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Friday, July 21, 2017

USA - What Did Sessions Say

OFF THE WIRE
agingrebel.com
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A few sentences in a 2,000 word speech yesterday by Attorney General Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III to the summer meeting of the National District Attorney’s Association in Minneapolis set off alarm bells among civil libertarians.
Sessions promised America’s prosecutors that he intends to place “greater emphasis on dismantling gangs” – which may mean you or someone you know.
And, near the end of his remarks he also said, “we hope to issue this week a new directive on asset forfeiture – especially for drug traffickers. With care and professionalism, we plan to develop policies to increase forfeitures. No criminal should be allowed to keep the proceeds of their crime. Adoptive forfeitures are appropriate as is sharing with our partners..”

Words Words Words

The angle national news outlets followed in this morning’s accounts was to contrast Sessions’ rhetoric with the rhetoric of the Obama Administration, But it is a misleading angle and the comparisons have been both fatuous and na├»ve.
“In 2015,” The Washington Post noted this morning, Obama Attorney General “Eric Holder’s Justice Department issued a memo sharply curtailing a particular type of forfeiture practice that allowed local police to share part of their forfeiture proceeds with federal authorities… criminal justice reform groups on the left and the right cheered the move as a signal that the Obama administration was serious about curtailing forfeiture abuses.”
But, of course, that was not what actually happened. What Holder accomplished was a public relations stunt that concealed the extent of an ever expanding police tyranny. In January 2015, when Holder announced his “reform,” the Post reported that Holder had “barred local and state police from using federal law to seize cash, cars and other property without warrants or criminal charges.”
Really, Holder’s forfeiture “reform” was just a smoke grenade. Two weeks later, the Wall Street Journal reported that what Holder was actually up to:
“The Justice Department has been building a national database to track in real time the movement of vehicles around the U.S., a secret domestic intelligence-gathering program that scans and stores hundreds of millions of records about motorists, according to current and former officials and government documents,” the business paper reported.
“The primary goal of the License Plate Tracking Program, run by the Drug Enforcement Administration, is to seize cars, cash and other assets to combat drug trafficking, according to one government document. But the database’s use has expanded to hunt for vehicles associated with numerous other potential crimes, from kidnappings to killings to rape suspects, say people familiar with the matter.”

Asset Forfeiture Primary Goal

The same day the Journal published its report, the American Civil Liberties Union argued in its own report that “With its jurisdiction and its finances, the federal government is uniquely positioned to create a centralized repository of all drivers’ movements across the country – and the DEA seems to be moving toward doing just that. If license plate readers continue to proliferate without restriction and the DEA holds license plate reader data for extended periods of time, the agency will soon possess a detailed and invasive depiction of our lives (particularly if combined with other data about individuals collected by the government, such as the DEA’s recently revealed bulk phone records program, or cell phone information gleaned from U.S. Marshals Service’s cell site simulator-equipped aircraft.) Data-mining the information, an unproven law enforcement technique that the DEA has begun to use here, only exacerbates these concerns, potentially tagging people as criminals without due process.”
The ACLU also reported that a DEA document uncovered as a result of a Freedom Of Information Act lawsuit described “asset forfeiture” as a “primary” goal of the program. The documents also showed that the federal government had deployed hundreds of license plate readers and had been sharing the information through the network of federal fusion centers with local and state police agencies since at least 2009.
Consequently, the important question is what Sessions’ words to prosecutors yesterday actually mean. Reason Magazine, which is probably at the opposite end of the political spectrum from the Post, reported that they represent “a disheartening setback in the fight to protect Americans’ private property rights.”
The increasingly opaque Trump Administration hasn’t offered any elaboration on Sessions’ remarks. But it is a matter of public record that Trump intends to “crack down” on legal marijuana which Sessions routinely describes as “a gateway drug.” And, the most recent case against members of the Vagos Motorcycle Club is, unusually, headed by an Assistant Attorney General rather than a United States Attorney. Since organizations like the Hells Angels, Vagos, Mongols and Bandidos Motorcycle Clubs are regularly described in federal filings as “transnational drug gangs,” the “policies” Sessions promises “to increase forfeitures” might be aimed at the bikers Trump brags he loves.