Federal drug agents regularly mine Americans’ travel information to profile people who might be ferrying money for narcotics traffickers — though they almost never use what they learn to make arrests or build criminal cases.

Instead, that targeting has helped the Drug Enforcement Administration seize a small fortune in cash.

DEA agents have profiled passengers on Amtrak trains and nearly every major U.S. airline, drawing on reports from a network of travel-industry informants that extends from ticket counters to back offices, a USA TODAY investigation has found. Agents assigned to airports and train stations singled out passengers for questioning or searches for reasons as seemingly benign as traveling one-way to California or having paid for a ticket in cash.

The DEA surveillance is separate from the vast and widely-known anti-terrorism apparatus that now surrounds air travel, which is rarely used for routine law enforcement. It has been carried out largely without the airlines’ knowledge.

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