1 a person who supplies information [syn: source]
An informant (sometimes informer or intelligencer) is someone existing inside a closed system who provides information of that system to a figure or organization who exist outside of that system. Most notably these organizations include law enforcement agencies, but also informants are utilized by others such as social scientists.
Phrased less formally, an informer or informant could be a member of an underground organization, a criminal gang or any other group outlawed, persecuted or harassed by the civil or military authorities, who gives the authorities information about the group as a whole and/about other members.
Public attitudes to informers and informants change enormously with different circumstances. When the group concerned is involved in principled opposition to a tyrannical regime or a foreign occupation, an informer within its ranks will likely to be considered (at least by those sympathizing with its aims) as a despicable traitor. On the other hand, in cases of criminal gangs considered a danger to society, use of informers might be considered socially useful. In cases where the role of an organization is debated - for example, the many groups regarding themselves as "freedom fighters" but defined by the authorities as "terrorists" - appreciation of informers within their ranks may vary accordingly.
Political informersAn informer in Ireland historically refers to someone who provided a flow of inside information to state security agencies, usually for financial gain and/or immunity from prosecution, while purporting to be a member or sympathizer of the targeted political organization. Informers were widely used by the British Government against the United Irishmen, Fenian Brotherhood, Irish Republican Brotherhood and the Irish Republican Army.
Labor organization informersCorporations and the detective agencies that sometimes represent them have historically hired labor spies to monitor or control labor organizations and their activities. Such individuals may be professionals or recruits from the workforce. They may be willing accomplices, or may be tricked into informing on their co-workers' unionization efforts.
Criminal informersInformants are most commonly found in the world of organized crime. By its very nature, organized crime involves many people who are aware of each other's guilt in a variety of illegal activities. Quite frequently, informants will provide information in order to obtain lenient treatment for themselves and provide information over an extended period of time in return for money or for police to overlook their own criminal activities. Quite often someone will become an informant following their arrest. The CIA has been criticized for letting major drug lords out of prison as informants. Informants are regarded as traitors by their former criminal associates, who may punish informers with acts of violence or even death. Informers are therefore generally protected, either by being segregated in prison or, if they are not incarcerated, relocated under a new identity.
There has also been much criticism about the witness protection program. Many informers are allowed to enter state and federal witness protection programs after they have given testimony. Once within the shelter of witness protection, these informers often continue with their lives of crime, a lifestyle that casts a large shadow of doubt on the veracity of their testimony. This shows the abuse that witness protection programs can be subjected to. One such notable protected witness was David Clay Lind, a known gang member and reported drug addict who was said to have died of a drug overdose while in witness protection.
The slang term used when defense lawyers make deals with courts and authorities to get a criminal out of jail as an informant is called "pulling a Jeremy" coined after the infamous American informant code named "Jeremy" who disclosed information about the whereabouts of President Noriega during Operation Just Cause, leading to Noriega's capture. They may be allowed to engage in crime, so that the potential informant can blend into the criminal environment without suspicion.
Whatever the nature of a group, it is bound to feel strong hostility towards any known informers, regard them as threats and inflict punishments ranging from social ostracism through physical abuse and/or death.
Terms for informants
English language usageSeveral slang terms for informants have arisen over the years, most of them pejorative. They include:
- narc (from "narcotics agent")
- nark (UK, from the Romani; not related to narcotics)
- "To squeak" or "squeal" (squealer) may also refer to informing, probably derived from the slang rat.
- stool pigeon
- tout (informers on republican organizations in Ireland)
- grass (United Kingdom - from the lyrics to the song "Whispering Grass")
- Dobber (Australia, now used in United Kingdom)
- fizz (Australia, esp 60's/70's)
- To shop someone (typically to the police)
- "Sterling" - named after Sterling Atkins. The little black man who is a snitch.
informant in German: Spitzel
informant in Persian: گویشور
informant in French: Indicateur (police)
informant in Japanese: インフォーマント
informant in Polish: Osobowe źródło informacji
informant in Russian: Осведомитель
informant in Slovenian: Tajni sodelavec
adviser, announcer, annunciator, attestant, attestator, attester, authority, bystander, channel, cojuror, communicant, communicator, compurgator, deponent, earwitness, enlightener, examinant, examinate, examinee, expert witness, eyewitness, gossipmonger, grapevine, information center, information medium, informer, interviewee, monitor, mouthpiece, newsmonger, notifier, passerby, press, public relations officer, publisher, questionee, quizzee, radio, reporter, source, spectator, spokesman, subject, swearer, television, teller, testifier, tipster, tout, voucher, witness