US Drug Agency Failed to Properly Oversee Crypto Investigations: DOJ Report

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration failed to adequately police its undercover agents’ handling of cryptocurrency, a Department of Justice Inspector General report found.

Jun 17, 2020 at 5:06 p.m. UTC
Updated Sep 14, 2021 at 8:52 a.m. UTC

The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) failed to adequately police its undercover agents’ handling of cryptocurrency, even years after one of its agents stole $700,000 in bitcoin in 2015, according to a new report from the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of the Inspector General (IG).

Published in redacted form Wednesday, the IG report – an audit of “income-generating, undercover operations” – casts the federal government’s leading drug buster and frequent crypto cop as an agency whose efforts to clamp down on an apparent explosion in virtual currency money laundering got ahead of its own ability to monitor itself.

Issues pervaded across the DEA’s “Attorney General Exempt Operations," the inspector general wrote, but problems prevailed in its handling of crypto.

“The DEA's management of virtual currency-related activities was insufficient due to inadequate headquarters management, lack of policies, inadequate internal control procedures, insufficient supervisory oversight and lack of training” for digital currency activities, the IG wrote.

Some of those problems manifested in the relative uniqueness of crypto money-laundering, which carries with it “unknown fees and spontaneous currency fluctuations” – complicating factors that are outside the scope of traditional schemes. 

But the DEA did not adapt itself to these new challenges. According to the IG report, its record-keeping was so poor that investigators struggled to match up transaction information with activities.

Even its own agents’ foul play did not prompt the DEA into action. Former DEA agent Carl Mark Force IV stole $700,000 in bitcoin during the investigation and takedown of the Silk Road dark market, but two years later, the agency still lacked adequate crypto controls.

“We are concerned that following this incident the DEA did not implement additional internal controls specifically related to investigations involving virtual currency,” the report said.

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