FBI Undercover Operations
Looking at “compliance” issues, in September 2005, the Justice Department’s Inspector General [IG] said he found the FBI was generally “compliant” with the Attorney General’s Guidelines conducting Undercover Operations. Unlike deficiencies found in the Bureau’s Confidential Informant Program, IG Glenn Fine said he thought the unit overseeing FBI Undercover Operations was generally effective and well managed. He attributed much of the unit’s success to having an up-to-date field manual and using standardized forms and computer technology to supervise cases.
Generally speaking, the Attorney General [AG] Guidelines make clear when the FBI can initiate an investigation, collect intelligence, use a confidential informant, conduct an undercover operation, and monitor/record consensual conversations. Ironically—not long after the guidelines were established—it was Congress who claimed “victim” status because of FBI inflicted abuses. Making statements to the media, several members said the Bureau’s ABSCAM probe “unjustifiably” solicited Congress with bribes and some critics claimed the FBI “trolled” for targets in violation of the new guidelines.
But FBI Director William H. Webster disagreed with the Bureau’s critics stating agents had a legitimate reason to pursue the ABSCAM investigation. Webster said he supported the use of the FBI’s undercover approach when investigating bribery, gambling, and/or narcotics because the crimes had a willing participant—making it more difficult for agents to locate someone willing to testify. Using a Confidential Informant [CI] or a Cooperating Witness [CW], Webster said FBI Undercover Operations allow agents to get inside a criminal organization—enabling investigators to identify/prosecute leaders versus members.
While house members were generally supportive of the FBI’s use of the “undercover” technique, the Select Committee said the tactic created serious risks to property and privacy rights—not to mention civil liberties—leaving some to think the technique could easily be abused. Accordingly, house members sought Justice Department controls requiring the FBI to address certain risk factors before an operation could be authorized.
Consequently—prior to initiating an FBI Undercover Operation—both the Justice Department and the FBI are now required to address certain risk factors such as: 1.] agent safety; 2.] damage to public institutions because of FBI manipulation and/or interference; 3.] injury to a target’s reputation; 4.] “entrapment” or “outrageous government conduct;” and 5.] damage to 3rd parties because of the FBI’s generation/creation of a crime.
[NOTE: Information contained herein was summarized from a September 2005 report issued by the Justice Department’s Inspector General Glenn A. Fine]