DEA Paid Amtrak Informant $854K for Free Lists

They could have lawfully obtained the lists at no charge
By Elizabeth Armstrong Moore,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 12, 2014 1:35 AM CDT
DEA Paid Amtrak Informant $854,460 for Passenger Lists
In this Jan. 29, 2014, file photo, Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, appears at a hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington.   (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

The US Drug Enforcement Agency has paid an Amtrak secretary $854,460 over a 20-year period for passenger list data that it could have obtained for free, the AP has learned. Moreover, by not using a joint drug enforcement task force directly with Amtrak, Amtrak police have been denied a share of any money that was seized over the course of drug task force investigations, including from drug arrests. The informant who regularly sold passenger information to the DEA without Amtrak's permission has yet to be named and has been allowed to retire instead of face administrative discipline.

Amtrak's inspector general says it's unclear why it took so many years to learn of the payments, while Sen. Chuck Grassley, the senior Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, called the payments an "unnecessary expense" and said in a letter to the DEA that the finding "raises some serious questions about the DEA's practices and damages its credibility to cooperate with other law enforcement agencies." Passenger lists collected by rail carriers and airlines can include names, dates of birth, gender, emergency contact info, seat numbers, passport numbers, credit card numbers, and more. (Another informant is accusing the agency of making payments in the form of crack cocaine, which got him hooked again.)

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