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Senator seeks disclosure of NSA role in non-terrorism domestic cases

U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) addresses her supporters at her victory party in Madison, Wisconsin November 6, 2012. REUTERS/Sara Stathas
U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) addresses her supporters at her victory party in Madison, Wisconsin November 6, 2012. REUTERS/Sara Stathas

By John Shiffman

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A Democratic Senator introduced legislation on Thursday to bring greater government transparency, oversight and due process whenever authorities use information gathered for intelligence purposes to make domestic non-terrorism cases against Americans.

The bill calls for prosecutors to notify defendants in non-terrorism criminal trials if intelligence information was secretly used in any part of an investigation and to provide access to relevant information that is not classified.

A Reuters story in August revealed that the Drug Enforcement Administration routinely passes intelligence tips it receives from the National Security Agency to federal agents in the field, including those from the FBI, the Internal Revenue Service and Homeland Security, to help them start non-terrorism drug, money-laundering and tax cases.

Documents show that field agents have been trained to conceal how such cases truly began - to "recreate" the investigative trail to effectively cover up the original source, raising questions about whether exculpatory information might be withheld from defendants at trial.

The Senate bill, introduced by Senator Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin, is designed in part to prevent domestic law enforcement agents and police from using this process, known as "parallel construction," in which authorities claim, for example, to have pulled a suspect over for a broken taillight, when it fact the initial tip came from the NSA.

"We have now seen that secret, domestic surveillance programs at the National Security Agency have crossed the line," said Baldwin, a member of the Senate Homeland Security Committee.

"I believe that we must fight terrorism while also protecting our American freedoms. This legislation improves transparency, oversight and accountability on National Security Agency domestic surveillance."

Baldwin's bill also requires the Justice Department to track and report to Congress data and case summaries of instances in which intelligence information is used to make non-terrorism arrests.

The bill also requires approval from a senior Justice official before information gathered for intelligence can be used in a non-terrorist, non-intelligence investigation or court proceeding.

(Editing by Alistair Bell and Mohammad Zargham)

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