oversight

FBI Accountability for Drugs Used in Special Operations: Deficiencies Identified and Actions Taken

Published by the Government Accountability Office on 1999-12-02.

Below is a raw (and likely hideous) rendition of the original report. (PDF)

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         -*MCWr*IYbllY
United States General Accounting       OiBce                                          Accounting and hfommation
washiagton, DC 20648                                                                         Management      Divisiom



          B-284009


          December 2,1999
          The Honorable Janet Reno
          The Attorney General

          Subject:     FBI Accountabilitv for Drugs Used in SD&al Oomons:
                       Deficiencies Idenmed and Actions Taken

          Dear Madam Attorney General:

          Since  1990, GAO has periodically reported on government operations that we have
          ident&d as ‘high risk” because of their greater vulnerabilities to waste, fraud, abuse,
          and mismanagement. As part of the 1999 High Risk Update, we began a review of the
          asset forfeiture program at the Department of Justice’s Federal Bureau of
          Investigation (FBI), which focused on seized drug and firearm evidence. The
          objectives of that review were to determine whether the FBI (1) put in place physical
          safeguards that if operated effectively would help control access to and use of drug
          and firearm evidence and (2) maintained adequate accountability for such evidence.
          Within the next several weeks, we will be reporting on the results of that review,
          which involved four FBI field offices.

          The purpose of this letter is to communicate control weaknesses identified during
          our review involving seized drugs that are no longer needed as drug evidence but are
          retained for use in reverse undercover operations (RUOs) by the FBI’s Miami Field
          Office.’ At the Miami Field Office, some drugs that are approved for destruction are
          not destroyed, but remain in the FRrs custody to be used by agents or other law
          enforcement personnel in RUOs. These drugs typically have a market or “street”
          value. In addition, such drugs have been approved for destruction and are removed
          from F’BI storage facilities during the undercover operations. Thus, maintaining
          effective accountability over drugs used in RUOs is essential to reduce the risk of
          theft, misuse, and loss.




          ‘A RUO is an undercover operation implemented by the FBI or another law enforcement agency that
          involves an arrest scenario targeting an individual suspected of participating in an illegal activity, such
          as dnlgtrafficking.



                                                    GAOMMD-OM4R FBI: Special Operations Account
B284009

Results in Brief

We found that the Miami Field Office did not have (1) specitic writ&n procedures     for
a special operations account used to track drugs reserved for RUOs, (2) adequate
information on related chain of custody records to document the activity of specific
drug items reserved and/or used for RUOs, and (3) a list or log of drug items in the
special operations account to facilitate identifying the type and amount of drugs
available for use in RUOs. For example, entries on the written chain of custody
related either to initial transfers of drugs into the special operations account or
transfers back into the account following unsuccessful undercover operations did not
list the quantity of drugs accepted for storage, the barcode number assigned to the
drug item, or the case file number from which the drugs were acquired. Xn addition,
we were told by Miami Field Office officials that the documentation for cases from
which drugs were reserved for use in RUOs, including chain of custody records, did
not annotate the fact that all or part of the drugs were moved to the special
operations account established for the reserved drugs. Rather, the original case file
documentation for drugs transferred to the special account erroneously indicated
that the drugs had been destroyed.

These weaknesses increase the potential for the& misuse, andlossofdrugsusedin
RUOs. However, during our review, Miami Field Office officials addressed these
control deficiencies immediately by developing specific written procedures for
tracking the drugs reserved for RUOs.

Scorn and Methodolom

We statistically sampled a total of 46 drug items at the Miami Field Office that had
been entered into the FBI’s Automated Case Support (ACS) system between
October 1,1997, and August 31,1998. For each selected item, our tests included a
review of the written chain of custody form and associated documents used to
account for that evidence. Six of the 46 drug items selected for our review involved
drugs that were entered into a special operations account established to maintain
accountability for drugs used in RUOs.’ Because the policies we were provided did
not specifically address requirements    related to this issue, we made inquiries of
Miami Field O&e officials regarding the procedures for handling, safeguarding, and
accounting for the drugs the field office reserved for RUOs. We also obtained
additional documentation as necessary to vexi@ the current location and status of the
drugs selected for our review. We performed our work in accordance with generally
accepted government auditing standards between December 1998 and June 1999. We
provided a draft of this letter to the Attorney General for her or her designee’s review
and comment According to an official from the FBI’s Oflice of Public and
Congressional Affairs, the FBI had no comment on our letter.


*In addition to these six drug items, five other drug items included in our sample involved drugs that
had previously been in this special operations account, but had subsequently been transferred to a new
case file number which was selected for our review.



Page 2                                  GAO/~34R               FBI: Special Operations Account
I%-28400!3

Bacluzround

In 1994,the Miami Field Office established a special operations account called the
Sub F file for maintaining accountability over drugs, primarily cocaine, that are
reservedforuseinRUOs.       DrugsusedinRUOsthatresultinanarrestaretobe
movedfromtheSubFfiletoanewcaseli.le.           Ifanarrestisnotmade,thedrugsused
intheoperationaretoberetumedtotheSubFfileforuseatala&ertime.                Asneeded,
the Drug Program Coordinator can replenish the supply of drug reserves des&Wed
for RUOsby selecting various drugs already approved for destruction by the
Assistant United States Attorney (AUSA) and transferring accountability for these
chugs to the Sub F file.’

RequeststouseanyofthedrugsfromtheSubFfilearemadethn>ughtheOrganized
Crime/Drug Program Asistant Special Agent in Charge and administered by the Drug
Program Coordinator. An approved Operation Plan must be signed by the Special
Agent in Charge ensuring that proper safety and control will be exercised during the
proposed undercover operation The Operation Plan documents the situation (e.g.,
type of operation, location, subjects, weapons, and counter surveillance); mission
(e.g., date and detailed instructions); personnel involved (e.g., cooperative witnesses,
assisting personnel, and other participating law enforcement agencies); and
communications and logistics (e.g., radio channel, emergency procedures, and
miscellaneous information). Miami Field Office officials stated that security of the
agents and cooperative witnesses, as well as the drugs, is of priority concern and
adequate security must be demonstrated in the Operation Plan. Once the Operation
Plan is approved, the drugs will be signed out to the respective squad supervisor and
agents for use in the RUO.’
In order to remove the drugs from the drug vault for a RUO, the responsible squad
supervisor or agent must sign the written chain of custody form. This written chain
of custody is a key internal control used by the FBI to track drugs in its custody.
According to FBI policy, the written chain of custody must include the signatures of
any agent or evidence control personnel who assume custody of the evidence for any
purpose from the time the item is entered into evidence until it is disposed. The
written chain of custody must also include the reason for any transfer of custody and
the time and date of any custody change.




‘According to the Miami Drug Program CoordinaWr,generallyabout200 kllogxams of cocaine a~
reserved in the sub F file; however, the amount of drugs held can fluctuate based on the number and
success of the RUOs.

‘We did not observe and cannot assessthephysicalsecurftyofdrugsthatwereinthec~ofcsse
agents during undercover operations     involving the drugs selected for our review because these RUOs
took place prior to our visit and all but one of the drug items had already been returned to the drug
vault. In one case, the drugs had been transferred to a local police department for a RUO.



Page 3                                   GAO/AIMD-Nl-XR         FBI: Special Operations Account
B-284009

Main-       Accountabilitv            Over
Drugs Used in RUOs

Based on discussions with Miami Field Of&e officials and a review of documentation
relating to various drug items selected for our review, we identified several control
 deficiencies involving the Sub F file. Specifically, although the Sub F fiie was
 established about 5 years ago, no written policies or procedures had been developed
at the tune of our visit to document the use and tracking requirements of drugs
reserved for RUOs. According to Miami Field Office officials, evidence control
personnel followed the guidance provided in the FBI’s Manual ofAdmh&ative
 Operations and procedures and Manual of Inv@&*ve           Opemtions and Guidelines
related to handling seized drug evidence, but this guidance did not specifically
address the need for additional information to ensure complete accountability for
drugs reserved for RUOs. Thus, some chain of custody entries did not contain
suflicient information to clearly convey activity involving the movement of certain
drugs into and out of the Sub F file. In addition, no uptodate list, or log of drug
items currently in the account was maintained to facilitate tracking the type and/or
amount of items available for use in RUOs.

Regarding the chain of custody, we noted that limited information provided on this -’
document made it dif5cult to track specific drug items flowing into and out of the
Sub F file. Specifically, as cocaine was added to the Sub F file to replenish depleted
supply, an evidence control technician signed the chain of custody, noted the reason
as “storage,” and provided the date and time of the transaction. However, with regard
to the chain of custody for one of the six drug items selected for our review, none of
the “storage” entries, whether they related to initial transfers into the account or
transfers back into the account following unsuccessful undercover operations, listed
the quantity of drugs accepted for storage, the barcode number assigned to the drug
item, or the case file number from which the drugs were acqu.i~L~

In addition, regarding the permanent transfer of drugs out of the Sub F file, the chain
of custody form for two of the six drug items in the Sub F file that were selected for
our review did not indicate the case file number to which accountability for the drugs
was transferred. Further, we were told by Miami Field Of&e officials that the
documentation for cases from which drugs were reserved for use in RUOs, including
chain of custody records, did not annotate the fact that all or part of the dnqs were
moved to the Sub F l3le. Rather, the original case file documentation for drugs
transferred to the Sub F file erroneously indicated that the drugs had been destroyed.

Using the FBI’s ACS system, evidence control personnel eventually reconstructed the
movement of individual drug items and provided us documentation as to the status or
location for each of the six drug items entered into the Sub F file that had been
selected for our review. However, field office officials acknowledged that it is
important for the information on associated written chain of custody forms to be

?‘his chain of custody was also used to hack three other drug items in the Sub F file that were not
selected for our review.



Page 4                                   GAO/-R                  FBI: Special Operations Account
F3-284009

accurate and complete in order to provide a clear record of drug movement into and
out of the Sub F file along with appropriate @natures which clearly document who
has custody of such drug items.

We also noted that the Miami F’ield Of&e did not maintain a current list or log of
drug items reserved in the Sub F file. However, using a printout of drug inventory on
hand during our visit which listed all drug items, including those in the Sub F file, it
was possible to identify drug items other than cocaine that were held in the Sub F fUe
for use in RUOs. For example, we found four bales of marijuana that had been held
intheSubFfileforoverayearandahalf.            TheDrugProgramCoordinatorstatedthat
he had not been aware of any marijuana in the Sub F file because he had only
recently become the Drug Program Coordinator. In this situation, a current list or log
of drugs maintained in the Sub F file could have provided information on the type and
amount of drugs available for use in RUOs.

As a result of our inquiries and observations regarding this special operations
account, Miami Field OffIce officials immediately began developing specific written
procedures for handling the Sub F tile for drugs reserved for use in RUOs. We were
provided a copy of these procedures for our review. Because the new procedures
were established after our visit, we cannot comment on their implementation.
However, based on our review, these procedures if effectively implemented, should
address the aforementioned control deficiencies. For example, under the new
procedures, when accountability for drugs is transferred from the original case file to
the Sub F file, the chain of custody for the original case is to reflect the amount
transferred to the Sub F file as well as the amount destroyed, rather than showing
that all of the drugs were destroyed.

In addition, under these new procedures, specific drug items designated for the Sub F
file will each have their own control sheet and barcode. When drugs are removed for
a RUO, the chain of custody will reflect the quantity of drugs being removed as well
as the amount remainin g in the vault If the RUO is unsuccessful and the drugs are
returned to the Sub F file, the chain of custody will note the amount of drugs being
returned. On the other hand, if the RUO is successful and the drugs are transferred to
a new case file, the case file number including the new exhibit number, will be placed
on the chain of custody for the Sub F file.

Further, as part of the new procedures, a RUO Drug Utilization Log was developed to
assist in tracking the account According to the guidance, the log has been placed in
front of a book that contains the control sheets for drug items in the Sub F file. Every
the drugs are removed from the Sub F file, an entry is to be made into the log! Also,
if the drugs are not utilized and are returned, the drugs will be reentered on the log
as a return. The log will serve as an upto-date measure of the total amount of drugs

33rmks into the log will include the date, the exhibii number, the amount of drup to be rem-      the
case61enumberdrugsaretransferredtofollowingreturnofthe~tothe~thenewexhibit
number, the evidence control pe,sonnel initials, and a calculation of the amount of drugs remaining in
ae Sub F file.



Page 5                                   GAO/AMBOO&R            FBI: Special Operations Account
B-234009

remainmg in the Sub F file for RUOs. This procedure will assist the Drug Program
Coordinator in determining when additional drug reserves should be added to the
account and will also provide a quick reference for drugs in the account to assist in
determining when particular drugs are no longer needed and should be destroyed.

Conclusion

Inadequate controls over drugs reserved for use in RUOs increase the risk of theft,
misuse, and loss of such evidence. During our review, the Miami Field Of&e
promptly acted to correct identified control weaknesses by developing specific
written procedures to address these deficiencies. However, because the procedures
were established after our visit to the Miami Field Office, we cannot comment on the
effectiveness of their implementation. Therefore, it is important that management
oversee and test the implementation of these procedures.

Recommendation

We recommend that the Attorney General require that the Director of the FBI
perform appropriate oversight to review and test the procedures recently established
by the Miami Field Of&e to account for drugs used in RUOs to determine if the        .:
procedures are operating as intended.



This letter contains a recommendation to you. The head of a federal agency is
required by 31 U.S.C. 720 to submit a written statement on actions taken on our
recommendations. You should send your statement to the Senate Committee on
Governmental Affairs and the House Committee on Government Reform within 60
days of the date of this letter. You must also send a written statement to the House
and Senate Committees on Appropriations with the agency’s first request for
appropriations made over 60 days after the date of this letter.

We are sending copies of this letter to Senator Fred Thompson, Senator Joseph
Lieberman, Representative Dan Burton, Representative Henry A. Waxman,
Representative Stephen Horn, and Representative Jim Turner in their capacities as
Chair or Ranking Minority Member of Senate or House Committees and
Subcommittees. We are also sending copies of this letter to Louis J. Freeh, Director
of the FBI; Robert L Ashbaugh, Acting Inspector General, Department of Justice; and
the Honorable Jacob J. Lew, Director, Office of Management and Budget.




Page 6                            GAO/m               FBI: Special Operations Account
E3-284009

lf you have any questions regarding this letter, please contact me at (202) 5124406.
Key contributors to this assignment were Kenneth Rupar and Linda Sanders.

Sincerely yours,



4-++
Gary T. Engel
Associate Director
Govemmentwide Accounting and
  Financial Management Issues




(901801)


Page 7                            GAO/m               FBI: Special CIperations Account
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