Deep Web & Law Enforcement: Informers

6 minute read

Posted by: Allen Hoffmann, JD

December 29, 2014

Ever called a tip line? Did the guy you tipped get his door ripped down by a team of steroid loving SWAT ninjas the next day? He didn’t, did he? “Naw man, snitches get stitches!” a large number of you are spitting at your screen right now, claiming vehemently that never, ever would you talk to the cops. But whether they’d admit it or not, huge numbers of people act as human intelligence sources for a variety of reasons. Assuming someone around you is not an informer (or a potential informer) is unwise in the extreme.

Case study: Interview with a snitch handler

“Sherlock” (obviously not his real name) is an affable, and highly manipulate person, who was once involved with human source handling for the large LE agency with which he was, and still is, employed as a police officer. Sherlock’s insights into the kind of people who inform include all the types of people you would expect, like drug addicts and low level criminals to those with more complex motivations, or a genuine interest in ‘justice’; girlfriends still loyal to an ex, bar tenders and other nightclub staff who see and hear the antics of two bit gangsters (Sherlock named a bar in his jurisdiction which they would, with the covert assistance of management, review CCTV footage on a regular basis to see who was socializing with who), family members concerned about their son’s/brother’s/cousins activities getting in trouble, and, somewhat surprisingly, straight out friends of people who were jealous of the money they were making. Other motives included a love of drama on the part of the informer, the meagre cash handouts on offer (one story Sherlock knew saw a guy make national news for his arrest; the informer who ruined his life took home the princely sum of $150 for this) and, of course, revenge. This is not the interesting part of Sherlock’s tale. That comes next.

The snitch handler explained that hearing a story from an informer led to looking at the informer’s previous reliability (if they had provided information before – obviously, an informer with a consistently good track record is more likely to be listened to than someone who walks in off the street), whether or not the informer had a self-interest in bringing down who they inform on (if the informer himself has derogatory information on file suggesting that s/he, for example, is a drug dealer, it could be a case of edging out the competition rather than doing one’s civic duty), and the availability of other extraneous information which could be utilized to validate what the informer has said (informer Z said Mr. Y was at Club X dealing drugs on Saturday night – does CCTV at Club X validate the supposed dealer, Mr. Y’s presence, if not depicting some hand to hand action?)

In most jurisdictions, becoming a snitch is meant to be a formal process if you’re going to be doing it on a long term basis. Some places have contracts you have to sign, and they may even provide reports via email. But those who exclusively snitch online, who have a means to communicate information to LE, don’t go through any of this. These reports are harder to verify, but a sophisticated informer with a beef with you can prepare multiple reports, all containing different aspects of the same story, and send them to multiple agencies via online means, resulting in a dramatically beefed up intelligence profile.

Determination of credibility of intelligence happens in a complex computer matrix in most LE operations, and is usually input and reviewed by a specialist intelligence trained officer, to a secure system. Rest assured, if someone has talked shit about you to a tip line, or you ever got arrested with a ‘wild rose’ crack pipe but stuck to your story that that shit was seriously a gift for your girlfriend and beat the ride to the station, it still ends up in that big, bad computer system, chipping away and gathering information behind the scenes. Intelligence scales with your stupidity Of course, overt indicators can also come into a decision to investigate (refer back to Mr. Y on video at Club X… “Is he wearing a gold chain, sleeveless shirt and sunglasses at one in the morning in a club in December? Outstanding work, he’s a definite drug dealer, let’s commit resources to investigate him”), but I digress.

Want to minimize your potential exposure to informers, online and offline?

Avoid drawing attention to yourself, in the real world and the digital world. If you are, as discussed in previous articles, viewed as a means to build a case on someone actually worth building a case on, and find yourself being subjected to huge police pressure, if you weren’t ordering something of extreme interest, its probably because you’ve talked a whole bunch of bullshit and drawn attention to yourself. If you are buying drugs and reselling them, even to your friends, you are now a drug dealer as far as the police are concerned, but then, keep in mind; it’s a world of difference between selling a few grams of weed amongst friends at a party to you dealing chang from the corner of a dive bar, drinking champagne from the bottle and generally walking around with a neon sign on your head which says “Doing illegal shit”. Find another way of validating your self-esteem, preferably one less likely to get you thrown somewhere where you will be making toilet wine.

Treat the very fact you have a TOR life as a ‘need to know’ aspect of your existence. If someone doesn’t need to know you buy things in online markets, or let off stun grenades in the back alley, or have a fake ID from 8 different countries all in the name of Robert Paulson, all bought through dark markets, ask yourself, why would you tell them? Is it because they need to know? Or do you have a need to pretend you’re clever or a hard ass?

Business first; don’t socialize with your online buddies using a buyer account if you can manage it, and if you must, keep it to the minimum. If you feel the need to use a dark net forum or marketplace to vent about relationship troubles, you deserve what you get. You may confide in someone else, they may confide in someone else without your name, and the cops may hear about the exact scenario minus your name, and link you by looking at the phone records or internet traffic.

It goes hand in hand with the coming topics about phone and internet traffic, but here goes; if you must talk about what you’re into, and you are absolutely sure your buddy is not an informer (and not just is not an informer now, but also won’t have the motivation to become one in the future – so don’t slam his girlfriend later), don’t talk about it on the phone, and don’t talk about it on the computer – if your buddy is an informer, there’s no need to risk giving him the corroborating evidence which will help substantiate his informing.

Coming next time; technology, how it can help you and hurt you.

Updated: 2014-12-29