Quiz: Are You Informed?

1. Approximately how many informants does the FBI currently have?

           A. 1,500

           B. 2,800

           C. 6,000

           D. 1,500

In 1975, a Senate oversight committee found the FBI had 1,500 informants. In 1980, officials disclosed that there were 2,800. In 1986, The Los Angeles Times reported that the number had increased to 6,000. After 9/11, counterterrorism became the agency's top priority, and that number is now approximately 15,000.

Source: Mother Jones: "The Informants" by Trevor Aaronson (September 2011)


2. Which of these historical figures was recently revealed to have had an FBI informant very close to him?

           A. Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi

           B. Martin Luther King, Jr.

           C. John F. Kennedy

           D. Warren Buffet

In 2010, The New York Times reported that through an error the FBI had revealed that late photojournalist Ernest C. Withers, famed for his photographs from the civil rights era, served as an informant. Withers was so deep in King's inner circle that he was in King's room at the Lorraine Hotel on the night King was assassinated. Withers himself passed away in 2007.

Source: The New York Times: "Civil Rights Photographer Unmasked as Informer" by Robbie Brown (September 13, 2010)


3. According to a recent story in The Guardian, how many U.S. computer hackers are actually FBI informants?

           A. 25 percent

           B. 30 percent

           C. 35 percent

           D. 40 percent

The Guardian investigation surmised that a significant number of U.S. hackers are working for the FBI. The article goes on to report that Eric Corley, publisher of a hacker journal, estimates that 25 percent of hackers in the United States have been recruited.

Source: The Guardian: "One in four US hackers is an FBI informer" (June 6, 2011)


4. What is the FBI's current counterterrorism budget?

           A. $1.1 billion

           B. $2.2 billion

           C. $3.3 billion

           D. $4.4 billion

Since 9/11, counterterrorism has been the FBI's top priority, according to a special investigation done by Mother Jones magazine. Counterterrorism accounts for $3.3 billion of the bureau's budget, compared to $2.6 billion for organized crime. Much of the attention of field agents and a massive, nationwide network of informants is focused on counterterrorism.

Source: Mother Jones: "The Informants" by Trevor Aaronson (September 2011)


5. Which of the following is not a term commonly used by the FBI?

           A. Hip pockets (unofficial informants)

           B. Kitty litter (bad information)

           C. Made (to have one's cover discovered)

           D. Cobbler (an informant who creates false documents)

"Hip pockets," or what the FBI calls unofficial informants, are informants who are not listed on the Bureau's books or in its records. One estimate is that there are as many as three hip pockets for every official informant. "Made" is a common term used by an informant or a handler, meaning that an informant's identity has been discovered or compromised, as in, "You've been made." A "cobbler" is a spy who manufactures false documents. We just made up the phrase "kitty litter."

Sources: Mother Jones: "The Informants" by Trevor Aaronson (September 2011)


6. When was the first eco-terrorist added to the FBI's Most Wanted Terrorists list?

           A. 1978

           B. 1984

           C. 2002

           D. 2009

The FBI's Most Wanted Terrorists list was created after the September 11, 2001 attacks and is separate from its Ten Most Wanted list. In 2009, Daniel Andreas San Diego was added to the Most Wanted Terrorists list for his alleged role in the 2003 bombing attacks on two San Francisco office buildings. A reward of $250,000 has been offered for information leading to his arrest.

Source: Mother Jones: "Lefty Eco-Terrorist Added to FBI's "Most Wanted" by Bruce Falconer (April 21, 2009)


7. In 2005, FBI deputy assistant director John Lewis named which of these the number one domestic terrorist threat to the United States?

           A. "Right-wing extremists such as Timothy McVeigh"

           B. "Radical Islamic groups"

           C. "The eco-terrorism, animal-rights movement"

           D. "Lone wolf individuals, unaffiliated with any larger movement"

According to testimony John Lewis delivered to a Senate committee early in 2005, "There is nothing else going on in this country, over the last several years, that is racking up the high number of violent crimes and terrorist actions, arsons, etc., that this particular area of domestic terrorism has caused."

Source: CNN: Domestic terror: Who's most dangerous?" by Henry Schuster (August 24, 2005)


8. Which of the following may an informant do while undercover

           A. Buy and sell illegal drugs.

           B. Obtain a weapon, such as a rocket launcher

           C. Teach others how to make weapons, including Molotov cocktails.

           D. All of the above

According to "Thoughts on a Neglected Category of. Social Movement Participant: The Agent Provocateur and the Informant" by Gary T. Marx, a professor of sociology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, undercover informants have been involved in many acts, including these, that would otherwise be considered illegal.


9. In the process of investigating a target, which of the following actions by a government informant would be illegal?

           A. Provide and pay for ingredients, manufacturing facilities and expertise to manufacture illegal drugs

           B. Pose as an activist in a political group and recruit new members

           C. Persuade an individual with no previous inclination to commit a crime to do so

           D. Develop an intimate relationship and have sex with the target

As long as predisposition exists, the informant can encourage a defendant to commit the crime. However, there are certain legal boundaries that limit what an informant is allowed to do.

Source: Natapoff, Alexandra. Snitching: Criminal Informants and the Erosion of American Justice. (New York: NYU Press, 2011).


10. Which of the following may the government do legally to persuade an individual to become an informant?

           A. Offer up to $500,000 or 25 percent of the take in a drug bust in exchange for information

           B. Threaten to charge the individual with a more serious crime

           C. Threaten to charge one of the individual's family members with a crime

           D. All of the above

There are few legal limits to the government's ability to persuade and reward informants.

Source: Natapoff, Alexandra. Snitching: Criminal Informants and the Erosion of American Justice. (New York: NYU Press, 2011).

Thanks to Alexandra Natapoff for her assistance with creating this quiz.

Photo credits:

  1. Achtung! Polizei! image by spanier, used with permission
  2. Copy of report taken from William Kunstler FBI files
  3. Computer screen
  4. FBI building in Washington, DC
  5. Drawing of spies
  6. Poster in Minnesota
  7. Picture of John Lewis
  8. Photocopy of the FBI Domestic Investigations and Operations Guide
  9. Poster of Brandon Darby that was posted in Austin, Texas in early 2009
  10. Picture of infamous spy Mata Hari