What Does an Undercover Agent Do?

An undercover agent works in a variety of areas. They must be able to think quickly and adapt to their surroundings. They must also be able to maintain their cover and not blow their assignment.


They must also be able to satisfy the stipulations set out in the Undercover Guidelines.

Corporate Investigations

Corporate investigations are often conducted using an operative who works undercover at a company. This person blends in and acts like a regular employee, but their main purpose is to observe the company operation to determine whether or not there are problems that need to be addressed. The person undercover is a key part of the investigation because they can uncover information that might not otherwise be available.

It is important for an investigator who works undercover in a company to thoroughly document all aspects of the investigation. This includes the reasoning behind the decision to conduct the investigation undercover, as well as any information uncovered covertly and the conclusions drawn from such findings. This documentation will be useful for defending the investigative decisions made during and after the undercover investigation.

Undercover investigations can be very effective in unearthing criminal activity that may not be possible to discover through other means. They are also highly useful in investigations of public corruption. For example, the FBI used undercover officers to infiltrate a public institution that was notorious for widespread corruption. The undercover officers were able to obtain evidence that led to numerous convictions and the recovery of stolen vehicles, motorcycles, and weapons.

However, undercover investigations have also raised ethical issues in the past. Most notably, the FBI and other agencies used undercover agents to infiltrate civil rights, religious, and community groups, which was found to be an abuse of authority.

Drug Investigations

In investigations of crimes involving drugs, public corruption and organized crime, undercover agents are often vital. The Boston FBI’s “Whitey Bulger” and “Joe Flemmi” sting operations, for example, involved the infiltration of criminal enterprises to ensnare corrupt officials and business people.

The success of undercover work in these areas has received considerable media attention, though little analysis compares its benefits with other investigative methods and no information on the impact it has had on the crimes targeted. Moreover, studies have not considered the risk of injury to undercover officers and the costs of the operation (McPhee, 2003).

An undercover agent can become entangled in the criminal enterprise’s activities through a variety of means, including posing as a drug broker, engaging in consensually monitored conversations with suspected drug traffickers and purchasing drugs or drug paraphernalia. Tier 2 OIA authorizations, which require the approval of a field supervisor, typically involve these types of activity.

Undercover agents involved in proceeds of crime and money laundering investigations may need to set up elaborate storefronts to ring up illicit transactions and cash. These can involve lengthy and risky undercover assignments. While these sting operations can produce many convictions, they require a large number of undercover officers over an extended period of time. The CI Guidelines require first-line supervisors to instruct CIs not to engage in unauthorized illegal activity and ensure that required notifications are sent from the SAC or U.S. Attorney to the FBI.

Asset Forfeiture

The FBI and local law enforcement agencies are increasingly turning to civil forfeiture as an important resource. Civil forfeiture allows police departments to seize cash and property from people suspected of involvement in a crime. It is often used to target communities of color. For example, a 2016 study found that in Hudson County, New Jersey, Black drivers were subject to forfeiture actions at a rate nine times higher than white drivers. In most cases, the driver is not charged with a crime and no evidence is presented to show that the money or property seized was linked to a specific crime.

Using undercover agents to conduct asset forfeiture investigations is very controversial. Undercover operations are incredibly dangerous for the undercover agents, who can be exposed to violence, threats and other dangers. The dangers also extend to the agents’ family members and friends. For example, in an undercover investigation of a criminal organization, an undercover agent might be asked to take part in illegal drug transactions or participate in other activities that could put the agents’ safety and reputation at risk.

Many of these undercover investigations require extensive cooperation between federal and state investigators. The work can be lengthy and complicated, especially when the undercover agents are trying to gain access to criminals through a variety of means (e.g., undercover informant or entrapment). The undercover coordinators in field divisions are on-site experts concerning undercover matters and perform duties such as evaluating proposals for undercover operations and maintaining familiarity with all policies and requirements applicable to undercover matters. Our survey found that in some offices, coordinators were not receiving adequate guidance from Division Counsel about legal issues they anticipated arising in connection with undercover operations.

Violent Crimes

While undercover law enforcement officers are generally expected to obey all laws, they can be authorized by a superior or handler to commit minor crimes such as jaywalking or littering when this will help them conceal their identity in an investigation. They may also be allowed to participate in more serious crimes such as selling or purchasing drugs and even bribing politicians.

Historically, agents have often disregarded the rules in the pursuit of an investigation. Undercover FBI agents have been accused of lying to prosecutors, withholding information that could weaken their case and even using false evidence. In addition to these incidents, some undercover officers have been caught sleeping with those they are investigating and in some cases even marrying them or fathering children with them on the pretense that the relationship will last for years before disappearing without a trace when the investigation is over.

In one case, a former undercover agent working for the FBI named DeVecchio was suspected of murdering a man known as Whitey Bulger who was on the run from the police. Despite having an informant agreement with the murdered man and the corresponding FBI guidelines, DeVecchio did not report his suspicions to his superiors or the United States Attorney. He also did not report the death of his contact, an FBI special agent named Scarpa who was killed in a robbery involving an undercover FBI officer.