• 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

Saturday, June 27, 2020

Jack Abramoff: classic repeat offender informant

Remember Jack Abramoff, the corrupt lobbyist who defrauded Indian tribes of millions and used the money to bribe members of Congress and White House officials?  In 2008 he was sentenced to four years of incarceration for multiple offenses, decades less than he might have received, in exchange for his cooperation.  Now Abramoff is headed back to prison for . . .  corrupt lobbying.  Abramoff joins a long line of repeat offender informants who commit serious crimes, cooperate in exchange for leniency, and then continue committing those very same offenses.  It is one of the costs of running the criminal system as a marketplace in which guilt and information can be so easily and routinely traded: we send the message that informants can earn impunity, and that they can work off even the most serious crimes if they are useful enough to the government.  I worried about the Abramoff case back in 2009 here.  As I wrote back then, "this is the perennial dilemma with snitches: it is very hard to know whether we are actually getting more security and justice by letting them off the hook, or whether we too easily forgive serious wrongdoing in the name of cooperation."

Friday, June 19, 2020

Recordings of police who helped informants sell drugs

Eye-popping series of articles on whistleblowing Officer Murashea Bovell. Bovell recorded fellow Officer John Campo who admitted that he helped an informant continue to sell drugs in exchange for help arresting low-level buyers. This is exactly backwards: protecting big fish dealers who turn in their little fish users.  From the article: 

    "Campo's claim that he personally safeguarded the drug dealer’s bundle of crack was made in one of several phone calls secretly recorded by Bovell between 2017 and this year. In that and another recording, Campo claimed that members of the department’s narcotics unit allowed favored drug dealers to sell with impunity, get deliveries, and control territory. In exchange, he said, the dealers, serving as confidential informants, gave them information leading to the arrests of their own low-level clients."

This is also an example of how informant use involves tolerating and perpetuating all sorts of other crime, including domestic violence.  According to the article, the informant who was permitted to continue dealing drugs "has racked up a string of convictions for choking, domestic violence, assault, contempt, and harassment, earning him several stints in prison and prompting courts to issue protection orders."  Again from the article:

    "Lawrence Mottola, a former Brooklyn prosecutor, said police should be very cautious about using informants involved in domestic violence. 'It’s natural to feel that you’re emboldened by this because you have the backing of the police and they’re going to help you if you get stuck in a situation,' he said. 'It’s potentially very dangerous for everyone in that household or in that relationship. And domestic violence cases are already extremely dangerous.'"

Monday, June 1, 2020

How police turn teens into informants

Check out this interview with Nick Taiber, former City Council member in Cedar Falls, Iowa, who became an drug informant when he was a teenager, and Luke Hunt, former FBI agent and now professor.  Taiber describes how police pressured him at age 17 to become an informant after a car accident.  Hunt says "What’s most troubling to me is a very common scenario in which the police compel an informant to do certain operational acts because they have a tremendous amount of power and leverage over the person." More here from Slate: How Police Turn Teens Into Informants

The past few years have seen new attention to the youth informant phenomenon.  Sarah Stillman's tour-de-force article The Throwaways came out in the New Yorker in 2012; since then there have been numerous media stories regarding college students and other young people pressured into become informants, often with terrible consequences for them and their families.