How to Spot an Informant

Just in time for those of you heading off to the “newly Fed-free” conference in the dunes. (When “Spot the Fed” rolls around, remember to tag the conference organizer! Someone should make him a “designated Fed” shirt.)

The Crimethinc anarchist collective put together a 10-point checklist for spotting the common police informant and/or agent provocateur. They head off with a somewhat hilarious photo of people at a demonstration…

It’s worth noting that the first two points more or less hinge on intuitive judgements. “Something feels off” and “despite the misgivings of some members” are, in fact, warning signs numbers one and two in their experience.

Number 3 (people who tag people on Facebook without their permission, facilitating surveillance) is a fascinating example of a human-scale “bug-door.” Crypto geeks know this as a backdoor inserted in the form of an “oops mistake” in the code — it seems the same “oops” applies just as well on a human-to-human level.

Outside the adversarial relationships of politics and security, I’d suggest that many items on this checklist are worth keeping in mind every day… as tools for spotting people in regular, ordinary life whom you want to stay far away from. The personalities that cause trouble in any situation are often very similar, even if the situations are widely different.

“A group of people who have been directly harmed by informant provocateurs have put together this checklist, drawing on personal experiences as well as those of other activists and information from informant provocateurs who have gone public. We hope you can learn from the damage that has already been done, so these people can be stopped before they are able to harm you.

Here are ten warning signs:

Something feels “off.” Something about them just doesn’t line up. Their stories about their activist history or life history, don’t ring true. At this point, you need to run a background and criminal check. If you wait for all the other signs, it may be too late. The most obvious cause for serious concern is when someone shows up in an activist community and they don’t seem to have existed prior to that. That should be a dealbreaker right off the bat. 2.

Despite the misgivings of some members, the individual quickly rises to a leadership position. S/he eagerly takes credit for actions in the media and begins to promote him/herself. S/he works to become one of the “faces” of the organization, and clearly wants to be a poster child for the group, attempting to “brand” their identity with the group’s name, imagery, and identity. S/he likes getting photographed, even when engaged in illegal activity. 3.

S/he photographs actions, meetings, and people that should not be photographed. S/he posts photos of actions and meetings on social media sites like Facebook, even tagging activists without their permission (in effect, facilitating law enforcement surveillance). 4.

S/he is a liar. S/he shows signs of lacking ethics and lacking transparency with the rest of the group. 5.

S/he advocates for high-risk illegal action to people s/he should not trust, while claiming to understand the importance of security culture. S/he goads others to violent action, for example by telling them they need to be “warriors.” Upon reflection, the illegal actions in question often have no real purpose and will not advance the goals of the group in any meaningful way. The person generally has a very twisted perception of what it means to be a warrior.

S/he seeks internal rifts in the community and exploits them. S/he has a cycle of abuse with groups and individuals: a honeymoon period, followed by manipulative, abusive behavior, followed by apologies and promises to do better. Then the cycle repeats. 6.

S/he always has bail money and pocket money, but either no real job, or no job that pays that much. S/he may imply access to a trust fund or similar resources, but this needs to be checked. S/he somehow has the financial freedom to be at any action that will get media attention, or any underground action that may involve illegal activity. 7.

S/he is found to be lying about really serious things like identity, family, background, race, or ethnicity. 8.

S/he has warrants but is unafraid of announcing and advocating illegal action, using his/her real name, publicly advertising his/her whereabouts, and once again jumping into the frame whenever photos or video are being taken at illegal actions. When picked up, s/he always makes bail and gets released, sometimes released on Own Recognizance even when the charges are very serious. This happens a lot. Then the individual goes right back to meetings, taking photos and posing for photo ops. S/he has a Catch and Release cycle with the cops. S/he may have a history of very early release from prison, then going directly to political meetings, sometimes of groups s/he privately claims to hate, or that would have been forbidden as a condition of normal parole. 9.

Juicy information, given only to the suspected informant, comes out the law enforcement end. To be sure this is taking place, the information must be unmistakable, and have been shared face to face, one on one, with zero possibility of surveillance (say, whispered in the informant’s ear in the middle of a field). 10.

Full admission: “My name is ________ and I was employed by [agency] to infiltrate [organization].” A full admission of informant and/or provocateur status may include details of what the informant provocateur received in exchange for their work: either the amount of money they were paid, or the deal they got to be released from prison or avoid prosecution for particular crimes. In some cases, the deal includes a future position with the law enforcement or intelligence agency that hired them. On the unlikely chance that someone is mentally ill, this information could conceivably be checked against the going rate for informant provocateurs; but if the other criteria are met, assume they are telling you the truth, even if they are mentally ill. While mentally ill people do not make reliable informants, they can make excellent provocateurs, and their history of instability can be cited as evidence when law enforcement denies the individual was hired as a provocateur.”

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