The Risks of Being an Undercover Law Enforcement Agent

Undercover agents are sworn law enforcement officers who work undercover to gather information or evidence about criminal activities. This profession is very risky and not for the faint of heart.


One such agent infiltrated the Mongol outlaw biker gang to uncover evidence of drug trafficking and homicide. His deep cover was blown when his name was revealed by syndicated columnist Robert Novak.

They grow long hair and a beard

The FBI uses undercover agents to investigate a wide range of crimes, including white collar crime, drug trafficking, and public corruption. In one case, an undercover agent posed as a pharmacist to infiltrate a warehouse that was illegally diverting pharmaceutical drugs to national wholesalers and selling them at less than the retail price. This investigation resulted in the convictions of 15 people and fines of more than $22 million. In another public corruption case, an undercover employee posing as a lawyer and judge infiltrated the Cook County Circuit Court system in Illinois. This operation uncovered widespread corruption among judges and lawyers that included bribes, kickbacks, and the manipulation of case backlogs. Fifteen judges and 49 attorneys were convicted of bribery or tax-related offenses as a result of this undercover operation, called Greylord.

A key part of the FBI’s undercover operations is ensuring that it has the proper approvals in place. The FBI Guidelines require that the SSA and SAC “inspect and evaluate the conduct of an undercover employee from time to time.” However, USOU’s on-site reviews found that the SSA and SAC rarely documented these inspections or reviews of their undercover employees.

In addition, USOU’s on-site review identified that many field divisions did not submit the appropriate approval letters to CUORC for Group II undercover operations. The OIG learned that the decision whether to present a Group II undercover proposal to CUORC can depend on decisions made by FBI managers outside of USOU.

They wear a wire

Using deception to gain access to criminal enterprises, undercover agents can gather information and evidence of crimes without violating privacy rights or search-and-seizure laws. However, they may not encourage suspects to commit illegal activities by acting as an agent provocateur or engaging in entrapment. Undercover officers also have limited authority to take self-defense measures to protect their lives and health.

A trained undercover officer can become part of a crime organization, winning the confidence of the target and getting them to reveal vital information that leads to arrests and convictions. They must be able to stay in character, tell many lies and act calmly under stress. They need a team of people to keep track of their physical location and support them in case of danger. They must have a code word that only the backup team knows to call for help.

Undercover work can be very dangerous, and undercover officers are the last to know when their cover is blown, putting them at risk of violence, torture and even death. Despite the risks, undercover officers have been responsible for significant cases, including the convictions of mob leaders and members of various gangs. One example of a successful undercover operation involved an ATF agent who infiltrated the Hells Angels by posing as a member of their “nomad” chapter.

They have a code word

Many undercover agents use a code word that can be used in the event of an emergency. This code word can alert other officers to their presence, allowing them to take action as quickly as possible. This is especially useful in the case of violent crimes, as it can prevent injuries and loss of life.

Undercover agents often encounter ethical dilemmas during their investigations. For example, they may be tempted to take bribes and accept drugs. They also face the danger of losing their identity and being discovered. In addition, they may develop sympathies for targets and be co-opted by them, which can lead to their protecting rather than vigorously investigating them.

In the past, FBI undercover operations primarily targeted white collar crimes, public corruption and offenses involving controlled substances. Undercover agents, such as the famous “Donnie Brasco” of the Bonanno crime family, have resulted in countless convictions for organized criminals. However, these operations typically only penetrated the outer edges of the organization, and not the leadership.

Our survey showed that some field offices struggled to ensure the quality and consistency of undercover work. Some of the issues that were raised include a need to standardize review procedures for undercover matters, and the need to provide greater support to the undercover coordinator position. For example, some coordinators reported that they were not consulted about the details of their undercover cases by FBI headquarters.

They have a backup team

Regardless of their specialized skills, undercover officers often have to depend on backup. That’s why it is always a good idea to have a team with you when working undercover. The more people you have in your group, the better the chances are that you will not run into someone who recognizes you as a police officer.

A typical undercover squad is made up of a supervisor, the undercover agent and the agent’s “ghost.” The ghost stays close to the undercover officer and signals for help. This is important because agents are at risk of being robbed or even killed by the criminals they are spying on.

Undercover work can be colorful, fast and exciting. But it’s also complicated, unpredictable and dangerous in ways that no script on Miami Vice can show. In addition, there are often legal stipulations and other requirements that must be met to avoid liability and satisfy the FBI’s Undercover Guidelines.

Those guidelines require field offices to have an “on-site expert on undercover matters.” These are known as Undercover Coordinators. They are responsible for evaluating proposals and maintaining familiarity with the policies that apply to undercover matters. They also help with investigations in which the FBI is collaborating with other federal agencies. Undercover Coordinators are required to consult with the Director of the National Security Division on sensitive cases.