Fault Lines
12 August 2017

Unsatisfactory Performance Pays Well When You Deal With The DEA

October 3, 2016 (Fault Lines) — Imagine a job that pays pretty well. Imagine not having to work too hard. Imagine not having to garner great performance reviews to keep your job. Imagine being paid for even unsatisfactory performances. Imagine a job with the DEA. According to the Office of Inspector General’s audit of the DEA’s confidential source program, unsatisfactory performance can still net a source $469,158. That’s a good job.

The Drug Enforcement Administration describes the use of confidential sources as its “bread and butter.”

The DEA defines a confidential source as any person who, with a reasonable expectation of confidentiality, furnishes information regarding drug trafficking, or performs an investigative activity. The DEA uses confidential sources throughout the world to assist in investigating criminal activity and to regularly contribute information to the DEA.

Their use is so prolific that you’d be hard-pressed to find a case that didn’t use a confidential source. At first blush, it seems rather innocuous: confidential sources are necessary to get information law enforcement can’t always get. People, a/k/a sources of information, may be in the know regarding criminal activity and perhaps out of a sense of duty to country, are willing to provide that information to law enforcement.

Do confidential sources generally have a genuine love of country? Are they motivated by truth and justice? Do they just want to live in a safer society? Do they strive to help law enforcement? Or do they have a love of self-preservation? Trading their knowledge of other criminal activity to avoid prosecution. Or, maybe, it’s just a love of money?

In not so glowing findings, the Office of Inspector General takes the Drug Enforcement Administration to task for poor management of their confidential source program, which incentivizes long-term and lucrative relationships that call into question not only the independence of the confidential source but the sheer truthfulness of the source.

According to the audit:

Between October 1, 2010, and September 30, 2015, the DEA had over 18,000 active confidential sources assigned to its domestic offices, with over 9,000 of those sources receiving approximately $237 million in payments for information or services they provided to the DEA.

In just five years, the DEA paid about one-half of its sources an astounding $237 million. That works out to an approximate $26,333 per informant, assuming they are all paid equally. Well, knowing not all informants are created equal, we know some received more and some received less. In fact, one particular source was paid $469,158. Now that’s a great informant!

Well, not so fast. This particular informant was found to have previously provided false testimony and was twice “deactivated.” Yes, this informant landed on the naughty list not once but twice, meaning no more payments. Okay, maybe not such a great informant. But if you’re the government, you are willing to overlook those temporary lapses. If the DEA really needs you, really likes you, they will find a way to get you back on the nice list and keep paying you. Never mind that false testimony, the DEA will keep you employed.

[T]he DEA reactivated a confidential source who was deactivated for unsatisfactory behavior or performance because the source had previously provided false testimony in trials and depositions. This reactivation was approved by DOJ officials, as well as executive-level DEA officials. During the period of reactivation, which lasted approximately 5 years, we found that 13 DEA field offices used this “unsatisfactory” confidential source, categorized the source as Restricted Use, and paid the source more than $400,000. According to documents in the confidential source’s file in one DEA field office, the confidential source provided false statements to a prosecutor during the course of an investigation and engaged in behavior that created adverse publicity for the DEA. The DEA field office involved in that particular investigation deactivated the confidential source for unsatisfactory behavior on June 24, 2013 – the second time this source had been designated “unsatisfactory.”

DEA policy states that any confidential source declared “unsatisfactory” in an investigation generally would not be considered for award payments or monetary compensation. However, based on our review of CSSC data, we concluded that both the deactivating field office and another concurrent use field office continued to pay the confidential source after the second “unsatisfactory” designation. Specifically, according to CSSC, between June 24, 2013, and October 24, 2014, the DEA paid this confidential source more than $61,000 in both award payments and payments for information – increasing the total amount paid to this source to $469,158.

At almost $100,000 a year, sourcing can be quite lucrative. You need not even worry about receiving good performance reviews. Just help the government out and keep the job.

That’s a lot of money paid out with little oversight. Surely the financial payouts don’t create an incentive to lie, right?

Of course not. We’re the government and sometimes it’s necessary to make a deal with the devil to get more convictions. Sometimes it’s necessary to pay for information, even if the informant isn’t always truthful. We’re willing to overlook a few transgressions to continue the war on drugs.

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