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In-Depth Interview: Journalist Trevor Aaronson Shares FBI Manual on Paid Informants

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Trevor Aaronson, now reporting at The Intercept, is on the team that just published a mega-expose based on secret FBI documents.  In this conversation, we talk about many aspects of the agency’s use of paid informants.In his book, Terror Factory, Aaronson detailed over 500 cases of “domestic terrorism” since 9/11, most of which were tainted by a paid FBI informant who often crossed the line to provocateur, framing the suspect for crimes that were proposed and/or enabled by the informant.

Recently, The Intercept gained possession of secret FBI documents related to the recruitment, management and payment of informants.  The 9-part series is here.

We begin with a breaking story, the the prosecution of Cliven Bundy and others may be compromised by an FBI agent who posed as a journalist.

Aaronson explains how informants are recruited, and the rules which permit agents to go undercover, recruit minors, and operated in other countries without notifying their authorities.

We discuss how immigration status and prior criminal convictions are used to leverage recruits, and later we talk about the cash payments that incentivize them to be serial informants.  Aaronson says that in some cases, noncitizens are used as informants, then deported.

And we talk about payments to the informants, often disguised as “expense reimbursements”.  One man was paid almost $5 million over 20 years as a drug informant, and many earn over $100,000 for a case.  The payments come from taxpayer funds, but the informants don’t always pay taxes on their FBI income.