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) 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. The term is commonly used in politics, industry, entertainment, and academia.
Informants are also 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.
The CIA has been criticized for leniency towards drug lords and murderers acting as paid informants, informants being allowed to engage in some crimes so that the potential informant can blend into the criminal environment without suspicion, and wasting billions of dollars on dishonest sources of information.
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.
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.
Genuine desire to assist law enforcement and society.
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. 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.
Paid informants have often been used by authorities within politically and socially oriented movements to weaken, destabilize and ultimately break them.
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 participants in a money loop also called a kickback. Informers in some countries receive a percentage of all monies recovered by their government.
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."
Criminal informant schemes have been used as cover for politically motivated intelligence offensives.
pentito — Italian term, meaning "one who repents". Usually used in reference to Mafia informants, but it has also been used to refer to informants for Italian paramilitary or terrorist organizations, such as the Red Brigades.
The phrase "drop a dime" refers to an informant using a payphone to call the authorities to report information.
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.
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: , 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: ?, istochnik operativnoi informatsii).
^"informer". Merriam-Webster Dictionary. Merriam-Webster. Retrieved 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
^ ab"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
^"Pursuing strategic advantage through political means: A multivariate approach" by DA Schuler, K Rehbein, RD Cramer – Academy of Management Journal, 2002
^"Reading English for specialized purposes: Discourse analysis and the use of student informants" by A Cohen, H Glasman, PR Rosenbaum-Cohen, TESOL Quarterly, 197