The FBI has authorized informants, often criminals, to commit tens of thousands of crimes each year, a strategy it says is essential to cracking down on crime.
According FBI documents, informants were given permission to break the law at least 5,658 times in a single year, or to commit about 15 crimes a day, including everything from buying and selling drugs to bribing government officials and plotting robberies, USA Today reported.
"It sounds like a lot, but you have to keep it in context," Shawn Henry, who supervised criminal investigations for the FBI until retirement last year, told USA Today. "This is not done in a vacuum. It's not done randomly. It's not taken lightly."
About a decade ago, the U.S. Justice Department told the top law-enforcement agency to begin tracking crimes by its informants after the FBI admitted that its agents had allowed Boston mobster James "Whitey" Bulger to operate a crime ring in exchange for information about the Mafia.
The Justice Department, however, puts very tight limits on when and how informants can engage in what is considered "otherwise illegal activity," and agents can never authorize violent crimes.
This is first time the information has been disclosed. The report provides no details about the crimes agents authorized or how serious they were, USA Today noted.
"The million-dollar question is: How much crime is the government tolerating from its informants?" Alexandra Natapoff, a professor at Loyola Law School Los Angeles, told USA Today. "I'm sure that if we really knew that number, we would all be shocked."
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