Use of Confidential Informants at ATF and DEA

Full Committee on Oversight and Reform
Full Committee on Oversight and Reform
Hearing Date: April 4, 2017 10:00 am 2154 Rayburn HOB


  • The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) continually refused to provide the Committee its new policy regarding the proper use of confidential informants (CIs). During the hearing, Chairman Chaffetz issued a subpoena to DEA for the documents.
  • The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives’s (ATF) and DEA’s inadequate oversight over the CI program prevents the agencies from properly tracking and monitoring CIs.
  • Since 2012, ATF and DEA paid CIs almost $260 million, with payments largely determined by field agents who did not seek approval or review from headquarters.
  • The Department of Justice Office of Inspector General (DOJ OIG) found incomplete and inaccurate tracking of money or amounts paid to CIs at both agencies.
  • DOJ advised ATF Associate Deputy Director Turk not to appear and testify before the Committee’s hearing last month on the death of ICE Agent Jaime Zapata.


  • To examine ATF’s oversight and management of its CIs, changes it has made to the program, and ATF’s progress in implementing DOJ OIG’s recommendations.
  • To follow up on the Drug Enforcement Agency’s (DEA) progress in implementing DOJ OIG’s recommendations.


  • DOJ OIG recently found that while ATF’s CI policies generally align with DOJ guidelines, ATF’s oversight of the program requires significant improvement.
  • ATF could not easily identify and track total payments made to individual informants, and it did not have reliable information about some higher-risk CIs.
  • In November 2016, the committee held a hearing about DOJ OIG’s audit of DEA’s use of CIs, which found that DEA failed to sufficiently review, authorize, and implement controls for CIs’ activities and payments. The committee continues to await DEA’s production of its revised policy on the use of CIs.


Chaiman Chaffetz (R-UT): “Okay so let me get this straight – the Inspector General and his staff can see the confidential informant policy, but you refuse to give it to Congress? What is it that you think that Congress doesn’t have the right to see?”

Rep. Jody Hice (R-GA): “We’ve got thousands [of confidential informants] who are being paid, and we don’t have any idea the quality of the information they’re providing.”

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA): “If your agencies . . . are doing things which are criminal activities if done by other than the government . . . where is the record of authorization to commit a crime in order to support justice?”

Witnesses and testimonies

Name Title Organization Panel Document
The Honorable Michael E. Horowitz Inspector General Department of Justice Document
Mr. Robert Patterson Acting Principal Deputy Administrator Drug Enforcement Administration Document
Mr. Ronald B. Turk Associate Deputy Director and Chief Operating Officer Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives Document