Note: This statement by former FBI Special Agent John C. Ryan was filed as Appendix C to the Plaintiffs’ “Motion for Justice” filed in the Bari/Cherney civil rights suit against the FBI and Oakland Police.
Statement of John C. Ryan
May 7, 2001
I, John C. Ryan, was a Special Agent of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) from Feb. 28, 1966 to Oct. 11, 1987, assigned to Phoenix and Yuma, AZ (1 yr), Utica, NY (9 yrs), East St. Louis, IL (5 yrs) and Peoria, IL (7yrs). Most of my career I specialized in organized crime (OC) investigations. I also worked general criminal and applicant cases, and near the end of my Career I specialized in Foreign Counterintelligence & Terrorist cases.
My duties were to investigate violations of federal laws (those assigned to FBI jurisdiction), make arrests, serve search warrants, or as directed by the President of the United States.
I was fired from FBI on Oct 11, 87 for refusing a direct order to investigate non-violent peace groups as saboteurs/terrorists, based on my religious beliefs. I sued for re-instatement, (John C. Ryan vs. US Dept of Justice, Case No. 88C 2410, Central District of Illinois). Reinstatement was denied. The case was heard 10/15/91 by 7th US Circuit Court of Appeals, Case No. 91-1467 -- appeal denied.
Informant development and informant handling was my specialty throughout most of my FBI career. I worked OC for approximately 16 of my 22 years. I worked, handled, developed or attempted to develop literally hundreds of individuals as informants. I handled 7 Top Echelon (TE) informants including a Mafia member informant, and paid several thousand dollars to informants, both as "regularly paid" or in individual payments. I received two cash incentive awards for my work with informants. My two letters of censure from the FBI, neither of which I am ashamed, were because of overzealousness in my informant work. I attended a specialized informant In-Service training which gathered agents around the FBI that specialized or excelled in informant development.
During my entire FBI career, all agents working criminal matters were expected to have informants, also known as a source, asset, snitch, stool-pigeon, a 137 (the informant file number). One's informant coverage was a major portion of all performance reviews and inspection reports. During the late 1960s and early 1970s, with the inner-city rioting and unrest, every field agent had to have at least one "ghetto informant" meaning an Afro-American informant. In the late 60s, early 70s, the Top-Echelon Criminal Informant Program (TECIP) began, targeting OC figures, particularly Mafia members.
There were an overwhelming amount of rules and restrictions on the program, ostensibly to assure the "integrity" of bureau informants, and to prevent abuse by the informant or the agent.
The reality is that many agents either had no ability or desire to develop informants, some were simply unable to converse with somebody in the "criminal element" in a civil manner. By and large, the informant program was an internal game between the field and headquarters, almost all on paper, to meet the bureau requirements, and fraud on the part of the agents became rampant.
It was the unwritten policy of the field offices that all fugitive apprehensions, recovered stolen cars, and many other statistical accomplishments be attributed to an informant. A new informant was designated a Potential Criminal Informant, (PCI). This PCI needed 3 accomplishments (i.e., a fugitive located, a stolen car recovered), to become a Criminal Informant, (CI). After that all you had to do was contact the CI at least every 30 days, and fill out a background sheet. I heard these specific instructions, several times, from the informant coordinator at all-agent conferences. "Phony informants," or "paper informants" were the rule. Subsequently, the bureau rules governing informant development, handling. and reporting pertained almost entirely to this type of informant.
On the other hand there was always a scattering of agents that worked legitimate informants. Some of these informants were extremely competent and productive. Sometimes the informant was a "walk-in," a person that contacts us with some information, for some reason, and volunteers to continue providing information. There were agents with hoodlum friends or relatives that turned informant. Then, often in the course of a case, especially in prosecution stages, a subject would turn informant in return for leniency or release.
Then there were agents that had the desire and ability to develop informants. From my experience and from numerous contacts with other agents that specialized working informants, it became obvious that not many agents fell into this category. Many FBI divisions, mainly smaller ones, had no such agent, some with only one. Some of the larger divisions were not much different.
As a rule, the more productive an informant, the more paperwork and administrative problems he or she caused. Any agent familiar with real informants knows this, and often the agent found him/herself at frequent odds with the field office or the bureau and found it essential to cut corners with the paperwork, and subsequently with the content of the informant's information.
The rule said every informant had to be contacted at least once every thirty days. In reality, some informants were contacted on a regular basis, sometimes daily, while others were difficult to find, it was dangerous to meet, did not like to be contacted, or were generally unavailable. One productive informant could, in effect, carry several lesser productive informants. By this, I mean, it was common to take information from one informant and attribute it to another, or several others, to keep all productive, but especially to meet the 30 day contact rule. It was also common to use police intelligence information, information from illegal wire-taps and microphones, even news stories, by attributing the information to informants, both as a means of inflating an informant's worth, and/or masking an illegal eavesdropping operation.
All agents were required to certify upon every informant contact that the informant did not hold back any information and that the informant showed no signs of emotional or mental instability. Both statements, in my estimation and that of most agents I knew that handled informants, were absurd. Informants frequently held track Information or altered the information to fit their agenda, which was often revenge, or to provide what the agent was hoping to learn, especially if payment was involved. I found this aspect so common that I regularly maintained informants to inform on my informants.
Informant development and informant handling was my specialty throughout most of my FBI career. I worked OC for approximately 16 of my 22 years. I worked, handled, developed or attempted to develop literally hundreds of individuals as informants. I handled 7 TE informants including a Mafia member informant, and paid several thousand dollars to informants, both as "regularly paid" or individual payments. I received two cash incentive awards as well as two letters of censure from the bureau for informant matters.
The informant program was haphazardly maintained, by the bureau and by the field. There was little security given to informants. On a PCI case, the informant's actual name was the title and used throughout all paperwork. (CI's names were concealed and given symbol numbers.) The informant files were shelved with all other files and were available to any agent or clerk in the office. It was presumed that most of the informants were either totally fictional, or at least exaggerated.
The bureau requires a case agent to certify that they have instructed the informant that he/she is not an employee of the FBI, and that they are not to portray themselves as such. This is a problem that probably every agent that worked real informants has encountered. I recall a former mob muscle, hit-man that turned informant and who took to his new role with the same enthusiasm he had as he did for the mob. Once, after reading a newspaper column that trashed the FBI, he became so upset and took it so personal that he wanted to go and "mess-up" the columnist that wrote the article.
One secretary that handled informant payments became extremely resistant and uncooperative to me because the informant was earning more than she was, and she complained openly to others in the office about this. One SAC (Special Agent in Charge) commented when an agent was forced to pay several hundred dollars to repair a bureau car he damaged, "I thought that's what informant money was for."
In my first assignment I was told by an experienced agent to read "Our Man in Havana," a novel by Graham Green, if I wanted to know how the bureau informant program is best worked. In this story an "agent" in Havana, Cuba, manufactures all of the information he sends to his superiors using the diagram of a vacuum cleaner as the sinister weapon he spying on. I Worked at the Mexican border, and, as a favor to another agent responsible for "security" information from Mexico, would periodically go into Mexico, buy every Mexican newspaper I could find and give them to that agent, who told me he would read to find intelligence information to attribute to his security informant.
I was working OC cases when the TECIP was initiated. The program was pointed at the Mafia, or organized crime in general, (for offices that did not have Italian Mafia affiliations) seeking major OC figures as informants. It was a highly successful program but rarely operated as the bureau instructed and was led to believe it was run.
I attended an informant in-service training session at Quantico in which the director of the CI and TECI programs (both designed the particular programs and were with then from their start) both admitted they had never, in their field days, worked actual informants. Both were being very candid, and admitting the programs had great shortfalls.
One agent that had two good OC informants feared and mistrusted the bureau informant system so much that he never put either informant on paper, but instead attributed any information either told him to any one of several marginal or non-existent informants he carried on paper.
I know of an instance where an agent, in a division needing a Mafia member informant, took a person he was friendly with, a low level street con-man, with an Italian last name, and by quoting police intelligence sources and other informants, made him into a Mafia member -- or so the bureau thought. At the same time there was a highly productive illegal microphone in a local Mafia member's premises. The individual was "targeted" as a possible informant, successfully developed, greatly enhanced the agent's reputation, the field office's reputation and provided a vehicle to report the information from the microphone. Further, this informant was paid significantly on a regular basis (which also made the agent, office, and the information more appealing). When another, legitimate Mafia member informant, from the same Mafia family and the same city was developed, but did not validify the other so-called member, neither the field division nor the bureau balked, and the bogus member informant continued to be paid on a regular basis.
I had an informant that was on federal probation, but deeply involved with OC friends. Bureau rules prohibited contacting a federal parolee or probationer without permission of his Probation Officer. I contacted the Probation Officer who was convinced the source was going straight and told me he would violate him if he caught him talking to me. Instead of violating the bureau rule I made his girlfriend an informant and normally contacted them together, attributing all the information to her file. At a later point it became necessary to use some of his information in court. The situation was explained to the bureau. Although I was given a letter of censure, the bureau permitted me to provide the information as testimony. Although prepared to, I never testified in this, case. I would have, honestly, but the FBI file in which I reported the informant information to the bureau was fraudulent. The OC section of the bureau recognized the problem but the Office of Professional Responsibility did not.
With the advent of the Federal Strike Forces, the Media, PA break-in, (where, for the first time, actual internal FBI files, including informant contact forms, were stolen and seen by the public), the death of J. Edgar Hoover, then the Watergate scandal and the Senator Frank Church Guidelines that resulted, a great deal of change began to take place regarding informants.
Prior to all of this, rarely was the majority of informant information used for prosecuting crimes. It was gathered primarily for intelligence purposes (as was security type information). Intelligence gathering had become an end in itself, to impress one's own supervisor or the bureau, or just to gather intelligence for its own sake.
When wiretaps became legal, (early 1970s) informant information became imperative to obtain the affidavits necessary for the court authorized wiretaps. Often, especially when working with Strike Force attorneys, we would be tasked to obtain specific informant information to strengthen the affidavit, make it more specific, or to update the information due to the delays that occurred getting the affidavit approved. Sometimes it was dangerous -- dangerous for the informant's security, or dangerous for the case if the informant realized the target of the affidavit -- contacting the informant, or the informant was reluctant to be contacted, as when didn't like being an informant, or when the informant did not know he was an informant. Often in such cases, either the update would be invented. At this stage too much was at stake logistically, (eavesdropping equipment, manpower, surveillance, extra clerical help, etc.) for any informant problems, especially when it was the agent that testified as to what the informant said, not the informant. Regardless of the integrity of that agent, that informant's file was already so full of falsehoods that another one wouldn't matter.
One day, sometime in the early 1980s, all agents were contacted, by phone, not by memo, and told to close all "non-productive," (meaning phony) informants, with "no questions asked." Gradually many changes were made, such as removing informant files from the general files and keeping them in a special locked area, inaccessible to one and all, supposedly only the case agent. At the same time a new policy overtook the bureau; "quality not quantity." This applied to informants as well as all of the case work. But at the same time an addendum was whispered; "but we want a lot of quality."
As I have noted, there were numerous rules and procedures established at different times for the handling of informants at different stages of their development, and for maintaining files and records of contacts and dealings between informants and the agents who worked with them. Those rules were honored as much in the breach as in the observance in my experience. There were periodic announcements from the bureau of reforms, reconstitution of procedures and other supposed improvements in the system, but the same practices always continued, or were re-established over time.
Because of these experiences and observations, it would come as no surprise that FBI agents in the Judi Bari case, or any case, would distort, exaggerate, misrepresent, falsify or otherwise manipulate information about an informant, or about information supposedly received from an informant, or meetings, or the contents of reports and files, etc., regardless of the untruthfulness or unlawfulness of their actions. Anyone -- supervisors, bureau headquarters, a court or magistrate in a given case, prosecutors, city police officers -- might have been a target (victim) of such fraud and deception regarding informants and informant information in the circumstances and atmosphere I am describing.
John C. Ryan May 7, 2001
Note: This letter is Appendix C to the Plaintiffs' "Motion for Justice" filed in the Bari/Cherney civil rights suit against the FBI and Oakland Police. You may jump from here to Appendix A, the statement of noted historian Howard Zinn.
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