Federal Law Enforcement-authorized Crimes by Informants Rising

Federal Law Enforcement-authorized Crimes by Informants Rising

In the movies, it seems reasonable when cops recruit criminals as informants to get an inside view of organized crime. In reality, there can be serious problems with the reliability of evidence gathered by informants. There are also important ethical issues when informants are allowed to commit serious crimes while working for law enforcement, yet agencies not only allow it but even authorize it.

Little concrete information is available about how often local, state and federal law enforcement agencies officially sanction informants to continue committing crimes. What we do know comes from annual “Otherwise Illegal Activity,” or OIA, reports the FBI has been ordered to keep since it was revealed that mobster James “Whitey” Bulger was authorized to keep running a violent gang while informing for the agency. Other law enforcement agencies are not required to keep such records, however, and the FBI is involved in only about 10 percent of criminal prosecution.

Some of those OIA reports have been obtained, in highly-redacted form, via Freedom of Information Act requests by reporters. In the 2011 report, everything was redacted but the introduction and the total number of offenses committed by FBI informants: 5,658. Recently, reporters obtained the 2012 number — 5,939 — an increase of nearly 5 percent.

The reports don’t specify exactly what crimes were committed or where. We do know they are categorized as Tier I and Tier II offenses, which means the informant was given permission for “the commission or the significant risk of the commission of certain offenses, including acts of violence; corrupt conduct by senior federal, state, or local public officials; or the manufacture, importing, exporting, possession, or trafficking in controlled substances of certain quantities.”

Earlier this year, an FBI spokesperson told reporters that OIA is “situational, tightly controlled.” The Justice Department requires a senior FBI field manager or a federal prosecutor to approve serious offenses in advance. In 2005, unfortunately, the DOJ’s Office of the Inspector General found the FBI was routinely violating those rules.

We don’t know exactly how many drug crimes, public corruption offenses, acts of violence are being committed by state and federal informants. Based on the 2012 total, however, FBI informants alone were committing, on average, more than 16 Tier I and Tier II violations every single day. It gives us leave to wonder just much of the War on Drugs involves drug activity that is only “otherwise illegal.”