Federal drug agents regularly mine Americans’ travel information to profile people who might be ferrying money for narcotics traffickers — though they almost never use what they learn to make arrests or build criminal cases, says USA Today. Instead, that targeting has helped the DEA seize a fortune in cash. DEA agents have profiled passengers on Amtrak and nearly every major U.S. airline, drawing on reports from a network of travel-industry informants. Agents assigned to airports and train stations singled out passengers for questioning or searches for reasons as seemingly benign as traveling one-way to California or having paid for a ticket in cash.
The DEA surveillance is separate from the vast anti-terrorism apparatus that now surrounds air travel. It has been carried out largely without the airlines’ knowledge and is virtually unknown outside the drug agency. DEA units assigned to patrol 15 of the nation’s busiest airports seized more than $209 million in cash from at least 5,200 people over the past decade after concluding the money was linked to drug trafficking, according to Justice Department records. Most of the money was passed on to local police departments that lend officers to assist the drug agency.