The DEA War on Your Wallet

My favorite Greek philosopher, Socrates, famously said that “the unexamined life is not worth living.” That’s probably why, periodically throughout my life, I pause to reflect on my deep distrust and disrespect for authority, especially of the governmental type.

Is it genetic? After all, my father, Bob Bauman, is one of the greatest anti-statist iconoclasts I know.

Is it juvenile? I was a notoriously rebellious child … perhaps I never grew up?

Is it experience? I did suffer tyrannical government firsthand in my South African days.

The answer is probably “all of the above.” All things considered, however, I realize that my attitudes stem fundamentally from empathy. I just can’t stand injustice … especially when it is practiced by those paid to uphold it.

That’s probably why my blood got boiling when I learned that U.S. government agents routinely spy on our travel plans so they can steal our money … all in the name of the pointless “war on drugs.”

Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) agents reportedly mine Americans’ travel information to identify people who might be ferrying drug money. The DEA targets passengers on Amtrak trains and nearly every major U.S. airline, using information from a secret network of paid informants amongst travel industry employees, such as airlines, bus terminals, car rental agencies, storage facilities, vehicle repair shops and other businesses.

For example, the DEA paid an Amtrak secretary $854,460 over nearly two decades in exchange for passenger information. Certainly must have beat living on his or her salary.

But here’s the thing: The DEA almost never uses information obtained this way to arrest anyone or build criminal cases. Usually, they don’t even ask the victims any questions. They just take the money and send them on their way.

DEA units have seized more than $209 million in cash from at least 5,200 people over the past decade. They typically give the money to local police departments. It’s become a crucial part of law enforcement budgets across the country.

Even King George Would Object

The American republic was founded on the outrage of otherwise loyal subjects who were increasingly subject to arbitrary and capricious law enforcement by agents of the British Crown.

I wonder, then, what our founders would think of federal and state laws that grant government broad powers to seize cash and other assets without charge or trial. “Civil asset forfeiture” is supposed to be reserved for cases where there is clear evidence that assets are linked to crime.

But increasingly — as in the DEA case — mere conjecture is all it takes. From roadside cash seizures by highway patrol officers to seizure of the bank accounts of sizable private businesses, all it takes is the say-so of someone on the government payroll.

Washington, Jefferson, et al., would be horrified. James Madison would surely suffer a stroke. Even King George, in whose name outrages like “writs of assistance” were issues, would probably balk at such egregious abuse of governmental authority.

“Civil asset forfeiture – Avoiding the King’s Men

Federal agents photo DEA
Photo by Isbi Armor

the asset.” If that’s the operative philosophy of those who enforce our laws, then you’re on your own, citizen.

So what can you do to avoid these modern-day “King’s Men”? Here are some tips:

  • Don’t make last minute bookings: This is a tell-tale sign of criminality. If a dear friend or relative falls ill across the country, wait a bit before attending to their comfort.
  • Never pay in cash: This is a big no-no. The DEA apparently thinks that drug mules don’t know that ticketing information can be used to identify them — only credit-card records. Ergo, failing to pay with a credit card means you are a drug mule.
  • One-way trips: Decent people never do this. It means you don’t have a regular 9 to 5 job to which you must return. The only way to survive without office employment is by crime. Obviously.
  • Quick turnarounds: Forget the overnight trip to Vegas to watch the big prizefight or celebrate a friend’s upcoming wedding. It marks you as a suspect for all sorts of things.
  • Checking in without baggage or not checking in baggage: Both are offensive to order and decency.
  • Traveling to or from Los Angeles, Chicago, St. Louis, Kansas City, Atlanta or Pittsburgh: I guess from now on I’ll have to fly to Knoxville and drive home when I travel. Lord knows I don’t want to upset the DEA.

But Seriously, Folks…

OK, this is no joke. This is the reality of a system of government that is spiraling out of control, of courts that refuse to intervene and of a citizenry that thinks bad things only happen to bad people.

Until it happens to them.

In The Bauman Letter and the Plan B Club, for example, I warn readers how common it is for money and other valuables to be confiscated when leaving or entering the United States and how to avoid it. It happens all the time … to ordinary, law-abiding citizens like you and me.

And if it does, you’ll be left with nothing more than boiling blood.