The Federal Bureau of Investigation has numerous methods of combating crime in the U.S., and some of those tactics employ illegal activity in order to get to the source of corruption. The number of times illegal activity has been given the go-ahead has now been exposed for the first time in history.
The FBI's 2011 report has revealed that its informants, many who are former criminals themselves, were given permission to commit crimes at least 5,658 times in that year alone. This adds up to an average of 15 authorized crimes a day.
As ordered by the U.S. Justice Department more than ten years ago, the FBI has been tracking and reporting all crimes committed by informants. This practice was mandated after the FBI acknowledged that it allowed Boston mobster James "Whitey" Bulger to carry on in operating a dangerous crime ring in exchange for information about the Mafia. Those numbers that the agency has been collecting have never been made public until now.
According to the document, the FBI was responsible for about ten percent of crimes that were prosecuted in federal court in 2011. The FBI has not released exhaustive information regarding the nature of illegal activity it authorized, as it keeps its activity and nearly its entire sources secret in order to preserve investigative efforts. The spectrum that the illegal activity may have fallen under is very broad, and could have involved the allowance of anything from bribery, to drug smuggling, to robbery. How much is too much, and do the ends justify the means?
For an expert's opinion on the topic, I put the question to criminal attorney, Brad Laybourne.
According to Mr. Laybourne:
It is common for law enforcement to use confidential informants to set up drug deals, make introductions to syndicate bosses and expose clandestine criminal activity. Necessarily, the informants often have to engage in some level of illegal activity to accomplish these goals. Given that the most dangerous criminal actors are especially secretive, informants are the only way law enforcement can gain access to those criminal networks and activities.
The problem with the report that was issued is that it contains zero vital information. We already knew this was going on. What we don't know is what exactly are the types of illegal activities the informants are engaging in. Consequently, the public and the courts are unable to evaluate the effectiveness or the palatability of the program. The other thing the report fails to address is whether the FBI is allowing some criminals to operate freely in exchange for information about other criminal enterprises. That type of ignored illegal activity is different from where the criminal conduct is necessary as part of the investigation. The courts and the public are more likely to be disgusted by this type of quid pro quo.
The bottom line is that it is vitally important for defense attorneys to petition the court for all information on informants, as it is oftentimes relevant to the defense of clients. Certainly, the government's case is weaker if they are relying on bad actors for their information.
Well, the answer to my question of "do the ends always justify the means?" seems to be that while we may not like the fact that informants are getting away with their criminal activity all in the name "police work" the means do justify the ends in many cases if we are to have any chance of breaking these illegal networks. But, as citizens who are required to abide by the laws or suffer the consequences we do deserve to know more -- this report just doesn't give us enough information.
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