DEA Spy Unit Seeks to Hasten Surveillance Using IT


The agency is drafting a potential contract for help with "rapid prototyping," data analysis and other tech services within its Office of Special Intelligence.

The Drug Enforcement Administration is drafting a potential contract for help with "rapid prototyping," data analysis and other information technology services within its special intelligence unit, according to federal databases. 

The office's current IT arrangement includes six separate operating environments with different classifications, and the chosen firm would be responsible for linking them together, DEA officials said in a preliminary job description posted Tuesday. 

Potential duties include "management of a big data processing and storage environment,” officials added.

The chosen firm would "provide a capability for analyzing, processing and transferring data for integration into DEA information systems," as well as “provide support for data management, data formatting, data transfer and data quality assurance for large amounts of data in various formats,” the notice states. DEA officials said they are asking industry for input to refine the work requirements.

The relevant IT systems are located in Fairfax, Virginia, and the work there would require incorporating new hardware and software into ongoing operations. 

DEA is in the midst of a reorganization of intelligence activities directed by Congress through 2012 funding legislation. As part of the realignment, DEA established a so-called Document and Media Exploitation, or DOMEX, section within the Office of Special Intelligence, according to a fiscal 2014 budget justification

Under DOMEX, DEA analyzes various types of records and electronic evidence, including computers and cell phones, according to a program handbook

The section that now falls under the special intelligence unit "consists of three DOMEX teams and a small IT support group," according to the budget justification. 

The Office of Special Intelligence "operates in a rapid prototyping/rapid integration environment" in order to meet changing enforcement and intelligence goals, Tuesday’s job description states.

"The contractor shall provide on-site hardware and software engineering and maintenance expertise required to support a rapid-prototyping hardware and software development and integration of leading-edge technology products."

The new contractor also would have to maintain key existing technology systems, such as Hewlett Packard servers, Windows software, Red Hat Linux and high-performance networking equipment.

The DOMEX handbook states that almost every DEA investigation has a digital data storage component, "which includes the exploitation of computers, PDAs, [BlackBerrys], cell phones and digital cameras."

The Intercept recently reported the National Security Agency is cooperating with DEA to covertly record and store the content of virtually every cell call in the Bahamas. 

"When U.S. drug agents need to tap a phone of a suspected drug kingpin in another country, they call up their counterparts and ask them set up an intercept," The Intercept’s Glenn Greenwald wrote in May. The Bahamas have hired contractors who maintain so-called lawful intercept equipment on their telecommunications systems, and "it appears that the NSA has used the access those contractors developed to secretly mine the country’s entire phone system for signals intelligence."

DEA officials on Tuesday were unable to share any additional information about the contract's goals.

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