A demonstration by former California Highway Patrol officer Joe David on Capitol Hill in 2003 startled onlookers with many ways smugglers and terrorists can hide contraband, cash and weapons of mass destruction in vehicles. The Washington Post said it helped David launched a company in the fast-expanding marketplace for homeland security, where it would thrive in an atmosphere of fear and shape law enforcement on highways nationwide. David's tiny family firm, Desert Snow, got millions of federal dollars leading a cottage industry teaching aggressive methods for highway interdiction. The firm would press the limits of the law and raise questions about police power, domestic intelligence and the rights of citizens.
In 2004, David started a private intelligence network for police known as the Black Asphalt Electronic Networking & Notification System. It enabled officers and federal authorities to share reports and chat online. In recent years, the network had more than 25,000 members, David said. Operating in collaboration with the Drug Enforcement Administration, Immigration and Customs Enforcement and other federal entities, Black Asphalt members exchanged tens of thousands of reports about motorists, many of whom had not been charged with any crimes. For years, it had no government oversight, even though its reports contained law enforcement sensitive information about traffic stops and seizures, along with hunches and personal data about drivers, including Social Security numbers and identifying tattoos. In a five-year stretch, Desert Snow-trained officers took $427 million in highway encounters. A Post analysis found the training helped fuel a rise in cash seizures in the Justice Department's main asset forfeiture program.