The Federal Bureau of Investigation gave its informants permission to commit 5,658 crimes in 2011 alone, reports USA Today.
The newly released documents, obtained using the Freedom of Information Act, show that the FBI employs criminals to help it stop crime.
On average, 15 crimes, authorized by FBI agents, were committed per day, ranging from the bribery of government officials to plotting robberies. The buying and selling of illegal drugs were also permitted.
When interviewed by USA Today, current FBI officials and former employees stressed that criminals were not allowed to continue their illegal activity indiscriminately. Rather, the agents in control allowed illegal activity in special situations.
Denise Ballew, a spokeswoman for the agency, said that such situations are “tightly controlled,” and monitored by the Department of Justice.
The Department of Justice limits how the informants can behave illegally, depending on certain situations. Engaging in violent crime is never permitted, and federal prosecutors must authorize the “most serious” crimes.
In 2005, the inspector general reported that oftentimes these stipulations are ignored.
The work of the FBI’s informants is generally kept secret, with a reported 15,000 confidential sources in 2007.
Shawn Henry, a former FBI employee who supervised criminal investigations, spoke about the sheer number of crimes reported.
“It sounds like a lot, but you have to keep it in context. … It’s not done randomly. It’s not taken lightly,” he said.
Democratic Massachusetts Rep. Stephen Lynch has sponsored a bill that would require federal agencies to notify Congress when informants are permitted to break the law.
“This is all being operated clandestinely. Congress doesn’t even have the information,” he said.
Alexandra Natapoff, a professor at Loyola Law School Los Angeles, questioned the number of crimes committed.
“The million-dollar question is: How much crime is the government tolerating from its informants?” she asked. “I’m sure that if we really knew that number, we would all be shocked.”