According to a recent unclassified report to Congress, the FBI expects its informants to provide secrets about possible terrorists and foreign spies, although some may also be expected to aid with criminal investigations, in the tradition of law enforcement confidential informants. The FBI did not respond to requests for comment on this story.
The FBI said the push was driven by a 2004 directive from President Bush ordering the bureau to improve its counterterrorism efforts by boosting its human intelligence capabilities.
The aggressive push for more secret informants appears to be part of a new effort to grow its intelligence and counterterrorism efforts. Other recent proposals include expanding its collection and analysis of data on U.S. persons, retaining years' worth of Americans' phone records and even increasing so-called "black bag" secret entry operations.
To handle the increase in so-called human sources, the FBI also plans to overhaul its database system, so it can manage records and verify the accuracy of information from "more than 15,000" informants, according to the document. While many of the recruited informants will apparently be U.S. residents, some informants may be overseas, recruited by FBI agents in foreign offices, the report indicates.
The total cost of the effort tops $22 million, according to the document.
The bureau has arranged to use elements of CIA training to teach FBI agents about "Source Targeting and Development," the report states. The courses will train FBI special agents on the "comprehensive tradecraft" needed to identify, recruit and manage these "confidential human sources." According to January testimony by FBI Deputy Director John S. Pistole, the CIA has been working with the bureau on the course.
The bureau apparently mulled whether to adopt entire training courses from the CIA or from the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), which like the CIA recruits spies overseas. But the FBI ultimately determined "the courses offered by those agencies would not meet the needs of the FBI's unique law enforcement." The FBI report said it would also give agents "legal and policy" training, noting that its domestic intelligence efforts are "constitutionally sensitive."
"It's probably a good sign they are not adopting CIA recruitment techniques wholesale," said Steven Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists, an expert on classified programs. U.S. intelligence officers abroad can use bribery, extortion, and other patently illegal acts to corral sources into working for them, Aftergood noted. "You're not supposed to do that in the United States," he said.