To hear just about any federal law enforcement official tell it, confidential informants are a critical element in the pursuit, arrest, and prosecution of criminals. For the Drug Enforcement Agency, that may be something of an understatement.
According to one DEA agent, confidential informants are the “bread and butter” of the agency’s work and they provide agents with leads as well as instigating the majority of the investigations.
Suzan Williamson, the Resident Agent in Charge with the DEA in Charleston, West Virginia says that the rules and protocols associated with dealing with confidential informants differ with each level of law enforcement. Nevertheless, she believes that regardless of whether the informant is working with local, state, or federal agents, most of them have a thorough understanding of what they are involved in.
In the vast majority of cases, confidential informants approach law enforcement with their desire to become an informant as opposed to the other way around. The motive for some is a reduced sentence while for others it is strictly monetary. Either way, however, Williamson says that these individuals know full well that it is very dangerous business that they are getting involved with because most of them have spent much of their lives involved in the criminal lifestyle.
Informants are often well compensated for their efforts but the job is so dangerous that very few people actually do come forward wanting to take on the task. They say it simply is not worth it no matter how much they get paid or how much of a reduction in their sentence they receive.
Williamson says that confidential informants assume the risk going in but that the DEA is well aware of what these people are getting themselves into and that the agency takes that risk very seriously. Agents take responsibility for their confidential informants to a certain extent because they know the fear most of them have in doing the job. Dealing with drug dealers in any capacity is dangerous but Williamson says that the DEA prides itself on being prepared for worst-case scenarios whenever working with a confidential informant.