VITAL SIGNSrnSOCIETYrnCovert Policing inrnModern Americarnby Philip JenkinsrnWhen the former communist blocrndisintegrated, the opening ofrnsecret pohce files in several Europeanrncountries demonstrated the incrediblyrnthorough hold that the clandestine staternhad possessed over ordinary citizens, hirnEast Gcrmam’, for example, State Securityrn(Stasi) files revealed the existencernof vast networks of control and surveillancernin an’ area of life that might havernproduced dissidence or antistatc activity.rnThe whole societ), it seemed, had beenrnfounded on a culture of mutual suspicionrnand denunciation, which overwhelmedrnany existing bonds of familvrnor friendship. For Westerners, the exposurernof the Stasi files has enhanced stillrnfurther our post-1989 triumphalism, thernsense that the Cold War was indeed arnmoral confrontation on the lines longrnpresented by hawks and Reaganites, andrneadier attempts to argue for a “moralrnequivalence” between East and Westrnhave become wildly unfashionable.rnAlready, there is an emerging postcomniunistrnliterature comparable to earlierrnworks on fascism, studying the perasivernmoral corruption of totalitarian states.rnThe United States does not haverna Stasi, and comparisons may seemrninappropriate. However, the last threerndecades have witnessed quite dramaticrnchanges in the practices of law enforcementrnin this country, especially at thernfederal level, all of which tend towardrnan unhealthy and undemocratic emphasisrnon covert policing, with all that impliesrnin terms of “stings,” provocateurs,rnentrapment, denunciation, and mutualrnbetrayal. Perhaps the most disturbingrnthing about these trends is that theyrnhave been so readily accepted withoutrnwidespread discussion; they have not ledrnto any signihcant public debate. With arnfew notable exceptions, like Gary Marx’srnfine study Under Cover (1988), covertrnpolicing has made little impression inrnthe scholariy literature on either criminalrnjustice or political science. Yet there nowrnexist clandestine state apparatuses thatrnpose real dangers to the political andrnjudicial framework of this nation.rnThe idea of using spies and infiltratorsrnagainst political opponents or subversivesrnwas already an ancient tactic whenrnthe United States was founded, but itrnwas perfected here in the 19th centuryrnby the Pinkerton detective agency in itsrnconfrontations with Confederate spiesrnand I’nion terrorists. More recently, thernEBI became the leading practitioner ofrninfiltration into suspect groups, withrncommunist and other leftist organizationsrnas the chief targets, hi the niid-rn1970’s, a series of journalistic and congressionalrninvestigations exposed arnpattern of flagrant and widespread illegalityrnin the operation of schemes likernCOINTELPRO, the FBI’s CounterhitelligeneernProgram, and the CIA’srnMK/ULTRA. The “black bag” tacticsrnemployed in such ventures were lessrnshocking to public opinion than therntargets, which represented a broadrncross-section of the liberal and radicalrnleft, virtually none of which had anyrnsignificant contacts with the Soviet-blocrnspies cited as the major justificationrnfor these measures.rnFrom the niid-I970’s, federal justicernagencies became far more conscious ofrnthe legal environment in which theyrnwere required to operate and turnedrntheir attentions to targets that attractedrnlittle public support, including drugrndealers, corrupt politicians, and laborrnunions penetrated by organized crime.rnFor the general public, the first fruits ofrnthe new policy became apparent in 1980rnwith the exposure of the ABSCAMrn”sting,” a critical venture that conditionedrnpopular attitudes and expectationsrnfor ears to come. Briefly, suspicionsrnof organized crime influence inrnNew Jerse’ casinos led to a scheme inrnwhich the FBI hired a eon-rnan to posernas an Arab sheikh seeking to invest in AtlanticrnCit’ (hence “Arab-scam”). Thernplan succeeded beyond the wildest expectationsrnof its sponsors, and the putativernsheikh was courted by many of thernmost powerful politicians in the middlernstates. Ultimately, a U.S. senator andrnfive representatives were prosecuted, andrna dozen other congressmen were left tornbreathe sighs of relief.rnABSCAM established the stereotypesrnfor all succeeding cases: the daring andrnalmost humorous elements of the plan,rnwith the “sting” term borrowed from thern1973 movie starring Paul Newman andrnRobert Redford; the melodrama of thernconfrontations with the politicians, depictedrnas greedy betrayers of public trust;rnand the memorable visual imagery ofrngrainy films showing the transfer of bagsrnof unmarked cash. The whole operationrnhad an undoubted populist appealrnthat carried over to subsequent enterprises,rnin all of which the “stingers” andrninfiltrators were heroes. Stings proliferatedrnduring the I980’s, with MIPORN,rnLILREX, AZSCAM, among others,rnan increasing number of which werernmounted by state agencies. The range ofrntargets expanded to include white-collarrnand corporate criminality, with FBIrninfiltrators posing as futures traders orrnrepresentatives of defense contractors.rnSuch tactics hac often been successful.rnMafia families in particular havernbeen disrupted in most major metropolitanrnareas, and virtually all successfulrnantidrug operations rely on either stingsrnor infiltrators. Undercover tactics havernthus produced an impressive haul ofrnmalefactors, in circumstances whererntheir guilt is clear for all to see. Suchrnmethods arc perhaps the only ones thatrnha’e any chance of succeeding against arncrime that is ultimately based on mutualrnconsent and in which neither partyrnwill complain to the authorities. Prostitutionrnoffers a classic example; thernabsence of a victim is used to justify therncommon practice of having policewomenrnpose as prostitutes in order to elicitrnillegal invitations from potential clients.rnMorally, a great gulf separates thernhorrors of the Stasi files from the activitiesrnof a local American vice squad, butrnthere is still much that is troubling inrnrecent developments, especially in casesrnwhere legislators ha’e been targeted.rnAt the most ob ious level, prosecutorialrndecisions are made by a U.S. Attorney,rnand people in this position almost alwaysrnhave strong political connectionsrnin addition to ambitions of their own.rnProsecutors have at least the potentialrnJANUARY 1995/41rnrnrn