Even in the registry of horrible things government agents have done in the name of the drug war, this Buzzfeed report stands out:
The Justice Department is claiming, in a little-noticed court filing, that a federal agent had the right to impersonate a young woman online by creating a Facebook page in her name without her knowledge. Government lawyers also are defending the agent’s right to scour the woman’s seized cellphone and to post photographs — including racy pictures of her and even one of her young son and niece — to the phony social media account, which the agent was using to communicate with suspected criminals.
The woman, Sondra Arquiett, who then went by the name Sondra Prince, first learned her identity had been commandeered in 2010 when a friend asked about the pictures she was posting on her Facebook page. There she was, for anyone with an account to see — posing on the hood of a BMW, legs spread, or, in another, wearing only skimpy attire. She was surprised; she hadn’t even set up a Facebook page . . .
The account was actually set up by U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration special agent Timothy Sinnigen.
Not long before, law enforcement officers had arrested Arquiett, alleging she was part of a drug ring. A judge, weighing evidence that the single mom was a bit player who accepted responsibility, ultimately sentenced Arquiett to probation. But while she was awaiting trial, Sinnigen created the fake Facebook page using Arquiett’s real name, posted photos from her seized cell phone, and communicated with at least one wanted fugitive — all without her knowledge.
The Justice Department’s headquarters in Washington, D.C., referred all questions to the DEA, which then declined to answer questions and, in turn, referred inquiries to the local U.S. attorney’s office in Albany, New York. That office did not respond to multiple requests for an interview . . .
Meanwhile, the bogus Facebook page remains accessible to the public, BuzzFeed News found.
The DOJ filing was in response to Arquiett’s lawsuit. Consider what the federal government is arguing here. It’s arguing that if you’re arrested for a drug crime, including a crime unserious enough to merit a sentence of probation, the government retains the power to (a) steal your identity, (b) use that identity for drug policing, thus making your name and face known to potentially dangerous criminals, (c) interact with those criminals while posing as you, which could subject you to reprisals from those criminals, (d) expose photos of your family, including children, to those criminals, and (e) do all of this without your consent, and with no regard for your safety or public reputation.
The mindset that would allow government officials to not only engage in this sort of behavior, but to then fight in court to preserve their power to continue it is the same mindset that, for example, allows drug cops to compel juveniles and young women to become drug informants, with little regard for their safety — and to then make no apologies when those informants are murdered. Or that would lead campus cops to let a teen slowly kill himself with heroin, because they could hold his addiction over his head to force his cooperation as an informant. Or that would allow a guy arrested on a possession charge to be abandoned for days in a jail cell, nearly killing him.
For decades now, politicians, law enforcement officials, and drug warriors have spent a great deal of time, energy, and propaganda dehumanizing drug offenders. It shouldn’t be all that surprising, then, when drug enforcement officials subsequently treat drug offenders as something less than human. If you aren’t fully human, you have no identity to steal. Or at the very least, your claim to your identity isn’t as important the public good the government might do by stealing it. (In this case, “public good” means arresting a few drug pushers.) Likewise, less-than-human lives are more easily expended than human ones. A drug cop wouldn’t dream of sending his own kid out as an informant. But once a kid gets caught possessing some pot or ecstasy or speed — or God forbid selling it — the kid lost the right to be treated like a fully realized human being. The cops are willing to take some risks.
I don’t think the DEA wants Sondra Arquiett to be victimized by the criminals with whom they interact while pretending to be her. It also seems safe that drug cops didn’t want to see Rachel Hoffman, Daniel Chong, Jonathan Magbie, Chad MacDonald, “Logan,” or Michael Saffioti to die. It’s more that once they were known to be drug offenders, their lives weren’t quite as important.