When the Ammon Bundy-led Malheur standoff ended in 2016, it was discovered that at any given time, the FBI was receiving information from as many as 15 informants through direct contacts with the Malheur occupiers. The group had been heavily infiltrated by informants and agents, many of whom were given authorization to commit felonies while functioning as occupiers. At least one of the informants has said he was intimidated to join the group and provide information to the FBI. In this example, we see two types of infiltrators, those being the provocateur and the probe.
A provocateur is someone who is in place to entice people in a group to take certain actions that would be detrimental to their cause, or otherwise beneficial to and outside and competing cause. In this case, the provocateurs were aiming for criminal actions.
A probe is in place more as a means of collecting information and passing it to an outside handler. Also called a mole, these people can work their way into the higher levels of a large group and gain access to deeper information.
There is nothing stopping someone from occupying the roles of provocateur and probe at the same time. In fact, this is quite common. In my opinion, we saw at least one example of this in the Ruby Ridge events that took place in the early 1990’s leading to the 11 day August 1992 standoff. The ATF had multiple federal agents embedded inside the Aryan Nations (AN), and some have claimed with credibility that the regional leadership itself was primarily run by the ATF. If the leadership structure of a nefarious organization is primarily comprised of federal agents, what does that tell you about these nefarious organizations and the federal agencies themselves? In this case it was noted that ATF agents and their informants were actively collecting information on members and non-member contacts of the AN, and attempting to get people to traffic in illegally modified firearms. This was a tactic used against Randy Weaver.
In order to protect a group from infiltration is to learn how to detect the infiltrators. Here are several ways to do this:
1. If someone is routinely pushing the group to conduct illegal and risky activities, this is a red flag. I fully understand that the line between legal and illegal has never been more fluid, thanks to the design of a system meant to allow the law to arrest anyone they see fit at any time for any nebulous violation. However, we still live in a time where we could theoretically win this fight and still easily remain free from criminal conviction. We are not required to break the law today in order to achieve our goals. If someone in your group doesn’t see it that way and is actively advocating for risky, lawbreaking behavior, take a closer look at them.
2. If someone is brand new to your cause and begins making moves throughout the group, bending the ears of the “leaders” or the old timers, rising through the ranks despite not having the requisite experiences to gain the trust of everyone, this is suspicious. With some training, moles can join a group and place themselves among the leadership in quick order. Try to distinguish between a person who seems off and a person who is a go-getter would good ideas and high levels of motivation. It’s a good thing to make moves and make progress, but if someone seems to be moving up the ladder without doing the real legwork, trust your gut.
3. If a person is repeatedly found to be dishonest, they may be a mole. Most of the time when someone is acting as a mole, there is something that they’re not able to be honest about. It could be something regarding their background. It could be something about their family. It might be a lot of things. They could be hiding an entirely separate identity, but it may be just some minor things as well. Often, if a mole finds that embellishing or outright lying will help them achieve their goals, they’ll do it. If they do it enough, it can become habit, and they can be caught. Keep in mind that not everyone who does this once is a counterintelligence threat, but it’s a hard sign.
4. If someone has an unexplained surplus of funds and resources, this needs to be examined deeper. You may not be inclined to pry into someone’s private affairs, but if you can find a way to explain what’s going on, do it. Until then, you may need to compartmentalize that member.
5. If a member of your group is conducting surveillance-like activities, such as recording meetings that don’t need to be recorded, taking photographs of things that would only matter to a source handler, taking notes when it’s not necessary, this is a bad sign. If someone is asking odd questions that contain strange information, like license plate numbers or unusual personally identifying information, look into it. Ask yourself if the information the person is recording, photographing, writing down or asking about would be useful to anyone other than a source handler. If you can’t think of anyone besides that who might care about the information in question, then it’s time to investigate.
6. If someone already has a criminal background, this can be a counterintelligence threat. They’ve already had extensive contact with law enforcement and may be accessible in that way. Not everyone with a record is a bad person or a liability, this is very true. But there does seem to be a high correlation between provocateur activity and possessing a rap sheet.
7. This is an obvious one, but it still sometimes needs to be mentioned. If your group has been discussing some high level information and suddenly the other side ends up with it, then you may have a leak. Observe who has access to the info and limit it as you’re able and as is necessary.
8. If your group has a location where you all meet and spend any significant amount of time, observing a member coming and going at odd times or for unexplained reasons could be a tip that they are bringing materials in and out of the location.
It’s important to be aware and look for counterintelligence threats in your group, but don’t let the possibility of infiltration stop you from connecting with like-minded folks. Just be watchful and trust your instincts!