Drug Policy

More on Informant Abuse

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Two weeks ago, I wrote about a fairly startling congressional hearing in which a representative from the FBI could not assure two congressmen that the agency would not (a) allow its undercover informants to get away with murdering U.S. citizens, and, (b) keep secret exculpatory evidence that would prevent an innocent person from going to prison.

As it turns out, there are DOJ guidelines prohibiting such behavior. See page 25 (PDF):

b. A JLEA is never permitted to authorize a CI to:
(i) participate in an act of violence;
(ii) participate in an act that constitutes obstruction of justice (e.g.,
perjury, witness tampering, witness intimidation, entrapment, or the
fabrication, alteration, or destruction of evidence);
(iii) participate in an act designed to obtain information for the JLEA that
would be unlawful if conducted by a law enforcement agent (e.g.,
breaking and entering, illegal wiretapping, illegal opening or tampering
with the mail, or trespass amounting to an illegal search); or
(iv) initiate or instigate a plan or strategy to commit a federal, state, or
local offense.

If the man the FBI sent before Congress to represent the agency at hearings about the use of informants wasn't aware of the guidelines, one can't help but wonder how closely DOJ's cops and prosecutors follow them.

Worse, when federal law enforcement agents do break them, and look the other way while their paid informants commit violent crimes, the agents in violation aren't punished, and the victims aren't always compensated.

For the last several years, journalist Bill Conroy has been following the "House of Death" case (and been harassed by the government for doing so), in which a paid informant for federal ICE agents (he was paid more than $200,000) participated in several brutal murders, many with the knowledge of federal law enforcement officials. Most of those killed were Mexican nationals, but one was a legal U.S. resident, and U.S. officials also stood by while, in a case of mistaken identity, an American citizen was kidnapped, taken to Mexico, and allowed to languish for three years in a Mexican prison.

The federal government recently had to pay $385,000 to a DEA whistle blower who claimed he was punished for bringing the outrageous behavior of federal ICE officials and U.S. Attorney Johnny Sutton to light. But it looks as if the families of the actual murder victims won't get a dime.

This week, a federal judge threw out a lawsuit filed on behalf of the victims' families in that case before it ever got to trial, ruling that even if all of their accusations were true, federal authorities have no duty to protect people from third parties, even if those third parties are working for the federal government and the government knows they're about to commit violent crimes; and because the murders all took place in Mexico, not in the United States.

Sutton is still the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Texas. And none of the ICE officials who participated in the House of Death case have been disciplined, save for those who tried to raise red flags about what was going on.

MORE: "joe" notes in the comments section that the guidelines only seem to pertain to federal officials authorizing an informant to commit violence or obstruction, not to looking the other way while he engages in it, or failing to report it after it happens.  So it looks like they aren't breaking their own guidelines.  Not sure if that makes all of this more outrageous, or just a different kind of outrageous.

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  1. Of course Sutton’s still US Attorney. Gonzales and his lieutenants were too busy covering the administration’s considerably exposed backside to police their own people.

  2. The regulations don’t require an agent to prevent those things, only not to authorized them. They do not require the agents to do anything if informants do those things without authorization.

  3. So … Sutton will be the next AG? I’m serious; a Texas District Attorney has to be high on Bush’s list.

  4. Joe–

    Good point. May have to run that by a few people.

  5. in which a paid informant for federal ICE agents (he was paid more than $200,000)

    So crime really does pay. Maybe I should consider a career change.

  6. Man, being an FBI informant sounds like a bitchin’ job.

  7. Radley, I am an attorney, and I can almost guarantee that is how the guideline is to be interpreted. Previous authorization and sweeping something under the rug after discovering it took place are two totally different situations.

  8. Every time I read one of RB’s posts, I feel like killing someone. I unfortunately am not sucking off the taxpayer’s tit via the DOJ and can’t count on the feds to cover up for me.

  9. and because the murders all took place in Mexico, not in the United States

    Now if they we’re running a gambling website, that would be another matter.

  10. The regulations don’t require an agent to prevent those things, only not to authorized them. They do not require the agents to do anything if informants do those things without authorization.

    IANAL (wonder if Larry Carig ever used that?) but if a citizen knew a murder was going to take place, and said murder did take place, isn’t that citizen an accessory?

  11. but if a citizen knew a murder was going to take place, and said murder did take place, isn’t that citizen an accessory?

    Duh, Russ, of course. But that would be for the peasan…I mean citizens. FBI agents are doing the important work of stopping people from getting high, and so are not held to the same standards.

  12. Sirs:

    We prefer hoi polloi.

    Thank you.

  13. “””So … Sutton will be the next AG? I’m serious; a Texas District Attorney has to be high on Bush’s list.”””

    Sutton hasn’t been big with the Republicans since he prosecuted the two border agents.

  14. The regulations don’t require an agent to prevent those things

    That may indeed be right, though you’d think simple moral and ethical standards ought to require it if these goons had even a shred of basic human decency. How someone who knowingly lets an innocent person suffer for years in a Mexican jail, while letting brutal murders occur, can even begin to look at himself in the mirror without clogging the sink with vomit is beyond me. If these stories are true (and I really hope there is some other explanation) then these are some seriously fucked up, disgusting individuals who should be rotting in jail themselves. They’re certainly not the kind of people who should ever be welcome in polite company much less commanding respect from the vast majority of Americans.

    Someone said on a thread the other day that not all cops are bad and perhaps he is right. But I’m starting to see these endless claims of good cops (and by that I mean law enforcement generally) as the equivalent to sightings of UFO’s and Bigfoot – I’ll believe it when I see one.

  15. Why, thank you, Radley. You even wrote my name correctly.

    I’m very case-sensitive about that.

  16. “”and because the murders all took place in Mexico, not in the United States””

    Does that matter anymore? Didn’t we just convict three people of conspiracy to murder, kidnap, and maim people in a foreign country?

  17. “”That may indeed be right, though you’d think simple moral and ethical standards ought to require it if these goons had even a shred of basic human decency. “””

    Did they take an oath to uphold the law?

  18. joe,

    Radley spelled it correctly but he called you “joe.” With the quote marks. He’s clearly mocking you.

    Sincerely,

    “de stijl”

    PS – What if Mexico did an extrordinary rendition on some of these folks – both the CIs and the agents / prosecutors involved?

  19. PS – What if Mexico did an extrordinary rendition on some of these folks – both the CIs and the agents / prosecutors involved?

    We would scream bloody murder (no pun intended) because another government was attempting to try American citizens for their actions while they were within the United States. And then Irony would shoot itself in the head.

  20. ” “joe” notes in the comments section that the guidelines only seem to pertain to federal officials authorizing an informant to commit violence or obstruction, not to looking the other way while he engages in it, or failing to report it after it happens. ”

    Even a broken clock is right sometimes.

  21. the guidelines only seem to pertain to federal officials authorizing an informant to commit violence or obstruction, not to looking the other way while he engages in it, or failing to report it after it happens.

    I thought it was common law that, “Silence gives consent.”

  22. qui tacet consentire videtur – “he who is silent is taken to agree” – Thus, silence gives consent. Sometimes accompanied by the proviso “ubi loqui debuit ac potuit”, that is, “when he ought to have spoken and was able to”.

    From Wikipedia – latin phrases

  23. With respect to: “The regulations don’t require an agent to prevent those things, only not to authorized them.”

    The DOJ guidelines don’t apply to ICE agents or their informants. But the ICE guidelines do:

    U.S. Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement
    Office of Investigations
    Interim Undercover Operations Handbook
    September 2003

    ?. The undercover operative is an OI Special Agent, Pilot, Air Enforcement Officer, Air Interdiction Officer, Marine Enforcement Officer, Patrol Officer, or any other ICE Officer; or an officer of a Federal, state, or local law enforcement agency who voluntarily works under the direction and control of the ICE in a particular investigation and whose relationship with law enforcement is concealed from third parties in the course of an investigative operation; or, although this will not be specified in the anticipated DHS Guidelines, any cooperating individual working under the direction and control of ICE or of another Federal, state, or local law enforcement agency, working jointly with ICE in a particular investigation and whose relationship with law enforcement is concealed from third parties.

    ? 6.2.3 Prohibitions
    An undercover operative shall not:
    A. participate in any act of violence except in self defense;
    B. initiate or instigate any plan to commit criminal acts except in accordance with Section 6.3.1; or
    C. participate in conduct that would constitute unlawful investigative techniques (e.g., illegal wiretapping, illegal mail openings, breaking and entering, or trespass), unless approved by the Department of Justice.

    The murders occurred between August 2003 and mid-January 2004, when these interim guidelines were in effect.

    So if ICE agents are made aware that their informant is participating in murder, or become aware ahead of time that the informant will participate in murder (as is alleged in this case and presumed true by the judge as part of the reasoning of his ruling) and yet those ICE agents do nothing to stop their informant (are silent), then it can be argued that the ICE agents are knowingly allowing the informant to violate the ICE guidelines.

    Does not that entail some degree of complicity?

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