The World’s a Stage, and the People But Actors Upon It [thanks to W. Shakespeare]
Before we get into a clarification of undercover ops and snitching, let me talk about the bottom line for law enforcement: Arrest, arraignment, trial, conviction, and sentencing. There — that’s it. Passing the bad guys from the law enforcement system into the judicial system, and thence to the penal system. But you already knew that, didn’t you? You know, like Hawaii 5-0, NCIS, Blue Bloods, and so on. I will get back to this part of the cycle later when I talk about OPSEC.
What you probably do not know is that TV does not tell you the whole story. (Duh!) After all, those folks are entertainers, not cops or counterintelligence agents.
[Oh, by the way, can you find the woman hidden in the photo?]
The Right Stuff
First, an undercover law enforcement officer does not carry a gun or a badge, or any credential that could associate him or her with a law enforcement agency. Now consider that for a moment. If things get whiffy, the u/c cannot simply shout “Police! Hands in the air!” while pointing her Glock at the bad guys, and showing the badge. Why not? Well, when a person prepares for an undercover assignment, it is the same as preparing for a new identity — a new life. My experience is more in counterintelligence and investigations than in law enforcement, but the idea is basically the same: You cannot assume a new identity while carrying the old identity in your pocket and on your hip!
Second, if you conclude that this lack of official accoutrements could endanger the life of the u/c, you’re right. On the other hand, suppose you are CI Special Agent Sue Thomas, working u/c on a spy case. You understand that the whole purpose — the sole purpose — of starting an undercover operation is to penetrate an organization, to gain the confidence of its members, to acquire intelligence of sufficient value to have a Federal judge sign warrants for search, seizure, and arrest. In other words, to neutralize the bad guys. And no, keeping the badge and handcuffs and gun in your pocket does not cut it. You and your body and your clothing could be subject to examination at any time by the people against whom you are operating.
And third, the real life cop shows on TV that show drug busts by plainclothes officers give you the false impression that those officers are undercovers. They are not; they are officers in plainclothes, with badges and guns, and handcuffs. Another difference between u/c’s and plainclothes officers is that as often as not, u/c’s get arrested and carted off with the bad guys in a drug or vice bust. The uniformed officers and SWATs doing the take-down do not know the u/c’s, and even if they did, they have been trained to not overtly recognize them. The u/c’s can sort it out later while in custody.
Snitches, Informers, Informants
Essentially, all these persons accomplish the same goal: they pass information of intelligence value to (usually) law enforcement authorities. The semantics are transparent. Did you snitch on the guy in seventh grade who was chewing gum in class? (You probably informed on him because he stole your girl/boy friend!) Informants could be inside a group, or not.
Snitches or informers have no official standing. They are not sworn, and have no obligation to verify information before passing it on. They are not always penetration agents. They are rarely compensated by any law enforcement authority or counterintelligence agency (e.g., the FBI). So why do they risk it? Could be myriad reasons.
Could be the guy who runs the hot dog stand outside the building where the apartment is that the pimp uses to bring clients to — well, you get the idea. Maybe he informs out of a sense of civic duty. Or it could be a person inside the gang that routinely snatches purses from women in a given neighborhood. Maybe it’s his neighborhood. So now maybe he’s getting heat from his older brother, or sister, or girl friend. This would be the guy who really risks his neck. He is a person trusted by the gang, one of them, now become a traitor, if you will.
Operations security is the protection of the integrity of any operation. It may consist of, but is not limited to denial and deception. Here is one example. You live in a house. You are going on vacation for a couple of weeks. Your OPSEC measures might consist of putting one or two lamps on a timer, leaving one car in the driveway, stopping the mail and the newspaper deliveries, leaving shades or blinds in the same position you have them when at home during the day. Those are behaviors of deception.
You also want to deny strangers details of your whereabouts for those two weeks. For example: For Heaven’s Sake, DO NOT leave a message on your voice mail that announces you are going to Tahiti for two weeks! Do not chat with the cable guy about your plans!
The Dark Side
A few years ago, narcotics officers in a large metropolitan police department were planning a drug bust to end all drug busts. For over a year and a half, they had been gathering, collating, and verifying intelligence from u/c’s, snitches, and others about drug operations at a large house in the city. The house had a full basement full of meth cocaine for distribution and shipping. There was, as well, a production facility that reportedly operated 24/7. The police took it slow because they wanted the opportunity to roll up not only the criminals involved in the production and distribution, but they also wanted to bring in the transportation people, who could conceivably lead them to the persons receiving and selling on the street.
The police department invited other agencies to participate in the planning and execution of the bust: DEA, ICE, ATF, and the FBI were all invited to the party. The participants conducted dry runs of the raid at a remote location, modifying, tweaking, improving, until it was finally time to shave or leave the bathroom. I understand that nearly a hundred lawmen and -women were mounted in vans, cars, SUV’s, and even bicycles for a few plainclothes officers. These officers were assigned to conduct final, last-minute observation around the house.
The entire block was cordoned off and blockaded by unmarked units. K-9 handler teams patrolled the perimeter streets. A police helicopter was in the air. At the GO! signal it lit up the house with a 1,000,000 candlepower search light. On GO! multiple teams hit the house from 360 degrees. It was a no-knock operation, so within seconds of crossing the sidewalk, over 30 agents were inside the house, with more streaking across the porch. They moved in as planned, covering the basement, main floor, and top floor. Within about 90 seconds of GO! there were over 70 SWAT’s inside that house. Within seconds after that, every room had been cleared, including the basement.
The house was empty.
Thousands of dollars of taxpayer money was later spent on investigating JUSTWHATTHEHELLHAPPENED? You wanna know?
During the planning stage, a police officer had told his wife about the plan………