Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Are You Talking to an Agent Provocateur?

By David Hathaway

The imagined look and persona of an agent provocateur in most people’s minds probably couldn’t be further from the truth.  Most would probably picture the obscure, silent individual lurking in the back of the room while doing his best to conceal his identity and his movements.  If you accept that image, you have also accepted the notion that the provocateur is really just peeking in on, documenting, and recording pre-existing criminal activities and shady plans going on around him.  You haven’t faced the reality that the whole show is the production of the provocateur.

Once you realize that the momentum, the force, the ideas, and the infrastructure of an event are suggested, put in motion, paid for, forcefully or charismatically insisted upon, managed, and facilitated by the provocateur, then you look to very different individuals when considering who
is the state’s agent provocateur.  Looking for those individuals causes you to look for those displaying the characteristics of a leader, a financial sponsor, an employer, a boss, an orchestrator, or a charismatic friend to a lonely person.   Following are 11 characteristics that may be displayed by a provocateur.

1.  Is at the front of the room.  He is the most visible person in the activity.   He is the center of everything; the lynchpin.

2.  Is the biggest talker.  He talks endlessly about illegal activity with no attempts to conceal his intended activity.  The provocateur doesn’t, as some must think, randomly stumble into a lot of evil debate societies where he is welcomed warmly into an open discussion of criminal conspiracies.  On its face, that notion should be counter intuitive to most people based on their life experiences.  Even private criminals rarely, if ever, speak specifically to anyone, even to their family or inner circle, about the details of criminal acts they plan to carry out.  Talk is at a minimum and objectives are not openly stated but, understood.  The provocateur, on the other hand, rants incessantly about criminal ventures and seeks head nodding, mumbling, smiling, or something that he can describe to prosecutors as assent to, or participation in, the planning of a conspiracy or the execution of a criminal act in furtherance of a conspiracy.     Real criminals will quickly decide to get out of Dodge when confronted with a showy loud-mouth nut job that is either a cop or will get everyone thrown in the slammer.  That leads us to the third characteristic.

3.  Is fearless of the consequences.  Most people fear financial harm, harm to their reputations, and physical harm like imprisonment or being shot.  Not the provocateur.  He has all of that covered.  He has his get out of jail free card.

4.  Pays more than things are worth.  The provocateur often is not concerned about getting good value for his money.  He often buys and pays for things or gives them away for free to his targets with no sense of quid pro quo.  After all, it is not his money.  It is taxpayer money.  The government is never good at getting good value for the funds it spends.  The same goes when provocateurs spend taxpayer money.  They pay their targets too much for drugs, too much for bomb-making supplies, too much to rent a warehouse to store illegal material, and too much for their time.   There is no sense of value for value.  The over-spending is also an inducement to get targets to do things they wouldn’t otherwise do.    This is a strong signal that a provocateur is involved with something.  Is somebody offering to rent a hotel room or a warehouse out of the blue for a venture that cannot be cost effective at the exorbitant rates being paid by the provocateur?  This is not how the mafia or other private criminals think or act.  It is a sign of state action.

5.  Prefers to talk in his car or a hotel room.  Cars and hotel rooms are often wired with audio and video before scheduled meetings.  The provocateur tries to discourage discussions with the target in the target’s private controlled surroundings or outdoors where stray noises like traffic or wind will overwhelm a recording.  He tries to draw the target to his car or another choreographed location (hotel room, warehouse, garage, etc.) in the theater production controlled by the provocateur.

6.  May be very friendly.   The provocateur may be very kind and overly interested in the target even though the target is an unlikely candidate for his friendship.

7.  Often looks and acts like a member of a demonized group.  Sometimes, the provocateur overtly displays the characteristics or talks the talk of a group that is being demonized by the state and the state supporting media.   Say for example that gun owners, white supremacists, motorcycle clubs, militia members, devout religious practitioners, or persons of middle-eastern origin are in the crosshairs of state fear-mongering.  Well then, itcould be anticipated that the provocateur may be flaunting grossly exaggerated characteristics of those groups in conjunction with wild rhetoric that would make him a target of the feds; if he weren’t already in cahoots with them.  The more he fits the stereotypical image of that particular mythical dragon the government wants to slay, the more likely that he is putting on a costume to fit an adopted persona.

8.  Isn’t usually a government employee.  You may think, “I know this guy.  I know he’s scum, so I know he wouldn’t be hired as a law enforcement officer because of his criminal history or other baggage.”  This sociopathic petty criminal ne’er-do-well is actually the type that is most often approached to be a provocateur.  He is often approached by the government and offered an escape from the consequences of other activity he has been involved in.  This, ironically, is also the type who has the most to gain, and the least to lose, by lying and distorting.  A provocateur is often recruited on-the-fly and is told, sometimes with only moments of instruction from a government employee he just met, to arrange and carry out an event to bring in more defendants in order to save his skin.  After he works his way out of a jam, he often keeps working for money since he now knows how to produce the desired results.  Others are motivated only by the money they receive from the government.

Many provocateurs are “unwitting” lower tier provocateurs that are paid for their actions by another private provocateur who is receiving the funds directly from an actual government employee.  This “unwitting” provocateur doesn’t know he is working for the government.  He will be paid by the primary provocateur to do things that the main provocateur doesn’t want to do (like light a fuse and then run away from a truck) without knowing that the government is paying the bills.

Often the most damaging evidence at a trial is characterizations of individuals’ motivations, statements, and actions.  At that point, a government employee is usually called in as an “expert witness” to analyze, describe, and translate what it means when someone nods their head in sync with the person paying for the beer.

9.  Persistence followed by silence.  He may exhibit periods of aggressive non-stop interest followed by days of silence.  He disappears.  He can’t be contacted.  He doesn’t answer phone or email.  He was seemingly in a mad rush and anxious to conclude a suggested and planned-out transaction or event, despite any consideration of the cost but, then makes last minute lengthy delays while being incommunicado.  That happens because he is conferring with overlords to arrange the final arrest details during the moments, or after the moments, when he provides illegal material or facilitates an immoral event that will become the “overt act in the conspiracy” needed by prosecutors.   As law enforcement surveillance or arrest teams are put into place during various phases of the developing “conspiracy,” with all the delays of a bureaucracy, the provocateur drops all contact with targeted victims during crucial times after a deal has been paid for and set up by him.   The underlings have been told what to do and when to do it but, can’t find their boss during that crucial phase because he is lying low while pestering law enforcement teams who want more time to get ready.   “Stall and delay” is the message to the provocateur from his paymaster.  When the provocateur has used up all his excuses and the eleventh hour has arrived, he often goes underground and waits for the arrest team to do their thing.  After all, he doesn’t want to get beat up and shot in the final H-hour bedlam when he is confused with the targets.  Sometimes the underlings do what they were paid to do and initiate the act, light the fuse, pull the trigger, deliver the drugs, or complete the transaction anyway, as paid employees tend to do, after losing contact with their boss in the final hours leading up to an important crucial time-sensitive scheduled event.

10.  Lies convincingly in a Captain America “truth test.”   There is folklore floating around amongst regular folk to the effect that undercover agents of the government must always tell the truth.  After all, they will swear to tell the truth at trial.  They probably took some sort of oath to tell the truth, didn’t they?  If you catch them in a lie, won’t that impeach their credibility on the witness stand and cause the case to be thrown out?  This belief often leads the provocateur’s victims to inquire, “Are you a cop?”  Or, “Are you working for the government in any way?”  The provocateur’s answer of “no” is often accepted as the correct answer to the G-Man “truth test.”  The belief that cops, like Vulcans, will always tell the truth is surprisingly still out there but, losing adherents.

11.  Wears a hat.  OK, funny right?  There is a not-so-funny joke that floats around amongst undercover personnel that goes as follows:  “If I ever think I’m getting set up, I’m going to ask the guy to take his hat off and then look around and see if the cavalry rushes in.”  Taking off the hat, or cap, or other headgear, has been a long-standing visual “bust signal” between provocateurs and surveillance teams.  Not always but, more often than you would think.  You might want to ask your new found generous friend to take off his hat and let you look at it because you would love one just like it.

So, in conclusion, if you look at postings on a forum and consider if someone in the discussion may be an undercover cop, then instead of considering who is the silent lurker avoiding the discussion, think more about the one who talks the most and makes brash inflammatory statements like “kill” or “smash” or “blood in the streets;” the one who tries to set up meetings and intimidate those who are peaceful telling them that they aren’t “true patriots;” the one who tries to discuss, provide, or email you disturbing images or questionable links so that they can be retrieved later from your computer via a “computer forensics examination” to prove your deviance.  If you receive emails or Facebook messages after writing an article or making a posting, are some of them aggressive or pushing for violence and seeking your involvement, your input, or your reaction to their odd suggestions?  This is a sign of someone who has no fear of instigating and carrying out criminal activity because of his connections to those who would prosecute.

[[They aren’t always bullying high pressure operators suggesting violence though.  They also use the “I’m your friend” tactic to get a lonely or impoverished person or substance addicted person to nod his head or parrot the provocateur’s statements or to at least get the target to mumble something like “uh-huh” during an uncomfortable silence in a beer-drinking session after the provocateur has verbally mapped out a dastardly plan.  That minimal recorded “uh-huh” has been the tool used against many, supposedly proving the defendant’s “buy-in” to the conspiracy.

As a final comment, most countries in the world do not allow agent provocateur activity.  It is expressly prohibited.  Rather, it is an established legal principle that a lying government agent involved in criminal activity misrepresenting himself to the other parties cannot be excluded as a defendant in any criminal conspiracy that is charged as a result of his action.  Otherwise, the validity of the assent of the private parties to the conspiracy, or the existence of the conspiracy itself, would be in question.  Being a lying provocateur is not an acceptable court defense in those places for state actors who arrange to ship drugs, blow people up, shoot people, etc.    The U.S. is not one of those places.

David Hathaway is a former supervisory DEA Agent. He is a cowboy and aficionado of Latin America where he has lived and traveled extensively. He is a homeschooling father of nine children and maintains the website

The above originally appeared at


  1. "...a lying government agent involved in criminal activity misrepresenting himself..."

    I used to know a girl who had a state cop as a regular client. She didn't want to continue the "relationship," but he told her he'd bring her up on charges if she stopped servicing him. Apparently he didn't disclose his state cop status until after their first session.