• 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)

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Monday, November 24, 2014

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: 1,000 affidavits reveal an "informant mill"

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette has published a series of in depth articles based on 1,329 affidavits filed in U.S. District Court in Pittsburgh from 2009 through 2014.  "The affidavits reveal an informant mill in which suspects became informants and helped agents to bust others, who then in turn became informants aimed at other targets."  The series also includes stories regarding corrupt police, cases derailed by informants and  wrongful convictions.  From the Post-Gazette:

"The Post-Gazette has uncovered instances in which informants used to build federal cases were convicted murderers, liars or double agents working with both law enforcement and the targets. One informant with a violent past, used in a DEA case that ended in acquittal, wasn't put through the federal review process.
The results have included the indictment and incarceration of people whose lives were turned upside-down prior to their exonerations. Only nine people have been fully acquitted in federal court cases brought in Pittsburgh since 2009, but four of those not guilty verdicts involved shaky informants. Two of those exonerated defendants first spent years behind bars."

From the affidavits, the Post-Gazette constructed a picture of how often different federal agencies used informants in that jurisdiction.  On average, approximately 40 percent of the affidavits relied on informants, but agencies diverged. For example, an article entitled "Gathering and Analyzing Data," the Post-Gazette explained:

"Confidential informants were much more prevalent in drug cases. Of the 94 cases led by the Drug Enforcement Administration or its task forces, 60 were built using confidential informants. Thus nearly two-thirds of the DEA's cases were based on secret sources.  By contrast, the FBI used confidential informants in just under one-third of the 126 cases that stemmed from its affidavits. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives used confidential informants in 13 out of 34 cases, or 38 percent, consistent with the average."

The last in the series here: Experts offer solutions to confidential informant problems.