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The FBI and informants, part 1: an increase in authorized crimes

The question of whether the end justifies the means is not merely an old philosophical chestnut. It is a vital current question in the criminal justice system.

After all, law enforcement authorities often allow informants to break the law because doing so serves the goal of gathering information that can lead to other criminal prosecutions down the road.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), in particular, frequently does this.

In this two-part post, we will discuss recent indications that the FBI’s use of what it calls “sanctioned crimes” is on the increase.

Last summer, USA Today gained access to an FBI report that documented how often informants were allowed to break the law in 2011. According to the report, this authorized law-breaking happened more than 5,600 times.

The crimes involved included violent offenses, drug distribution and white-collar crimes such as the bribery of public officials.

More recently, several months after the USA Today report, another publication, the Huffington Post, obtained information on FBI’s use of “sanctioned crimes” during 2012. The Huffington Post used a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to get this information.

The FBI’s response to the FOIA request showed that the bureau permitted more than 5,900 violations of the law during 2012. That was an increase of five percent from the year before.

The FBI is unapologetic about allowing crimes by informants in cases it deems advisable to do so. Obviously, however, allowing crimes is a rather odd thing for a law enforcement agency to be doing.

In part two of this post, we will examine the bureau’s reasoning in more detail.


Source:, "FBI allowed even more crimes in 2012 than in previous year," Dec. 27, 2013

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