US federal agencies paid $548 million to informants working for the FBI, DEA and ATF in recent years.
A new report offers a window into how extensive the US government’s use of paid informants is, and how many crimes taxpayer-funded informants were authorised to commit.
According to government audits, US federal agencies paid $548 million to informants working for the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF).
Records compiled from reviewing federal reports show there were at least 22,800 crimes authorised by federal informants between 2011-2014.
The Inspector General (IG) at the Justice Department reported the findings.
The FBI paid $294 million (2012-2018), an average of $42 million annually, with “long term” informants comprising 20 percent of its intelligence relationships.
The DEA shelled out $237 million (2011-2015) and had over 18,000 active informants assigned to its domestic offices, with 9,000 of them on the federal agency’s payroll for services provided.
The ATF funneled $17.2 million (2012-2015) to 1,855 informants that were paid $4.3 million annually.
High-earning informants included an airline employee who received over $600,000 in less than four years, while a parcel employee received excess of $1 million in five years.
“During this audit, we found that, between FYs 2011 and 2015, the DEA actually used at least 33 Amtrak employees and eight TSA employees as sources, paying the Amtrak employees over $1.5 million and the TSA employees over $94,000,” said the IG.
One Amtrak source was paid $962,615 between 2010 and 2015 to be a confidential source, something the IG referred to as “a substantial waste of government funds,” and that the information provided “could have been obtained by DEA at no cost through a joint task force with the Amtrak Police.”
Two recent examples of where the FBI employed confidential sources were mentioned in the report: the Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer kidnapping plot case and the January 6 US Capitol riot.
Twelve informants were involved in a conspiracy to kidnap Governor Whitmer, and it was reported some of them played a much larger role and “had a hand in nearly every aspect of the alleged plot, starting with its inception” to the extent to which the question was raised as to “whether there would have even been a conspiracy without them.”
Meanwhile in the 2021 Capitol case, it was reported at least two informants were embedded with the crowd and were in contact with their FBI handlers on the day of the riot.
A recent testimony in Congress saw Rep Thomas Massie, a republican from Kentucky, play a video of a man inciting pro-Trump election protestors to breach the Capitol on January 6 to Attorney General Merrick Garland.
I just played this video for AG Merrick Garland. He refused to comment on how many agents or assets of the federal government were present in the crowd on Jan 5th and 6th and how many entered the Capitol. pic.twitter.com/lvd9n4mMHK— Thomas Massie (@RepThomasMassie) October 21, 2021
Unclassified government reports procured by Gizmodo earlier this year found that over 9,600 crimes were committed by the FBI during the first two years of Donald Trump's presidency (2017-2018) alone.
The FBI relies heavily on the recruitment and operation of human sources across its investigatory purview, including counterintelligence activities conducted with the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and military.
The identities of informants, many of whom possess criminal histories, are tightly held secrets. As a result, negotiations around their cooperation – and any financial compensation they may receive – take place off the record.
The FBI’s post-9/11 surveillance program in Muslim communities across the country has been widely reported – having recruited over 15,000 informants to source information such as immigration, criminal, or financial problems that could be used as leverage to recruit other informants.
These informants led many hundreds of Muslims into FBI counterterrorism sting operations, in which undercover agents were involved in supposed terror plots, in many instances providing the weapons, money and logistical support in the process.