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Traditionally, an agent provocateur (plural: agents provocateurs, French for "inciting agent(s)") is an agent employed by the police or other entity to act undercover to entice or provoke another person to commit an illegal act. More generally, the term may refer to a person or group that seeks to discredit or harm another by provoking them to commit a wrong or rash action.

As a known tool to prevent infiltration by agents provocateurs,[1] the organizers of large or controversial assemblies may deploy and coordinate demonstration marshals, also called stewards. [2][3]

Common usage[edit | edit source]

An agent provocateur may be a police officer or a secret agent of police who encourages suspects to carry out a crime under conditions where evidence can be obtained; or who suggests the commission of a crime to another, in hopes they will go along with the suggestion and be convicted of the crime.

A political organization or government may use agents provocateurs against political opponents. The provocateurs try to incite the opponent to do counter-productive or ineffective acts to foster public disdain—or provide a pretext for aggression against the opponent (see Red-baiting).

Historically, labor spies, hired to infiltrate, monitor, disrupt, or subvert union activities, have used agent provocateur tactics.

Agent provocateur activities raise ethical and legal issues. In common law jurisdictions, the legal concept of entrapment may apply if the main impetus for the crime was the provocateur.

By region[edit | edit source]

Russia[edit | edit source]

In the "Trust Operation" (1921–1926), the Soviet State Political Directorate (OGPU) set up a fake anti-Bolshevik underground organization, "Monarchist Union of Central Russia". The main success of this operation was luring Boris Savinkov and Sidney Reilly into the Soviet Union, where they were arrested and executed.

United States[edit | edit source]

In the United States, the COINTELPRO program of the Federal Bureau of Investigation had FBI agents pose as political radicals to disrupt the activities of political groups in the U.S., such as the Black Panthers, Ku Klux Klan, and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.

New York City police officers were accused of acting as agents provocateurs during protests against the 2004 Republican National Convention in New York City.[4]

Denver police officers were also found to have used undercover detectives to instigate violence against police during the 2008 Democratic National Convention. This ultimately resulted in the use of pepper spray against their own infiltrating agents.[5]

Europe[edit | edit source]

Notorious were the activities of agents provocateurs against revolutionaries in Imperial Russia. Yevno Azef and Father Gapon are examples of such provocateurs.

In Feburary 1817, after Prince Regent being attacked, British government employed agents provocateurs to obtain evidence against the agitators[6].

Sir John Retcliffe was an agent provocateur for the Prussian secret police.

At the 2001 G8 summit in Genoa, police and security services infiltrated black blocs with agents provocateurs. Allegations first surfaced after video footage in which "men in black were seen getting out of police vans near protest marches" [7][8]

Francesco Cossiga, former head of secret services and Head of state of Italy, advised the 2008 minister in charge of the police, on how to deal with the protests from teachers and students:[9]

He should do what I did when I was Minister of the Interior. [...] infiltrate the movement with agents provocateurs inclined to do anything [...] And after that, with the strength of the gained population consent, [...] beat them for blood and beat for blood also those teachers that incite them. Especially the teachers. Not the elderly, of course, but the girl teachers yes.

It is alleged by British Liberal Democrat MP Tom Brake that the Metropolitan Police made use of agents provocateurs during the G20 Protests in London.[10]

After the 2011 anti-cuts protest in London, a video filmed by the BBC was distributed throughout the internet, which might show an alleged agent provocateur being passed through police lines after displaying his identification to the officers. There are other explanations however, such as the man being a member of press. [11]

Canada[edit | edit source]

On August 20, 2007, during meetings of the Security and Prosperity Partnership of North America in Montebello, three protesters were accused of being police provocateurs by Dave Coles, president of the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada. The three masked protesters, one of whom was notably armed with a large rock, were asked to leave by protest organizers. After the three protesters breached the police line, they were brought to the ground, handcuffed, and taken away. The evidence that the arrested people were police provocateurs was circumstantial, including the fact that they were wearing boots identical to those worn by police.[12]

After the protest, the police force initially denied then later admitted that three of their officers disguised themselves as demonstrators; however, they denied that the officers were provoking the crowd and instigating violence.[13] The police released a news release in French where they stated "At no time did the police of the Sûreté du Québec act as instigators or commit criminal acts" and that "at all times, they responded within their mandate to keep order and security".[14] In a more recent example, according to a report issued by the commission for public complaints against the RCMP, at the 2010 G20 summit held in Toronto, at least two plainclothes police officers posing as protesters were among those arrested, suggesting that the tactic has been employed on more than one occasion in Canada.[15]

See also[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. Stratfor (2004)
  2. Belyaeva et al. (2007), § 7–8, 156–162
  3. Bryan, Dominic 013/F0020001/art00005?crawler=true The Anthropology of Ritual: Monitoring and Stewarding Demonstrations in Northern Ireland, Anthropology in Action, Volume 13, Numbers 1–2, January 2006, pp.22–31(10)
  4. Dwyer, Jim (December 22, 2005). "New York Police Covertly Join In at Protest Rallies". The New York Times: p. A1. http://select.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=F60F14F83F540C718EDDAB0994DD404482. Retrieved 2006-09-22. 
  5. Cardona, Felisa (November 7, 2008). "ACLU wants probe into police-staged DNC protest". The Denver Post: p. A1. http://www.denverpost.com/breakingnews/ci_10920817. Retrieved 2008-11-07. 
  6. R. R. Palmer. A History of the Modern World. p. 460. 
  7. Rory Carroll, John Vidal, John Hooper, David Pallister and Owen Bowcott. Men in black behind chaos: Hardliners plan 'actions' away from main protesters. The Guardian, http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2001/jul/23/globalisation.davidpallister Monday 23 July 2001.
  8. FAIR. Media Advisory: Media Missing New Evidence About Genoa Violence. http://www.fair.org/activism/genoa-update.html
  9. Francesco Cossiga interviewed by Andrea Cangini, Quotidiano Nazionale, 23/10/2008 Italian quote:

    "Maroni dovrebbe fare quel che feci io quand'ero ministro dell'Interno. In primo luogo, lasciare perdere gli studenti dei licei, perché pensi a cosa succederebbe se un ragazzino di dodici anni rimanesse ucciso o gravemente ferito. Gli universitari invece lasciarli fare. Ritirare le forze di polizia dalle strade e dalle università, infiltrare il movimento con agenti provocatori pronti a tutto, e lasciare che per una decina di giorni i manifestanti devastino i negozi, diano fuoco alle macchine e mettano a ferro e fuoco le città. Dopo di che, forti del consenso popolare, il suono delle sirene delle ambulanze dovrà sovrastare quello delle auto di polizia e carabinieri. Nel senso che le forze dell'ordine dovrebbero massacrare i manifestanti senza pietà e mandarli tutti in ospedale. Non arrestarli, che tanto poi i magistrati li rimetterebbero subito in libertà, ma picchiarli a sangue e picchiare a sangue anche quei docenti che li fomentano. Soprattutto i docenti. Non quelli anziani, certo, ma le maestre ragazzine sì."

  10. Doward, Jamie; Townsend, Mark (May 10, 2009). "G20 police 'used undercover men to incite crowds'". The Guardian (London). http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2009/may/10/g20-policing-agent-provacateurs. Retrieved 2009-05-10. 
  11. "Agent Provocateur At 26th Of March London Demonstration". World News Network (London). March 29, 2011. http://wn.com/Agent_Provocateur_at_26th_of_March_London_Demonstration. Retrieved March 29, 2011. 
  12. "Police accused of using provocateurs at summit". The Star (Toronto). August 21, 2007. http://www.thestar.com/News/article/248608. Retrieved April 23, 2010. 
  13. Bryden, Joan (August 22, 2007). "Police deny using 'provocateurs' at summit". The Star (Toronto). http://www.thestar.com/News/article/248866. Retrieved December 15, 2010. 
  14. "Quebec police admit they went undercover at Montebello protest". CBC News. August 23, 2007. http://www.cbc.ca/canada/story/2007/08/23/police-montebello.html. 
  15. "Two arrested during G20 summit were police officers, RCMP watchdog says". May 14, 2012. http://www.680news.com/news/national/article/362449--two-arrested-during-g20-summit-were-police-officers-rcmp-watchdog-says. 

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