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Lethbridge Herald Newspaper Archives

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Lethbridge Herald, The (Newspaper) - June 6, 1973, Lethbridge, Alberta 50 THt IITHMIDOI HIRAID FINK slang, n An informer; stool pigeon, a contemptible or thoroughly unattractive person. What kind of government asks people to spy on each other? By TOM TIEDE, Newspaper Enterprise Association WASHINGTON Armed with shotguns, dressed as wildmen and spouting adol- escent braggadocio, federal narcotics agents raided a pair of East St. Louis, 111., homes last month in what, if not for the terror of it all, have resembled a re- play of the Keystone Hops. The agents battered furni- ture, knocked people down and pointed pistols as if to use them. Finally, quickly as they came, they left mum- bling something to one numb homeowner about "being in the wrong damn house." How could such a thing happen in America? Easy, as one of the unapologetic fed- eral raiders said it: "We just got a bum tip is all." Is Never mind how it could happen, then, the question may rather be: How is it that such a thing does not happen more frequently in America? The "bum after all, is given thousands of times daily to law enforcement officers. Along with the "crank the "spite tip" and the "good it has become as much a part of police work as tar- get practice. Long a discred- ited not to say smelly and unreliable tool of investi- gative work, the informant system nonetheless thrives and even appears to be ex- panding in the land today. Anxious Why? Partly, say police authorities, because increas- ing numbers of citizens seem only too anxious to squeal on their neighbors. Sociologists might equate the phenomenon with the modern nomadic trends one of five U.S. families move every year which help create neighbor- hoods of strangers. Others be- lieve prime time TV is form- ing an audience of grubby gumshoes get two kinds of shows on says an FBI agent, "cops and rob- bers or robbers and Still others feel that the gen- eral shakeup in American val- ues has resulted in the bur- ial of old-time fair play says one newsman familiar with the recent East St. Louis raid mistake: "We're becom- ing a nation of finks." But if the public is more willing to rat these days, it is in good part due to govern- mental encouragement. Ev- ery federal agency with in- vestigatory powers (and what agency, as they say, doesn't have investigatory uses and sometimes abuses the informer system. In fact, they are lifting the tactic to something of an awful art. The FBI has been known to wire informers for sound. Im- migration authorites h a ve trained foreign pe'er do- wells to first sell illicit items to smugglers and then turn the same smugglers in. The Bureau of Narcotics and Dan- gerous Drugs not only pays informers handsomely, but adds fringe benefits, "moving them from city to city or from country to country if necessary." As for protecting squeal- ers, the Justice Department recently requested that 25 federal jobs be made avail- able to informant witnesses who may have to be moved to Washington for their health or well being. 'The most flourishing of the modern informant techniques is the "hotline" procedure. It is perhaps also the most abused. Used for years by local police seeking private information on specific cap- ers, the anonymous phone tip is now national in scope. Doz- ens of cities have set up spe- cial numbers to call for ev- erything from drug control to "runaway" reports. So too has the federal government. For more than a year the Nixon administration's Drug Abuse Law Enforcement agency (DALE) has been re- ceiving an average of 90 calls a day over its 800 number Heroin Hotline." The idea, says DALE director Miles Ambrose, is to encourage good citizens to turn in their local drug pushers. Measured Indeed, many have been doing just that. DALE infor- mation director Robert Feld- kamp says that in a recently measured 13-month period the hotline had recorded calls, more than ot them considered signifi- cant. Ambrose calls the rec- ord "excellent." As many as 400 arrests have reportedly been made from the hotline tips, 50 which included other crimes besides drug abuse, and one which resulted in an alleged killer being captured. But if the results of the Heroin Hotline have been they have also been highly criticized. One Washington civil liberties at- torney says the operation smacks of Nazi Germany: "What the hell kind of govern- ment asks its people to spy on each other? Hitler did it. Now Nixon does The inherent potential for disaster, add others, is high. The tragic Missouri raid of last month, for example, was the result of an erroneous tip to DALE'S regional office. For his part, DALE'S Am- brose minimumizes the philo- sophic aspects of his hotline. A stocky Irishman from New York, with P.S. 109 bravado, he says he was weaned on the classic Victor McLaglen movie "The Informer" (in which an Irish rebel turns a pal in to police only to have pangs of but suf- fers no such fink-hating scru- ples himself. He says "drug people are the very vermin of human- thus suggests that it takes low tactics to catch low life. We think, he edds, hot- line tipsters are "the least odious" method of catching criminals. Others in government, op- erating similar informant sys- tems, are not so confident as Ambrose about the morality of their doings. The Internal Revenue Service, for one, has long had a "bounty infor- mant" system for which there is precious little official lik- ing. Says an official IRS statement on the Tax Infor- mant policy: "The Revenue Service is fully aware of the distaste f u 1 implications to Americans If any actions which involve the spying of one individual on another." For this reason the policy is seldom publicized and never encouraged. "The law says we have to use adds one official, "otherwise. Hesitation The IRS hestiation is un- derstandable. Though not publicized, the Tax Informant law encourages more than tips from the public every year (up to since 1970) most of them use- less, some of them motivated by low emotions. Of the 452 tips received at IRS of- fices last year, says Service spokesman Terry GasteUe, only resulted in investi- gations. As for the rest? Well, says Gastelle, "we get a lot of spite mail here. Ineed. Laments IRS Intel- ligence Director John Olszew- ski: "A lot of the information received is from exwives complaining about alimony problems or child support." Other mail is from citizens protesting that "my neighbor John Jones is living too high off the hog." And some of the mail, it's suspected, is sent not for spite or envy but for greed: IRS rewards inform- ants up to 10 per cent (a max- imum of of any money recovered. Despite official displeasure with the Tax Informant police "It almost seems un-Am- the law remains and IRS agents must obey it. But at least, says Gastelle, the tips are accepted with some contempt and therefore suspicion. This attitude helps fashion safeguards against in- former abuse of private citi- zens. Gastelle says a tip must contain "substantial informa- tion" before it's accepted. And even when an investiga- tion is warranted, it often begins and ends with a check of a tax return. "We don't swoop down on says Gastelle. "The most we do is ask a citi- zen to come in for an audit. After that the courts may have to decide. We're not in the business of harassment." Unfortunately, harassment is too often the result of in- formant systems, regardless of what protections are used. A careless tip to a cop, like hearsay evidence in a jury, can be officially disregarded but never truly forgotten. Like the story about the dis- gruntled sailor who wrote in the ship's log, "The captain was sober a seed once planted tends to grow. Says one candid Washing- ton detective: "If I hear something about a guy I'll always remember it. He may be totally innocent but I'll al- ways remember what I heard. Everytime I see him I'll al- ways remember what I heard. Any good cop's the same." So it is with the endless tips from the informant sys- tm in America. Joe Gora of the American Civil Liberties Union says that they are an unfortunate combination of necessity and finkism: "There can be no objection to people giving legitimate informjjion to authorities, but what we're concerned with is that such things as 'hot- lines' can create an atmos- here for rumor and abuse and therefore citizen harass- ment." Gora says all infor- mant sytems should have iron-clad safeguards against abuse, but few do. Mostly, says a narcotics cop vho's critical of America's Heroin Hotline, "Mostly, the think- ing is that anytMng's fan: in catching crooks." And the thinking, some- times, goes beyond just catch- ing croaks. The U.S. service academies have long had "honor systems" whereby cadets must report all rute infringements of other cad- ets. A small town mayor in Ohio recently turned his teas- age son in to police for smok- ing marijuana (the court later threw the case Business "suggestion bows" are often convenient reposi- tories for the tattles of mm- ormongers. Even news report- ers, saintly though they nor- mally be, stoop ocoitoniHy to the least reliable squealers in order to raise a printed question. But periapt there is hope. The story IRS headquar- ters is about an infomuit who once turned to a Us cheater but couldn't coDect a bounty. Why not? "During the course of investigation it was found that the fink too had filed a padded return." oears Save Rugged 15 h.p. Super Tractor 1149 98 Reg. Top value h.p. 20-in. Gas mower 79W W Reg. c-9 R 56556. Craftsman mower with powerful 9-cu. in. engine. Easy-start pull-up recoil starter. 7" wheels with 5-posi- tions for cutting. Savel49 Rubber garden hose f-9 R 50726. W x50' of hose- Other sizes avail- able. R 60772. 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