FBI Informants Break The Law So The FBI Can Make The Law
August 26, 2016 (Fault Lines) – A terrorist, a drug trafficker, an armed robber, and a federal agent walk into a bar. The bartender takes one look at this crew and runs out the back door. So should you. Used to be only one of these had the massive power of the federal law enforcement complex behind him. Now they all do. And that’s a problem.
Somewhere between the War on Drugs and the War on Terrorism, a smart federal employee realized there was an easier way. Old fashioned investigation is fine, and usually netted a criminal. But it’s hard. And time-consuming. So why not go straight to the source?
Law enforcement has quickly figured out the laziest easiest way to catch a criminal is to use another criminal. Birds of a feather…whatever. You know how it works. Use a criminal to catch another criminal. Then prosecute the second criminal. And the first criminal. Except the first criminal gets a sweet deal. So one criminal gets hammered and one criminal gets not hammered. And you are a whole lot safer. From the second criminal, at least.
Turns out the first criminal, also known as the “informant,” is not as noble as law enforcement would have you believe. There is rarely a story of redemption. Rather, there is a story of government-sanctioned crime. According to recent research by the Daily Dot, FBI informants committed over 22,000 crimes in the last four years.
No big deal, right? If you want to catch the devil, you gotta head to Hell. And that means getting some dirty tour guides. It’s just the way it works. Or, at least, that’s the song we have been sold. An entire criminal justice system (at least the federal one) is built on the theory there is no honor among thieves.
Rationally, this is not all that unexpected. Committing crimes comes with inherent risks. One of those risks is that the people a criminal commits crimes with are typically other criminals. So boohoo if your fellow criminal rats you out, right?
But the Daily Dot’s report presents an altogether different problem. Sure, criminals should worry about other criminals. That’s the game. But when the government sanctions crime, it goes a little further. Now we all have to worry about it. And when your accomplice is the government, there is no price to pay.
USA Today previously revealed confidential informants engaged in “otherwise illegal activity,” as the bureau calls it, 5,658 times in 2011. The figure reached 5,939 a year later, according to documents acquired by the Huffington Post. In total, records obtained by reporters confirm the FBI authorized at least 22,823 crimes between 2011 and 2014. (Totals from 2015 were unavailable when the Daily Dot initiated its records request.)
But not to worry. The criminals law enforcement employs aren’t being criminals for the sake of crime. It’s for the government, which makes it all okay.
Most crime “requires mens rea,” says [former undercover FBI agent Michael] German, meaning criminal intent. “If I’m committing this activity that would otherwise be criminal, but I’m not doing it for a criminal purpose, I’m doing it for a law enforcement purpose, it really isn’t criminal activity after all.”
Crime is only crime when it’s crime. When it’s being committed with the government’s permission, it magically becomes an “investigative tool.” Again, stop worrying. When the FBI is an accomplice to crime, it is careful to follow its rules on committing crimes, sort of.
The FBI’s boilerplate response whenever asked about its vast informant network is that the agency “strictly abides by policies established in the Attorney General’s Guidelines Regarding the Use of Confidential Informants.” But historically, that hasn’t always been the case.
Strangely, the FBI is discovering their criminal cohorts are, well, criminals. It turns out criminals aren’t the most trustworthy bunch.
“Again,” adds German, “it’s not that we’re ignoring these crimes; it’s that we’re letting the informant engage in the criminal activity for the purpose of furthering our investigation.” The “bigger problem,” he says, is that informants often engage in criminal activity and don’t tell their handling agents about it. According to German, it’s also not unusual for handling agents to withhold knowledge of unauthorized criminal activity from their superiors.
The “informant” commits a crime and hides it from the agents. And sometimes agents hide the crimes from their bosses. Toss that into a federal courtroom and it’s known as a “conspiracy.” Woe to the unsuspecting rube who finds himself on the wrong end of a “willful blindness” jury instruction.
Does any of this really matter? A criminal got caught, a crime got stopped. But another criminal, or crime, went free to make that happen. Or created the crime that got the criminal caught. There is no net gain to society when we are just trading off one for the other. So yes, it matters.
It’s a big waste of time. The end goal of our criminal laws should be to make the country a bit safer. No one really cares about a specific crime on a specific date, unless they were directly affected by it. What matters is the general crime that’s occurring. And creating more to catch more does nothing for us.
The funny thing about police is that they never believe anything criminals say, unless they are telling on other criminals.* Most cops would probably be pretty adamant that criminals are not to be trusted. They will lie, cheat, and steal to get out of trouble. Yet, the second they decide to cooperate, they become entirely trustworthy. So trustworthy, apparently, that FBI agents are willing to cover up their crimes for the greater good of an investigation.
When the government gets into the crime business, we should seriously question its motives. Fighting crime is fine. But when you make more of it under the guise of fighting it, are you really serving society’s interests?
*I stole this line verbatim from a book, Bull City Blues, by a lawyer in North Carolina. It’s a pretty good book.