An informant (also called an informer) is a person who provides privileged information about a person or organization to an agency. The term is usually used within the law enforcement world, where they are officially known as confidential human source (CHS), or criminal informants (CI). It can also refer pejoratively to someone who supplies information without the consent of the involved parties. The term is commonly used in politics, industry, entertainment, and academia.
In the United States, a confidential informant or "CI" is "any individual who provides useful and credible information to a Justice Law Enforcement Agency (JLEA) regarding felonious criminal activities and from whom the JLEA expects or intends to obtain additional useful and credible information regarding such activities in the future." The Guidelines do not apply to the use of confidential informants in foreign intelligence or foreign counterintelligence investigations or to informants operating outside the United States in connection with extraterritorial criminal investigations (unless the informant is likely to be called to testify in a domestic case).
Informants are extremely common in every-day police work, including homicide and narcotics investigations. Any citizen who provides crime related information to law enforcement by definition is an informant.
Law enforcement and intelligence agencies may face criticism regarding their conduct towards informants. Informants may be shown leniency for their own crimes in exchange for information, or simply turn out to be dishonest in their information, resulting in the time and money spent acquiring them being wasted.
Informants are often regarded as traitors by their former criminal associates. Whatever the nature of a group, it is likely to feel strong hostility toward any known informers, regard them as threats and inflict punishments ranging from social ostracism through physical abuse and/or death. Informers are therefore generally protected, either by being segregated while in prison or, if they are not incarcerated, relocated under a new identity.
Informants, and especially criminal informants, can be motivated by many reasons. Many informants are not themselves aware of all of their reasons for providing information, but nonetheless do so. Many informants provide information while under stress, duress, emotion and other life factors that can affect the accuracy or veracity of information provided.
Law enforcement officers, prosecutors, defense lawyers, judges and others should be aware of possible motivations so that they can properly approach, assess and verify informants' information.
Generally, informants' motivations can be broken down into self-interest, self-preservation and conscience.
A list of possible motivations includes:
Informers alert authorities regarding government officials that are corrupt. Officials may be taking bribes or be participants in a money loop also called a kickback. Informers in some countries receive a percentage of all monies recovered by their government.
Lactantius described an example from ancient Rome involved the prosecution of a woman suspected to have advised a woman not to marry Maximinus II: "Neither indeed was there any accuser, until a certain Jew, one charged with other offences, was induced, through hope of pardon, to give false evidence against the innocent. The equitable and vigilant magistrate conducted him out of the city under a guard, lest the populace should have stoned him... The Jew was ordered to the torture till he should speak as he had been instructed... The innocent were condemned to die.... Nor was the promise of pardon made good to the feigned adulterer, for he was fixed to a gibbet, and then he disclosed the whole secret contrivance; and with his last breath he protested to all the beholders that the women died innocent."
Criminal informant schemes have been used as cover for politically motivated intelligence offensives.
Jailhouse informants, who report hearsay (admissions against penal interest) which they claim to have heard while the accused is in pretrial detention, usually in exchange for sentence reductions or other inducements, have been the focus of particular controversy. Some examples of their use are in connection with Stanley Williams, Cameron Todd Willingham, Gerald Stano, Thomas Silverstein, Marshall "Eddie" Conway, and a suspect in the disappearance of Etan Patz. The Innocence Project has stated that 15% of all wrongful convictions later exonerated because of DNA results were accompanied by false testimony by jailhouse informants. 50% of murder convictions exonerated by DNA were accompanied by false testimony by jailhouse informants.
"Narc (Narcotics)" redirects here. For another usage of the phrase "narc", see Drug addict.
Slang terms for informants include:
The phrase "drop a dime" refers to an informant using a payphone to call the authorities to report information.
The term "stool pigeon" originates from the antiquated practice of tying a passenger pigeon to a stool. The bird would flap its wings in a futile attempt to escape. The sound of the wings flapping would attract other pigeons to the stool where a large number of birds could be easily killed or captured.
A system of informants existed in Russian Empire and later adopted by the Soviet Union. In Russia such person was known as osvedomitel or donoschik and secretly cooperated with law enforcement agencies such as Okhranka or later Soviet militsiya or KGB. Officially those informants were referred to as secret coworker (Russian: секретный сотрудник, sekretny sotrudnik) and often were referred by a Russian derived portmanteau seksot.
In some KGB documents has also been used a term "source of operational information" (Russian: источник оперативной информации, istochnik operativnoi informatsii).
Main article: Unofficial collaborator
Main article: pl:Tajny współpracownik
2: one that informs against another; specifically : one who makes a practice especially for a financial reward of informing against others for violations of penal laws
A spy or informer, esp. for the police
A spy or informer, esp. for the police
A police informer