Not So Great Hits

I have picked on the FBI (Famous But Incompetent) for their penchant to elevate idiots to the status of terrorist master mind. But any covert investigators are going to come across what at first appeared to be a silk purse, then find out it’s a sow’s ear. Here are a few such investigations from my sorted past.

In any given jurisdiction chances are multiple agencies and sometimes divisions within agencies are all fishing in the same pond. Not all of these agencies communicate with one another, much less play nice together. One of undercover guys had the opportunity to buy a kilo of cocaine. Both sides of the deal agreed to meet in a local bar to discuss the ground rules.

The UC met with an attractive female. After they ordered a round of drinks they set about talking business. With each passing minute the UC was getting downright giddy. What ever he wanted, she agreed to. My partner and I were watching from the cheap seats. Our presence was twofold. First we were there to provide protection to the UC. Secondly, we were there to check for counter surveillance. We found it! Seated across the room was a pair of DEA agents. There was only one thing we could do. We joined the DEA agents. We quickly established that the task force was buying and DEA was selling. We ordered another round of drinks and put it on the bar tab of the UC. No dope got bought or sold that night.

It is a common fallacy that in order to be a dope dealer one must have dope. Wrong! Many dope dealers don’t have any dope. They can’t afford it. They are also so untrustworthy that no dope dealer in the right mind would “front” the dope. What they do have is access. For beer, cigarettes, an inflated price and a rake off the top of the stash they can provide dope to a buyer. Unfortunately for the UC it may take these middlemen multiple attempts to complete a transaction. Hooking up with one of these guys is kind of like adopting them.

After four attempts the UC was ready to call it a night. The cover team was plotting their revenge on the undercover officer, for wasting their time. The middleman needed cash, He promised that one more telephone call would do it. If that didn’t work he had a dime bag of weed he could sell. The UC announced, “we can go to my buddy’s place to use the phone. He has a lumber yard.”

As they walked into the office at the lumberyard, the UC completed the purchase of the dime bag of weed. Did I mention that our office was in a lumberyard. That fact was pointed out to the crook. Selling dope to the police is bad. Selling dope to the police, in the police station, worse. He fainted.

Been in the neighborhood, almost did that!

My partner was introduced to an insurance man who wanted to get into the cocaine business. This guy had no record. The conversation leading up to the purchase was a roller coaster. He didn’t talk or act like a doper. His use of the parlance wasn’t quite right. However, his understanding of the market and profit potential was on point. He agreed to purchase a kilo of cocaine for $16,000. He insisted that my partner provide a scale and field test kit at the time of the sale. This was an unusual request.

We put together a raid team and my partner set out kilo, scale and field test in hand. I was monitoring and recording the conversation. The roller coaster continued. Partner walked in and dropped the kilo of cocaine on his desk. I could hear the thump as it hit the desktop. For those that don’t know kilos of cocaine typically are compressed into bricks. Our erstwhile dope dealer was apparently expecting a gallon bag, as seen on TV. This prompted him to ask, “what in the hell is that?”

“That’s the kilo of cocaine you ordered. Here’s the scale and the field test you wanted,” my partner replied.

“How do I turn it on?” Head slaps all around. The comedy continued. He had the field test but didn’t know how to use it or how to interpret the results. But then he redeemed himself and lurched into a detailed discussion of the virtues of various cutting agents, proportions and the overall profit potential. Then he produced the money.

We heard enough and strolled into his office. He tried to sell us insurance. Apparently the raid jackets weren’t a tip off. The back story is that he had a partner, who was a dope dealer. Partner put him forward as cannon fodder to negotiate the deal, in case anything went wrong.

Undercover is an investigative technique. It is not a lifestyle. It is useful to determine the extent of a criminal organization. It is not appropriate technique in all circumstances. Sometimes it becomes obvious that the undercover operation has gone as far as possible. When that happens an adult in the operation needs to apply that old Texas adage: ” It’s time to piss on the fire and call in the dogs.”

There is no shame in calling an undercover investigation. The crook represents himself in one light, as a major player. The UC operation determines that while the crook has the “want to” he doesn’t have the ability. The undercover operation is a success. The investigation demonstrated that the target is a bottom feeder. Move on.

The shame comes in when the the UC and the bosses ignore what is obvious and continue their efforts, despite the evidence to the contrary.

We were working a joint investigation that included a wiretap. During the investigation, we took off an 1800 pound load of marijuana carried in a tractor trailer truck. We let the truck driver go. We pretended to believe that he was an innocent third party. The truck driver contacted his boss and poured out his tale of woe. The conversation took place over the tapped telephone. To add insult to injury, an off duty titty dancer and part time FBI informant was sitting on the boss’s lap during the conversation.

The dancer contacted her FBI handler (a new agent) and related the story. The FBI handler contacted his supervisor. Together, the supervisor and FBI agent concocted a story for the dancer/informant to play back to the boss. She did as she was told. Course she called the boss on the tapped phone. The agents monitoring the wiretap went ballistic. No body bothered to tell them about the dancer or the concocted story. The agents contacted the same supervisor and informed him that the investigation had been compromised. The supervisor failed to recognize the conversation as one that he engineered. What followed was panicked telephone calls, accusations, recriminations, threats of investigations directed at the task force.

It all got straightened out the next morning. The recorded conversation that got everybody upset was revealed to be, almost word for word the story that the supervisor concocted, but was unable to recognize as his own six hours later. We didn’t get an apology. The closest admission by the FBI that they screwed up was the supervisor got reassigned.

I used to tell rookie cops the first step in controlling a situation is to control yourself. Somebody should have told the Feds that.