any crime. Thach paid cash for his ticket, was traveling from Los Angeles and was carrying a cell phone -- all of which were cited as reasons for nabbing the money, because we know that only drug couriers leave Los Angeles with cell phones and pay cash for train tickets, right? As for the money itself, two drug-sniffing dogs ran noses over it; one signaled dope residue on the bundles of cash, while the other did not. Hardly a resounding "affirmative," considering that 50 percent positive is still 50 percent negative here, and that vast amounts of money in circulation have drug taint. In one test in Florida, drug residues were found on the bills from the pockets of, among others, Jeb Bush, the Archbishop of Miami and Janet Reno. Nobody said, "Book 'em, Dan'l," when these lab results came back -- for obvious reasons. "It is conceivable," said one judge in the Sunshine State, "that anyone in South Florida who was carrying U.S. currency would 'alert' a narcotics-sniffing dog." The further outrage here is the complete denial of the presumption of innocence. Cops grabbed Thach's money and now demand he have a good reason for having it. You must be guilty, they reason, so prove it to us you're not. This is due process turned on its head, while feds shake loose change out the victims' pockets. Crazier still, no charge of wrongdoing has been made; the feds are just keeping the money under the assumption of guilt. Amtrak is, of course, encouraged in this sort of informing, partnering with DEA in what Simonson called "an insidious alliance." As is the case with other such forfeiture deals between the DEA and snitches, Amtrak gets a 10 percent cut of the assets seized by ticket salespersons morphing into ratfinks -- making the Amtrak alliance yet another case in which the drug war provides the incentive for cash to triumph over the Constitution. "This intrusion on all passengers sounds like the workings of a police state, not a nation where its citizens are constitutionally protected against unreasonable search and seizure," the Journal editorialized on April 12. Just think of that next time you take the last train to Clarksville. More than coffee-flavored kisses, you might get a taste of nazi-flavored justice. Joel Miller is the commentary editor of WorldNetDaily. His publishing company, MenschWerks,recently published "God Gave Wine" by Kenneth L. Gentry Jr. Source: WorldNetDaily (US Web)Author: Joel MillerPublished: April 17, 2001Copyright: 2001,, Inc.Contact: letters worldnetdaily.comWebsite: Articles - Joel Miller
Home Comment Email Register Recent Comments Help

Comment #10 posted by Cuzn Buzz on April 17, 2001 at 19:45:59 PT:
This story brings to mind an SS man walking through the train..."YOUR PAPERS PLEASE!" Shades of WW11!I remember advertising of the time which said "NEXT TIME TAKE THE TRAIN!".But I shall heed the wisdom of another ad of the same era when it comes to traveling by amtrak."IS THIS TRIP REALLY NECESSARY?"Now then...where does the line start for the BOYCOTT?
[ Post Comment ]

Comment #9 posted by Charlie on April 17, 2001 at 17:17:52 PT
Contact Amtrak via email...
[ Post Comment ]

Comment #8 posted by jAHn on April 17, 2001 at 13:06:02 PT
How the Economy turns out So Bad.
I think that Amtrak failed to understand the part that read: In Prohibiting the use of your railroad transportation set-up to those who may be drug traffickors, you are Deliberately saying, to Thousands of people, "Don't give us Money, give it to someone else!"  Well, No Purrr-Oblem!I feel that trains aren't safe enough to run drugs on Anyway! So, put those nuts in your sack, hit the track  and don't come back! We'll give you the slack.Enjoy Paying the Bills! Which may get a little tought after your "rider participation" Slowly decreases, then Slowly Decreases Some More......We dumbashes think you get the point... La la laa la laaaa LAAAA!  I THINK one of the Latest reports to be released read something, like, 500,000 to a Million people are Involved in Drugs and Drug Trafficking...phew!  They're gonna lose a LOT of passengers!Now look at what you've done, you rotten Prohibitionist, You just Gypped (Decreased) the Economy!  Waaay to Go!!! Your "AmeriKKKAn" tax dollars. Well spent. WellllSpent. Hey! come to think of it, This is probably the reason for the Racial Disparity.  Gotta have the White Demon in the Market Place!Steal The Black Man's Business....Steal the Guatemalans Business....Steal The Spaniards Business.... Nothing's new...We're in the 1980's Again! This time...I'm a little Older!
[ Post Comment ]

Comment #7 posted by Charlie on April 17, 2001 at 11:50:59 PT
Train reaction...
I posted this over on 'yahooka'. Thought it may start a train reaction...this sux...Need someone like Rivera to do a show on the eroding of the our constitution rights. 
[ Post Comment ]

Comment #6 posted by observer on April 17, 2001 at 11:37:50 PT
AmTrak Ridership
Lawmakers Concerned About Amtrak's Viability Commerce Hearings --Amtrak Traffic Level Is a Sad Tale,US Population Rises But Amtrak's Usefulness Falls,Amtrak Ridership Growth Is Vastly Inferior to That of Aviation )
[ Post Comment ]

Comment #5 posted by Frank S. World on April 17, 2001 at 11:22:33 PT
Let 'em know!
I just called Amtrak's corporate offices in DC and registered a complaint against this violation of our rights. The number is 202.906.3000.Please give them a quick call and let them know you will boycott Amtrak and urge others to do the same until this practice is stopped.The guy I talked to was surprised at the bad press and seemed apologetic. I told him I am a lifelong train fan, but I will not ride until this is stopped!
[ Post Comment ]

Comment #4 posted by ozzy on April 17, 2001 at 10:13:06 PT
crazy train
bye bye train
[ Post Comment ]

Comment #3 posted by Rambler on April 17, 2001 at 08:23:17 PT
get ready
It's already worse than anyone knows,this dea snooping.The future dont look too bright.The new meth/exstasy frenzy will surely fuelthe fires of witch hunt justifications.The coming decade aint gonna be pretty.  
[ Post Comment ]

Comment #2 posted by observer on April 17, 2001 at 08:13:48 PT
Drug Offender Profiles
profiles used to sniff out drug-couriers . . . Amtrak gets a 10 percent cut of the assets seized by ticket salespersons morphing into ratfinks Our brief review of drug war effects on the Fourth Amendment shows that the following acts are considered cause to believe that the citizen is a criminal: attending high school, traveling in a Greyhound bus, being the target of an anonymous accusation. In the name of drugs, many other acts and personal attributes now indicate criminal activity and comprise a "profile" that narcotics police use to pinpoint possible drug offenders who should be detained and searched:    having a pale complexion90    having a dark complexion91    having a Hispanic appearance92    being between the ages of twenty five and thirty-five93    acting nervous94    acting calm95    carrying $100 bills96    carrying $50 bills97    carrying $20 bills98    carrying $10 bills99    carrying $5 bills100    wearing a pager101    wearing casual clothing102    wearing a black jumpsuit103    wearing clothing with a bulge in it104    wearing "a lot of gold jewelry"105    wearing perfume106    being a female who wears platform shoes107    being a female who carries a condom in her purse108    running up large electric bills109    having a heat source in a house110    having window coverings that hinder someone from peering inside a residence111    having a telephone answering machine message recorded by someone other than the person who is the phone subscriber112    owning a dog113    having a home security system114    having a recreational motor home115    driving a rental car116    driving with an unfolded road map117    driving in a car with out-of-state license plates118    having McDonalds fast food bags on a car floor119    "scrupulous obedience to traffic laws"120    failing to twist around in a car to watch as a marked patrol car passes routinely in the opposite direction121    "sitting very erect" in a car122    being a foreigner without friends or relatives in the United States123    being a foreigner who does not speak English124    returning home from a visit to Mexico without having bought souvenirs125    visiting for only a short time in a city where illegal drug sales occur126    flying from Los Angeles to Detroit127    flying from Los Angeles to Atlanta128    flying from Ft. Lauderdale to Atlanta129    flying from Dallas to Atlanta130    flying from Atlanta to Kansas City131    flying from Miami132    flying from Chicago133    flying from Detriot134    flying to and from New York City135    flying to and from San Juan, Puerto Rico136    flying to or from any city137    arriving at an airport and buying a ticket shortly before one's flight departs138    paying cash for airline tickets139    buying a one-way ticket140    buying a round trip ticket141    buying a first class ticket142    buying more than one ticket when the itinerary could have been served by one ticket143    making a trip on more than one airline144    flying nonstop145    changing planes146    having no luggage claim checks affixed to your plane ticket envelopes147    carrying luggage lacking identification tags148    incompletely filling out an airline baggage identification tag149    having a cellular telephone in a suitcase150    having American Tourister luggage151    having new luggage152    having no luggage153    traveling with a companion154    traveling without a companion and meeting no one at the destination airport155    acting as if you are looking for a person you expected to meet at the destination airport156    being among the first passengers off an airplane157    being among the last passengers off an airplane158    being among the middle group of passengers off an airplane159    arriving early in the morning160    looking at one's wristwatch161    lacking a confirmed hotel reservation162    using a telephone soon after leaving an airplane163    walking quickly164    walking slowly165    leaving an airport without loitering166    leaving an airport from an exit offering no public transportation167    leaving an airport by taxicab168    renting a motel room under a name that seems Hispanic or African-American169    renting a motel room adjoining one of a traveling companion170    using cash to pay for a motel room171    looking at a police officer172    not looking at a police officer173    "looking around at other people"174 Basically, drug warriors argue that being a citizen is sufficient cause to suspect a person of criminal conduct, thereby constricting civil liberties protections for that person. That situation is hard to distinguish from the legal status of citizens of Nazi Germany.Richard L Miller, Drug Warriors and their Prey, 1996, pgs.51-52 
[ Post Comment ]

Comment #1 posted by aocp on April 17, 2001 at 08:02:38 PT
Vhat is dis!?!
Cops grabbed Thach's money and now demand he have a good reason for having it. You must be guilty, they reason, so prove it to us you're not. This is due process turned on its head, while feds shake loose change out the victims' pockets. Crazier still, no charge of wrongdoing has been made; the feds are just keeping the money under the assumption of guilt.DAMN, this pisses me off! What is so damn hard about understanding or should i say not deliberately misconstruing what it means to be innocent until proven guilty?? In my mind, anyone who rails against any forfeiture reform efforts is evil, pure and simple. There is nothing extreme in asking for a conviction before stealing from the suspect, war to be fought or no. You don't get to have your own My Lai, drug warrior bozos. Back off.
[ Post Comment ]

Post Comment

Name: Optional Password: 
Comment: [Please refrain from using profanity in your message]
Link URL: 
Link Title: