House panel hammers ATF, DEA about 'horror show' informant programs (VIDEO)

A congressional panel hammered federal authorities Tuesday over audit reports of gross mismanagement of confidential informants, calling it a “horror show” of theft and abuse.

“I’m not surprised we see these horror shows,” said Rep. Stephen Lynch, D-MA, during a hearing of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. “I’m not surprised we see the abuse, the theft. I’m not surprised because it’s all secret. There’s no fresh air. There’s no sunlight.”

Lynch’s comments referenced widespread mismanagement of confidential informants uncovered by the Department of Justice’s Office of Inspector General in two separate audits of the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

Inspector General Michael Horowitz said in a prepared statement Tuesday both agencies failed to follow the Attorney General’s guidelines for informant programs drafted in the wake of the Fast and Furious report.

Both agencies received scrutiny for their records-keeping — or in the DEA’s case, lack thereof — in regards to the more than 18,000 informants working for the government between 2010 and 2015. Horowitz released an addendum to the 2016 review of the DEA for public viewing this week, which stated the agency kept virtually no records on its informants’ activities and payments — half of whom received a combined $237 million for their services.

“We found that the DEA used these confidential sources, who were some of the DEA’s highest paid confidential sources, to conduct highly sensitive activities that had potential implications for national security, foreign relations, and the civil liberties of U.S. persons,” the addendum read. “However, the DEA had not implemented appropriate controls or sufficiently reviewed these activities.”

“Also, the DEA did not keep proper documentation related to the authorization of these sources to conduct such activities, the specifics of the activities conducted, or any subsequent revocation of their authority to continue conducting such activities,” the document continued.

The OIG audit also called into question both agencies’ judgement when choosing confidential informants. In one instance, the ATF authorized the use of an informant later convicted of sexually assaulting a woman in a Seattle hotel room paid for by the agency. The man, according to the OIG audit, served prison time in 43 states before joining the ATF as an informant.

“He should not be eligible as a confidential informant, especially one highly paid,” said Chairman Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah. “Zero credibility. It’s disgraceful.”

In another case under review, a confidential informant in Atlanta received $212,000 between 2011 and 2013 from the government while engaging in an inappropriate relationship with a federal agent.

“She testified she wasn’t sure why she was paid,” Chaffetz said. “She also testified to having a sexual relationship with a DEA group supervisor who allegedly told subordinates to falsify reports to justify the payments.”

“That report is stunning in its clarity,” he concluded of the OIG audit.

Lawmakers on the committee grilled DEA Chief Inspector Robert Patterson over why he failed to provide the agency’s updated guidelines for confidential informants in the wake of the July 2016 audit report.

Patterson said he asked for a copy of the policy from administration officials in November, but said the chaos of transition post-election got in the way of his request.

Committee members weren’t impressed.

“After the pathetic performance you’ve had in dealing with this, why can’t we see it?” Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, said of the policy.

“There’s no accountability here. There’s nothing that we see,” Lynch said. “We just want to see the policy you’re operating under because we authorized it.”

Lynch sponsored the Confidential Informant Accountability Act, H.R. 1857, Tuesday as a response to the agencies’ ongoing struggles to manage their informant programs. The proposal requires federal law enforcement agencies report to Congress the full criminal history of all confidential informants and the money paid to those informants while in service to the DEA or ATF.

“This report puts a very a dark cloud over the DEA … and also ATF,” Lynch said. “And that cloud remains until we have proof positive that you are straightened out and flying right. That’s not going to happen if you continue to operate like this.”

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