The nation’s top drug and gun enforcement agencies do not track how often they give their informants permission to break the law on the government’s behalf, reports USA Today. U.S. Justice Department rules put strict limits on when and how agents at the FBI, Drug Enforcement Administration, and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives can authorize their informants to commit a crime. Both ATF and DEA acknowledge that they do not track how often such permission is given. That routine, if controversial, tactic has come under renewed scrutiny in the wake of the bungled “Fast and Furious” gun-trafficking investigation, which allowed 2,000 weapons to fall into the hands of Mexican drug cartels and other criminals.
“The way we use confidential informants is a huge aspect of the daily operation and also the legitimacy of the criminal justice system,” said law Prof. Alexandra Natapoff of Loyola Law School Los Angeles. “It’s insane that even the law enforcement agencies that actually carry out this policy may not always know how their operatives are doing it.” The FBI is required to collect information on how often each of the bureau’s 56 field offices allows informants to break the law, though the bureau would not release those figures. “There has to be some new accountability,” said Rep. Stephen Lynch (D-MA), who introduced a bill to force federal law enforcement agencies to tell Congress about crimes by their informants.