Showing posts with label informants. Show all posts
Showing posts with label informants. Show all posts

29 April 2018

Informants 201


by R.T. Lawton

Never completely trust an informant. Things go wrong.

If you can, verify everything an informant tells you before you act on the information. One, he may be in error. Two, he may be in error on purpose. In the first case, accidents do happen. Periodically, you will hear in the news about some police outfit hitting the wrong residence during a search warrant. If the police are really unlucky that day, someone dies or gets injured during the entry into that wrong address. True, the informant could have transposed a couple of numbers in the address, or maybe he got confused and mentioned the apartment on the wrong side of the hallway. It happens and the news media plays it up. But, the officer obtaining the search warrant should have done his homework better. He should have checked the names and the address to ensure a match.

In the second possibility, the informant may have an agenda you don't know about, in which case you'd best be very careful. And even when an informant and his information check out this time, you should stay aware for the future, because the future can quickly become flexible.

"Herbie" was a hard core street dude. he came over to our outfit as someone else's informant and anyone in the group could use him. One night, he introduced me undercover to a heroin dealer and I bought a spoon of smack. In those days, dealers would sometimes measure their coke and smack with a spoon from their silverware drawer. Depending upon its size, the drug weight could range from 1/6th of an ounce to 1/2 an ounce. Of course, while they're sitting on their front porch watching traffic and waiting for the next customer, they would get bored and start whetting the top edges of the spoon on their cement porch. As time went by, the volume measured became smaller, but the price always stayed the same. Anyway, by the time we arrested the dealer and his trial came up, Herbie had already been arrested for killing a guy and was facing the death sentence. When he found out we couldn't do anything for him on the death part, his story in court changed to one of entrapment. Now, according to Herbie, the man, not a dealer at all, was only handing over a package to me and was doing it for Herbie because Herbie allegedly owed me money and couldn't pay the debt. That was a fun trial, but as it turned out with Herbie, it was either help him or look out.

Informants also have a way of backsliding.

We had a white, 300 pound gang member for a C.I. who was really friendly and fun to be around. You couldn't help liking him. And, he was good at his job as an informant. He made informant buys for us, he introduced me to the bigger suppliers to make large buys, and he worked his way in so he could travel with dealers when they went to their suppliers to re-up their inventory. The guy was a pleasure to work with. And then we found that he was bringing back his own purchases of drugs when he went on these trips, drugs for sale on the local market. So much for trust and good times. In the end, he joined some of the people he'd made cases on who were by then lodged in the grey-bar hotel. Separate institutions of course.

Naturally, there's more than one form of betrayal.

My partner signed up an overweight Hispanic dude as a cooperating individual. His criminal occupation had been as a pharmacy burglar, but no one ever caught him at it. We ran him off and on for about three months, but somehow none of the deals he set up ever went down, so we cut him loose. Two years later, I walk into a different C.I.'s apartment to make a prearranged buy. Who's sitting in the living room with barbiturates (reds) for sale? Right. Our rather large Hispanic who indulged in pharmacy burglaries. He did not appear to recognize me, so with some apprehension on my part, wondering if the light bulb would suddenly come on, I made the buy. As soon  as I got to a radio, I called my partner, filled him in, and mentioned that the guy still had more drugs for sale. my partner met me in the hallway and I took him inside. I introduced my partner undercover to the dealer and my partner then made a buy of other barbiturates (yellows). At the time of trial, the dealer testified he was working for the FBI and was merely trying to find some criminals for them. Oddly enough, no FBI agents showed up to testify on his behalf. This was one of those situations where a bad guy had pretended to be a cooperating individual so he could scope out law enforcement agents and thus avoid them in his future criminal endeavors. Too bad his memory failed. However, had he possessed a firearm and remembered my partner or me, it could have gone badly for us.

I can tell you from several personal experiences, there's nothing like walking into a dealer's house or into a bar to do a deal and then finding a previous informant sitting there. You never really know what's going through his head. Has he gone back into the business? Is he part of this deal? Will he sit there and feign ignorance? Will he walk away? Will he give you up to protect himself? What is he doing here? That's when you split your mind, focus half on the dealer you're negotiating with and half on the potential danger of that previous informant. You just hope the deal goes down quietly and you can walk away without an incident, cuz if things go wrong and you're counting on surveillance to ride to the rescue, you don't have enough minutes on the clock. By the time they get inside, most everything that concerns you has probably already happened.

After enough years of working with various kinds of people, it can cause you to look at your fellow man and woman with a jaundiced eye, even when you're out in the general public. That's one reason why cops like to sit with their back to a wall when out in a public place. It gives you a chance to see what's coming at you, a chance you don't always get when working informants.

Bottom line, CYA as best you can. And, the next time you're sitting in a bar, picture yourself in one of these types of situations. How would you handle it?

In the meantime, ride easy, my friends.

24 September 2017

Informants 102


by R.T. Lawton

Last month, we discussed where informants came from and some of the reasons they agreed to cooperate with law enforcement. So now, let's say a potential informant walked into your local agency with the intention of cooperating, or you could even "have a hammer" on a criminal and he has chosen to "work off his beef." What do you, as a cop, do at this point? That depends upon the agency you work for. They all have their own rules and policies, but some things are basic.

The first thing you want to know is what can he do for you. If all he knows is that there's a lot of late night traffic at the place next to his residence and he suspects something criminal is going on, then you have nothing more than a citizen's complaint. Take down the info, thank him if he's a walk-in citizen and check it out later. It might be something, and then again, it might not be more than a group of dedicated party friends. If it's a criminal you busted and then made an offer to cooperate, lock him up, he's shining you on.

If he has names, dates, and specific knowledge of criminal activities, then you write up an intelligence report covering every crime and criminal he knows and ever met. Next, you see if the guy can introduce an undercover agent into one of the participants, give probable cause for a search warrant, or otherwise assist your agency. If so, then you take down a personal history of your new C.I. (you want to know who his relatives are and how to find him later if things go wrong), you photograph him (once again, to show people in case you need to hunt hi down or need a photo line-up for witnesses if things go wrong), and you fingerprint him (to make sure he is who he says he is and to determine his past criminal record, because things can go wrong). We busted a guy on a package delivery where one of our agents posed as a UPS driver. We quickly flipped the new defendant. Even his lawyer went along with him cooperating. Problem was when his prints came back, the guy was already in the wind. Seems the U.S. Marshals were looking for him under another name. Took us a while to catch up to him again. No offer for cooperation was made this time, nor did he get bond.

If the potential C.I. walks in wearing a tin foil hat, you politely show him the door. On his way out, you ask him what other agencies he's been to. In the old days, there was a circuit for those types. It seems some of our fellow agencies occasionally needed a little laugh to brighten up their work day, therefore those in tin foil hats were often referred to the last agency that had somehow stepped on their toes. Unfortunately, not all weirdos believed in the protective powers of tin foil, thus it may have taken a while to recognize them for what they were. I once received a phone call from a stage hypnotist who had performed the night before at a police benefit. He was calling to volunteer his services in helping us recruit the "best" informants. In the background, I swore I could hear adult male giggling.

Most agencies have some restrictions on various categories of informants. For instance, the use of juveniles is not permitted unless there is signed permission from at least one parent. Some agencies say no juveniles at all. The use of a one or two-time felon might be permissible, but the use of a three-time habitual criminal may need special permission from a higher up supervisor. Use of a felon on parole or probation may also need the permission of parole or probation agent who supervises that felon. After all, the goal of parole/probation is to remove the felon from the influence of his criminal buddies and into a better, more positive environment where he can straighten out, whereas if he works as an informant, then you are throwing him back into the same situations that led to him getting busted in the first place. And, if your potential informant is hooked on drugs, he'll make a great drug snitch, but there are inherent problems. We had a C.I. we'll call Thomas. He was great at making heroin buys. We'd search him, give him the buy money and then surveill him going into the dealer's house. When Thomas came back out, he would hand over the ten caps of smack he'd just bought. We'd search him again to ensure he had no drugs on him and that he didn't keep any of the buy money for himself. It wasn't until trial that we found out Thomas was such a good customer that the dealer gave Thomas eleven caps of smack for that amount of buy money. Seems Thomas shot up the eleventh capsules while he was still in the house, thus the supposed evidence count and the money spent always balanced out.

All informants are given a number which is referred to in buy and surveillance reports instead of using the informant's name. True, the defendants will figure out who the informant really is in the end, but it delays the process and affords the informant a measure of protection for a while. Generally, it gives him time to relocate.

In many agencies, the informant also signs an Informant Agreement. This document serves to remind the cooperating individual of the terms of the agreement between him and the agency. It also says point blank that the informant is not a law enforcement agent, nor is he an employee of that agency, and therefore has none of the powers of a cop. You'd be surprised.

And, this brings us to guns. Always search the informant before meeting the bad guys. If it's an informant buy, then you want to be sure he has no drugs going in. You also count any money he has on him to ensure he doesn't buy any drugs for personal use. And, you search him for weapons. Do that same search if the informant is introducing you in an undercover capacity to the bad guys. You would not believe the number of times we found guns on informants while getting ready to go in on a deal. Their common retort is you have a gun, why can't I have one?

Let me count the ways things can go wrong.

Especially if the informant is carrying a gun.

27 August 2017

Informants 101


by R.T. Lawton

Law enforcement, in many cases, depends upon informants to solve crimes, catch criminals in the act, or at least get pointed in the right direction as to who did it and sometimes how they did it. Information from informants also helps law enforcement agencies recover stolen goods from robberies, burglaries and scams. Do informants provide this information out of the goodness of their heart? Rarely. Can they get hurt for conducting these informant activities? Oh yeah. Those in the criminal world despise informants and often dish out punishments ranging up to severe beatings and even death.

So why do these people inform on their friends, associates, fellow criminals and even family in some cases? Guess you could say there are a lot of reasons, and every informant has his or her own personal reason. So, let's take a look at where they come from and why they make that choice.

Fear:
 ~Fear is a constant factor in the underworld and many of those on the street have or are committing crimes to survive in their environment or in an attempt to get ahead in the world, maybe even to acquire some of the luxuries they think they so richly deserve in life. If these people feel that the cops are getting close to them for past crimes committed, they may voluntarily come forward and offer to work in exchange for a free pass on their prior misdeeds. On the other side of the coin, after the police do make arrests for past crimes committed, the police will often make the new defendant an offer, assuming the police have other criminals they want to put in prison and think their new arrestee can make cases on those criminals. In street slang, this is known as "having a hammer" on the soon-to-be informant. He either works, or gets a lengthy sentence.

For instance, in the drug world, we generally want to move up the ladder to a bigger dealer, so in exchange for a lighter sentence, the defendant agrees to make cases on his supplier and any other larger suppliers he can get into. Then, when that larger supplier goes down, we make him an offer too. Some take the deal, some don't.

 ~Running on the streets is a dog eat dog environment. Many criminals and criminal organizations use fear to maintain their position and as a measure of protection from rivals and others who may wish to do them harm. However  this same fear sometimes prompts a lesser criminal to work with the law in order to remove that threat from his personal safety. Fear can be a double-edged sword that cuts both ways.

 ~And strangely enough, there is the fear of being thought an informant. I took advantage of this fear once in Kansas City. We had just arrested a drug dealer and were driving him to the county jail for processing. We made him an offer and he declined, but wasn't civilized about the declination. So, as we were passing a local night club where several gangsters were hanging out on the street, I hit the brakes, screeching the tires. I then pointed towards the gangsters and hollered loud enough for all to hear, "Is that the guy?" The sudden stop of our car threw the handcuffed defendant forward and he instinctively looked where I was pointing. All the gangsters saw his face. I then drove on. His next comment was, "I may as well become an informant now, because all those guys already think I am after this." He went on to do a fair job, just not on those gangsters, and he subsequently got a lighter sentence in court,

Revenge or Jealousy:
 ~Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned. Can't tell you how many times a cast-off wife, mistress or girlfriend has called up to give information on their good-for-nothing ex-partner who just happens to have a long list of of ongoing or prior crimes. One of my long time fugitives hiding out in Venezuela was tripped up by the cast-off girlfriend of the man in Florida who forwarded hiding-out money on a monthly basis from the fugitive's dear, old, sweet corruptible mother in Wyoming.
 ~And, that green-eyed goddess of envy prompts many a person who sees others living in the lap of luxury from the proceeds of their crimes to drop a dime on those richer competitors, so as to give them a little well deserved misery.

Mercenary:
 ~These are the ones who do it for the money. They are usually the easiest ones to control, and when they finish working your area, you usually pass them along to work another area far enough away that the word hasn't spread, yet close enough that the informant is easily available for court on your own cases, if necessary.

Ego:
 ~These guys are looking for the positive feedback they never received as a kid. Or, they consider themselves to be smarter than the opposition and this is a way to prove it.

Wannabe:
 ~Someone who wants to be a cop, but isn't good enough to make the cut. It could be a physical problem, a psychological one, or maybe he didn't have the needed education. This type may try to tell you how to do your job.

James Bond Syndrome:
 ~These people are often dangerous to the controlling agent. They frequently fantasize about their position, exaggerate their knowledge of criminals and have been known to setup arrangments which parallel their favorite movie scene. We found out later, that one guy we dubbed as Pale Rider had wired up his own apartment to make his own recordings on dealers and on drug agents. In the end, we busted him for dealing on the side while he was working for us.

Repentance:
 ~Some people feel bad for their past crimes and want to make up for their transgressions, but that is seldom their only motivation for cooperating with the law.

Perverse:
 ~People in this category may be trying to discover who the undercover agents are or who other informants are. I've run into both of these situations. Fortunately, it turned out bad for them and not for our side.
 ~They may be trying to find out your agency's targets, methods of operation or how the agency's surveillance equipment works.
 ~They may be trying to eliminate their competition so they can get a larger percent of the criminal earnings.
 ~And sometimes they are sent by the criminal organization you're working on to infiltrate your organization. In some cases, they don't come as informants for you. This could be as simple as the Bandidos or H.A.'s sending their girlfriends to work as dispatchers or secretaries for the local cop shop or even a federal agency. You've all seen the movie "The Departed." That's closer to reality than you may think.

So, now you've got an idea of the who's and the why's of an informant. Next Month, in Informants 102, we'll discuss the ins and out's of handling these so-called cooperating individuals.

In the meantime, if you're involved in criminal activities, who can you trust? Nobody. Given the right motivation, anybody can turn on you.

As the Hell's Angels say, "Three can keep a secret, if two are dead."

Pleasant dreams.

06 June 2014

Assets and....


by R.T. Lawton

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:

Fear
     ~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

Mercenary
     ~in it for the money, these are usually the most controllable

Ego
     ~looking for positive feedback they never got as a kid

Wannabe
     ~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

Perverse
     ~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

Repentance
     ~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.