Recognizing and Avoiding Snitches
FIRST RULE: Learn and practice good security consciousness
The military calls this OpSec — Operational Security. It means conducting yourself in such a way as not to give away secrets or walk stupidly into avoidable dangers.
- Don’t talk about secret or illegal activities outside your group.
- Within your group, talk about them only to people who have a need to know.
- Keep groups small. Maybe even as small as a “cell of one.”
- If you use email, encrypt it. Not only that, but encrypt all email you possibly can, not just email containing sensitive material. Encrypt your cute cat jokes and your discussions of last night’s favorite TV show (that way you don’t call special attention to your most confidential exchanges).
- Do not post sensitive material on social media (a no-brainer, but apparently some still do it).
- Do not post sensitive material on social media even when your privacy settings allow only “friends” to see it. A 2012 court ruling said it’s perfectly okay for those “friends” to turn around and show your allegedly private info to government agents.
- Do not talk to cops or indeed any government agents — about anything. Ever. The most innocent remarks can be used against you. The “nicest” cop is still not your friend. (We’ll have more on this in Part Three and in the appendixes. This is extremely important!)
- Know the laws, potential sentences, and likely prosecutorial practices against any crimes you’re committing. Do not be caught unprepared.
- If you’re a political activist, keep your nose clean in other ways. For instance, if you’re an anti-drug-war activist, don’t sell drugs on the side. Don’t make yourself an easy target for spurious (or worse, real) criminal charges.
- Unless you actually want to be arrested to become a test case (a dangerous but sometimes useful tactic), then do everything you can to avoid giving anyone ammunition to tarnish you or your cause.
- Do your best to make sure your associates also follow good security practices.
- Get yourself away from associates who are blabbermouths, boasters, loose-lipped drunks, or “friends” who insist on posting their (and your) every activity on the Internet.
- We repeat: GET YOURSELVES AWAY from anybody who can’t keep his mouth shut!
Case in point: Steve Haug
Haug is one of the agents provocateurs the FBI planted with the Hutaree Militia — a group that basically did not do much while its members spouted unpleasant political rhetoric. Haug inserted himself so persuasively into the group that he became the best man at the leader’s wedding.
And all the while he was recording hundreds of hours of conversations and aggressively trying to get the group to cook up a “bomb plot.” A judge eventually threw out all the major charges, but not until some Hutaree members had spent two years in jail awaiting trial.
* * *
It’s also worth noting: One of the other snitches who helped bring down the Hutaree was a mouthy radio-show host called Hal Turner. Turner used another infamous tactic of snitches; he constantly urged, and even threatened, violence against public officials. All the while he was on the air, rousing dimwits into a frenzy, he was also a paid FBI informant, reporting on the very people he was inciting. And that’s not at all unusual or surprising.
Another point to remember about snitches
This comes from “just waiting,” who also contributed the excellent primer on interrogation that you’ll find in the appendices. He notes: “While all snitches are cowards, not all snitches are wimps or sissies. Just because we talk about them as lesser beings doesn’t mean some of them aren’t tough as nails — fighters and brawlers.
“If nothing else, snitches show a very developed sense of self-preservation and a willingness to do anything to save their own ass. Being a rat doesn’t diminish their ability to fight, it just changed their tactics and focus temporarily.”
So beware: Another way snitches can be dangerous is to physically hurt you if you get in their way.
Recognizing a snitch
While some clumsy snitches are obvious, many more are nearly impossible to recognize. What follows are only guidelines. Use them as an aid to your own brain and your own gut, but understand that when you organize with others to do controversial things, you very probably will have at least one snitch in your midst. There is simply no group that cannot be infiltrated. The longer you continue and/or the more controversial your activities, the more likely you are to attract one or more rats.
Some typical things snitches and/or agents provocateurs do:
- A stranger or casual acquaintance tries to get you to do or advise on illegal activities.
- A friend suddenly starts pushing you to do or advise on illegal things.
- A person joins your group and statements he/she makes about his/her background just don’t add up.
- A person joins your group and starts stirring up trouble and creating divisions.
- A person joins your group and is overly eager to be useful, to pay for the group’s activities, to initiate activities, supply equipment, to escalate dangerous activities, etc.
- Someone goes out of his way to gain your trust, to be really buddy-buddy with you. Then, when you resist getting into dubious activities, he drops all interest in you (he’s looking for an easier mark).
- You’re asked to do illegal or dubious business with a “friend of a friend.” This is a big one. It’s amazing how many “friends of friends” (where controversial activities are involved) are actually undercover cops.
- Someone asks you to do something illegal or dangerous that he could just as easily do himself or have done elsewhere.
- Someone starts agitating to have your group do something outside the group’s purposes. (“Hey, we just run a little of this ‘stuff’ across the border and it’ll make us a lot of money that we can use to do good.”)
- An older, “more experienced” person joins your group or circle and soon becomes a counselor of sorts to the youngest, most edgy, most insecure, most angry, or most naive members. He “cuts them out of the herd” in order to pull them into illegal plots. (This is a classic tactic of the agent provocateur.)
- Anyone in your group starts agitating for violent action. People who agitate for illegal activities may be snitches; or they may be genuine fools who will attract snitches.
These are not the only ways snitches get you in trouble. But they’re among the most common ones.
Times have changed…not for the better
In a Playboy article, James Bovard wrote: “Up until the early Seventies, defendants often successfully challenged entrapment as a violation of due process. But in 1973, the Supreme Court, in an opinion written by Chief Justice William Rehnquist, gutted most defenses against government entrapment by focusing almost solely on the ‘subjective disposition’ of the entrapped person. If prosecutors can find any inkling of a defendant’s disposition to the crime, went Rehnquist’s logic, then the person is guilty, no matter how outrageous or abusive the government agents’ behavior. Justice William Brennan dissented, warning that the decision could empower law enforcement agents to ’round up and jail all ‘predisposed’ individuals.'”
What makes snitches so persuasive?
Snitches, especially professional agents provocateurs, can be master manipulators. Many otherwise-smart people have been drawn into their traps because they failed to recognize not only the specific techniques listed in the last section but because they failed to understand the psychology of snitchery and entrapment.
- Snitches play on your trust and/or your desire to go along with others.
- They may appeal to your loyalty or your fear or some other emotion (“You won’t do it? Wow, and here I thought you were one of us.” “C’mon, if you had any guts you’d do this.” “How are we ever going to change things if we don’t take radical action?”)
- They may literally “cut from the herd” the most naive, trusting, foolish, or discontent of your associates, isolate them, and psychologically manipulate them into committing crimes.
- They may pretend to be your friend. — especially a friend in need. (“I know you don’t usually deal, but couldn’t you just sell me a little from your stash?” “Look, just help me get this money out of the country; it’s no big deal.” “Hey, I know you have a machine shop in your garage; how about helping me cut down the barrel on this shotgun? I’ll pay you.”)
- They may actually be your friend — but a friend who has gotten into legal trouble and has turned to snitching to save themselves from a long prison sentence. (Same sorts of urgings as in the last bullet point, but this time coming from somebody for whom that wouldn’t be characteristic behavior.)
- They may make it easy to commit crimes by not only pushing the idea, but actually supplying the funding, the equipment, the transportation, and the planning for the crime. They may come across as natural leaders (“Trust me, I know how to do this!”)
- They may make hyper-strong appeals to your cause — then use the leverage they gain to make equally strong appeals for committing crimes.
- They often play upon a normal human desire to want to DO something – which is likely why, if you’re a political person, you’re a member of the group in the first place.
- And finally — let’s never forget — some snitches play on that most basic instinct of all — S.E.X. Spy agencies have known this as long as there have been spy agencies. The KGB used to call it “the sparrow trick”; get a red-blooded heterosexual male up close with an attentive, manipulative female and said male will eventually whisper all manner of secrets into her ear. These days, it probably works the other way around, too. And no doubt homosexual attraction can blind eyes and loosen lips just as effectively.
“Mere” snitching vs active entrapment
Back in the late sixties or thereabouts, there was a federal case in which Treasury agents latched on to a printer who was willing to fantasize about doing some counterfeiting. Undercover Treasury agents encouraged him to really do it. Despite being a printer, he didn’t have the special plates required to print money. So the Treasury agents provided them. Then he didn’t have the special paper required to print money. So the Treasury agents provided it. And so on.
A judge tossed the case. And rightly so. There would never have been a crime, had the federal agents not provided the means and a big chunk of the motivation. That’s entrapment.
Today, that dumb sap of a printer would be in prison for a long, long, time. As Bovard says, standards have changed. Although a jury will occasionally decide that some act of entrapment is so outlandish they’ll refuse to convict (do an Internet search on “FCPA Africa Sting” for a great example), victims of entrapment have ended up serving decades in prison for going along with plots cooked up entirely by government agents. Even those eventually found not guilty may lose everything in the effort to save themselves.
With courts allowing more and more acts that would once have been considered illegal entrapment, more and more “mere” snitches are using their wiles to talk people into illegal deeds and are even providing the means and money to carry those deeds out. The lines between “mere” snitches and agents provocateurs are blurring.
Beware of anybody who not only wants you to commit illegal acts but goes out of his way to “help” you do so!
Dangerous myths about snitches and undercover agents
There are two huge myths about snitches, narcs, undercover agents and other cop-associated rats that you’ll hear all the time. The people spouting this BS always sound as if they know it for a fact. But the only fact is that they’re misinformed — and are dangerously misinforming you.
Here are the two myths:
Myth #1: If you ask if someone is a narc, they have to tell you.
NO they don’t. The myth holds that if you say, “Are you a narc?” or “Are you a cop?” and the person replies, “No,” then they can never, ever bust you. Baloney! Every variety of snitch can look you straight in the eye and say, “I’m not a snitch” — then turn right around and land you in jail. Court cases around the nation – a search engine is your friend, here – have affirmed the “right” of government agents to lie to their targets. Which brings us to:
Myth #2: Cops are never allowed to lie to you.
OMFG, cops — and all kinds of other government agents — lie and they lie and they lie. And in nearly every case the courts allow them to get away with it.
But that brings up a related subject. Increasingly, you can get in trouble for lying to them. Even an innocent and harmless misstatement can be twisted into a prison sentence for you (search on “Martha Stewart prison” for an example).
There are a few sorts of lies that are so egregious that if a police officer tells them the case against you may be thrown out of court (attorney Jamie Spencer gives an example here). But only after you’ve been busted, scared out of your wits, deprived of your property, and perhaps driven into bankruptcy.
So just remember: Cops and other government agents are the most evil liars in the world — because they have power to hurt you, they’ll use it ruthlessly, and they know they can get away with almost anything. If you know, or even have good reason to suspect that someone is a cop or any sort of government agent, DO NOT TALK TO THEM. About anything. Don’t try to outwit them. Do not try to turn the tables on them. Don’t even talk about the weather around them. The only things you ever want to say to a cop are things like, “Am I free to go?,” “I do not consent to a search,” or “I will not speak to you without an attorney present.”
Attorney safety tip:
A day or two spent in jail because of a frustrated government agent beats a lifetime spent there because of a verbal misstep.
What to do if you believe a snitch is personally targeting you
Let’s assume that you suspect — but aren’t sure — that someone in your circle is a snitch. And worse, you think the person is, or even might be, targeting you. What do you do?
- Again, get away from the person
- Do not try to outsmart the person
- Do not feed the person false information (because if that person is an undercover agent this could be a crime in and of itself)
- Do not commit violence against the person
- Just get away — even if it means leaving a group
- If you think you’ve already said or done something compromising with this person, see a good lawyer and read the section of this booklet on how to conduct yourself if you get arrested.
- Another tip from this book’s helpful attorney: “Consider making your OWN complaint to the authorities about this ‘nutball’ [the person you suspect of being a snitch]. This a) puts you on the record as NOT being in bed with the snitch, b) alerts the snitch and his handlers that you’re aware of him and are thus less likely to be an ‘easy target,’ c) creates an appearance that you’re not one of the bad guys – since you’re not hiding anything, and d) maybe – with a little luck – the snitch ends up in jail himself for some time. I would not consider this ‘do not try to outsmart’ described above (which I agree with).” Of course, if he turns out not to be a snitch, you may have harmed an innocent person by calling the cops on him. It’s a risk. But if the person really is an agent of the government, this can be a pretty good act of self-protection. Oh, and one of my friends who speaks from experience, points out that if you’re going to report a snitch to the cops, it’s best to do it through a lawyer. Otherwise you’re talking to cops, which is a no-no.
It’s an old joke, but…
Back in Soviet Russia, twin brothers were born. They slept in the same crib. As they grew older, they went to the same schools, and entered the same military duty side by side. After the military, they started work next to each other in the same factory. They were married on the same day, and raised their families next door to each other in the same apartment building.
The years go by, and the brothers find themselves as old men, sitting on a park bench, sharing a bottle of vodka.
“What do you think of these new reforms they keep talking about?” asks one brother.
“Nyet” Says the other, “One of us might be KGB!”
As I said, old joke, but an element of truth. The sad reality is, everyone has their version of the “thirty pieces of silver.” Pressure on a family member, fear of jail time, exposure of a dark secret … anybody can be turned. The trick is in riding the fine line between necessary trust and over extending yourself and putting yourself at risk. Personally, I’m in favor of compartmentalizing information. Discuss “X” with one person/group, share “Y” with another group, and keep your yap shut about “Z”.
Also, remember that the Internet is the greatest snitch out there. Every click, every search, every action CAN be recorded. I have no evidence that it’s being done successfully, but it can be done. That’s enough for me to never use a single point of entry to the WWW. Visit the public library for some, your local coffee shop for more, do some lightweight stuff at home, and don’t surf and research at the same time. Find stuff, data dump it to a secure source, and read it later. If you find it irrelevant, trash it then.
Heads down, eyes up!
To be continued in PART TWO: A Snitch Uncovered
Excerpted from Rats! Your guide to protecting yourself against snitches, informers, informants, agents provocateurs, narcs, finks, and similar vermin by Claire Wolf and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commerical-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
That mouthful means that it is okay to copy and distribute this booklet for non-commercial purposes as long as you attribute it to the original source. Feel free. Go for it. Have at it. Spread the word.
On the other hand, you may not alter or add to the text in any way.
And you may not reproduce or distribute any part of this work for commercial purposes, period. Do not do either of those things.