November 16, 2021
Judiciary Committee Leaders Press DEA on Lack of Internal Oversight
– In the wake of multiple watchdog reviews and whistleblower allegations, Senate
Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Chair Dick
Durbin (D-Ill.) are pushing the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) for
answers about the agency’s failure to conduct sufficient oversight of its
foreign operations and work with foreign law enforcement units.
reports issued by the U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC) and the Department
of Justice Office of Inspector General (DOJ OIG) raise important questions
about the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and its oversight of its
operations abroad, including DEA-supported foreign law enforcement units,” the senators wrote.
watchdog reports and whistleblowers raise concerns about the DEA’s failure to
conduct adequate oversight following a range of serious incidents, including an
information leak in Mexico, a case that involved agents and foreign personnel
fraternizing with prostitutes in Colombia and a drug shipment in Haiti that
resulted in joint recovery efforts by several federal agencies. The senators
also raise concerns that two individuals previously associated with DEA
operations have been arrested or are still wanted by authorities in connection
with the assassination of President Jovanel Moïse.
the DEA has indicated the need for a “top to bottom review of foreign
operations” to “be overseen by an independent team,” there has been no timeline
or scope announced and no public commitment to produce a written report. The
senators are seeking that information alongside answers to a range of
questions, including about the estimated costs of the independent review and
what relevant qualifications that team possesses. They ask about the potential
need for disciplinary action, records and information related to incidents in
Haiti, the agency’s efforts to come into compliance with the Foreign Assistance
Act and its internal controls over surveillance authorities.
text of the senators’ letter follows or can be found HERE
November 16, 2021
Dear Administrator Milgram:
Recent reports issued by the U.S. Office
of Special Counsel (OSC) and the Department of Justice Office of Inspector
General (DOJ OIG) raise important questions about the Drug Enforcement
Administration (DEA) and its oversight of its operations abroad, including
DEA-supported foreign law enforcement units.
On August 26, 2021, the same date that the DOJ OIG released its report, the DEA
announced in a press release that you “recommended a top to bottom review of
foreign operations that will be overseen by an independent team.”
We write to ask for additional information about the review you are conducting
and the steps you are taking to address the issues raised in these reports.
As you know, the DOJ OIG’s audit report
addresses concerns raised by multiple congressional offices, including two
Senate Judiciary Committee members.
In a February 27, 2018, letter to Inspectors General Horowitz and Linick,
Senators Leahy, Feinstein, and others raised concerns about a variety of issues
relating to the DEA’s oversight of foreign law enforcement units, including an
information leak by foreign law enforcement from a DEA-supported sensitive
investigative unit in Mexico that reportedly resulted in a 2011 massacre of
between 60 and 300 civilians in Allende, Mexico.
During the course of the audit, OIG found that during a 2018 examination of its
case files, the DEA was not able to identify evidence that its country office
in Mexico even notified its headquarters about this incident.
The OIG also reviewed the DEA’s responses to historic instances of malfeasance
involving foreign law enforcement and DEA personnel, such as a case in Columbia
in which seven DEA agents admitted to attending parties with prostitutes that
also involved two members of a DEA-supported Colombian law enforcement unit.
In another case, a DEA Special Agent based in Colombia pleaded guilty to
corruption charges in connection with allegations relating to activities
involving a DEA-supported foreign unit.
According to the OIG, despite a variety of
serious incidents involving DEA-supported foreign law enforcement units, the
OIG found that the DEA had not, at the time the OIG completed its review, “performed
any program-level reviews or assessed
its oversight structure to determine what systematic improvements may have been
needed to mitigate the risk of similar incidents occurring in the future”
Furthermore, the OIG report appears to suggest that, in general, the DEA
conducts limited oversight of “so-called ‘vetted units’ established and used by
Country Offices that reside outside of the formal structure of the [DEA’s
Sensitive Investigative Units] SIU Program.”
According to the OIG report, DEA headquarters does not even maintain a complete
representation of all such units that have been established.
OIG report also raises concerns about the DEA’s management of law enforcement
units in Haiti.
Arrangements in Haiti bear particularly close scrutiny in light of recent
events. One individual already arrested in association with the recent
assassination of President Jovanel Moï
se reportedly served as a former informant for the DEA.
In addition, a former DEA confidential source who previously participated in a
joint operation with DEA agents and Haitian police officers from Haiti’s
anti-narcotics unit is now wanted in connection with the assassination.
According to the OIG report, after several
members of a DEA-supported unit in Haiti failed polygraph examinations, the
country office there disbanded its sensitive investigative units in 2009, but
continued to work with Haitian law enforcement using other arrangements.
This included signing an Interagency Agreement (IAA) with the Department of
State, Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (DOS-INL)
for a Haitian law enforcement unit commanded by one of the very Haitian
officials who had failed a polygraph examination.
Though it is unclear how much, if any, federal funding the unit received,
DOS-INL provides funding for certain units that reside outside of the DEA’s
formal SIU Program.
Whistleblowers have also raised questions
about the effectiveness of the DEA’s work in Haiti, as well as the way the DEA
has historically managed its relationship with Haitian law enforcement
Whistleblower disclosures made to OSC were recently the subject of an
investigation by the DEA and a review by U.S. Special Counsel Henry Kerner.
According to OSC, whistleblowers:
[D]isclosed to OSC
that the DEA Port-au-Prince, Haiti Country Office failed to take appropriate
measures to implement an effective seaport security program to appropriately
assist Haiti with strengthening its counter-narcotics law enforcement program.
They also disclosed that DEA failed to properly conduct its investigation of
the 2015 M.V. Manzanares drug
seizure. Specifically, the whistleblowers raised concerns regarding (1)
inadequate training of Haitian law enforcement; (2) inadequate office space and
equipment, such as surveillance cameras, at Haitian seaports; (3) insufficient
vetting of Haitian law enforcement partners; and (4) inadequate support for the
investigation refers to the DEA’s investigation of a 2015 drug shipment
that, when discovered by port authorities, resulted in looting and subsequent
drug recovery efforts by Haitian authorities, the DEA, and the U.S. Coast Guard.
In their correspondence with OSC,
whistleblowers also alleged that “DEA’s response to corruption concerns about
[a] Haitian law enforcement commander” were “slow” and alleged that the DEA
“ignor[ed] evidence about a manager conspiring with a Haitian law enforcement
commander to destroy evidence, not permitting pursuit of appropriate leads, and
inappropriately deactivating confidential sources.”
In a July 30, 2021, letter to President
Biden, Special Counsel Kerner noted that the DEA did not substantiate the
whistleblowers’ allegations and that the agency also pushed back against
whistleblower claims in a supplemental report that it prepared at the request
In his letter to President Biden, while
Special Counsel Kerner did not weigh in directly on each of the whistleblower
allegations, he did state his determination that “DEA’s findings and report are
He also raised a number of specific issues relating to the reports that the DEA
prepared in response to whistleblower allegations.
For instance, Kerner took issue with what he characterized as “DEA’s apparent
position that, because of its limited role [in promoting seaport security], it
is not accountable for the effectiveness of its work in Haiti”, a stance that
he characterized as “not reasonable.”
He also stated that in its reports concerning the whistleblower allegations,
the DEA “does not adequately explain why it did not provide additional training
and resources for seaport security and does not clarify whether the DEA ever
received…screening equipment it requested.”
Further, according to Kerner, the DEA did not “adequately explain DEA’s payment
for the destruction of drugs in the Manzanares
investigation, which it claims is still open” and “failed to explain why there was a
significant delay in severing ties with a corrupt Haitian official.” 
At the end of his letter, Kerner “urge[s] DEA to more closely review its
operations in Haiti and implement measures to improve its effectiveness.”
Equally as troubling, the DOJ OIG’s audit
report raises serious concerns that implicate U.S. national security interests
and foreign policy on a more global scale. The report raises questions about
the DEA’s internal controls for the Judicial Wire Intercept Programs (JWIP) and
points to significant risks.
It also raises questions about internal controls related to the DEA’s
interactions with foreign law enforcement units and indicates that the DEA may
be at risk of taking actions “that could have significant consequences for U.S.
foreign relations and diplomacy.”
Additionally, the report raises questions about whether the DEA is currently in
full compliance with the Foreign Assistance Act.
It is important to ensure that the matters
of concern identified by the OSC and the DOJ OIG are fully addressed.
Accordingly, we ask that you contact our staff to schedule a briefing and
respond to the following questions no later than November 30, 2021.
describe the scope, progress, and anticipated timeline for the completion of
the DEA’s review of its foreign operations, as described in the DEA’s August
26, 2021, press release.
the DEA plan to prepare a written report at the end of its review? If so,
please provide a copy to our offices upon completion.
understand that the review is being performed by an outside law firm. Can you
please confirm that and provide details regarding the process for awarding the
contract and estimated costs, as well as the size, composition, and skills of
the team conducting the review?
the review examine the DEA’s past handling of critical incidents, including but
not limited to events referenced in the DOJ OIG’s August 26, 2021, report? If
so, will the review also include an evaluation of any potential need for
disciplinary action in connection with those incidents? If not, why not?
the past ten years, has the DEA received any internal disclosures of alleged
wrongdoing or mismanagement at its overseas field offices, including but not
limited to disclosures relating to relationships with foreign law enforcement,
apart from those specifically addressed in Special Counsel Kerner’s July 30,
2021, letter to President Biden and DOJ OIG’s August 26, 2021, report? If yes,
please provide a detailed list, including the country office(s) involved, the
dates the disclosures were made, and the steps the DEA took to address the
concerns that were raised.
the DEA aware of any allegations of waste, fraud, abuse, mismanagement, and/or
corruption associated with the DEA’s field office in Haiti, aside from those
specifically mentioned in Special Counsel Kerner’s July 30, 2021, letter to
President Biden, the DOJ OIG’s August 26, 2021, report, and in the DEA’s
response to question 5 (above)? If yes, please describe the allegations, the
steps the DEA has taken to investigate them, and any disciplinary actions taken
as a result.
to OSC, the DEA has stated that the M.V. Manzanares
investigation is still ongoing. Please provide an update on the current status
of the investigation.
the DEA received the screening equipment referenced in Special Counsel Kerner’s
July 30, 2021, letter to President Biden?
than the two previously referenced individuals, is the DEA aware of anyone else
connected to its operations in Haiti who was allegedly involved in the
assassination of former Haitian President Jovanel Moïse? If yes, please provide the names
of the individuals and describe the nature, extent, and dates of their
association with the DEA.
10. Does the DEA plan
to “closely review its operations in Haiti and implement measures to improve
its effectiveness,” as Special Counsel Kerner recommended in his July 30, 2021,
letter to President Biden? Please describe all measures the DEA is currently
taking to assess its operations in Haiti.
11. Following the release
of DOJ OIG’s report, has the DEA taken steps to strengthen internal controls
associated with JWIPs?
12. Following the
release of the DOJ OIG’s report, has the DEA taken steps to strengthen internal
controls relating to host country consent for DEA operations?
13. Is the DEA
currently undertaking a review to determine whether it is in full compliance
with the provisions of the Foreign Assistance Act, pursuant to the concerns
raised in the DOJ OIG’s August 26, 2021, report? Please describe all related efforts.
Thank you for your attention to this
important matter. Should you have questions, please contact Daniel Parker of
Ranking Member Grassley’s staff at 202-224-5225 and Nicole Walton of Chair
Durbin’s staff at 202-384-4634.
Department of Justice Office of
the Inspector General, “Audit of the Drug Enforcement Administration’s
Headquarters-Based Oversight of its Supported Foreign Law Enforcement Units”
(August 2021), available at https://oig.justice.gov/sites/default/files/reports/21-109.pdf
at 8; Press
Release, U.S. House of Representatives, Committee on Foreign Affairs, Engel,
Nadler, Leahy, Feinstein call for Inspectors General Investigation of DEA Role
in Mexico Operations (February 27, 2018), available at https://foreignaffairs.house.gov/2018/2/engel-nadler-leahy-feinstein-call-inspectors-general-investigation-dea-role
Id.; Brief of Appellee at 5, United States v. Thelemaque, No.
16-10348 (11th Cir. October 19, 2016).
Id at 18, 33-34, 41.