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What to do when you think (or know) you’ve uncovered a snitch

One more for The Snitch Project — probably the last for a while. After this, two writers and our volunteer Kindle-master (with much help already given and more promised from friends of this blog) will get down to serious work on a booklet.

Today, a harder aspect of The Snitch Problem: What do you do if you think (or know) you’ve uncovered a snitch?

A lot of earlier commentors opine that we just aren’t very likely to recognize snitches in our midst until it’s too late — and possibly not even then.

Granted. A really smooth operator might play us like a player piano without us realizing it. Even a clumsy operator can fool us if we’re naive, cocky, or just plain having a bad moment. Also, plenty of snitches merely observe, report, and don’t do anything that might cue us to their perfidy.


That said, sometimes, somehow, we realize or strongly suspect that someone in our activist group or circle of friends is a double-dealer. We earlier talked about ways to recognize such a person.

But then what?

Do you confront the person directly?

Out them to others?

Just get yourself away from them and hope you haven’t already damned yourself by your activities or statements to them?

Do you send them on wild goose chases or feed them misleading information (a dangerous thing to do since the feds have discovered they can put people in prison for lies or simple mis-statements even if they have no evidence of real crimes)?

On the other hand, what happens if you suspect somebody of being a snitch — and they’re really not? Bulucanagria gave one funny and mostly harmless example of that. But mostly it ain’t funny. False accusations of snitching ruin lives.

So what do you do?

I realize a lot depends on circumstances; discovering that your best friend has been pressured into snitching is different than suspecting you’ve got a real FBI agent in the room. But what are some options?

No wild fantasies, please. No Hollywood accounts of what you might do to a snitch if you were Robert De Niro or Ray Liotta. Clever, fine. Diabolical, fine. As long as it’s in the realm of reality.

The more real-life experience reflected in the answers, the better. Lawyers, ex-cops, victims, even reformed snitches, speak up. Former friends of snitches, tell your stories & give your advice. Old activists (like Steve, another commentor who recognized that, in some cases if the room wasn’t filled with informants it might have been empty) … what would you do?


  1. Don
    Don May 21, 2012 2:01 pm

    If you are talking about a snitch in the traditional sense, and you have undeniable proof, then 3 or 4 of you get together and beat his/her ass but good.

    I’m not saying broken bones but you work it over hard.

    Something that will take weeks to heal and time to consider the consequences of their actions.

    Think of it as a learning experience if you will.

    If you penalize something you will receive less of it if you ignore something you will get more of it.

  2. Pat
    Pat May 21, 2012 2:32 pm

    No experience with snitches on an important level (tho’ there are always brown-nosers in every business who’re quick to turn into snitches), but some common sense:

    1) Keep your mouth shut.

    2) Watch, listen and learn his/her usual actions, and place them in context of whatever else is going down.

    3) Find out (subtly) who he is, where he came from (assuming you don’t know the person), if he’s a friend of someone you do know and how that person feels about him.

    “Just get yourself away from them and hope you haven’t already damned yourself by your activities or statements to them?”

    If you suspect a real danger from a snitch, to others as well as yourself, I think there’s a certain obligation to alert the others also – it’s not just about yourself anymore. Especially true if the group is planning action that is considered questionable by authorities, or that would cause a real physical, mental, financial, or legal hardship to a third party. Depending on how serious the situation is, determines who, what, and when you tell.

  3. The Infamous Oregon Lawhobbit
    The Infamous Oregon Lawhobbit May 21, 2012 5:08 pm

    Question in aid of answer: How do you know/why do you suspect that someone is a snitch? The basis for knowledge can make a huge difference in how you deal with him/her.

    Fairly standard (prior to pop-the-Pmag/shoot the bastards time) answer is to immediately cancel any/all actions, cut the guy out of the loop, and start looking hard over your shoulder.

    As an aside, it helps to think of snitches like a lot of ugly diseases – prevention is better than any hope of a cure.

  4. Matt, another
    Matt, another May 21, 2012 9:22 pm

    If confirmed you could use the snitch to pass false information.
    You could also keep anything important from the snitch, let him dry out.
    Possibly, depending on circumstances, you might want to make sure any meetings are video/audio recorded, maybe surreptiously.
    Most practical is probably a level of ostracism within the group until he gives up and goes away. It might not cost the group anything if the snitch and handlers knows you know what the snitch is.

  5. Carl-Bear
    Carl-Bear May 21, 2012 9:54 pm

    I like the Prof de la Paz method: Publicly identify them. That warns people and leaves it to his _victims_ to settle matters as they see appropriate.

    After a few run-ins with Chuck Geshlider, several people took it upon themselves to maintain files on his public doings and to forward the data to whatever new group Geshlider tried to attach himself to. Now, some people don’t think Chuckles is/was a snitch; some held out for “incompetent scam artist”. Others did think him a snitch, but differed on who they thought was running him (a friend thinks SPLC or another “private” group holds his strings; I saw the incredible-disappearing-tax-evasion-charges trick and figured the feds have their hands up his… sock).

    One would hope that victims dealing with a snitch would gauge the response to the harm inflicted, and perhaps allow for future restitution.

  6. SterlingStrings
    SterlingStrings May 22, 2012 7:18 am

    But first, and OLD joke…

    Back in Soviet Russia, twin brothers were born. They slept in the same crib. As they grew older, they went to the same schools, and entered the same military duty side by side. After the military, the started work next to each other in the same factory. They were married on the same day, and raised their families next door to each other in the same apartment building.

    The years go by, and the brothers find themselves as old men, sitting on a park bench, sharing a bottle of vodka.

    “What do you think of these new reforms they keep talking about?” asks one brother.

    “Neit” Says the other, “One of us might be KGB!”

    Like I said, old joke, but an element of truth. The sad reality is, everyone has their version of the “thirteen pieces of silver”. Pressure on a family member, fear of jail time, exposure of a dark secret… anybody can be turned. The trick is in riding the fine line between necessary trust and over extending yourself and putting yourself at risk. Personally, I’m in favor of compartmentalizing information. Discuss “X” with one person/group, share “Y” with another group, and keep your yap shut about “Z”.

    Also,remember that the internet is the greatest snitch out there. Every click, every search, every action CAN be recorded. I have no evidence that it’s being done successfully, but it can be done. That’s enough for me to never use a single point of entry to the WWW. Visit the public Library for some, your local coffee shop for more, do some lightweight stuff at home, and don’t surf and research at the same time. Find stuff, data dump it to a secure source, and read it later. If you find it irrelevant, trash it then.

    Heads down, eyes up!

  7. Matt
    Matt May 22, 2012 10:46 am

    What do you do when you find a snitch?

    Stop telling them things. Stop involving them in things. Stop acting like their buddy. And be damned sure you stop acting like what 12 randomly-selected people too unimportant to society to get out of jury duty would think of as his co-conspirator.

    But don’t assault them. If you assault them, then you are either aggressing against an innocent (in case you’re wrong about their loyalties) or else committing a felony about which they can testify at your trial…and offer up pictures of their bruises as evidence. So depending on whether your guess is right or wrong, you might be acting immorally, or stupidly. Yeah, nice choice.

    I wouldn’t “out” them to your other friends, either. Again, two bad options. If you’re wrong, then you’re punishing an innocent, and if you’re right, then you’re feeding into the story that the state is going to want to tell at your trial. When you and the rest of your real friends are on trial, do you want the story about you to be “he tried to get the whole group to retaliate against me!”, or do you want it to be “well…um…he wasn’t willing to tell me about anything he was doing that was illegal…but…um…I’m sure he was doing SOMETHING wrong…I just don’t know what…”?

    If you’re doing something you might get into legal trouble for, you need to be approaching your actions from the perspective of “how would this story sound to a typical jury, if it were told by my worst enemies?”. If they’re going to _lie_ about you, you can’t control that. But you can control what you _actually_ do, and avoid doing things that can easily be spun to sound bad.

    Snitches against the mafia can get killed because they’re the MAFIA. You’re not. And although you may enjoy fantasizing about being that _powerful_, do you really _want_ to be them?

    Professor LaPaz had the advantage (in addition, of course, to being FICTIONAL) of winning a military victory against the state he and his were rebelling against, thus enabling him to write the history so that snitches were in the “craven traitor” camp rather than the “brave hero” camp in the eyes of the average Joe on the streets he was going to be walking. You don’t have that advantage either. If you have a snitch, you’re eventually going to have to face a jury, and not a single person capable of getting themselves on it is going to have even HEARD of Claire Wolfe, let alone Professor LaPaz. They’re going to be the sort of rule-following pseudo-sheep whose unquestioning obedience keeps the state in power. They will not see the story from your point of view. So make sure that, even told from the state’s point of view, your own role in it doesn’t sound like villainy.

  8. Carl-Bear
    Carl-Bear May 22, 2012 12:13 pm


    Lessee… Don’t talk to them. Don’t out them. Don’t “assault” them.

    1. Merely ignoring them and refusing to talk to them isn’t going to help. A CI (especially the paid sort) _needs_ to inform to continue his relationship with his handlers, whether that’s to get a plea deal or to continue getting that paycheck. Snitches _lie_. If they’ll lie to their supposed friends and allies, why wouldn’t they lie to their handlers (who _will_ reward them even knowing the information is false: look at how the APD tried to pay the CI in the Johnston case)?

    2. If you don’t out them (at least discreetly) they can hurt more of your friends and allies. And the more people they can screw — and the harder — the better a deal the snitch gets. Just imagine your best friend Alfred getting busted because a snitch lied on him. Alfred discovers you knew about the snitch, but didn’t see fit to warn him to back away (remember now: snitches _lie_). The snitch may not get assaulted, but you might.

    3. “Assault” being by definition initiated force, I’ll agree. But if a snitch has wrongfully accused someone, and then suffers an unfortunate series of coincidental and unattributable accidents… gee, bummer; maybe he should go away and stop bothering people.

    You also mention this: “If you’re doing something you might get into legal trouble for…” See item 1; snitches lie. You don’t have to be “doing something”. Kathryn Johnston wasn’t. Do some searches on FBI stings; the feds don’t win all those in court because juries occasionally observe the obvious fact that the _snitch_ was the one to start crap. Of course, that’s of limited consolation to the snitch’s victims who are now bankrupted by legal expenses.

    Maybe you’ll elaborate a little more on what you see as the proper course of action, because — and I honestly don’t mean this to be insulting — so far it sounds like you’re saying, “Ignore the boogeyman and he’ll go away.”

    (BTW,when — admittedly fictional — Prof outed the Authority informers, he had _not_ defeated the state. A hand full of bureaucrats and a token military police force had been over-run by a mob. If you’ll recall, Mike’s projections at that point were still still pretty dismal and getting worse for the revolutionaries, so Prof was still taking a chance. You might even recall that _after_ that, the Authority tried to detain him on Earth for his “crimes”.

    If you prefer somewhat less fictional analogies, study up on just about any revolution. The American Revolution makes a good starting point.)

  9. Carl-Bear
    Carl-Bear May 22, 2012 12:26 pm

    @Infamous Oregon Lawhobbit/5:08 pm
    “Question in aid of answer: How do you know/why do you suspect that someone is a snitch?”

    Well… when one starts a blog and explains how mean people are because all she did was set them up and turn them in, that’s a good clue. [grin]

    But most won’t be so accomodating. So what else to look for?

    Geshlider case: A man facing federal tax evasion charges abruptly has the charges evaporate with no explanation. Next, he is seen wandering the country with no visible means of support trying to talk people into sometimes dubious (Gold$ Ranch) and sometimes horrific (“we’ll nuke a city to prove we’re serious) actions, or sets into motion acts that discredit every group he touches (Grafton).

    Compartmented information (think cell organization) helps. If something becomes known, you look at who had the access and narrow the field of possibilities.

    Who is new when something happens? Say you attended an event with several known people and a newbie. Afterwards, your local gun store mentions that someone just ran a trace on the serial number of a gun you had at the event. You think back: Not many people handled that firearm, mostly people who’d first seen/handled it years before (so they’d already had a chance to trace it)… except the newbie who had asked to examine it. Strong hint, though not proof; so you keep your eyes open for other signs.

  10. Carl-Bear
    Carl-Bear May 22, 2012 12:57 pm

    Hi, Claire,

    I’ve figurd I’d hijacked your blog enough for today, but I can’t find themail address I thought I had.

    A bit more input, not one what to do _after_ you’ve found a snitch, but before:

    The IRA uses Sinn Fein (spelling?) for a public, legal face. The two “factions” were separate, but ideologically aligned.

    Differing somewhat: I used to be the editor for DF!. One reason I took the job was that I’m already slightly (not enough to help sales, though, dammit [grin]) known anyway., so it wasn’t much more of a risk for me. And I encouraged all article contributors to use anonymous email and nyms to communicate with DF, to make it harder to backtrack them should the feds decide we were worth its while. Something that I didn’t even discuss with Sunni at the time was that I also _heavily_ edited many submissions to scrub quirky identifiable literary mannerisms (possibly I went too far, because my own sister once guessed that I was really “So-and-so” because of the style; I wasn’t, and to this day, _I_ don’t know for sure who that was). I also encouraged encryption and proxies for privacy, and kept no useful logs (beyond basic visit _numbers_).

    If you’ll recall, the feds were prosecuting someone for “terrorism” for _linking_ to unapproved material. So it wasn’t unreasonable to consider the possibility of them looking at DF. Being (sorta) known, with no family, I was expendable; a fire break of sorts.

  11. Carl-Bear
    Carl-Bear May 22, 2012 12:59 pm

    (Heh. And folks who came here to read Claire, and not _me_, will be pleased to learn that exhausts my experience and putative “expertise” in this area. [grin])

  12. Claire
    Claire May 22, 2012 1:10 pm

    Well, FWIW, I’m more than happy to have smart people take over the comments. Anybody who comes here just to read me might get pretty bored (and be less well-informed) without you.

  13. Gus S. Calabrese
    Gus S. Calabrese May 22, 2012 2:43 pm

    “openess” should always be the goal….. may be not always possible. Violence should be a very last resort…. not the first idea pursued. Don’t beat up suspected snitches ( and it is always suspicion , never a proven fact ) ….. tell everyone that you have suspicions of a snitch. Snitch on the snitch …. very publicly. There are no good answers ….. just approximations. Always consider the Golden Rule and the Reverse Golden Rule. Do not become that which you hate. 99guspuppet

  14. Jeff
    Jeff May 22, 2012 5:31 pm

    Ignoring them ma seem like your just hoping the bogeyman goes away, but often it’s the best course.

    Think of it like martial arts – when step aside from an attack it becomes ineffectual. Re directing the attack can be satisfying but is not always possible.

    If you suspect a snitch, freeze them out. No info. No contact. If you have good solid reasons, then let it be known to those you like and trust that you don’t trust the suspect snitch – but only if you are CERTAIN they will not try to go after the snitch. Otherwise just refuse to be around them. Make associates choose between you and them. Any that keep contact with the snitch can no longer be trusted with any information.

    Take a page from what the Mafia and the Motorcycle gangs do: They make it hard to get in so the don’t have to get them out later.

  15. clark
    clark May 22, 2012 10:50 pm

    Great comments.

  16. Plug Nickel Outfit
    Plug Nickel Outfit May 23, 2012 1:46 am

    So – if a snitch – or someone who might consider being a snitch – is reading this thread – and they have to pick among the respondents as to who to finger – what criteria might they use?

    Is there any parallel here between that and how a mugger works a parking lot?

    These words might be familiar to some readers here: “I would like very much to ensure—and in some cases I have—that any man who offers violence to his fellow citizen begets a whole lot more in return than he can enjoy.”

    If you’re the hypothetical person I mentioned earlier…

    Pick me! I’ll be waiting – with a couple thrift store pillowcases and several pounds of produce. Would you prefer tomatoes or potatoes? Perhaps guacamole? gazpacho anyone?

    (insert standard disclaimers here…)

  17. clark
    clark May 23, 2012 11:31 am

    I wonder how a mugger works a parking lot?

  18. Plug Nickel Outfit
    Plug Nickel Outfit May 23, 2012 12:56 pm

    I guess I wasn’t clear about that. People who’ll stick you up in a parking lot generally pick what they consider to be suitable victims. Are they gonna’ mug the 200# guy who’s openly carrying a cocked 1911 – or the little old lady hobbling across the asphalt? It’s a predator and prey dynamic – just like out there on the savanna with the lion pride and the herd animals.

  19. Claire
    Claire May 23, 2012 1:20 pm

    Plug Nickel Outfit — Damned good observation and surprisingly pertinent to the subject of snitches. Even more true of agents provocateur. That’s exactly what they do. Here’s a fed inflitrator picking out the vulnerable, cutting them from the herd, and setting them up to be his “food.”

  20. MJR
    MJR May 23, 2012 2:19 pm

    After reading the comments section I wondered if I should even post this because it mostly has been covered but what the heck.

    First off there is a need to establish a process through which anyone in your group who suspects a snitch (or other form of covert intervention) can express his fears without scaring others.

    To reduce vulnerability to paranoia I would say that it is best not attempt to expose a suspected snitch unless you are certain of their role. However it would be good to discreetly limit the suspect’s access to funds, financial records, mailing lists, discussions of possible law violations, meetings that plan criminal defense strategy, and similar opportunities.

    Once an informer has been definitely identified, get the word out by means of photographs, a description of their methods of operation, etc.

    Some common sense to counter snitches…

    If you wish to have a private conversation, leave your home and your office and go outside and take a walk or go somewhere public and notice who is near you. Don’t say anything you don’t want to hear repeated when there is any possibility of being recorded.

    Never leave a copy of a document or list behind (unless you want it found) and take a minute to duplicate an irreplaceable document and keep the duplicate in a safe place. Back up and store important computer disks off site. Sensitive data and membership list should be kept under lock and key.

    Keep your mailing lists, donor lists and personal phone books away from light fingered people. Always maintain a duplicate off site in a safe place.

    Know your printer if you are about to publish, your mailing house and anyone you are trusting to work on any part of a project that is sensitive.

    Don’t hire a stranger as a messenger.

    Checks for electronic surveillance are only effective for the time they are being done, and are only effective as they are being done if you are sure of the person(s) doing the sweep.

    Don’t use code on the phone. If you are being tapped and the transcript is used against you in court, the coded conversation can be alleged to be anything. Don’t say anything on the phone you don’t want to hear in open court.

    Don’t gossip on the phone. Smut is valuable to anyone listening; it makes everyone vulnerable.

    If you are being followed, get the license number and description of the car and people in the car. Photograph the person(s) following you or have a friend do so.

    If you are followed or feel vulnerable, call a friend; don’t “tough it out” alone. They are trying to frighten you.

    Start a ‘Facts, Acts and Circumstantial file.’ After each incident write details down: facts are the time, date, occasion, incident, characteristics of the person(s). Acts are what they did; Circumstantial is the impressions and anything odd about the situation. Use the FAC file and keep notes from unsettling situations and see if a pattern emerges.

    Do freedom of information requests for your file under the FOIA and pursue the agencies until they give you all the documents filed under your name.

    Brief your group on known or suspected surveillance.
    Report thefts of materials from your office or home to the police as criminal acts.

    Assess your undertaking from a security point of view; understand your vulnerabilities; assess your allies and your adversaries as objectively as you can; don’t underestimate the opposition and don’t take chances.

    Recognize your organizational and personal strengths and weaknesses.

    Discuss incidents with cohorts, family and your group.

    Call the press if you have hard information about surveillance or harassment. Discussion makes the dirty work of the snitches overt.

  21. Claire
    Claire May 23, 2012 2:24 pm

    MJR — Glad you decided to post that. I don’t think a lot of it’s been covered & there’s plenty of useful stuff there.

    Limiting a snitch’s access to money and records, for instance. A lot of people might not even realize the harm an infiltrator could do with “mere” membership info or meeting minutes if s/he had a mind to.

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