Listen to me and Max Diamond of the Harvard Law & Philosophy Society discuss how the informant market degrades our principles of guilt and culpability by buying, trading, and otherwise commodifying them.
Great, hour-long conversation with Adam Conover about all that is shocking and bizarre about the informant system.
Informants are central to and embedded in numerous larger law enforcement programs. The New York Times Magazine published this profile of FBI agent Terry Albury who, among other things, pushed back against the FBI’s coercive development of informants in pursuit of baseless counterterrorism investigations, as well as racial and religious profiling. Albury was convicted in 2018 of leaking classified documents to journalists; he was sentenced to four years in prison. From the article, “I Helped Destroy People“:
“Assessments were the opening salvo to the informant-recruitment process. It was a delicate art of manipulation, persuading a person to work for the federal government against his or her own community, but with access to the person’s criminal history, or immigration status, it was much easier. There were different techniques agents were allowed to use. They could assist a person who lacked legal status to be given it, a tactic known as the “immigration-relief dangle.” Conversely, agents could also work with immigration officials to deport those people if and when they’d exhausted their usefulness as confidential sources. Fear was a prominent driver. . . . Another approach was to threaten uncooperative sources with spreading disinformation unless they agreed to cooperate. “The script was, ‘Everyone in your community already thinks you’re a source, so you might as well work with us.'” “
This investigation from independent journalist Radley Balko reveals the informant-driven machinery that produces so many unfounded no-knock warrants and their resulting violence: The curious career trajectory of a Little Rock judge. In this case, Balko explains how Little Rock police used the same unreliable informant over and over, lied in sworn affidavits, while judges issued warrants based on boilerplate language in violation of the Fourth Amendment.
Recall that the death of 92-year-old Kathryn Johnston in Atlanta was also due to a no-knock warrant, based on a bad informant tip, that police lied in order to obtain.
This extensive investigation by KSAT ABC Channel 12 delves into the use of unreliable drug informants, planted drugs, lack of supervision, and a host of other debacles that led to the wrongful conviction of multiple people in San Antonio, Bexar County, Texas. You can watch the hour-long special here; for additional videos, interviews and resources, check out their Confidential Informant page.
This kind of large scale drug scandal happens more frequently than you might think. See these previous posts for additional examples in Florida, Tennessee, and Texas.