Encouraging Developments in the Struggle to Reform America’s Informant System

Preliminary research indicates that up to 80 percent of all drug cases in America may be based on information provided by informants. Informants work for the government, often secretly, to gather and provide information or to testify in exchange for cash or leniency in punishment for their own crimes. In many courts across the nation, all it takes is the uncorroborated word of an informant to charge someone with a crime.

This week has featured a few encouraging developments for those of us advocating reforms in the ways law enforcement works with informants:

  • NPR’s Morning Edition ran a three-part series about problems with the FBI’s use of informants. The third story is about a bill that Rep. William Delahunt (D-Mass.) plans to introduce “that would essentially hold FBI agents criminally responsible if they fail to share criminal activity of a confidential informant with other law enforcement agencies.”

    Last summer, in the wake of the Kathryn Johnston scandal, the House Judiciary Committee held a hearing on law enforcement’s use of drug informants. Perhaps the most revealing exchange of the hearing occurred when Assistant Director of the FBI Directorate of Intelligence Wayne M. Murphy refused to reassure Congress that the FBI does not tolerate "serious violent felonies" by their informants. Murphy also could not ensure that local authorities would be notified when informants commit serious crimes.

    To get an idea just how unaccountable the FBI’s use of informants really is, consider this 2005 report by the Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Justice, finding that the FBI violated its own rules for handling informants in 87 percent of cases.

    The FBI handles only a small fraction of all drug cases in the U.S. — the vast majority are handled by state and local agencies — so this is undoubtedly just the tip of the iceberg.

    Delahunt’s bill is a good sign, although more broad reforms will be necessary to address the root causes that lead to police work being placed in the hands of unreliable informants in the first place.

  • Also this week, the Montana Supreme Court issued an excellent opinion in a case about the use of informants. The Court held that the Montana state constitution’s right to privacy prohibits the police from “wiring” informants and recording their conversations with suspects without a warrant. The Court said that a district judge should have suppressed evidence in two cases involving informants wired with secret microphones, one in a suspect’s home and another in an automobile.

  • Meanwhile, the U.S. Supreme Court is currently considering informant issues in two separate cases. Pearson v. Callahan presents the question of whether the Fourth Amendment is violated when police enter a home without a warrant after an informant inside signals to police that a crime, usually a drug deal, is taking place. Some lower courts have allowed this practice based on a legal fiction coined “consent once removed,” which holds that a person who unwittingly consents to an undercover police officer or informant entering is also deemed to have consented to other police officers coming in later to search or arrest. The ACLU submitted a friend-of-the-court brief in the Pearson case arguing that whatever the rationale for applying the “consent once removed” doctrine to undercover officers, it certainly should not be applied to informants who are not even police officers.

  • The second informant case pending before the Court is Van de Kamp v. Goldstein, in which Thomas Goldstein sued former Los Angeles County District Attorney John Van de Kamp for the role he played in Goldstein’s wrongful conviction and 24-year incarceration. Goldstein was convicted of murder based on the word of a jailhouse informant named Edward Fink who falsely testified that Goldstein had confessed the murder to him. Fink’s perjury was possible only because the Deputy District Attorney prosecuting the case had no way of knowing about Fink’s history of deception in other cases, nor about the sweet deal Fink obtained in his own burglary cases in exchange for lying about Goldstein. The lawsuit alleges this information was unknown at trial because Van de Kamp had deliberately refused to put into place any information management system that would have enabled Deputy District Attorneys to access this type of information about jailhouse informants in their cases. The ACLU’s friend-of-the-court brief in the case describes the pervasive undocumented, unregulated use of informants today and the serious threat they pose to the fairness and integrity of the criminal justice system.

By implementing basic safeguards and regulations that ensure ample oversight and corroboration of informant testimony, we can begin to rebuild the broken trust between police and the communities they aspire to serve and protect. To learn more about the ACLU's work to reform America's informant system, please visit www.aclu.org/unnecessaryevil.

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The DEA's war on drugs and war on doctors needs to stop and the money should go to mental health therapy programs, etc. People should be able to have access to drugs that help them. For instance, as a cancer survivor, I am still healing in many ways. I have had radiation, surgeries, chemo, internal radiation and am in severe pain, every day, all the time. I struggle to maintain a doctor who will continue to write me ANYTHING for my pain. I know what helps me because they have tried so many different things. If I say this, then I get labeled a seeker, so I have to be a lab rat taking anything they doll out and living with my pain undertreated. The doctors I have seen (over 7) about this issue have ALL cited the DEA as a reason why they can not help me. They state they have to document each narcotic they write as to what diagnosis, etc. and if they do something wrong, they lose their license or go to jail, etc. so without me having an actual diagnosis for some of my pain, I am stuck with it.

You hear so much about medicinal marijuana, but opiates are what help my pain and I am forced by the DEA to suffer as THEY DIVERT ME as a patient to doctor after doctor trying to find help for at least a little bit.

This is worse than cancer because the doctors treat you with a different compassion when you are in cancer treatment than if you are not. It is wrong.

I can tell you some days I wonder why I beat the cancer.


The DEA literally brags up their "war on doctors", on their website also, so I thought I would show you because I thought it was someone relaying their perception of what the DEA was doing, but no - they seriously had an ad-style link that said "war on doctors" and now it says "cases against doctors" - just sickening!!! I know some doctors have to be "bad", you will have that in any profession and that is why we have the ability to sue, seek out who we would like to be our doctor, freely share experiences with others, etc., but to prosecute them for prescribing medicine is nuts. Remember every time you go to the doctors office, the DEA is also in the room and makes the final call on if you get medical care or if you suffer. Thanks for making my recovery impossible DEA!



This is great. I wonder when there will be an oversight commitee that will monitor the criminal actions of informants against targets of a practice that is being known as Gang Stalking.

Currently the people that are being used to follow around Targeted Individuals are not regulated and these actions are causing an unspeakable about of harm which is not being documented by anyone.

Lora Allen

I read your information on the net about your stand against the use of informants. I would like to share my story with you, and I hope after you read it you will want to help me.
I believe the use of informants in drug cases is a no win situation for all involved. The police are using people with serious drug addictions to get to dealers. A lot of times the users are the ones who end up doing time. How can this help society. This past year there has been a lot of attention paid to the enormous burden to taxpayers because of the huge numbers of people being incarcerated. The U.S. is the number one incarcerator of people worldwide. This is mind blowing to most people. Some states are spending more money to incarcerate people than they are spending on education. There are huge numbers of people that are being locked up for non violent crimes when it would better benefit society to rehabilitate these people, so they can work and be productive members of society.
A large number of the people being incarcerated are plagued by the disease of addiction, and they want help. A person who is addicted to drugs is not in their right state of mind. They are being controlled by their addiction. Their need for the drug outweighs all rational thought. Instead of those who are suppose to protect and serve us caring about helping addicts stop using, they use them. They prey upon their addiction. They count on the fact that these peoples need for the drug will allow them to use that person to do their job for them.
They tell you that no one will ever know, that they will protect you, that they will help you. They lie because when they make an arrest it is a big joke to them. They make sure that people know who snitched on them. They don't help you get into rehab. They don't care about the danger they place you or your family in. They give no thought to either life they are destroying.
I speak from very personal experience because you see I am an addict, and I have been used more than once by the police and although I knew at the time I was being used, and I knew that what I was doing was only going to make my life worse. I couldn't help myself. The addiction so controlled me that I let them use me, and now they have ultimately wronged me.
In September of 2007, I was sitting at a public park in the county where I live. A deputy with the Sheriff's Department pulled into the park and asked if he could search me. I told him no. He told me that he had the right to search me because I was currently on probation. He proceeded with his search and he found a bottle of pills. It was a prescription bottle with my name on it. He took the bottle out of my purse, opened it, and found other pills and small traces of cocaine. He then told me that if I would call Chad Townsend the next morning he would throw the bottle away and forget all about the search. Chad is a member of the Drug Task Force here in Lincoln County. He knew how scared I was, and he knew that I didn't want my probation to be violated.
I did as he asked, and the next day I called Chad Townsend. I then started to work for him and Rodney Callihan (another member of the DTF). I worked for them for a couple of months. Chad called me and told me that my obligation to them was done, and I didn't have to do anymore work for them. His exact words "you have fulfilled your obligation to us". In May of this year, I was indicted by the Grand Jury here in Lincoln County, TN on possession of the drugs they told me would be thrown away if I helped them.
This is a direct violation of my rights, or it should be. The task force should not be allowed to use a person like that. They should not be allowed to lie and make deals that they don't honor.
I have been clean almost a year. On January 24,2009, I will be drug free for one year. I wish I could go back and undo ever having helped them, but I can't. They also revealed my identity to the people I snitched on putting my life and my families life in danger, and these are the police. The very people we are supposed to be able to trust with our safety.
I was a terrible addict, and now I see so clearly a lot I couldn't see before. Tell me what I can do to help with this cause because it should stop. Police should not be allowed to use the disease of addiction to ruin a person even more than that person has already ruined themselves because snitching is devastating to all parties involved. The snitch and the dealer's lives are ruined.
Please help me. I am now facing these possession charges and a violation of my probation . Please let me know how to stop what they are doing to me.. Let me know how to help stop this from happening to people everywhere. Thank you for your time.


wasted my time


Funny to hear a snitch have the nerve to speak of honor.

snitching stinks

Get a load of this: http://www.gozarks.com/thecommittee ~Christine


I have been the target of informants who are dealers & still dealing to aid my husband in a divorce. Both my husband & myself were just small time users. My husband was abusive and I wanted away from the using people so I asked him for a divorce & to move out.

He is still using. I occassionally used after that prompted by a friend of my ex's who would call, say he was my friend, play on my emotions from being abuse by my husband. I went to drug classes, testing clean all the time yet he still keep coming back.
Without out him playing on me that he was my "friend" I would have never used. He would come to my house & give me drugs for free. He was arrested for possesion, assault.

Basically he targeted me & only me to inform, not the 200 other people he sold to, typically not selling to me but using together very occasionally.
I asked him never to come near me or my home or call me ever again & have been clean & back to my active lifestyle I had before this informant & my ex-husband worked this plan. Meanwhile, they are BOTH still using, facilitating, distributing for others, actively involved in the drug trade, and I have a potential to be arrested for this.

This is informant at it's worst, it's a malicious targeting of one person in order to influence the outcome of a divorce for a friend.

We'll see what happens but I have spoken to now 5 federal lawyers & yet the feds/local are STILL persisting.

which was discovered to be an informant who was calling me, who had violant assault charges, my husband also assault me


The DEA has caused a domino effect of terror throughout the medical community so that doctors are terrified of providing pain medication for those who need them.

When you enter an emergency room, plastered on all the walls are large posters stating how "important" your pain is to us. Please let us know if you are in pain so we can treat it. You have the right to have your pain treated. Then when you say you're in pain, you are labled a "drug seeker"

The AMA has deemed pain the "Fifth" vital sign. This makes it as important as a heartbeat. However, it is ingored and you are to suffer because the DEA will not allow the doctor to treat your pain. What has this country come to?
Why is the government's nose in the doctor/patient relationship? Why is there a war on doctors? There is only one reason. So the DEA will continue to be funded be stating they are sovling some kind of a problem. But they are creating a problem. Millions of Americans who need proper treatment are left to suffer so the selfish, holier than though, I know what's best for you better than you do, DEA can get their funding from OUR taxes!!!!

The fact that the DEA's war on drugs is a dismal failure has shifted thier focus by targeting doctors to justify thier TAX PAYER funding.

The heroine dealer on the street is laughing under his breath while a doctor is being hauled away in hadncuffs because he gave a pain pill to a patient who needed it. Meanwhile no one is bothering the drug dealer on the corner.

If enough of us who suffer from pain, and there are millions of us, cry fould loud enough perhaps there can be a change.

This country has turned into a herd of cattle who will willingly be lead to the slaughter house without objection because we are afraid of exercising our right to speak freely.

What in the hell has happened to us????


These bogus wars; "War on Drugs" - "War on Crime" - "War on Terrorism" are actually WARS OF TERRORISM!!! It is the Pentagon, FBI, CIA and the Military who have waged wars against the people of this country. I have been investigating the Intelligence Agencies for nearly nine years and I will soon be releasing my story about the illegal activities of these agencies and the illegal use of their snitches to frame individuals for crimes. When you are up against power, money and technology of this magnitude, unfortunately it takes years to gather the evidence, which I have done.


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