According to a report from BuzzFeed News, the Drug Enforcement Agency will be allowed to "conduct covert surveillance" and collect info on people protesting the killing of George Floyd. This new authority was reportedly spelled out in a relatively brief two-page memorandum acquired by the aforementioned media outlet, and says that the DEA is seeking this authority for a "period of 14 days."
You can read that memorandum here.
The request was sent to the Attorney General's office, and was an attempt to expand the agency's powers outside of, well, enforcing drug-related crimes.
The memo writes that Floyd died "after a police officer kept his knee on the right side of Mr. Floyd's neck for over eight minutes." As a result, "widespread protests" have spawned throughout the U.S. They add that some of those protests have included "violence and looting," and that police agencies in certain areas have struggled to maintain order.
It concedes that the agency's authority (was) restricted due to the fact that they can only enforce "federal crimes related to drugs." The memo goes on to say that most of the crimes committed at protests where violence has broken out are "largely not drug-related," and therefore the ability to "assist our [LEO] counterparts is limited."
The agency asked that they be allowed to respond to "any federal crime committed as a result of protests over the death of George Floyd." The request asked that this be the norm for the next two weeks, and that it be implemented nationwide.
Buzzfeed News notes that it was signed off on by a senior Justice Department official on Sunday afternoon.
On Saturday, just a day before, a statement was given by Attorney General William Barr that placed the blame on violent protests on "anarchistic and far left extremists, using Antifa-like tactics." Though he did not provide any direct evidence for the claim.
He went on to rattle off several agencies, including: the FBI, DEA, US Marshals, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, as organizations that would cooperate with one another to "support local efforts to enforce federal law." He did not clarify what their role would be beyond that fairly general statement.
To get reaction to this, BuzzFeed reached out to ACLU senior attorney Hugh Handeyside.
“Drug enforcement agents should not be conducting covert surveillance of protests and First Amendment protected speech,” Handeyside said. “That kind of monitoring and information sharing may well constitute unwarranted investigation of people exercising their constitutional rights to seek justice. The executive branch continues to run headlong in the wrong direction.”
BuzzFeed also spoke to three anonymous "DEA sources" who reportedly also addressed their discomfort with the memo, which they think may be an example of the Justice Department overreaching and cracking down on First Amendment rights.
The memo goes on to say that the DEA can work in tandem with local/state law enforcement agencies for the purpose of sharing intelligence. They'll also be granted the authority to "intervene" for the purpose of protecting "both participants and spectators in the protests." Other powers granted will allow them to run interviews, conduct searches, and place protesters who've violated federal law under arrest.
"I am mobilizing all federal and local resources, civilian and military, to protect the rights of law abiding Americans," he said. "If a city or state refuses to take the actions necessary to defend the life and property of their residents, then I will deploy the United States military and quickly solve the problem for them."
The Insurrection Act, which was last invoked in 1992 to deal with the Los Angeles riots, gives the president the authority to use the military for domestic purposes.
To place all this into context, BuzzFeed pointed to several recent instances where federal agencies infiltrated and surveilled protesters. This includes 2015, when the Department of Homeland Security combed through social media platforms to gather "intelligence" on protesters of Freddie Gray's death. In 2014, the DHS had the intent to insert federal officials into protests in Ferguson, Missouri for the purpose of gathering intel. It also happened when the FBI extensively monitored the Occupy Wall Street protest, which began in 2011.