The Justice Department reportedly granted DEA temporary power to conduct 'covert surveillance' on demonstrators at the George Floyd protests

REUTERS / Jonathan Ernst
  • The Justice Department granted the DEA the extraordinary authority to secretly surveil people at the George Floyd protesters to "enforce any federal crime committed," according to a memo obtained by BuzzFeed News.
  • In a statement Saturday, Attorney General William Barr said the "FBI, Marshals, ATF, and DEA, and all of our 93 US Attorneys across the country, will support these local efforts and take all action necessary to enforce federal law."
  • It is not immediately clear if other federal law enforcement agents were appointed in response to the protests.
  • Three anonymous sources from the DEA told BuzzFeed News that the authorization served as an example of the DOJ potentially abusing its power to crack down on the protests protected by the First Amendment.

The Justice Department granted the Drug Enforcement Agency the temporary power to conduct "covert surveillance" on demonstrators at the George Floyd protests, BuzzFeed News reported Tuesday.

According to a memo obtained by BuzzFeed News, the DEA was given the extraordinary authority to "enforce any federal crime committed as a result of protests over the death of George Floyd" on a "nationwide basis for a period of fourteen days."

DEA agents are also tasked with protecting against threats to public safety, sharing intelligence, and if necessary, intervening as "federal law enforcement officers to protect both participants and spectators in the protests" and engaging "in investigative and enforcement activity."Advertisement

On Memorial Day, Floyd died after a white police officer knelt on his neck for several minutes while in police custody. His death sparked protests across the US demanding justice for Floyd and other black people who died in an officer-involved incident, like Breonna Taylor and Atatiana Jefferson.

The protests entered their eighth day Tuesday, and though demonstrations have remained peaceful, some confrontations between protesters and police have escalated and resulted in the use of tear gas, rubber bullets, and flash bangs to disperse the crowds. Incidents of lootings and altercations with officers began to emerge and prompted some governors to activate state National Guard troops to assist local authorities.

In a statement Saturday, Attorney General William Barr said the "FBI, Marshals, ATF, and DEA, and all of our 93 US Attorneys across the country, will support these local efforts and take all action necessary to enforce federal law."
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On Monday, after the memo was approved, President Donald Trump slammed the violence and looting happening amid the largely peaceful protests, saying that he was "mobilizing all available federal resources — civilian and military — to stop the rioting and looting, to end the destruction and arson, and to protect the rights of law-abiding Americans, including your Second Amendment rights."

It is not immediately clear if other federal law enforcement agents were appointed in response to the protests. A representative from the DEA declined to comment on the BuzzFeed News report. Representatives from the Justice Department did not immediately return Business Insider's emails for comment.Advertisement

"Three DEA sources told BuzzFeed News they are troubled by the memo and see it as an example of the Justice Department potentially abusing its power in an attempt to smear the protests and crackdown on protected First Amendment activity," BuzzFeed News wrote.

"Drug enforcement agents should not be conducting covert surveillance of protests and First Amendment protected speech," Hugh Handeyside, ACLU senior attorney, told BuzzFeed News.

"That kind of monitoring and information sharing may well constitute unwarranted investigation of people exercising their constitutional rights to seek justice," Handeyside continued. "The executive branch continues to run headlong in the wrong direction."Advertisement

Read the full report by BuzzFeed News »

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