DEA's NADDIS System: A Guide for Attorneys, the Courts, and Researchers

Prepared by Leonard Pickard, FRN 8268711, POB 24550, Tucson, AZ 85734 (, July, 2011

In the early 1970s, the newly formed DEA established the Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs Information System (NADDIS). NADDIS has become the most widely used tool in drug law enforcement, with a NADDIS search frequently the first step in any DEA investigation. Comprised of millions of records on individuals rather than on drugs, NADDIS records provide a chronological history of DEA reports on U.S. citizens and foreign "subjects of interest." NADDIS records also exist on individuals with no criminal history, including sports figures, celebrities, politicians, attorneys and researchers 1.

In part a collection of abstracts or summaries of individual DEA reports on specific persons, NADDIS has been described by DEA as an "index to and the practical means by which DEA retrieves investigative reports and information from (DEA's) "Investigative Filing and Reporting System (IFRS)"2. Thus, NADDIS is a "pointer index" by which the abstracts can be reviewed quickly to locate selected, complete reports on a subject of interest, address or phone number.

Lack of Public Information on NADDIS

Efforts through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to obtain a sample NADDIS record have been rejected by DEA. The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals has indicated its concerns about the "scanty" secondary literature on NADDIS, further noting that although it would be helpful "to know something about NADDIS," "the government has successfully opposed efforts to obtain discovery aimed at determining the character and reliability of NADDIS, and as a result the record is bare of evidence about it".3 There are few news articles discussing NADDIS1,4 and only one criminology journal article discussing a failed request for NADDIS information5. However, a few recent web-based documents involving DEA contractors have provided insight into the structure of NADDIS.6,7 In response to a FOIA request for NADDIS data by a criminologist for research purposes, DEA previously has provided only a sealed, non-public "'live' (simulated) NADDIS printout" for review by the district court in camera.8,9

Expansion of NADDIS

The number of NADDIS files has grown rapidly, from 1.5 million files in 19843, to 5.5 million files in 200010, through 6.9 million files for the last date for which rigorous data is available11. By extrapolation, using the rate of file creation of approximately 10,000 files per week in 198312 and DEA data from 200713, the NADDIS database currently is estimated to contain files on approximately 8,000,000 individuals.

After a DEA interview of a witness or member of the general public during which a subject of interest is discussed, a copy of the report is sent to the DEA Headquarters Records Management Division (SARI)14 for processing into the NADDIS records of the individuals mentioned in the interview. At SARI, over 100 analysts review records in two shifts, with the volume exceeding 40,000 reports each month in 2007. In response to the amount of information collected by NADDIS, DEA has attempted to apply the Department of Defense TIPSTER technology for automated processing of large amounts of documents into NADDIS14,15,16 using proprietary methods such as HOOKAH14and DEA's FALCON document processing system and FIREBIRD intranet17. A NADDIS record may also contain abstracts or other reports by DEA analysts, legal staff and FBI, in addition to Case Initiation Reports and abstracts of biographical data in an individual's Personal History Report (DEA-202 form).

NADDIS Checks as a Preliminary Inquiry on an Individual

A NADDIS check is the first step in any criminal inquiry and reveals the existence of any prior reports of investigation or mention in any file of an individual, business, airfield, plane, vessel or phone number7. The existence of a NADDIS record on an individual has been employed to provide probable cause for airport searches18, surveillance and home entries. By contrast, the absence of a NADDIS record has been grounds for permitting bond for criminal defendants.

NADDIS also is routinely used by DEA and other agencies to conduct background checks on prospective employees, contractors19 and informants20, with a NADDIS check in one instance revealing a DEA database contractor's prior involvement in drug trafficking21.

The NADDIS Access Log or "Detail Report"

NADDIS logs the access of NADDIS by any authorized DEA employee and records the time, date, location and identity of the employee who requested access to a particular file. These access logs or "detail reports" have been utilized by DEA Headquarters to identify DEA employees who provided NADDIS records to criminal organizations or who have improperly accessed NADDIS21. Agencies' access logs have also been considered by district courts in resolving legal issues over the timing of agents' and prosecutors' awareness of investigative records on a subject22,23. Thus, the use of NADDIS detail reports to detect government improprieties is similar to the use of other law enforcement database access logs in demonstrating police misconduct. For example, in Kansas the FBI's Interstate Identification Index (III) access log confirmed improper access by a sheriff who conducted criminal history checks against political opponents24.

The First NADDIS Record Released by DEA through FOIA

In 2010, after a decision by the Department of Justice Office of Information Policy (OIP) and mediation by the National Archives and Records Adminstration (NARA) Office of Government Information Services (OGIS), DEA in a change of policy released for the first time an actual NADDIS record on an individual25a,25b. This FOIA release, which was requested and litigated by an incarcerated researcher26a for records on an unrelated and deceased third party in an effort to characterize NADDIS, now permits any individual to obtain their NADDIS record, or that of any deceased third party, or any living third party (with a signed, original DOJ-361 release authorization)27. The DEA FOIA release demonstrates that NADDIS includes a "Remarks" section (p. 7-10 of the FOIA release, Id.) which contains the date and file number of each DEA report on a subject, and which abstracts and summarizes the content of the complete report. Hence, this recent FOIA release by DEA may be employed as an exhibit in pre-trial discovery requests for NADDIS records, or as an exhibit by other FOIA requestors seeking NADDIS records.

The Use of NADDIS by the Courts, Defense Bar and Prosecution

With the change in DEA policy regarding release of NADDIS records through FOIA, production of NADDIS records of government witnesses and defendants through FOIA requests provides a valuable resource for the defense bar for both investigative purposes and as a check on potential government improprieties concerning the narrative of events and origins of an investigation. For example, NADDIS provides the date of DEA's first record on an individual and the actual chronology of an investigation22. NADDIS access logs or detail reports can also be used to determine the date of inquiries to NADDIS, to assess the involvement of other agencies22, and to corroborate or impeach witnesses' testimony. The production of government witnesses' NADDIS records may also be requested in pretrial discovery motions and required by the court as exculpatory or impeachment material in compliance with the government's obligations. Although a NADDIS record on a witness (pointing to all associated DEA Reports of Investigation) is inherently impeaching, NADDIS is infrequently requested by defense counsel and rarely, if ever, provided by the government in any case. Yet, NADDIS records now accessible through FOIA may also provide alternative theories of defense or exculpatory material and, significantly, will also point to all DEA records on an individual rather than simply the records selected for disclosure in the course of pre-trial discovery. Additionally, the 9th Circuit recently concluded as "a matter of first impression and great importance" that all agency records of government witnesses who are officially confirmed as informants by agents' testimony at trial are now accessible through FOIA26b.

The Future of NADDIS

NADDIS increasingly will be employed and shared by multiple federal agencies in the post-9/11 digital environment. NADDIS is likely to be included in the datasets of the more than 53 government agencies now contributing records to FBI's Investigative Data Warehouse (IDW)28,29 and the DHS Immigration and Customs Enforcement Pattern Analysis and Information Collection (ICEPIC) system30,31. As an effective tool in the detection of terrorism-related heroin trafficking, NADDIS may be used to link Taliban-influenced Afghan government officials and heroin sources in Afghanistan for purposes of selective enforcement, more efficient allocation of federal agencies' resources, reduction of corruption, and for study and analysis of the terrorism-narcotics nexus32,33b. NADDIS is becoming an even more significant contributor to the intelligence community's (IC) datamarts for federal and international agencies' characterization of nascent and existing major violent narcotics organizations linked to terrorism. NADDIS through FOIA now is accessible to criminal justice policy researchers concerned with selective enforcement methods, violent crime demographics32,33a,33b, drug epidemics34 and the impact of information-sharing on personal privacy and civil liberties35.


Research assistance for this paper was provided by Dr. Tim Scully and John Barth Beresford. Attorneys and researchers are invited to contact the author on NADDIS and FOIA issues at FRN 82687011, POB 24550, Tucson, AZ 85734 (

References and Endnotes:

1. Grim, Vanessa Jo. UPI Release, "VIP Names in Drug Agency's Computer Files," July 3, 1984.

2. Zavala v. DEA, 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 102357 (D.D.C. 2009).

3. U.S. v. Ornelas-Ledesma, 16 F.3d. 714 (7th Cir. 1994) ("The government has successfully opposed effort to obtain discovery aimed at determining the character and reliability of the NADDIS database, and as a result the record is bare of evidence about it. At argument the government's lawyer, while saying she had used NADDIS herself, disclaimed any knowledge about the system except how to access it.")

4. Government Computer News, July 8, 1991, p. 85.

5. Yeager, Matthew. "The Freedom of Information Act as a Methodological Tool: Sueing the Government for Data," Canadian Journal of Criminology (see

6. DEA-07-R-0036, Amendment 2, SF 1449 (NADDIS "supports making key investigative data available to Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) intelligence analysts, investigative personnel and other users in the law enforcement community" (p. 7).

7. (Id.) Answer to Questions: DEA-07-R-0036 ("there is an average of 3 or more names (person, business, vessel, etc.) on a document").

8. Yeager v. DEA, 678 F.2d 315, 325 *(D.C. Cir. 1981).

9. Yeager v. DEA, 1979 Dist. D.C. LEXIS 15374 (1979).

10. see, e.g. DEA-6 reports of investigation published in State v. Skinner (CF-03-4213, Tulsa County, OK).

11. DEA website (, May, 2008.

12. op. cite DEA-07-R-0036, Amendment 2.

13. op. cite, ID. Answers.

14. DARPA Workshop ("TIPSTER Text Program") held at Vienna, Virginia, May 6-8, 1996 ("The HOOKAH Information Extraction System" Chris Barclay, Sean Boisen, Clinton Hyde, and Ralph Weischdel, BBN Systems and Technologies, 70 Fawcett St., Cambridge, MA 02138, 617-873-4309) (noting NADDIS is "a semi-formatted report generated primarily by field agents, as well as legal staff, analysts, and others contracted out to more than 100 analysts working in two shifts").

15. TIPSTER overview at

16. TIPSTER sponsored by DARPA, see

17. DEA's FALCON document processing system and FIREBIRD intranet, (see

18. U.S. v. $141,770.00 in United States Currency, 7 F.3d 1355, 1357 (8th Cir. 1993).

19. DEA Special Contract Requirements: H.1 DEA- 2852.204-83 Security Requirements for Personnel Security Access Level: DEA Sensitive/U.S. Citizenship Required (November 2005)("DEA will conduct a background investigation on all contractor personnel." The type of background investigation will be determined by DEA. As a minimum, DEA will conduct a National Agency Check and Inquiry (NACI) that includes telephone inquiries of the applicant's employers, references, and associates regarding the suitability of the applicant, and query other Federal agencies' indices and the following records systems: NADDIS, NCIC, NLETS, Credit Reporting Agencies.

20. DEA Agents Manual Sec. 6612 ("Confidential Sources") (available at;; and

21. Kidwell, David. "DEA, FBI Suspend Online Contracts - Firm's Founder Suspected of Drug Ties" Miami Herald, July 3, 1999.

22. U.S. v. Aileman, 986 F.Supp. 1228 1265-68 (N.D. Cal. 1997).

23. U.S. v. Yuzary, 2000 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 7106 (S.D.NY 2000).

24. Eaton v. Meneley, 379 F.3d 949 (10th Cir. 2004).




26b. Pickard v. DOJ, U.S. App. LEXIS 15397 (9th Cir. July 27, 2011); Pickard v. DOJ., 2011 WESTLAW 3134505 (9th Cir. July 27, 2011); see also



29. Electronic Frontier Foundation report on IDW at

30. ICEPIC Privacy Impact Assessment, DHS (see

31. See

32. Caulkins, Jonathan P., Mark A.R. Kleiman & Jonathan Kulick. Drug Production and Trafficking, Counterdrug Policies and Security and Governance in Afghanistan. NYU Center of International Cooperation (2010).

33a. Kleiman, Mark A.R. When Brute Force Fails: How to have Less Crime and Less Punishment. Princeton University Press, 2009.

33b. Kleiman, Mark A.R., Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawkins. Drugs and Drug Policy - What Everyone Should Know. Oxford University Press, June 2011.

34. Caulkins, Jonathan P. "Should the U.S. Direct More Law Enforcement Effort at XTC?" RAND Corporation, Drug Policy Research Center (CT-171) (Santa Monica, California, June 2003).

35. "Protecting Individual Privacy in the Struggle Against Terrorists: A Framework for Program Assessment" National Research Council, National Academies Press, Washington, D.C. (2008).