The federal government has significantly expanded undercover operations in recent years, with officers from at least 40 agencies posing as business people, welfare recipients, political protesters and even doctors or ministers to ferret out wrongdoing, says the New York Times. The paper cites examples at the Supreme Court, where undercover officers blend into demonstrations; the IRS, agents pose as tax preparers, accountants, drug dealers or yacht buyers, and the Agriculture Department, more than 100 undercover agents pose as food stamp recipients at thousands of neighborhood stores to spot suspicious vendors and fraud.
Undercover work was once largely the domain of the FBI and other federal law enforcement agencies. But outside public view, changes in policies and tactics over the last decade have resulted in undercover teams run by agencies in virtually every corner of the federal government, according to officials, former agents and documents. Some agency officials say such operations give them a powerful new investigative tool. But the broadened scope of undercover work also raises concerns about civil liberties abuses and entrapment of unwitting targets.