According to a report in the New York Times (2), Americans now live in a world in which more than 40 US governmental agencies are infiltrating almost every walk of public life. In its expansion of undercover operations, the government is placing agents posing as political protesters, welfare recipients and businessmen and women, into everyday roles.
No service, it seems, is void of the mass government undercover societal infiltration that is currently plaguing the United States. For example, outside courts, teams of undercover agents pose as activists in order to uncover suspicious activity and inside information.
The New York Times’ report cites court documents, which state how the Internal Revenue Service use undercover agents posing as accountants, tax preparers, drug dealers and even yacht builders in order to catch suspected tax evaders. (2)
The Department of Agriculture is another arena allegedly rife with undercover activity. In order to seek out fraud and suspicious sellers, over 100 disguised agents gather in grocery stores, pretending to be food stamp recipients.
Undercover Agents and Decoys
Erick Lichtblau and William M. Arkin, the authors of the report of how, due to changes in policy and strategies throughout the last decade, what was once a domain confined to the FBI is now being executed by practically every governmental department.
At convenience stores, for example, undercover agents, sometimes using actual minors as decoys, look for illegal alcohol and cigarette sales, records show. At the Education Department, undercover agents of the Office of Inspector General infiltrate federally funded education programs looking for financial fraud. Medicare investigators sometimes pose as patients to gather evidence against health care providers. Officers at the Small Business Administration, NASA and the Smithsonian do undercover work as well, records show,” says Erick Lichtblau and William M. Arkin.
Employing undercover strategies has been heightened in the US following the 9/11 attacks. Of course, not all of the departments and agencies involved in such deceitful methods of law enforcement are related to terrorism. Instead they reveal how Congress is adopting a more “aggressive approach” to tackling both traditional crime and escalating criminal activities such as online solicitation and identity theft.
It is believed by some agency officials that clandestine operations in which agents pose false identities are an effective way to target people suspected of breaking the law and to gather new evidence. However, as the NYT’s report highlights, undercover work creates its own problems. (2)
Undercover Gone Wrong
An example of undercover police work going wrong can be traced back to the UK in the mid-1980s. (3) Reports emerged that two undercover police officers in the UK had sex with political campaigners they had been sent to spy on while undercover. The officers secretly fathered children with the campaigners and chose to have nothing to do with their offspring.
One of the undercover police spies was Bob Lambert who admitted that he had adopted a fake identity to infiltrate an activist group. Lambert deliberately duped a political campaigner into having a long-term relationship with him in order to heighten his credibility as a loyal campaigner.
The second officer read confidential police reports about the groups’ political activities as a means of keeping track of his child and the mother.
As it is strictly prohibited for undercover agents to have sexual relationships with the activists they are spying on, when the revelations were disclosed, controversy intensified over this long-running police practice.
In the NYT report, the authors state how undercover investigations rarely go public, but when they do, they can prove extremely controversial. (2) This was certainly the case when it was publicly disclosed about the undercover police having children with activists in 1980s’ Britain.
The FBI’s Spy Tactics
Similar controversy was ignited in the US when earlier this month James B. Comey, the director of the FBI, was compelled to defend the agency’s undercover spy tactics after the news emerged that in 2007 an agent had posed as a journalist for the Associated Press in an attempt to track down the source of the bomb threat at high school in Washington.
In a letter to the New York Times, Comey wrote:
Every undercover operation involves ‘deception’, which has long been a critical tool in fighting crime.”
Of course the cost of such rampant undercover work cannot be ignored. It has been estimated that the total number of undercover agents deployed in the US may be into the thousands and that the Department of Homeland Security spend $100 million each year on its undercover operations.
Undercover policing might be the bloodline of dangerous investigations, which helps put criminals in prison. However the fact that deceit and intrusion is gathering on a much grander scale and is being infiltrated into everyday life, will undoubtedly rock public confidence, with abuses of public privacy once again being questioned.
References & Image Credits:
(1) TSW: As Google Learns Everything About Us – Are We Headed Closer to 1984?
(2) New York Times
(3) The Guardian
(4) LaVladina via Compfight cc
(5) zubrow via Compfight cc