According to newly released government audits and documents reported by the Inspector General (IG) at the Justice Department, federal government informants committed 22,800 crimes between 2011 and 2014, according to TRT World.
Taxpayers footed the $548 million bill for informants working for the FBI, DEA and ATF, over a period lasting between 2011 and 2018.
Unclassified government documents obtained by Gizmodo earlier this year found that 9,600 crimes were committed by FBI informants just during 2017 and 2018 — the first two years of Donald Trump’s presidency.
Two recent examples noted by TRT World are the plan to kidnap Michigan Governor Gretchen Witmer and the Jan. 6 Capitol riot.
In terms of the plan to kidnap the Michigan governor, 12 informants were found to have been involved in the conspiracy to kidnap Witmer, according to Buzzfeed News. The FBI informants reportedly planned meetings and purchased explosives for participants.
The New York Times also reported this summer that at least two FBI informants were embedded with the crowd on January 6 in Washington D.C., and were in contact with their FBI handlers the day of the Capitol riot.
All of these crimes have cost taxpayers money, $294 million (2012-2018) with an average of $42 million annually to be exact — with “long term” FBI informants comprising 20 percent of its intelligence relationships and fund recipients.
Similarly, the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) shelled out $237 million (2011-2015) and had over 18,000 active informants assigned to its domestic offices, with 9,000 of them on the federal agency’s payroll for services provided. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) also funneled $17.2 million (2012-2015) to 1,855 informants that were paid $4.3 million annually, according to TRT World.
Putting the confidential informant operations into context, the FBI’s post-9/11 surveillance program in Muslim communities sparked a wave of recruitment, finding over 15,000 additional informants to source information in terms of immigration, criminal, or financial problems.
Much of that information is often used to leverage the recruitment of other informants, TRT details. To that end, the current numbers of informant population are unavailable, but many believe it’s much higher than previously estimated.
As this news and the FBI’s recruiting practices have come to light, some have come forward to detail their experience being targeted by the FBI because of their ethnic background — and harassed when they say they don’t want to be an informant.
‘My Life was Destroyed by the FBI’
For Khan, who has only come forward to speak with The Intercept with part of his identity revealed, his life has never been the same after telling FBI agents in Connecticut that he wouldn’t spy on mosques in the U.S. or in Pakistan.
In 2011, after Khan graduated as an international student attending Northeastern University in Boston to study business management, he spent time in the US on a visitor visa to see friends and family. One day, the FBI showed up at his family’s house and took him to a local diner for breakfast where they told him they wanted him to use his Pakistani roots and heritage as a cover to spy on either American or Pakistan mosques, The Intercept details.
Very politely, Khan declined, saying that he had never been in trouble or involved with the law before, and that he was a very social man who wouldn’t be able to keep dark secrets to himself and would be poor at the job.
After the breakfast ordeal, Khan obtained a lawyer and communicated with the FBI recruiters, formally declining the offer. Then, when Khan’s visa expired and he returned to Pakistan, he was placed on the no-fly list, and the people closest to him have suffered immensely.
“They’re harassing all my friends for hours whenever they travel and made it such that even my best friends didn’t want to talk to me anymore,” Khan said. “It’s like I’m in a virtual prison being on this list.”
“The FBI has all this power over you,” Khan continued. “They own your life. They’re the gatekeepers of your prison, even though you haven’t done anything wrong to justify being put in there.”
For those who decline an offer to inform, the consequences can be serious.
“There are a number of people who have accused the FBI of putting them on the no-fly list for refusing to be an informant,” said Michael German, a former FBI agent who is now a fellow in the Brennan Center for Justice’s liberty and national security program.
“Agents need to have informants, which is why they go on these fishing expeditions,” German continued. “When people refuse, they often become vindictive. They take the attitude that, ‘We gave you a chance to prove yourself on our side and your refusal to aid us means you’re against us.’”
For Khan, despite being a successful businessman in Pakistan, he admits that losing many friends and family to the ordeal has taken a toll on him as he’s now battling depression and paranoia.
He has not attempted to return to the U.S. since his last trip, for fear of what might happen when confronted by U.S. authorities.
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Andrea Cipriano is associate editor of TCR.