Imagine a government agency authorizing confidential informants to break the law in order to gather information about a major crime syndicate. Note that we are not talking jaywalking here but, rather, serious offenses such as buying and selling illegal drugs, bribing government officials, and planning robberies.
According to internal documents obtained by USA Today under a Freedom of Information Act request, the FBI engages in that type of activity. And not just every now and then but as many as 15 times a day on average. During 2011 the nation’s top law enforcement agency authorized the commission of a total 5,658 crimes, all in the name of battling crime.
The article notes that this practice is nothing new:
The U.S. Justice Department ordered the FBI to begin tracking crimes by its informants more than a decade ago, after the agency admitted that its agents had allowed Boston mobster James ‘Whitey’ Bulger [who is currently on trial in federal court for racketeering and murder charges] to operate a brutal crime ring in exchange for information about the Mafia. The FBI submits that tally to top Justice Department officials each year, but has never before made it public.
Shawn Henry, who up until his retirement last year supervised criminal investigations for the FBI, defends the practice, saying, “It sounds like a lot, but you have to keep it in context. This is not done in a vacuum. It’s not done randomly. It’s not taken lightly.”
That’s all well and good, but the FBI is not the only government agency that “green lights” the commission of crimes in the pursuit of convictions. In fact, the bureau is responsible for only a tiny fraction of the total number of offenses committed by informants each year. In addition, the documents obtained by USA Today do not detail any crimes bureau sources were known to have committed without the government’s permission.
Other federal law enforcement agencies, including the ATF and DEA, said they are unable to determine how often their informants are given license to break the law.
Alexandra Natapoff, a professor at Loyola Law School Los Angeles, laments, “The million-dollar question is: How much crime is the government tolerating from its informants?”
Rep. Stephen Lynch, a Democrat from Massachusetts, has sponsored a bill would require federal agencies to notify lawmakers about the most serious crimes their informants commit. “I think there’s a problem here,” he is on record as saying. “and we should have full disclosure to Congress.”
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