Many Americans shrug at the federal “War on Drugs” because they morally oppose drug use. But regardless of your stance on drugs, you should oppose this unconstitutional “war” based solely on the overreaching power it gives the federal government and the way it empowers government agents to violate the rights of innocent people.

Christelle Tillerson was waiting to board a flight from Detroit to Chicago when federal agents approached and began questioning her. According to court filings, they became interested in Tillerson when they “received information” that she was traveling to Los Angeles on a one-way ticket. When the agents discovered she had $25,000 in cash on her, they became more suspicious. Tillerson told them her boyfriend withdrew the money from his retirement account so she could buy a truck. The feds didn’t believe her. She had a criminal record and had spent time in prison for smuggling marijuana into the U.S. from Mexico. A police dog alerted to drug residue on the cash.

So, the feds took Tillerson’s money. But they let her go. In fact, according to her attorney, the feds never even questioned her or tried to find the traffickers she was supposedly connected to.

Tillerson was able to get her money back after she produced paperwork showing much of the cash was indeed withdrawn from her boyfriend’s retirement. But the federal government kept $4,000. According to a Department of Justice spokesperson, prosecutors determined “a small percentage of the funds should be forfeited.” Tillerson agreed to the deal because she wanted to “resolve this action without any further litigation and expense.”

In other words, it was easier to give up $4,000 than to continue to fight a federal government intent on keeping it.

This wasn’t an isolated incident. The federal government seizes millions of dollars from Americans on the mere suspicion of criminal activity. The victims of these federal muggings are not charged with crimes. Law enforcement doesn’t even have to prove them guilty of criminal wrongdoing. Once the feds seize the money, the onus falls on the accused to prove the money wasn’t linked to criminal action. The entire asset forfeiture system flips due process on its head.

“Going after someone’s property has nothing to do with protecting them and it has everything to do with going after the money,” Institute for Justice lawyer Renée Flaherty told the USA Today.

In fact, federal civil asset forfeiture under the umbrella of the “War on Drugs” looks more like a revenue stream than an attempt to fight crime. According to reporting in the USA Today, the DEA monitors travelers in order to find “suspicious” people they can milk for cash. State and local police also benefit.

“DEA agents have profiled passengers on Amtrak trains and nearly every major U.S. airline, drawing on reports from a network of travel-industry informants that extends from ticket counters to back offices, a USA TODAY investigation has found. Agents assigned to airports and train stations singled out passengers for questioning or searches for reasons as seemingly benign as traveling one-way to California or having paid for a ticket in cash…It is a lucrative endeavor, and one that remains largely unknown outside the drug agency. DEA units assigned to patrol 15 of the nation’s busiest airports seized more than $209 million in cash from at least 5,200 people over the past decade after concluding the money was linked to drug trafficking, according to Justice Department records. Most of the money was passed on to local police departments that lend officers to assist the drug agency.” [Emphasis added]

A former supervisor of the DEA group assigned to the Atlanta airport admitted to the USA Today that passenger surveillance was primarily designed to make money.

“They count on this as part of the budget. Basically, you’ve got to feed the monster.”

Of course, the DEA refused to comment on how it obtains Americans’ domestic travel itineraries. I’m going to take a wild guess and say it probably doesn’t involve warrants.

The USA Today called DEA access to travelers itineraries “extensive.” The newspaper identified 87 cases where the feds seized assets after agents said they were tipped off by a “suspicious” itinerary. The paper concluded these cases only provide a glimpse of the tip of the iceberg.

“Those cases nonetheless offer evidence of the program’s sweep. Filings show agents were able to profile passengers on Amtrak and nearly every major U.S. airline, often without the companies’ consent. ‘We won’t release that information without a subpoena,’ American Airlines spokesman Ross Feinstein said.”

So how do the the feds get this information? That remains unclear.

The bottom line is federal agents clearly access Americans’ travel itineraries without any oversight on a regular basis, and profile travelers in hopes of finding money to take. They seem more like road bandits than law enforcement.

As long as Americans tolerate the unconstitutional war on drugs, this kind of federal overreach will continue. War is indeed the health of the state. The “War on Drugs” is making the federal state both healthy and rich. Laurence Vance summed it up perfectly.

“Every American, regardless of how he feels about drug use, should be opposed to the war on drugs since it is also a war on any American who carries cash.”

Mike Maharrey

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