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DEA agents conduct surprise searches of Amtrak passengers (theintercept.com)
102 points by eplanit 52 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 77 comments

>It’s legal for Perry to search people without probable cause, a warrant, or a dog because travelers supposedly realize that they have the right to decline to submit to his searches.

We need to extend the Miranda Warning to circumstances such as these. "You are not under arrest and you have the right to refuse a search. If you consent to a search, and something illegal is found, it can be admitted into evidence against you in court." If every interaction started with those words, you'd see a lot more people exercising their right to refuse.

I came to cite the same part of the article, but for the reason that it makes no sense, after the word "because".

It's legal to search people because they have a right to decline? I think the author meant it's legal to request a search. Of course, it's legal for anyone to _request_ anything. Small change in wording but I'd say it matters.

Miranda warnings don't seem to help much in practice. Pretty much everyone who is given one waives their rights and speaks anyway.

It's particularly interesting to see videos where the suspect says something along the lines of, "I know my rights, I have the right to remain silent" and then proceeds to blab on and on at the officer. I suppose it's an object lesson in the difference between the right and the ability to do or not do something. Shades of Monty Python...

Is that true?

The prevalence of advice videos from criminal defense attorneys advising citizens in contact with the police to simply shut their mouths would at least anecdotally support this statement.

Top-of-head thinking? Défense lawyers probably remember really well the cases that could have been a lot easier to win.

Just as doctors tend to prescribe what worked last time - easier to do what’s at the top of your mind than critically appraise the evidence.

It goes deeper than anecdotal "I wish my client hadn't said anything", there are concrete reasons for this advice.

For example, according to rules of evidence, any exculpatory statements you make to police are hearsay and therefore cannot be mentioned in a trial. The police _can_, however, try to use that information against you and then use information derived from your original statement at trial.

There's a pretty popular lecture[0] on this. It covers a lot of edge cases and common arguments against "don't talk to the police".

[0]: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d-7o9xYp7eE

My comment was based on what I've heard law enforcement say on the matter. If someone is in the position where they've been given a Miranda warning, they've been detained and they know they're in trouble. People tend to think they can talk themselves out of trouble, which is rarely the case. Of course, I've also heard that plenty of suspects will start saying incriminating unprompted when you throw them in the back of a police vehicle.

Just say no. In fact these agents have no authority to force you to submit to a search without a warrant, probable cause or a dog. Most people either don't understand that, or fear the consequences. What can happen of course is intimidation and causing you to miss the train entirely. Papers, please, may be a stereotype but one agents like these heartily believe in.

It's weird that the first thing they teach you in Drug Courier 101 isn't "don't consent to a search, Dummy, you've got a brick of cocaine on you". And then a few rounds of role play just to be sure.

The dog will alert on who they want it to alert on.

I've had the fuzz try "the dog" on me in the past. As a living creature the dog is rarely where they need it to be. Knowing my rights, and also knowing I'm not holding, I just repeat over and over again, "am I being detained. Am I free to go?" That usually clues them in I know the law just enough to cause them problems and they go away.

Typically the only probable cause they have is their own racist bias and once I point that out, a hit dog will holler.

I've always wondered how dog hits are seen by courts as different from officer testimony. Of course they're well trained and qualified and accurate, one would hope. But they can also get a subtle cue off the handler to simply sit because they've learned it's expected. So back in court, you're back to officer testimony that they did or didn't cue the dog to show a hit; it might even be subconscious. If that's the case, the dog isn't neutral and might as well be skipped as theater.

They're quite inaccurate in fact. They barely have a 50% ratio. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-watch/wp/2015/08/04/...

But they have to go and get the dog. They can't just pull one out of a pocket, and a dog can only work so many hours - fewer than a human.

And in any case, so what? If that's the attitude we take to overreaches, why not just pre-emptively empty our pockets at any patrolling law enforcement officer?

According to the article the agents don't have dogs

Then they'll try the old "You're papers are not in order." to see how you react.

Sometimes, but not anyways. Admittedly my sample size is limited to ~3, but asserting my right to decline searches (outside of borders, where you don't get such right), have resulted in 0 searches.

Usually they keep questioning you for a while, but it's not hard to respond in a way that doesn't give them probable cause.

>> Usually they keep questioning you for a while, but it's not hard to respond in a way that doesn't give them probable cause.

You should try exercising your fifth amendment right to remain silent. The police explicitly remind people who are arrested that anything they say "can and will" be used against them in a court of law.

Most people want to talk there way out of a bad situation. Like the police will Mirandize them and they still won't shut up! Dude! shut up, weight for your lawyer, and under no circumstance waive your right to a speedy trial until you have counsel.

This generic advice isn't always the best one. Only do this if you're actually guilty and they can't come up with PC. You have to play it by ear, I've talked my way out of more than a few tickets by just getting a sympathetic police officer, if I had annoyed him by doing the 5th I'm sure he would've just written a ticket etc.

A ticket is a vastly different situation than one in which you could be subject to criminal prosecution. If I say something dumb which causes me to not be able to get a ticket dismissed, I'm out a hundred and fifty bucks. If I say something stupid that causes me to get convicted of a felony...

Wife & I have started watching LivePD. The big thing with the police is "be honest with me and I can be lenient", and a lot of times they are, at least on TV. So the suspect says what's in the car.

Amtrak’s a perfect representation of everything wrong with the US. A slow, unreliable train. Seems always delayed hours without being informed of why or how long. Receives almost $2 billion in federal subsidies. Bathrooms are dirty. And then you’re pressured searched by a DEA agent whose already scanned the passenger logs looking for targets....

I took Amtrak regularly along the East Coast. Door-to-door was both faster and cheaper than flying, plus the experience was a lot more pleasant.

Less travelled routes have a chicken-and-egg problem: nobody uses them, so they’re not a priority, so they get even worse. NYC to Montreal, for example, should be 2x as fast as it currently is....

They have Amtrak service along the west coast, and I've taken the Seattle to Eugene and Seattle to Vancouver trains. I was unimpressed, because the maximum speed is about 80 miles per hour, like most of I-5 (edit: I mean that's effectively how fast people drive, not the speed limit), and the fare is so high you could actually rent a car for a few days instead, especially if there's more than one of you traveling. (Seattle -> Eugene, a 4 hour trip, one way starts at $78 according to their website.) I've always suspected it was a critical mass thing, and if more people used the service the price might go down, but for a self-interested individual, it just doesn't make sense right now.

> I've always suspected it was a critical mass thing, and if more people used the service the price might go down, but for a self-interested individual, it just doesn't make sense right now.

personally I find traveling on amtrak to be a lovely experience. even on the NE regional I usually get a whole row to myself if it isn't a holiday weekend. of course, this is probably why it's so expensive. on the other hand if the ridership went up, it wouldn't be such a nice experience anymore.

Oh, don't get me wrong: I like trains in general, and I've got many fond memories of train adventures in Europe and Asia. Amtrak can be pleasant if you're just touring around. If you're looking for a serious mode of travel, though, the train system on the west coast is a joke. It's in a weird spot where if you care about money you can take a bus and if you care about convenience you can take a plane, but if you don't care about either...take Amtrak?

> Seattle -> Eugene, a 4 hour trip

The days/times when you can get through the Puget Sound, JBLM corridor in less than 2 or more hours for that segment alone are rapidly declining. It can easily take 2h+ to get from Federal Way to Olympia, even in non peak hours.

The Acela is fantastic and I pretty much only use it for traveling to New York if I can expense it.

From Baltimore or Boston? I/we use it from Boston and recommend it.

The Acela line with business & first class is literally the only quality Amtrak line in the country. For that line, and that line only, it can be worthwhile as an alternative to flying or driving among a select few destination spanning from DC to Boston.

I’m sure that line accounts for some wildly disproportionate revenue for Amtrak, but in most other places people prefer to pay cheaper fares and don’t care about the surrounding quality properties enough to pay more for them.

And that’s the only major part of the network where Amtrak controls the tracks. Elsewhere, it’s hamstrung by limited capacity and bad/illegal behavior by private operators. The Office of the Inspector General put together a fairly comprehensive report about this: https://www.oig.dot.gov/sites/default/files/Amtrak_Root_Caus...

In principle, this could easily be fixed—-and cracking down operators ignoring the preference rules did help a lot—-but people have to want it.

I would disagree (or maybe you have much higher expectations than I do). I find the NE regional to be quite nice as long as you aren't trying to go all the way from boston to DC. and going up the hudson river on the empire line is simply a lovely experience.

Yeah, our preferences for what an Amtrak priced fare should provide are likely just different. I won’t ride Amtrak at all unless it’s business or first class, and typically I just buy far in advance or simply don’t travel if these fares are too high. The price for coach tickets is ludicrous to me when accounting for the crowdedness / mad dash to get seats.

The last time I rode coach on NE regional lines, my girlfriend & I arrived over an hour early for the train & we had to stand up and hold our suitcases for the first 90 minutes of the ride because there were simply no seats. We walked back to front every coach car and every seat was taken and all of the luggage racks were filled. I get frazzled by hectic transportation experiences so it was especially nasty for me.

For a $70-80 fare, I expect easy access to a comfortable seat, ample space for 1-2 bags / suitcases directly at my seat area, and easy ability for multiple people in the same party to get seats directly next to each other.

I hate that Amtrak locks these (basic) amenities behind business & first class fares, and essentially acts like a slumlord towards their coach class service.

If you took out the government-imposed security check at airports, would it still be faster?

It would certainly help. Dulles and Newark are still pretty far from the downtowns they serve, so there’s 30-60 minutes, plus the time to actually exit the airport, that you’re stuck with. Admittedly, Logan and LGA are a bit closer to their cities, but LGA is also terrible, so....

E.B. White has a wonderful essay called The Railroad that describes how the railroads and the government worked together to cripple US passenger rail. It isn't online, but I found a blog post[1] discussing it. It's also in the collection Essays of E.B. White which I highly recommend to anyone who enjoys perspicuous prose.

The gist of the essay is that the railroads incrementally made the passenger experience worse and then as demand declined they used the declining demand to justify further worsening the passenger experience[2]. From the railroads' perspective this was a virtuous positive feedback loop, insofar as it got them out of the relatively low margin passenger business. That then got dumped on Amtrak, which is awful for many reasons, not least of which is their trains are the lowest priority on the tracks they lease, so they are virtually never on time. I imagine Amtrak executives would also love to get out of the passenger transport business too, if they could somehow swing it to keep getting federal money. Anyhow it really is a great essay and I highly recommend reading it since my summary can't do it justice.

[1] https://www.sheilaomalley.com/?p=91313

[2] A lesson corporations now apply with disappointing prevalence.

I recently took this route, I enjoyed it because I have a weird bucket list and this was on it (and I like trains) but I have to agree. I know it's not a profitable route and the NE corridor makes most of their money but I consider infrastructure to be a symbol of national pride. What does it say about the US as a country when our trains are unreliable and dirty, our roads are full of potholes, and quality public transport outside a few cities is basically nonexistent? I compare it to my experience living in Germany/Shanghai and it's just totally opposite, the experience on the train on this route (Dec 2018) was closer to train rides I've taken in Ukraine/Romania/Hungary (nothing against these places, I'm writing this from Odessa and love it here) than the train rides in much of W. EU

You can't be serious to compare US infrastructure to Germany. In my experience living there, the Deutsche Bahn is not to be trusted to be on time, or run at all. And while Amtrak isn't the shining beacon I'd like it to be at least it gets me from point A to B reliably.

Really? I've had exactly the opposite experience when I lived in Berlin. The Berlin to Munich train was great and the tube in Berlin was pretty solid compared to most other places I've been

There are frequent delays on the Empire service in New York. When I once asked the conductor what was going on, they said we were waiting for a freight train to pass, because the track is leased from CSX. From what I was told, Amtrak is legally/contractually entitled to right of way on such track, but the freight companies basically don't care.

From what I was told, Amtrak is legally/contractually entitled to right of way on such track, but the freight companies basically don't care.

This is wrong. Amtrack has a subordinate lease to almost all of the freight lines it leases access to, meaning that they have lower priority to the lines than the cargo trains. Acela is the only Amtrack route in the nation that might have priority over cargo trains sharing the rails.

That's funny. I take NJTransit to work, and a lot of delays are blamed on giving way to Amtrak trains, because they have priority.

As a side note, $2B is pocket change for a federal government that spends $41B a year on the equivalent highway system. https://www.bidnet.com/resources/business-insights/us-govern...

Amtrak Capitol Corridor from Sacramento to San Jose frequently posts on Twitter to explain its delays. And I know from sitting in the Emeryville station that they frequently announce the delays and the reasons. https://twitter.com/CapitolCorridor

The train being Amtrak has nothing to do with it. The agents can do this same behavior on any passenger train or bus.

Does an unpopular (and therefore declining) transport option represent “everything wrong” that is with the country?

I got fucked with by a plains clothes cop on an Amtrak once. He flashed a badge at me that I didn't even have time to read. Then he produced a bag and asked me if it was mine. It wasn't and I told him so.

He left.

He came back not 5 minutes more and claimed that it was my bag, basically insuating that I was lying. I told him again, this time rudely, that it was not my bag and to leave me and my wife alone. He looked pissed and left us alone.

Most people who travel Amtrak, especially the long hauls, don't have as much money as people flying. I'd like to see the DEA try these tactics with rich people and see how far they get.

> Most people who travel Amtrak, especially the long hauls, don't have as much money as people flying.

why is this the case? I've only price shopped on the east coast, but I usually find that it's actually cheaper by plane than by train. sad because I am usually trying to justify taking the train.

I took the Amtrak California Zephyr from Reno, NV, to Ottumwa, IA a week ago - $118 coach seat or $936 for a roomette vs $547 flying - 39 hrs train time vs 24 hrs driving (which I do several times a year). Beautiful scenery and lots of time to think, write and program. No wifi but git push origin master when I finally got online worked out just fine. "Most people ... don't have as much money as people flying" probably true for coach, but not at all true for the roomette cars. The dining car is where the two demographics meet.

I do have a thing for trains, but 39 hours in a coach seat sounds pretty rough regardless of the scenery. I can see why there would be a downward pressure on price for such a journey.

Hell, it's probably cheaper to rent a car.

~$200 for gas (~1,700 miles) + car rental > $118 Amtrak

Plus (for me) 24 hours driving is time lost where I cannot work. I was able to work quite effectively on the train.

I don't know what motivates someone to be so psychopathically obsessed with invading other people's privacy, stealing their property, and even ruining their lives.

> I don't know what motivates someone to be so psychopathically obsessed with invading other people's privacy, stealing their property, and even ruining their lives.

It's because the system is setup to reward them for a 0.1% success rate. These people don't see themselves as invading your privacy, they see themselves as climbing the DEA ladder.

In a different society, these people might be highwaymen. The government lets them do the same kinds of thing with official sanction and support.

They are brave agents of freedom.

You find those in every country.

Catching criminals?

Then do that, with actual targeted investigations. This is just harassment and a fishing expedition.

In sales, it is known as "cold calling".

I recently took part of this route (DC to Chicago then Chicago all the way to LA) in December of 2018, the people were really fascinating. Lots of folks, especially older ones, who just didn't like taking flights and weren't up to driving cross country and then some who were train enthusiasts and just loved trains and then a few families. It's a real shame that they're doing searches like this, it sounds pretty sketchy.

"An email uncovered in a federal drug trafficking case from last year showed that Greyhound tried to kick the DEA out of its Albuquerque station. [...] Greyhound declined to comment about the email or what has happened since."

Sounds like someone has been gagged by a National Security Letter.

I would find this distressing to see as a tourist let alone a US citizen. Why not go the whole hog and have pre-boarding searches like airports?

Most train stations in the US have 1 - 3 trains daily. I guess there's airports that only have a few daily flights and their security hangs out without work most of the day, but that must be expensive.

So searching the train let's you search people who may have boarded at a dozen different stations.

But yeah those of us who take the train instead of flying have been counting our lucky stars that the security theater has skipped Amtrak so far. It's so nice to travel from one city to another without being treated like a criminal. All good things must come to an end.

Airport searches may uncover illicit drugs, but aren't run by the Drug Enforcement Agency. The Transportation Security Administration searches are looking for weapons and explosives.

Their VIPR teams have done this in the past.


Response by the public has been pretty negative - they know what airports have become and don't want to be hassled in other locations.

Because travelling is increasingly becoming synonymous to being up to something?

This is what drives me mad. This is such a violation of every principle of good hospitality. By delegating responsibility for one's safety away from oneself to the responsibility of the purveyors (or overseers) of the mode of transportation, we all end up being treated as threats until proven otherwise.

It is such a tenuous balance. Excessive restriction of the conditions under which hospitality is granted leads to a breakdown of social reciprocity, intensification of in-group mentality, and alienation of the outsider. This stratifies and jeopardizes the ability of these myriad in-groups to coexist and transact peaceably, detracting from the possibility of maintaining any semblance of a national/international unity, or at least peaceful polity.

It's diplomacy, in essence, at smaller and more localized scales. Most societies have carveouts for providing for the need of the outsider, because tit-for-tat is such an easy state of affairs to end up in. Mind, the tit-for-tat part is implicit, not explicit, as most text on hospitality emphasizes the duty of the host to care without concern for [individual] reciprocity. Collectively speaking however, the way one culture recieves another does have an impact on overall relations between polities.

I just wish there was greater emphasis placed on this. I get it, lofty ideals tend to be the first to get binned, but sometimes the ideal is worth tolerating a greater degree of perceived immediate risk in order to facilitate a much larger payoff in terms of unity of action across non-emphasized in-groups.

Sometimes it's the difference between all travelers looking at and being suspicious of each other in transit, perpetuating macro-level conflict into every strata of everyday life, and a group of strangers coming together, and momentarily sharing the unique opportunity of traveling together, and being able to freely exchange in an environment of goodwill and camaraderie, and to be assured of unity of action through dissolution of fear at having to react to defuse violence on behalf of the traveling group.

Dissolution of macro-scale tension must begin at the bottom Of the social pyramid. Trying to work from the top down is a fool's errand.

Sometimes it's the difference between all travelers looking at and being suspicious of each other in transit, perpetuating macro-level conflict into every strata of everyday life, and a group of strangers coming together, and momentarily sharing the unique opportunity of traveling together, and being able to freely exchange in an environment of goodwill and camaraderie, and to be assured of unity of action through dissolution of fear at having to react to defuse violence on behalf of the traveling group.

Ironically, in the months after 9/11 I experienced the latter comraderie flying. It was the beat time to fly, IMO, if you could look past the soldiers w/ automatic rifles loitering around. In fact, the soldiers were quite peraonable once engaged, as well. Go figure.

Driving is largely unregulated, so I doubt this is about preventing travel.

Unless pigmented.

Terrorists aren't blowing up trains, yet.

And that's how you make stealing legal. Perry is a thief, plain and simple, not to mention the many other derogatory terms that could describe this subhuman shitstain. He is the embodiment of the American idea of creating a problem where one doesn't exist and then "solving" it for profit. This is known as the war on drugs. It's extremely profitable not only in terms of money but also in terms of creating fear used for societal control, especially for controlling minorities. Ruining people's lives and society to make a buck. I hope it really does get dangerous for this scumbag. The world would be better off without him and all the rest of the people like him.

The first time I traveled Amtrak, as a tourist in 2013, I was shocked to be asked for photo id just to buy my ticket. It seems a bit "Papers, please".

Offtopic: What a strange layout this website has. No offense, Failed to make any sense to me.

Interesting about one-way itineraries... I always wanted to go on a cross country train trip, the only time I've ever been on trains was at theme parks that just do a loop. No Wi-Fi though sounds a downer though. Maybe a time to read an ebook or edit vacation videos... My dream if ever making it big in tech is to retire early and travel full time, by train, cruise ship, by plane then buy an rv when ready to settle down some and slow down a bit with a house on wheels... Kinda interested in all styles of travel. So few years of traveling full time with just a suitcase and backpack, then buy my dream RV. Which be nice, be my own little apartment on wheels, can cook instead of eating out all the time, but still minimalism.

I think buying a big house, staying in the same area 98% of the year if lucky enough to even go on a vacation and collecting junk would be boring. I know some couples have so much junk, they argue about it and have cluttered houses. Then people load everything on credit, which if used responsibly and paid back monthly you get reward points, but some people just let it get to them. I rather have more experiences than collecting things, and the things I have should have a purpose. Then even if you pay off your house in full, you don't really own it. If the state decides to build a new highway or high speed rail, they'll just knock it down. At least with a RV or Tiny house on wheels you can move it. Someone with a $250,000 RV probably owns it more than someone living in a 5 million dollar mansion, yet they are more homeless than someone living in a $100,000 house.

So much to see and do, people dream about this all the time but money is a stopper sadly. There's a guy who owns his own business and decided to just cruise non stop, makes him happy and don't have much to take care of but he stays on the same ship about 6 months at a time booked back to back so he can have the same stateroom, I rather check out different ships and itineraries but everyone has different travel styles and wants. I know they have routes between Seattle and California, so maybe if booked 2 cruises with time to spare in between taking a train instead of a plane would be more scenic and a different experience, something to try at least once in a lifetime.

Also, I heard they cut the diner car out, and it's more airline type food now in an effort to save money. There's even a site called Amtrak Vacations too, so I figured one-way trips would be more common... People might fly and ride the train and fly back home or whatever next if they are a nomad.

It makes me sad people don't know their rights, even corporate media too... I seen recently a news story where they blur the video of the police, which I'm surprised since they are public officials. I feel like our founding fathers are tossing in their graves at what America is turning into, but I doubt any other country is much better anyways since some places are even worse.

I know officials get sworn in to uphold the constitution, but I don't think they even read it... Just raise their hand and repeat what they are told to be sworn in. Should quiz them on it.

Also surprised they don't search bags beforehand or tickets before getting on... I always figured it'd be similar to an airport. I know I heard a conductor goes seat to seat checking tickets at random, so seems a bit backward to me. I figured they would check everything before you board.

Then also traveling solo is a red flag too I heard which can get you sent to secondary, so if you aren't married or have a boyfriend or girlfriend that can slow you down... but I seen on the news solo travel is more popular than it is but I guess customs assumes a person is a drug smuggler, but I've heard it happens to woman more for some reason...

It seems like people who think for themselves and have alternative lifestyles such as digital nomads or even retired couples who RV get hassled more too, maybe due to stereotypes or profiling... Not a criminal, but just because you don't fit a profile you can be treated like one. Like I know in some states, nomads such as full-time RVers can't get a driver license or state ID unless they lie about living with someone else. Michigan is one I know of off the top of my head. So most people head to South Dakota and fill out an affidavit they are a full-time traveler, seems like that's making the state a bunch of money for catering to this niche. Seen a story about a couple who sold their house and got threatened by the Michigan DMV for not owning a house anymore because they used a mail forwarder. South Dakota and Texas allow mail forwarders. Florida does too depending on the county. One says if it's possible to live there even if don't park their full time, and not required to even lease a spot 365 days a year just possible to spend a night and it's good enough for them, so there's a campground that forwards mail and its allowed by the county. While another county, Clay County has interpreted something different and tried to take away voting rights recently. So If you live in a RV, boat or living out of a suitcase traveling you are basically a homeless person with money, so some states will discriminate against you. But then again by Michigan discriminating against them, they saved on taxes on their investment income by switching states so it ended up working out for them... I think maybe some states are tougher on residency requirements maybe because they have more social programs too, and you being a resident is a liability to them.

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