A court case involving a man accused of illegally exporting electronics to Iran has revealed a DEA secret, reports the Wall Street Journal: The agency kept a secret database of calls between the US and foreign countries for more than a decade. One key difference between this database and the infamous one kept by the NSA—while the NSA's eavesdropping was sanctioned by the secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, the DEA operated without any such court approval. Instead, it relied on administrative subpoenas to collect the metadata.
The Journal reports that the DEA, an arm of the Justice Department, began the program in the 1990s but shut it down in 2013 and deleted the database. The rationale while it was operating: to collect data on calls “that were determined to have a demonstrated nexus to international drug trafficking and related criminal activities," a DEA official explains in a court document. The court case in question involves Shantia Hassanshahi, who was arrested in LA in 2013 and is fighting the charges against him. Agents used the database to "trace a suspicious phone number to a phone linked" to Hassanshahi, says the newspaper. (Read more DEA stories.)