A representative from the U.S. State Department congratulates and offers a partial payment to a fully disguised informant, whose information led to the neutralization of a terrorist in the Philippines
A representative from the U.S. State Department congratulates and offers a partial payment to a fully disguised informant, whose information led to the neutralization of a terrorist in the Philippines
Two page totally confidential, direct and immediate letter from the Iranian Minister of Finance to the Minister of Foreign Affairs (Hossein Fatemi) about creating a foreign information network for controlling smuggling, 15 December 1952
Two page totally confidential, direct and immediate letter from the Iranian Minister of Finance to the Minister of Foreign Affairs (Hossein Fatemi) about creating a foreign information network for controlling smuggling, 15 December 1952

An informant (also called an informer)[1] 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.[2] The term is commonly used in politics, industry, entertainment, and academia.[3][4]

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).[5]

Criminal informants

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.[6]

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.

Informant motivation

FBI Anchorage aid for assessing confidential human sources
FBI Anchorage aid for assessing confidential human sources

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:




Labor and social movements

Corporations and the detective agencies that sometimes represent them have historically hired labor spies to monitor or control labor organizations and their activities.[9] Such individuals may be professionals or recruits from the workforce. They may be willing accomplices, or may be tricked into informing on their co-workers' unionization efforts.[10]

Paid informants have often been used by authorities within politically and socially oriented movements to weaken, destabilize and ultimately break them.[11]


A redacted version of the FBI policy manual concerning the use of informants
A redacted version of the FBI policy manual concerning the use of informants

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.[citation needed]

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."[12]

Criminal informant schemes have been used as cover for politically motivated intelligence offensives.[13]

Jailhouse informants

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.[14] 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.[citation needed] 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.[15]

Terminology and slang

"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.[citation needed]

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.[39]

List of famous individuals

Informants by country

Russia and Soviet Union

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).[41]


Main article: Unofficial collaborator


Main article: pl:Tajny współpracownik

See also


  1. ^ "informer". Merriam-Webster Dictionary. Merriam-Webster. Retrieved 6 June 2016. 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
  2. ^ "The Weakest Link: The Dire Consequences of a Weak Link in the Informant Handling and Covert Operations Chain-of-Command" by M Levine. Law Enforcement Executive Forum, 2009
  3. ^ "Pursuing strategic advantage through political means: A multivariate approach" by DA Schuler, K Rehbein, RD Cramer – Academy of Management Journal, 2002
  4. ^ "Reading English for specialized purposes: Discourse analysis and the use of student informants" by A Cohen, H Glasman, PR Rosenbaum-Cohen, TESOL Quarterly, 197
  5. ^ "Special Report". oig.justice.gov. Retrieved 2021-01-28.
  6. ^ Palmiotto, J., Micheal. Criminal Investigation. 4th ed. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press, 2013. p65-66
  7. ^ a b Lyman, D., Micheal. Criminal Investigation: The Art and the Science. 6th ed. Columbia College of Missouri. Pearson, 2010. p264
  8. ^ Allen, Bill Van (2011). Criminal investigation : in search of the truth (2nd ed.). Toronto: Pearson Canada. p. 217. ISBN 978-0-13-800011-0.
  9. ^ "Private detective agencies and labour discipline in the United States, 1855–1946" by RP Weiss. The Historical Journal, 2009. Cambridge Univ Press
  10. ^ "Judicial Control of Informants, Spies, Stool Pigeons, and Agent Provocateurs" by RC Donnelly – Yale Law Journal, 1951
  11. ^ "Thoughts on a neglected category of social movement participant: The agent provocateur and the informant" by GT Marx – American Journal of Sociology, 1974
  12. ^ Lactantius. "On the Deaths of the Persecutors".
  13. ^ "CIA Assets and the Rise of the Guadalajara Connection" J. Marshall – Crime, Law and Social Change, 1991
  14. ^ scc.lexum.umontreal.ca Archived 2010-11-10 at the Wayback Machine
  15. ^ Stutzman, Rene (December 27, 2011). "Wrong convictions spur Florida to rethink using jail informants". Orlando Sentinel.
  16. ^ a b c "snitch". Thesaurus.com.
  17. ^ a b "Role of the Rat in the Prison" by HA Wilmer. Fed. Probation, 1965
  18. ^ Orwant, Jon (May 22, 2003). Games, Diversions & Perl Culture: Best of the Perl Journal. O'Reilly Media. ISBN 9781449397784.
  19. ^ "The Origin of fink 'informer, hired strikebreaker'" by William Sayers. A Quarterly Journal of Short Articles, Notes, and Reviews. Winter 2005 Cornell University
  20. ^ Criminal classes: offenders at school by A Devlin. 1995
  21. ^ "The Intelligence War in Northern Ireland" by K Maguire – International Journal of Intelligence and CounterIntelligence, Volume 4, Issue 2 1990, pages 145–165
  22. ^ "grass". Oxford English Dictionary. A spy or informer, esp. for the police
  23. ^ Greer, Steven C. (1995). Supergrasses: a study in anti-terrorist law enforcement in Northern Ireland. ISBN 9780198257660.
  24. ^ Chicano intravenous drug users: The collection and interpretation of data from hidden Populations by R Ramos. 1990
  25. ^ Prison patter: a dictionary of prison words and slang by A Devlin. 1996
  26. ^ "Some ethical dilemmas in the handling of police informers" by C Dunnighan, C Norris – Public Money & Management, 1998
  27. ^ "nose". Oxford English Dictionary. A spy or informer, esp. for the police
  28. ^ "Speaker and Structure in Donne's Satyre" by NM Bradbury. Studies in English Literature, 1500–1900, 1985.
  29. ^ "Sociology of Confinement: Assimilation and the Prison 'Rat'" by EH Johnson. The Journal of Criminal Law, Criminology, and Police Science. 1961
  30. ^ a b "Reflections on the role of statutory immunity in the criminal justice system" by WJ Bauer – Journal of Criminal Law. & Criminology, 1976
  31. ^ "snout". Oxford English Dictionary. A police informer
  32. ^ "Instigated Crime" by S Shaw – Alta. LQ, 1938
  33. ^ a b "Elevating the Role of the Informer: The Value of Secret Information". MW Krasilovsky. ABAJ, 1954
  34. ^ "On Truth and Lie in a Colonial Sense: Kipling's Tales of Tale-telling" by A Hai – ELH, 1997
  35. ^ "Telling tales in school" by A Minister. Education 3–13, 1990
  36. ^ McDonald, Henry (2000-10-28). "End of 'touts' in Northern Ireland". Retrieved 2018-02-01.
  37. ^ "The murky world of informers". BBC News. 2006-04-04. Retrieved 2018-02-02.
  38. ^ Prison ministry: hope behind the wall by Dennis W. Pierce – 2006
  39. ^ Coleman 1996, p. 24.
  40. ^ "Orwell's List by Timothy Garton Ash | The New York Review of Books". March 5, 2016. Archived from the original on 2016-03-05.
  41. ^ Andropov to the Central Committee. The Demonstration in Red Square Against the Warsaw Pact Invasion of Czechoslovakia. September 20, 1968 Archived 2007-10-12 at the Wayback Machine

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