Federal agencies paid out at least $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), in recent years, according to government audits.
Our auditors at OpenTheBooks.com compiled this information by reviewing federal reports. While some of the data is several-years old; it’s apparently the most recent available.
The FBI spent an average of $42 million a year on confidential human sources between fiscal years 2012 and 2018. “Long term” informants comprised 20 percent of its intelligence relationships (source: DOJ IG 2019 report).
The ATF employed 1,855 informants who were paid $4.3 million annually (FY2012-2015). Therefore, on average, each informant made $2,318 for the year. (source: DOJ IG report 2017).
“One federal agency, the DEA, had over 18,000 active confidential sources assigned to its domestic offices, with over 9,000 of those sources receiving approximately $237 million in payments for information or services they provided to the DEA” (between Oct. 1, 2010 and Sept. 30, 2015, source: 2016 DOJ IG report).
High-earning informants included an “airline employee who received more than $600,000 in less than four-years, and a parcel employee who received over $1 million in five-years.” The Inspector General at Justice who scrutinized DEA informants reported the findings.
“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.”
One Amtrak employee was paid $962,615 between 2010 and 2015 to be a confidential source, which the IG called “a substantial waste of government funds.” The information provided “could have been obtained by DEA at no cost through a joint task force with the Amtrak Police.”
While certain informants were becoming federally-minted millionaires, the average DEA informant made much less – approximately $26,333 over a recent five-year period.
And it appears there may be corruption, in addition to crime, in the system. In 2017, during a Congressional Oversight Committee hearing on confidential informants, then-Chairman Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) noted:
“a court released the testimony of one confidential informant in Atlanta who received $212,000 from the DEA from 2011 to 2013. She testified she wasn’t sure why she was paid. That was her testimony. She also testified to a sexual relationship with the DEA group supervisor, who allegedly convinced the subordinates to falsify reports to justify the payments. That case is currently under review by the inspector general.”
Federal informants often commit crimes, and often do it with the permission of their federal handlers, according to a 2015 audit by the General Accountability Office (GAO). In fact, the GAO reports:
“Since 1980, the Guidelines have permitted agencies to authorize informants to engage in activities that would otherwise constitute crimes under federal, state, or local law if someone without such authorization engaged in these same activities. For example, in the appropriate circumstance, an agency could authorize an informant to purchase illegal drugs from someone who is the target of a drug-trafficking investigation. Such conduct is termed “otherwise illegal activity.”
“The Guidelines include certain requirements when authorizing otherwise illegal activity and restrictions on the types of activities an agency can authorize. In particular, the Guidelines prohibit agencies from authorizing an informant to participate in an act of violence, obstruction of justice, and other enumerated unlawful activities.”
According to Freedom of Information Act documents obtained by the Daily Dot, “In total, records obtained by reporters confirm the FBI authorized at least 22,823 crimes between 2011 and 2014.”
Here are two examples of where the FBI has employed confidential human sources in controversial roles:
In court proceedings, the feds have shared the identification numbers of 12 confidential informants involved in Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s kidnapping plot, but refused to provide recruitments methods, payments, locations, and names for all but one.
In October 2020, Justice announced the arrest of six men who were said to be conspiring over a six-month period to kidnap Governor Whitmer. Eight others were charged under Michigan’s anti-terrorism statutes for providing material support to the plotters.
However, as BuzzFeed News reported,
“some of those informants, acting under the direction of the FBI, played a far larger role than has previously been reported. Working in secret, they did more than just passively observe and report on the actions of the suspects. Instead, they had a hand in nearly every aspect of the alleged plot, starting with its inception. The extent of their involvement raises questions as to whether there would have even been a conspiracy without them.”
In September, a federal judge delayed the case of the five defendants who have pled not-guilty, after their defense lawyers asked for more time to investigate the informant aspect of the case.
In September, the New York Times reported a bit of a bombshell: at least two informants embedded with the U.S. Capitol crowd were in close contact with their FBI handlers on January 6th.
As reporter Julie Kelly at American Greatness details it, an “informant, according to ‘confidential documents’ furnished to the paper, started working with the FBI in July 2020 and was in close contact with his FBI handler before, during, and after the Capitol protest.”
In recent Congressional testimony, Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY) played a video montage of a man encouraging election protestors to go into the Capitol on January 6th. Rep. Massie asked Attorney General Merrick Garland if the man was an FBI agent-provocateur.
Garland refused to comment on an ongoing investigation. Many suspect the man was working with federal authorities before, during, and after the events of January 6th at the U.S. Capitol Building. He, apparently, has not been arrested or charged.