WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, Congressman Stephen F. Lynch (D-Boston), the lead Democrat on the National Security Subcommittee, introduced H.R. 1857, the Confidential Informant Accountability Act. As the Oversight Committee holds a hearing on the “Use of Confidential Informants at ATF and DEA,” Congressman Lynch called for robust congressional oversight into the selection and use of confidential informants by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), and other federal law enforcement agencies.
“Law enforcement agencies are spending millions of dollars on confidential informant programs and Congress does not have information on who these informants are, if they committed any crimes and whether they have been properly vetted. While confidential informants can be a useful investigatory tool, we have seen far too often that the programs can be abused. In response to reports of waste, fraud and abuse in confidential informant programs at law enforcement agencies, it is critical that we enhance congressional oversight of human sources. The Confidential Informant Accountability Act will improve transparency, accountability and safety in confidential informant programs,” said Congressman Lynch.
In September of 2016, the Office of the Department of Justice Inspector General released an audit report on the confidential informant program administered by DEA. The report noted that there are 18,000 informants at DEA – including over 9,500 of whom received $237 million in payments for information provided to the agency. DEA heavily relied on independent tipsters known as “limited use” informants who receive little-to-no agency supervision and whose reliability is highly-questionable. Nevertheless, these limited use informants are some of DEA’s highest-paid sources. In addition, the New York Times recently reported that federal agents from ATF directed confidential informants to engage in sham transactions with a collective of tobacco farmers as “an off the books way to finance undercover investigations and pay informants without the usual cumbersome paperwork and close oversight…” ATF reportedly manages 1,855 informants at an annual cost of $4.3 million. In addition to these recent alarming reports about the confidential informant programs, Congressman Lynch repeatedly called for an oversight investigation into the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s use of confidential informants in New England in 2011.
H.R. 1857, the Confidential Informant Accountability Act, is cosponsored by Oversight and Government Reform Committee Ranking Member Elijah E. Cummings (D-Baltimore) and supported by the Project On Government Oversight.
“This bill would provide increased transparency between executive agencies that employ confidential informants and the Congress. This transparency is necessary to equip Congress with the information it needs to conduct meaningful oversight of these programs. POGO is proud to support this legislation and we hope it will receive the bipartisan support it deserves,” said Elizabeth Hempowicz, Policy Counsel, Project On Government Oversight (POGO).
In particular, H.R. 1857 would require federal law enforcement agencies to fully report to Congress regarding their payments to confidential informants as well as the amounts received by each agency through their cooperation with confidential informants. The bill would also require federal law enforcement agencies to report all serious crimes committed by their confidential informants including an accounting of the total number of each type and category of crime; an attestation of whether the crime was authorized or unauthorized; and a listing of the state in which each crime took place. The bill would safeguard the integrity of continuing criminal investigations and the identity of confidential informants by prohibiting the reporting of individual informant names, control numbers, or other personal identification that could reveal informant identities.
The video of Congressman Lynch’s opening statement at the Oversight hearing, “Use of Confidential Informants at ATF and DEA,” is available here.