The underworld has its own food chain. Just like in nature, there are prey and there are predators. Prey can generally be considered as those having something the predator wants, plus this same prey appears to be weaker than the predator. Even amongst the predators there exists a hierarchy, with some being stronger than others. And, those that consider themselves to be predators are sometimes surprised to find their intended prey may have their own thoughts about who gets to survive. In any confrontation, victory usually goes to the stronger or more cunning competitor.
In this world of crime of crime and betrayal, both criminals and spies go after whatever is valuable to them. Criminals usually hunger after money or items of monetary value, while the spy, for his part, seeks a way to acquire specific information or secrets. The wild card in this game is a shadowy figure known as the informant, a minor predator in his own right.
To law enforcement and spies, the informant becomes an asset in their methods of targeting an individual or even an entire group. The informant is their way in, their connection or means to acquire that target. Because the individual or group tends to see the informant as one of their own, they trust him or her to some degree and the way is soon cleared for information and evidence to flow towards the assets's Handler and whatever agency the Handler works for.
Later ostracized and disclaimed by those he betrayed, and never trusted a hundred percent by those he works for, it is easy to wonder why anyone would become an informant. Turns out, everyone has his own reasons for flipping. here's a few which have come up over time, sometimes used in conjunction with various other reasons:
~of being charged with a crime (aka "working off a beef")
~of other criminal associates
~of being thought an informant (this sounds contradictory, but oddly enough they figure since they are
already accused of this activity, they may as well really do it) * * * [see story at end]
Revenge or jealousy
~even family members, to include spouses, have turned on each other over petty disputes
~in it for the money, these are usually the most controllable
~looking for positive feedback they never got as a kid
~wants to be a cop (or spy), but can't or hasn't made the grade
James Bond Syndrome
~they fantasize and often exaggerate their knowledge of criminals or their own value to agency
~may set up to parallel their favorite movie or book scene
~ these are dangerous to their Handler and to themselves
~may be trying to discover the identity of undercover agents or other informants
~may be trying to find out agency's targets, methods and how their equipment works
~may be trying to eliminate their competition
~ are sometimes sent by their organization to infiltrate your organization
~to spread disinformation
~for past crimes, but this is seldom their only motivation for cooperating
Regardless of the reason(s) stated by an informant, a Handler should never completely trust that individual. The informant may have a hidden agenda, or he may later run into a tempting or coercive situation down the road, in which case he starts doing things the Handler knows nothing about until it's too late. That's when things go wrong and your asset becomes a liability.
Next time, we'll take a look at Handlers, rules and procedures, and how things can go bad in a heartbeat, even if the Handler did everything right. See ya on Fortnight Friday.
* * * It was early summer and four of us agents were headed back to the office in my gov't vehicle. The windows were down for comfort and fresh air. In the backseat, between two agents sat a handcuffed gentleman of the streets whom we had just arrested. Let's say his street name was Bright Lights. For the previous fifteen minutes, we had been trying to convince Mr. Lights to flip over to our side. He claimed he couldn't do that because it would hurt his reputation on the streets. We finally gave up on the idea.
And then as we were passing a night club where several criminal lounged out front on a sidewalk in this tough part of the city, I suddenly slammed on the brakes. Our tires screeched loudly. All the lounging criminals turned in our direction to see what was happening. I then pointed my finger out the window in their general direction and screamed, "Is that him?"
Unprepared for the sudden stop, Lights was thrown forward in the back seat. Out of instant curiosity, he looked out of the rear passenger window to see what I was pointing at. He then quickly ducked back in the seat, realizing that all those gangsters standing in front of the night club had seen his face and probably recognized him. As I drove on, Lights decided that he may as well become an informant now to work off his beef, because everyone would already think he was one. His street rep wouldn't suffer any the worse.
Lights turned out to be a pretty good asset.