Licensed criminals: FBI informants authorized to break the law 5,600 times in one year
After much redacting by the authorities, the watered-down FBI's 2011 report obtained under
the Freedom of Information Act has revealed that agents had been
authorizing 15 crimes a day on average, in order to get the
necessary information from their informants.
The document does not indicate the severity of the crimes authorized by the agency, nor does it include material about violations that were committed without the government's permission. It just sites a number of 5,658 Tier I and II infractions committed by criminals to help the bureau battle crime.
According to the Department of Justice Tier I is the most severe and includes “any activity that would constitute a misdemeanour or felony under federal, state, or local law if engaged in by a person acting without authorization and that involves 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.”
The Tier II includes the same range of crimes but committed by informants acting without authorization from a federal prosecutor but only from their senior field manager in FBI.
In the past, the newspaper revealed, the violations ranged from drug dealing to bribery.
As an example of severe crime committed by an authorized informant, the newspaper references the case of James Bulger, a mobster in Boston who was allowed by the Federal government to run a gang ring in exchange for insider information about the Mafia. Since then, the US Justice Department ordered the FBI to track and record the wrongdoings of the informants, results of which are due annually.
The FBI remains secretive about its informants. It is known that in 2007, the FBI estimated that around 15,000 confidential sources were employed by the bureau.
The Justice Department has requirements in place which spell out the rules of engagement with informants and “otherwise illegal activity.” Authorization of violent crimes are not allowed by field agents and serious offenses must first be approved by federal prosecutors. But as the publication notes, the FBI’s Inspector General concluded in 2005 that the agency routinely failed to abide by those rules.
The FBI’s scheme to gather information using such methods is believed to be only the tip of the iceberg as other local, state and federal agencies also reportedly engage in similar practices. The FBI’s share of criminal prosecutions in court only amount to 10 percent of all criminal cases.
Meanwhile, a spokeswoman for the FBI, Denise Ballew, declined to comment the report saying only that the circumstances in which the bureau allows its informants to break the law are "situational, tightly controlled.”