“Parallel Construction”: Government Term for Lying About Its Investigations

President Obama pledged to create “…an unprecedented level of openness in Government…” and to “… work together to ensure the public trust and establish a system of transparency, public participation, and collaboration.”    With all the recent revelations about IRS abuses and NSA snooping that the president wants to keep secret, transparency in government increasingly appears to mean that government can know everything about us; we can know nothing about government.

Here is another government policy, apparently long-standing, that only came to my attention through this article.  There are so many disturbing things in the article that I hardly know where to start.

But, I’ll start with the idea of “parallel construction,” in which “…federal agents are trained to ‘recreate’ the investigative trail to effectively cover up where the information originated, a practice that some experts say violates a defendant’s Constitutional right to a fair trial.”  If the government has evidence against you, not only do they not reveal where they got it, they actually lie about its origin.  The article notes, “If defendants don’t know how an investigation began, they cannot know to ask to review potential sources of exculpatory evidence – information that could reveal entrapment, mistakes or biased witnesses.”

Nancy Gertner, a Harvard Law School professor who was a federal judge from 1994 to 2011, says she’s never heard of this.  “It sounds like they are phonying up investigations,” she said.

Meanwhile, “…two senior DEA officials defended the program, and said trying to ‘recreate’ an investigative trail is not only legal but a technique that is used almost daily.”

The article offers an example: The Special Operations Division (SOD) of the DEA passes along a tip to state police to find a reason to stop a vehicle because they suspect the vehicle is involved in drug activity.  The police find a reason to stop the vehicle, probably for a traffic violation, and find drugs.

The article says, “After an arrest was made, agents then pretended that their investigation began with the traffic stop, not with the SOD tip, the former agent said. The training document reviewed by Reuters refers to this process as ‘parallel construction.'”  The article continues, “The two senior DEA officials, who spoke on behalf of the agency but only on condition of anonymity, said the process is kept secret to protect sources and investigative methods.”

That’s troubling enough.  Government policy is to lie about their sources of information.  But there’s more.  What are those sources of information the SOD uses?

The article says, “The unit of the DEA that distributes the information is called the Special Operations Division, or SOD. Two dozen partner agencies comprise the unit, including the FBI, CIA, NSA, Internal Revenue Service and the Department of Homeland Security.”

The most disturbing (to me) agency in that group is the IRS.  According to the official line, your tax records are private and not to be shared among other government agencies, which prompted recent outcries with revelations that tax records were being used for political purposes.  Now we find out that tax records are also being shared among two dozen partner agencies, including the DEA.  Just that one sentence in the article should be fodder for outrage against our intrusive government; yet not much has been said about it since the article exposing the SOD’s activities was published a few days ago.

With this program, among the others that have recently come to light, it increasingly appears, as I said above, that transparency in government means government can know everything about us; we can know nothing about government.  This article says that their official policy is to keep their activities secret, and even to lie about them in court.

Randall G. Holcombe is Research Fellow at the Independent Institute and DeVoe Moore Professor of Economics at Florida State University. His Independent books include Housing America: Building Out of a Crisis (edited with Benjamin Powell); and Writing Off Ideas: Taxation, Foundations, and Philanthropy in America .
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