FBI informants were given permission to break the law at least 5,658 times in a single year, according to newly disclosed documents, USA Today reports.
The U.S. Justice Department ordered the FBI to begin tracking crimes by its informants more than 10 years ago, after the agency admitted that its agents had allowed Boston mobster James “Whitey” Bulger to continue operating a crime ring in exchange for information about the Mafia. While the FBI submits this tally annually, it has never before been made public, the article says.
Crimes authorized (on average, 15 crimes per day) everything from buying and selling illegal drugs to bribing government officials and plotting robberies, the article reports. FBI officials have said that permitting their informants to break the law is an indispensable, albeit distasteful, part of investigating criminal organizations.
The Justice Department has tight limits on when and how these informants can engage in what the agency calls “otherwise illegal activity,” USA Today says. Agents are not allowed to authorize violent crimes under any circumstances, and the most serious crimes must first be approved by federal prosecutors.
USA Today obtained this information from a copy of the FBI’s 2011 report under the Freedom of Information Act. The report does not spell out what types of crimes its agents authorized, or how serious they were. According to the article, the report did not include any information about crimes the bureau’s sources were known to have committed without the government’s permission.