Undercover Investigations Are Vital to the Business World

Despite the risks to agents and their families, undercover investigations can result in significant convictions. They can also have long-term ramifications for the FBI and society at large.

A famous example occurred during Prohibition, when agent Malone infiltrated rumrunners to uncover their operations. The resulting case 심부름센터 led to the arrest of a major criminal organization.


While undercover investigations are often seen as glamorous in movies where characters like James Bond and Jack Bauer of “24” infiltrate the international workings of master criminals, this type of work is also vital to the business world. Undercover operations may uncover issues that could cost companies millions of dollars in lost revenue.

Police officers are generally chosen for undercover assignments because their physical attributes and inexperience suggest they are ordinary civilians. Officers undergoing undercover training receive seminars to teach them the language, culture and terminology of the illegal environment in which they will be working covertly. These operatives are also rigorously vetted and psychologically assessed before being sent into the field.

Once a UC has been tasked to a narcotics operation, for example, he is encouraged to inform all of his family members and close friends that he may at times be working undercover for the police. This is to prevent any misunderstandings and minimize the likelihood that he will be approached by those who may be unsure of his purpose.

Undercover operatives are able to gather intelligence much more rapidly than a uniformed officer and can obtain confessions from suspects that would not be forthcoming when spoken to by an officer in the open. They can also be alerted to future suspect activities and can report this information back to their superiors.


Detection is a key factor in the success of any undercover operation. Whether investigating a drug dealer who sells drugs in the street or an internet chat room where underage children are exchanging child pornography, the undercover officer must be able to blend in with the community and gain the trust of the suspect. This requires a good background story and a careful match of the agent’s appearance with that of the target.

However, undercover officers can also impose undue burdens on the privacy of individuals and communities. Infiltrating groups for surveillance purposes can make the members of those groups feel targeted and may chill free speech and association, as exemplified by the FBI’s decades-long infiltration of civil-rights, religious and community organizations.

Likewise, enticing targeted suspects to commit crimes they would not otherwise commit can be seen as violating their privacy rights by way of agent provocateur or entrapment. Such conduct may have serious consequences for victims, witnesses and the reputation of law enforcement agencies (see U.S. Senate Select Committee on Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities, Notable Senate Investigations, 1976).

In addition, the undercover lifestyle is different from normal police duties and can be difficult to reintegrate into normal assignments. It can lead to a lack of discipline, a cynical world view or neurotic responses and is often dangerous.


Undercover agents are particularly effective at preventing and disrupting large-scale criminal enterprises, such as bribery, gambling, narcotics, or theft of technology. These crimes typically require covert investigations in order to identify and prosecute the ring leaders.

Less extreme undercover operations may simply be used to track a suspect. In these cases, an agent might contact a suspect by phone to confirm the suspect is at a particular location and time under false pretenses. A call to a suspect can also be used to establish the identity of the suspect, such as by using voice identification.

In the case of undercover officers posing as members of civil-rights, religious, or community groups or as lawyers, public-health officials, or any profession that relies on confidentiality and privileged relationships, it is possible that these officers may inadvertently encourage a person or group to engage in illegal activity. This conduct is a form of entrapment, and it is generally prohibited in most jurisdictions.

FBI headquarters delegates authority to establish, extend, or renew a Group I undercover operation to the SACs in charge of field divisions, who are required to submit such proposals to FBI headquarters through an established process (see Undercover Guidelines SS IV.B.2). In the survey, 61 percent of Coordinators suggested that an informal, field office review of undercover operations should be implemented to reinforce for the field the importance of adherence to the Undercover Guidelines.

Daily Reports

The success of an undercover operation often depends on the accuracy and timeliness of daily reports. These should be clear, concise and free of personal opinions and complaints about colleagues or supervisors. They should also avoid speculation or assumptions. For example, a daily report for a construction business can include information such as weather conditions, crew details and deliveries received.

The FBI used an undercover team of attorneys to investigate county prosecutors, lawyers and judges who allegedly took bribes and kickbacks for assigning cases to them. The resulting investigation resulted in the conviction of 15 judges and 49 attorneys for bribery and tax-related offenses.

For the Greylord investigation, agents posed as licensed attorneys in Cook County and channeled calls through a wiretap to intercept conversations that revealed illegal activities. Among other things, the investigators discovered that judges accepted bribes to dismiss cases and that lawyers took kickbacks from defendants for referrals.

During our review of undercover operations conducted from May 2002 through October 2004, we found a number of lapses in the reporting requirements of the Undercover Guidelines. For example, one field division continued a Group II undercover operation for over a year without the approval of Headquarters as required by the guidelines. Another field division twice did not notify the SAC and SSA of two undercover operations as required by the guidelines.

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