If you've never heard of the SOD, that's understandable: It's the Special Operations Division, an arm of the DEA that was founded nearly two decades ago with an eye on Latin American cartels and designed to be secretive (so much so its exact Virginia location is under wraps). Why should it be on your radar? Because of this new report by Reuters, which is based on a review of documents. It finds that the division often provides tips used to nab suspected American criminals—then directs authorities to wipe the SOD's information from any subsequent case and instead "re-create the information" it provided, thereby masking the source of the tip from defendants and even prosecutors and judges. And that, Reuters explains, could violate a defendant's constitutional right to a fair trial, because it fouls up pretrial discovery rules.
Reuters gives this example of how it plays out, in a process known as "parallel construction": The SOD tips off federal agents about a drug suspect who will be at a specific truck stop at a specific time in a specific car. Those agents tell state police, who pull over the car—with a drug dog in tow. But in the case against the suspect, the agents will state that the investigation began with the lucky traffic stop. DEA officials call parallel construction a "bedrock concept" that's used daily. But a former federal judge is troubled. "It sounds like they are phonying up investigations." And she sees it as more worrying than the revelations about NSA spying. "It is one thing to create special rules for national security. Ordinary crime is entirely different." Click for the full report. (Read more DEA stories.)