Intel Intelligencer Part II: Asset Forfeiture as Intel Funding Source

Posted on 26 April 2011 by


In Part I of this two-part Intel Intelligencer, I talked about how our twopart article and podcast with Patrick Ryder of the Nassau County Police Department’s Asset Forfeiture and Intelligence Unit sparked an interesting online debate.

Sadly, the debate took place on another online forum, depriving Police-Led Intelligence of the traffic that it would have generated!

You can read Part I here, to catch up. Without any further comment, we’ll jump right in to Part II:

Roland Replies

Roland read my reply and saw the part in which I said that moving the funds into the general fund punts the political football back into a different arena, and he responded,

Which is in fact the arena in which it’s supposed to be; obviating the principle of subsidiarity by doing otherwise removes the ability of the legislative to oversee and control the actions of the executive. This holds true at the local, state, and federal national levels of government within any type of political system.

I live and work in a part of the world in which it is not unheard of for law enforcement agencies to be deliberately underfunded by the authorities and then left to their own devices in terms of enforcing the law, raising revenues, and compensating their members. The results are, shall we say, mixed.

From the standpoint of the information security professional, your article is actually an exposition of a classic example of the manifold dangers that lack of appropriate controls and oversight lead to in any sphere of activity, human or electronic.

The larger point is that, irrespective of the personal and professional integrity of individual actors, any system of any type in any context (not just governmental; but one could certainly argue especially governmental) must be designed in such as way so as to assume the worst about those actors; and to define the scope of, provide visibility into, and allow mitigation of their actions as required.

This is a foundational principle of information security – i.e., hope for the best, but plan for the worst – and its abeyance in both the specific case under discussion and in the application of information security tools and techniques in law enforcement in general certainly gives one pause.

In particular, combining the role of leader of the police intelligence unit described in the article with the power to seize assets in order to fund said police intelligent unit creates an overwhelming inducement to a) justify as much asset forfeiture as possible in order to b) develop enough intelligence to justify even more asset forfeiture. Whether deliberate or accidental, this feedback loop is a stunning policy design flaw in the law enforcement agency in question, with strong negative implications for the real and perceived integrity of agencies and individuals in question.

The information security implications of/analogies relevant to the above are left as an exercise for the reader.

I Concede Some, And Stick To My Guns On Others, of Roland’s Points
I write back to Roland that he raises, in his penultimate paragraph an apparent conflict of interest that I had not considered. I’ll stand by my statements in my last note regarding public servants and their responsibility to carry out their duty to their utmost within the law, my belief that everything I describe in the article and in the podcast is legal, and my faith (which is the right word) that due process and oversight ultimately protects against the kind of corruption and oppression that has been raised here. I think it is important that I note that I am aware of no charges of this kind leveled against NCPD.

I will also stand by my statement last time that change comes with involvement and articulation of concerns in a helpful way – if we don’t speak up when we see injustice there’s no chance of remedy.

I think it’s important that I state that my goal is to highlight, on a non-commercial website, innovation and practice in law enforcement intelligence. My praise is of the fact that at NCPD this was cops thinking creatively, effectively and legally in a non traditional way about meeting their intelligence needs.

Rather than try and buy the expensive purpose-built gizmos that have been the rage since 9/11, NCPD leveraged instead the information it had in house and thought of new ways to aggregate and correlate it. Using open source, Commercial, Off-The-Shelf Software and college interns, it built a center that is highly effective. I do believe that criminals should pay for the tools used to capture them (because I don’t think I should pay for this).

I do believe that it is as important to assure that abuses of any system of providing that are punished, and to ensure that the system is set up to prevent abuse, and catch it when it occurs.

In Part II of the original article and podcast, Patrick discusses how the intel center was used effectively to stop a shooting gang war in a residential section of Long Island. He plays a one-minute clip of gunshots recorded by ShotSpotter and describes how the center synthesized data from multiple sources to gain intelligence that was used to stop the violence.

And Let’s Hear From Paddy
Because Roland raised such an important point about the apparent conflict of interest – in which one man runs both asset forfeiture and intelligence – I sent his comments over to Patrick Ryder, the subject of the article and podcast which raised this discussion in the first place.

Paddy replied:

I may not have made myself clear in the distinctions between the two entities.

The first entity is Asset Forfeiture, which was set up in our County in 1992 after Congress allowed law enforcement to take the items seized during criminal activity and use them to fund items to assist law enforcement in the war on drugs. The three items you are allowed to take are: the instruments of the crime; the proceeds of the crime; and the substituted proceeds of a crime. These items have traditionally been confiscated by law enforcement, usually as evidence.

Upon conviction of the individual, a civil suit is taken against the individual and the items, which is usually settled at time of a criminal plea. The items are then sold at auction or, in the case of money, put into one of four agency accounts: Treasury, Justice, Felony (State law) and Misdemeanor (Local law).

There is a committee that votes on all purchases. Items can not supplant normal budgetary items, and can only supplement the normal budget.

There are strict Guidelines set up and an audited process done yearly by the department of Justice.

The second part is the intelligence, and I use two quotes when I lecture: “Should intelligence influence politics? or should politics influence intelligence?” We all know the first quote is the correct one, but we also know that politics tries to influence the intelligence process. By combining the two entities, we created sustainability to the Intelligence program; asset forfeiture, if done correctly is sustainable on its own. The intelligence is driven on criminal and terrorism cases, the money angle is usually found in all of these cases, whether it was done as a funding mechanism (terror), payment (murder for hire) or pure greed (Profit).

The forfeiture in all cases is subsidiary to the criminal investigation, and is meant to remove the profit from crime. When an investigation comes in from the criminal investigator and work-ups are done, assets are looked at – because it supports a criminal lifestyle and money trails are followed for payments or profit. At the end of the day, when arrests are made, we then start the proceedings for forfeiture to remove the profit from the criminals.

I understand your concern, because the last thing you want in such a good program like forfeiture is the perception that cases are driven by forfeiture. That is why criminal investigations are supported by financial investigators and not run by the financial investigator. We have gone well above the reporting requirements for forfeiture, and make sure the program is beyond reproach, but we still get accusations.

The government has removed some agencies’ ability to conduct forfeiture after audits because of their lavish purchases and going outside the guidelines. Any investigator worth his salt will never allow a case to be driven by the potential for forfeiture, but at the same time he uses financial intelligence to assist him early in the investigation.

I hope this answers your concern and I welcome further conversation regarding this issue or any other.

Thanks, Paddy

It seems to me that he is saying that NCPD engages in civil forfeiture only after criminal conviction – or at the time of a plea deal in a criminal case. If this is the case, it completely removes the issue of civil forfeiture and the lower burden of proof from the discussion, but the conflict of interest issue, I believe is still on the table.

If anyone wants to take him up on his (I believe genuine) offer to discuss this, please contact me and I will provide an introduction.

I thank Roland for permission to reprint his comments here, and to the Daily Dave list for hosting the conversation.