USA Today Misleads Readers on FBI 'Informant Crime' Issue

USA Today Misleads Readers on FBI 'Informant Crime' Issue

In an article Aug. 4 by Brad Heath titled: “Exclusive: FBI allowed informants to commit 5,600 crimes,” USA Today mislead their readers by not revealing that the majority of those “crimes” were actually ordered by the FBI. The “crimes” the informants “committed” were not for their own interests, but rather FBI-directed tools for the protection of Americans. 

The article refers to what is known as “Otherwise Illegal Activity (OIA),” where an FBI undercover source is told to gain the trust of the criminal group he or she is operating within, oftentimes requiring that minor laws be broken.

The U.S. Attorney’s office gives authorization for a specific set of crimes that can be broken, such as trespassing if someone is undercover with a organized burglar group. The acts are done under extremely close supervision and require approval for a limited set of actions, for a limited time period, from the U.S. Attorney’s office. An example of the OIA would be: “______ is allowed to trespass on this specific date and will not be prosecuted, provided _____ does not do x, y, and z. The term for this allowance ends in 12 hrs at this specific time and date.”

Not only did USA Today misrepresent these facts to their readers, but they also failed to properly identify “informants.” They over-generalized the FBI’s Confidential Human Source Program, where only some are actually “informants.” 

Generally, the program uses: operational sources who are simply serving the nation under a sense of duty and are tasked as assets to infiltrate criminal or terrorist groups; others, who are actual informants sharing information about groups they are involved in; and those who are cooperating sources, many caught for a crime and are cooperating with law enforcement for a reduced sentence. 

The USA Today article heavily and incorrectly implies that all informants are criminals who are reveling in their self-serving crimes, being ignored by the FBI.

USA Today writes:

Agents authorized 15 crimes a day, on average, including everything from buying and selling illegal drugs to bribing government officials and plotting robberies. FBI officials have said in the past that permitting their informants — who are often criminals themselves — to break the law is an indispensable, if sometimes distasteful, part of investigating criminal organizations.

The paper also quoted Professor Alexandra Natapoff as stating:

The million-dollar question is: How much crime is the government tolerating from its informants?” said Alexandra Natapoff, a professor at Loyola Law School Los Angeles who has studied such issues. “I’m sure that if we really knew that number, we would all be shocked.”

USA Today failed to inform their readers that Professor Natapoff is in fact an anti-law enforcement-cooperation activist who runs a website called the “Snitching Blog,” attacking the invaluable participation of Americans who share information or talk with law enforcement.

(Full Disclosure: Brandon Darby has previously been an undercover operational source for the FBI and often defends other undercover sources from left-of-center media smears. He is a staunch defender of law enforcement, local and federal.)

Follow Brandon Darby on Twitter: @brandondarby