Drug Enforcement Administration Forensic Department

The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) department of forensics provides scientific and technical support to law enforcement, intelligence units and offices of the criminal justice system in the war against narcotic and terrorist organizations.

This department accomplishes this function by analyzing evidence suspected to contain controlled substances through qualitative techniques such as chromatography, capillary electrophoresis and fluorescence spectroscopy to show the molecular composition of controlled and uncontrolled substances present in sample evidence, determine the concentration of each substance, recreate structure and compare to existing structures of known narcotics and other illegal paraphernalia. Through this analysis, the forensic scientists may also discover and identify substitutes to pharmaceuticals created by drug organizations and sold to the public creating the public health concern of counterfeit medication. The conclusions drawn from the analytical procedures in the laboratory are then placed in the investigative pipeline and are utilized to build cases against international narcotics organizations, terrorist organizations, criminals, gangs and drug kingpins. Once the cases are built the evidence-based conclusions made by the forensic teams can also be utilized to justify tactical missions, apprehensions and extradition in foreign territories as well as ensure successful outcomes on criminal prosecutions within the judicial setting. Moreover, the forensic scientists under this program can also provide expert witness in court to further ensure the success of judicial proceedings in favour of the prosecution. Through the delivery evidence from chemical analysis, the forensic department succeeds in accomplishing its objective within the DEA which is to assist in the enforcement of the laws and regulations against controlled substances. 

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The forensic department does not just perform the function of laboratory chemical analysis, there also exists, within the confines of the department, the fingerprint and photography program, which is sometimes the most effective in providing immediate assistance to Drug Enforcement Administration agents. This is because fingerprints can rapidly identify persons who were at a crime scene and therefore give agents the go-ahead to begin or continue investigating a particular suspect or organization. Fingerprints can be reproduced from flat surfaces, soft surfaces or even digital recordings. Fingerprint identification becomes challenging if partial prints are obtained which necessitate the use of careful analysis and reconstruction techniques. This may be useful for identification of subjects but the efficacy of utilizing this evidence in judicial proceedings remains in doubt as the standard of accuracy in a judicial setting is often quite high and presenting partially reconstructed prints may compromise the outcome of criminal prosecution. However, fingerprint specialists do not only rely on the physical characteristics of fingerprints to conclusively identify suspects, they could also perform chemical analysis to determine the physiological characteristics of the individuals who were present in a crime scene, traces of chemicals present in substances such as marijuana, cocaine and nicotine may also be utilized to rule out certain suspects and include others. Fingerprint analysis can is therefore of critical value to the initiation and successful completion of Drug Enforcement Administration objectives in terrorism or drug trade.

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In October 1994, the DEA established the Digital Evidence Program to respond to the technological changes that were taking place around the world. Criminal organizations may utilize this changing landscape to mask illegal transactions and operations through complex financial mechanisms that are managed via the internet. This becomes an incredible challenge to law enforcement if programs have not been initiated to counter illegal activities carried out through Information technology networks. The digital forensic program was designed to deal with this challenge by utilizing complex information retrieval techniques such as cross-drive analysis and steganography that can penetrate the security systems often employed by criminal organizations. Moreover, the forensics program also works in tandem with skilled mathematicians and encryption specialists employed by the governments to decipher communications through encrypted channels and may even modify messages containing information that the Drug Enforcement Administration believes is sensitive.

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Moreover, this program also possesses the ability to disrupt software that controls power and transport systems, knock critical systems offline and render physical and digital security systems unstable in order to give a tactical advantage to agents carrying out field operational or in the middle of tactical missions. Apart from the analysis and evaluation of digital evidence, the digital forensics program also recovers information of interest to DEA operations from computers and magnetic storage devices and can process any form of storage device that is conceivable to man from fax machines to pagers, answering machines, printers and even cash registers in order to provide critical information to DEA agents. The program provides onsite duplication of hard drives to agents whenever these machines cannot be confiscated as part of the evidence by agents.

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Apart from its fully operational forensics programs explained above, the DEA also established the National Forensic Laboratory Information System that is supposed to collect the results of forensic investigations and analyses throughout the nation to monitor the usage of illegal drugs in order to inform policy making with regard to drugs as well as inform counter-drug initiatives if local and federal law enforcement. Moreover, this database is also designed to monitor the penetration of authentic prescription medication into illegal drug trading channels and provide vital intelligence to law enforcement personnel.

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From the brief survey above, it can be concluded that efforts made by the Drug Enforcement Administration to ensure that it maintains a competitive edge against criminal organizations through the establishment of forensic programs have enabled the United States government to keep up with the developments in its war against drug and terrorist organizations. As drug dealers develop new mechanisms to change the structure of known drugs to replicate the effects provided for by the use of narcotics, methods to cheat drug-sniffing canines or more efficient methods of production the Drug enforcement agents continuously analyzes any new products, determines their underlying molecular structure and apprehends the criminals anyway.

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