• SNITCHING: Criminal Informants and the Erosion of American Justice
  • U.S. Attorney General's Guidelines on the FBI's Use of Confidential Human Sources
  • Sarah Stillman, The Throwaways, The New Yorker (2012) (article on the use of juvenile informants)

Recent Blog Posts

Friday, August 23, 2013

Congressman Lynch Urges Holder to Strengthen Informant Guidelines

Congressman Stephen Lynch (D-MA), author of the 2013 Confidential Informant Accountability Act, has written a formal letter to Attorney General Eric Holder, asking that the FBI be required to report serious informant crimes to Congress. From the press release:
The FBI routinely authorizes its confidential informants to engage in so-called 'otherwise illegal activity' without full disclosure to Congress as to the nature and extent of these crimes," said Congressman Lynch. "By revising the current guidelines governing the use of FBI confidential informants to require the FBI to report to Congress on the specific crimes committed by its human sources, the Attorney General would take a significant step towards ensuring greater accountability, transparency, and safety regarding the administration of Department of Justice confidential informant programs. 
Lynch, a senior member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, has continually supported enhanced accountability and transparency in the use of government confidential informants. In the 113th Congress, he has introduced H.R. 265, the Confidential Informant Accountability Act of 2013, legislation that would require all federal law enforcement agencies to report to Congress all serious crimes committed by their confidential human sources. In addition, Lynch has consistently called for the Oversight Committee to conduct hearings regarding the use of confidential informants by the Department of Justice and specifically, the FBI. In the 112th Congress, Lynch, with the support of the Oversight Committee and Senator Charles E. Grassley, led a more than yearlong investigation to examine the relationship between the FBI Boston Division and an individual known as Mark Rossetti. Importantly, the investigation facilitated an internal review of the FBI's Rossetti case files by an FBI Inspection team deployed to Boston in 2011 and confirmation of Rossetti's previous status as a longtime FBI confidential informant.
Lynch's letter to Holder can be found here.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

USA Today on crimes committed by FBI informants

Newly uncovered documents reveal that the FBI expressly authorized its informants (or Confidential Human Sources) to commit over 5,600 crimes in a year. USA Today obtained the documents in response to a FOIA request. Although it is well known that informants often continue to offend, this one of the first public accountings of informant crimes authorized by the government. The 5,600 number does not include unauthorized crimes committed by informants, although the FBI is required to document those as well.
The FBI has special rules governing the authorization of informant crime. Referred to as "Tier 1" and "Tier 2 Otherwise Illegal Activity," handlers can approve the commission of crimes by their informants, as long as the informant does not personally commit perjury or a violent crime. Permissible crimes include: drug trafficking, crimes of violence committed by persons other than the informant, and the provision to a third party of "a controlled substance, an explosive, firearm, or other dangerous weapon...with little or no expectation of its recovery by the FBI." Those rules can be found in the U.S. Dep't of Justice Guidelines for the FBI's Use of Confidential Human Sources. While 5,600 crimes may sound like a lot, this is the tip of the informant crime iceberg. As the USA Today story put it,
Crimes authorized by the FBI almost certainly make up a tiny fraction of the total number of offenses committed by informants for local, state and federal agencies each year. The FBI was responsible for only about 10% of the criminal cases prosecuted in federal court in 2011, and federal prosecutions are, in turn, vastly outnumbered by criminal cases filed by state and local authorities, who often rely on their own networks of sources.
In fact, the FBI has some of the best accountability and transparency rules in this area. Many state and local police departments lack guidelines for documenting or authorizing informant crime, leaving it to the discretion of individual officers to decide whether and under what circumstances their informants will be permitted to commit new crimes.