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Saturday, February 4, 2017

Intercept publishes FBI informant manual

The Intercept has published the FBI's 2015 Confidential Human Source Policy Guide. It includes policies on recruitment, payments, and international informants: The FBI Gives Itself A Lot of Rope to Pull In Informants.  From the article:

"The classified guidelines reveal:
  • Before approaching a potential informant, agents are encouraged to build a file on that person, using information obtained during an FBI assessment, including derogatory information and information gleaned from other informants. The FBI claims that it seeks derogatory information in order not to be blindsided by its informants’ vulnerabilities, but such material may also be useful in coercing cooperation from otherwise unwilling recruits.
  • FBI agents may use undercover identities to recruit informants, including online. These approaches are not limited by a rule stipulating that agents and informants are allowed no more than five meetings with a target before their activity is subject to supervisory approval as an undercover operation.
  • With permission from supervisors, FBI agents may recruit minors as informants. They may also, with permission from the U.S. Department of Justice, recruit clergy, lawyers, and journalists.
  • Informants may operate in other countries for the FBI, and the FBI guidelines do not require notification to be given to the host countries."

The FBI's "immigration relief dangle"

The FBI has long used immigration as both a carrot and stick to induce people to become informants.  See this story from BuzzFeed last year: Welcome to America, Now Spy on Your Friends.  Now the Intercept has published this article: When Informants Are No Longer Useful, the FBI Can Help Deport Them. It includes new information from  the FBI's "Confidential Human Source Police Guide"--its manual for handling informants--which uses the phrase "immigration relief dangle" to describe the dynamic.  FBI agents coordinate with immigration officials to identify and pressure potential informants, and then help ICE locate them for deportation when they are no longer useful.  From the article:

"It’s been clear for a decade that the FBI works with ICE to keep informants in the country. What we didn’t know was that the assistance is often contingent and temporary, and that the FBI actively assists ICE in locating informants who are no longer useful so that they may be deported."

“'This creates a perverse incentive structure, because informants are incentivized to keep themselves valuable,' said [immigration expert and Stanford lecturer Diala] Shamas. 'It will further incentivize them to create investigations when there wouldn’t be one otherwise. In the traditional criminal context, the law enforcement community is conscious of the risk that coercing informants increases the likelihood of getting bad intelligence. But in the counterterrorism and intelligence context, this caution has been thrown out the window.'"

The article is by Trevor Aaronson, author of the Terror Factory: Inside the FBI's Manufactured War on Terrorism.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

DOJ to investigate Orange County

The U.S. Department of Justice has announced an investigation--in conjunction with the U.S. Attorney's Office of the Central District of California--into unconstitutional informant practices in Orange County.  This is a welcome and important development.  Below are links to stories, and to the original letter from former California Attorney General John Van de Kamp and U.C. Irvine Dean Erwin Chemerinsky, requesting that DOJ intervene:

Monday, November 28, 2016

Congress to hold hearing on DEA informant program

This Wednesday, November 30th, the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform will hold a hearing entitled "Oversight of DEA's Confidential Source Program."  The announcement describes the hearing as follows:

  • The hearing will examine the recent audits and investigations conducted by the Department of Justice Office of Inspector General (DOJ OIG) of the Drug Enforcement Administration’s (DEA) Confidential Source (CS) Program. 
  • Topics include the current state of DEA’s oversight and management of its CS program, changes it has made to the program, and DEA’s response to DOJ OIG’s recommendations.  

  • The DEA maintains an extensive and recently expanding CS program. DOJ OIG found deficiencies in DEA’s oversight and management of this vast network of confidential sources dating back to 2005.  
  • These CSs included employees from Amtrak, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), private bus companies, and employees in the parcel delivery industry being paid for information.
  • A September 2016 DOJ OIG audit found that from 2010 to 2015, DEA had 18,000 active CSs, with over 9,000 CSs receiving approximately $237 million in payments from the DEA.  
  • Much of the activity identified by DOJ OIG occurred under the previous DEA Administrator Leonhart who resigned in April 2015 after Chairman Chaffetz, Ranking Member Cummings, and other members of the Oversight Committee released a statement expressing “no confidence” in her ability to manage the DEA.
The U.S. Department of Justice OIG audit can be found in this previous post.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Young Idaho informant is killed

Isaiah Wall was 19 and, according to his friends and his phone, working as a police informant. He was killed by a gunshot to his head.  The Idaho State Police have not acknowledged whether he was working for them, or whether his death was related to his undercover activities.  Here is the ongoing investigation: Unfinished Business.

10th anniversary of Kathryn Johnston's informant-related death

In 2006, Atlanta police shot and killed Kathryn Johnston, a 92-year-old grandmother. Her death--which involved the botched and illegal use of numerous informants--triggered a national inquiry into informant use, a Congressional hearing, and several criminal prosecutions.  This CNN retrospective looks back at the story and the reforms that Atlanta has instituted since then.  Here is a link to the original 2007 congressional hearing.

Friday, September 30, 2016

DOJ audit of DEA confidential source program

The U.S. Department of Justice Office of the Inspector General has just released this audit of the DEA's Confidential Source Program.  In a rare glimpse into the scope and scale of informant deployment, the audit states: "Between October 1, 2010, and September 30, 2015, the DEA had over 18,000 active confidential sources assigned to its domestic offices, with over 9,000 of those sources receiving approximately $237 million in payments."

The audit was critical of the DEA. Here are a few excerpts:

  • "[W]hile DEA policy prohibits paying deactivated sources who were deactivated because of an arrest warrant or for committing a serious offense, we found two concerning instances of payments to previously-deactivated sources. In one case, the DEA reactivated a confidential source who previously provided false testimony in trials and depositions. During the approximate 5-year period of reactivation, this source was used by 13 DEA field offices and paid $469,158. More than $61,000 of the $469,158 was paid after this source was once again deactivated for making false statements to a prosecutor. . . .  [W]e estimated the DEA may have paid about $9.4 million to more than 800 deactivated sources between fiscal years (FY) 2011 and 2015."

  • "[W]e were extremely concerned to discover the DEA condoned its confidential sources’ use of “sub-sources,” who are individuals a source recruits and pays to perform activities or provide information related to the source’s work for the DEA. During our review of DEA files, we found evidence of sources who were paid based, in part, on the need to pay “sub-sources,” but the information in the files was insufficient to allow us to determine the full extent of such payments."
  • "[W]hen we asked the DEA Intelligence Division to provide us with an itemized list and overall total of payments to intelligence-related confidential sources, it was unable to do so. We reviewed DEA records and estimated that, during the 5-year period of our review, the Intelligence Division paid more than $30 million to sources who provided narcotics-related intelligence and contributed to law enforcement operations, $25 million of which went to just 9 sources. Additionally, we identified one source who was paid over $30 million during a 30-year period, some of it in cash payments of more than $400,000. We concluded the Intelligence Division’s management and oversight of its sources was not commensurate with the large amount of payments it made to them."