This is almost beyond belief. Sadly, it's rock-solid reporting from the AP.
The Drug Enforcement Administration paid an Amtrak secretary $854,460 over nearly 20 years to obtain confidential information about train passengers…
The employee was not publicly identified except as a "secretary to a train and engine crew" in a report on the incident by Amtrak's inspector general. The secretary was allowed to retire, rather than face administrative discipline, after the discovery that the employee had effectively been acting as an informant who "regularly" sold private passenger information since 1995 without Amtrak's approval, according to a one-paragraph summary of the matter.
You've got to almost admire the entrepreneurial Amtrak employee. Almost, but not quite (it turns out she was breaking rules not by handing over the info but by doing it without telling her superiors and acting as a paid informant).
But you've got to be totally agog at the DEA for at least two reasons. First, that they were doing this in the first place in what appears to be pretty random fashion.
And second, because the "DEA could have lawfully obtained for free through a law enforcement network, The Associated Press has learned" (emphasis added).
And there's this:
Under a joint drug enforcement task force that includes the DEA and Amtrak's own police agency, the task force can obtain Amtrak confidential passenger reservation information at no cost, the inspector general's report said. Under an agreement, Amtrak police would receive a share of any money seized as a result of such drug task force investigations, and Amtrak's inspector general concluded that DEA's purchase of the passenger information deprived the Amtrak Police Department of money it would have received from resulting drug arrests.
Back in 2001, Reason's Mike Lynch did the math on some of those seizures, including the case of Sam Thach, a Vietnamese immigrant who made the mistake of buying a ticket in cash. Back then, Amtrak's cut was 10 percent of the loot seized. As is often the case in such seizures, it's up to the individual being rolled to prove they are innocent.