thumb|Two page totally confidential, direct and immediate letter from the Iranian Minister of Finance to the Minister of Foreign Affairs (Hossein Fatemi
) about creating a foreign information network for controlling smuggling, 15 December 1952
An informant (also called an informer) is a person who provides privileged information about a person or organization to an agency. The term is usually used within the law enforcement world, where they are officially known as confidential human source (CHS), or criminal informants (CI). It can also refer pejoratively to someone who supplies information without the consent of the involved parties.
The term is commonly used in politics, industry, entertainment, and academia.
A confidential informant or "CI" is "any individual who provides useful and credible information to a Justice Law Enforcement Agency (JLEA) regarding felonious criminal activities and from whom the JLEA expects or intends to obtain additional useful and credible information regarding such activities in the future." The Guidelines do not apply to the use of confidential informants in foreign intelligence or foreign counterintelligence investigations or to informants operating outside the United States in connection with extraterritorial criminal investigations (unless the informant is likely to be called to testify in a domestic case).
Informants are also extremely common in every-day police work, including homicide and narcotics investigations. Any citizen who provides crime related information to law enforcement by definition is an informant.
has been criticized for leniency towards drug lords
["Government Corruption and the Right of Access to Courts" by UA Kim. ''Michigan Law Review'', 2004]
acting as paid informants, informants being allowed to engage in some crimes so that the potential informant can blend into the criminal environment without suspicion,
and wasting billions of dollars on dishonest sources of information.
["The Weakest Link: The Dire Consequences of a Weak Link in the Informant Handling and Covert Operations Chain-of-Command" by M Levine. ''Law Enforcement Executive Forum'', 2009]
Informants are often regarded as traitors
by their former criminal associates. Whatever the nature of a group, it is likely to feel strong hostility toward any known informers, regard them as threats and inflict punishments ranging from social ostracism through physical abuse and/or death. Informers are therefore generally protected, either by being segregated while in prison
or, if they are not incarcerated, relocated under a new identity.
Informants, and especially criminal informants, can be motivated by many reasons. Many informants are not themselves aware of all of their reasons for providing information, but nonetheless do so. Many informants provide information while under stress, duress, emotion and other life factors that can affect the accuracy or veracity of information provided.
Law enforcement officers, prosecutors, defense lawyers, judges and others should be aware of possible motivations so that they can properly approach, assess and verify informants' information.
Generally, informants' motivations can be broken down into self-interest, self-preservation and conscience.
A list of possible motivations includes:
* Financial reward
[Lyman, D., Micheal. ''Criminal Investigation: The Art and the Science''. 6th ed. Columbia College of Missouri. Pearson, 2010. p264]
* Pre-trial release from custody
* Withdrawal or dismissal of criminal charges
* Reduction of sentence
* Choice of location to serve sentence
* Elimination of rivals or unwanted criminal associates.
* Elimination of competitors engaged in criminal activities.
* Diversion of suspicion from their own criminal activities.
* Fear of harm from others.
* Threat of arrest or charges.
* Threat of incarceration.
* Desire for witness protection program.
* Desire to go straight
* Guilty conscience
* Genuine desire to assist law enforcement and society.
Labor and social movements
Corporations and the detective agencies that sometimes represent them have historically hired labor spies
to monitor or control labor organizations and their activities. Such individuals may be professionals or recruits from the workforce. They may be willing accomplices, or may be tricked into informing on their co-workers' unionization efforts.
Paid informants have often been used by authorities within politically and socially oriented movements to weaken, destabilize and ultimately break them.
Informers alert authorities regarding government officials that are corrupt. Officials may be taking bribes
or be participants in a money loop
also called a kickback
. Informers in some countries receive a percentage of all monies recovered by their government.
described an example from ancient Rome
involved the prosecution of a woman suspected to have advised a woman not to marry Maximinus II
: "Neither indeed was there any accuser, until a certain Jew
, one charged with other offences, was induced, through hope of pardon, to give false evidence against the innocent. The equitable and vigilant magistrate conducted him out of the city under a guard, lest the populace should have stoned him... The Jew was ordered to the torture till he should speak as he had been instructed... The innocent were condemned to die.... Nor was the promise of pardon made good to the feigned adulterer, for he was fixed to a gibbet, and then he disclosed the whole secret contrivance; and with his last breath he protested to all the beholders that the women died innocent."
Criminal informant schemes have been used as cover for politically motivated intelligence offensives.
Jailhouse informants, who report hearsay
(admissions against penal interest) which they claim to have heard while the accused is in pretrial detention
, usually in exchange for sentence reductions or other inducements, have been the focus of particular controversy. Some examples of their use are in connection with Stanley Williams
, Cameron Todd Willingham
, Gerald Stano
, Thomas Silverstein
, Marshall "Eddie" Conway
, and a suspect in the disappearance of Etan Patz
. The Innocence Project
has stated that 15% of all wrongful convictions later exonerated because of DNA
results were accompanied by false testimony
by jailhouse informants. 50% of murder
convictions exonerated by DNA were accompanied by false testimony by jailhouse informants.
Terminology and slang
terms for informants include:
*canary — derives from the fact that canaries sing, and "singing" is underworld or street slang for providing information or talking to the police.
*dog — Australian. May also refer to police who specialize in surveillance, or police generally.
*ear – someone who overhears something and tells the authorities.
*fink — this may refer to the Pinkertons
who were used as plain-clothes detective
s and strike-breakers
*grass or supergrass
, — rhyming slang
for grasshopper, meaning copper or shopper and having additional associations with the popular song, "Whispering Grass
", and the phrase snake in the grass
*narc — a member of a specialist narcotics police force.
*nark — this may have come from the Romany term ''nak'' for nose or the French term ''narquois'' meaning cunning, deceitful and/or criminal.
term, meaning "one who repents". Usually used in reference to Mafia
informants, but it has also been used to refer to informants for Italian paramilitary or terrorist organizations, such as the Red Brigades
["Role of the Rat in the Prison" by HA Wilmer. ''Fed. Probation'', 1965]
— informing is commonly referred to as "ratting".
["Reflections on the role of statutory immunity in the criminal justice system" by WJ Bauer – ''Journal of Criminal Law. & Criminology'', 1976]
— informing is commonly referred to as "snitching".
— Danish term meaning "stabber". Mainly used in relation to World War Two.
*stool pigeon or stoolie
["Elevating the Role of the Informer: The Value of Secret Information". MW Krasilovsky. ''ABAJ'', 1954]
*tell tale or tell-tale
– Northern Irish slang for an informant, often one who informed on the activities of paramilitary
groups during The Troubles
The phrase "drop a dime" refers to an informant using a payphone
to call the authorities to report information.
The term "stool pigeon" originates from the antiquated practice of tying a passenger pigeon
to a stool. The bird would flap its wings in a futile attempt to escape. The sound of the wings flapping would attract other pigeons to the stool where a large number of birds could be easily killed or captured.
List of famous individuals
, Boston Irish mob boss
, Whitey Bulger's partner-in-crime
, the first made man
to testify against the Chicago Outfit
, Irish terrorist
, former underboss
of the Gambino crime family
, Lucchese crime family
, New York City drug dealer turned informant
, Murder, Inc.
, member of the Provisional IRA
, soldier in the Genovese crime family
, former underboss of the Bonanno crime family
*Richard Wershe Jr.
(commonly known as "White Boy Rick"), youngest FBI
informant ever (informant at age 14)
, the first boss of one of the Five Families
in New York City to turn state's evidence
*Flores twins Pedro and Margarito
a.k.a. ''Tekashi 6ix9ine'', American rapper, testified
against Nine Trey Bloods
Informants by country
Russia and Soviet Union
A system of informants existed in Russian Empire
and later adopted by the Soviet Union
. In Russia such person was known as osvedomitel or donoschik and secretly cooperated with law enforcement agencies such as Okhranka
or later Soviet militsiya
. Officially those informants were referred to as secret coworker (russian: секретный сотрудник, sekretny sotrudnik) and often were referred by a Russian derived portmanteau seksot.
In some KGB documents has also been used a term "source of operational information" (russian: источник оперативной информации, istochnik operativnoi informatsii).Andropov to the Central Committee. The Demonstration in Red Square Against the Warsaw Pact Invasion of Czechoslovakia. September 20, 1968
* Agent provocateur
* ''Aguilar–Spinelli'' test
* Covert interrogation
* Hollywood blacklist
* Plea bargain
* Turn state's evidence
* United States Marshals Service
* Witness Protection Program
Federal informants in Chicago gangs
Category:Law enforcement terminology
Category:Organized crime members by role
Category:Spies by role