Traditionally, an agent provocateur
: agents provocateurs
for "inciting agent") is a person employed by the police or other law enforcement body to act undercover and entice or provoke another person to commit an illegal act. More generally, the term may refer to a person or group who provokes another to perform a wrong or rash action, the deliberate purpose being to incite wider conflict or harm.
An agent provocateur
is often a police
officer 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 he will go along with the suggestion, so he may be convicted of the crime. These are sometimes called sting operations
One common use of Agents provocateurs is to investigate consensual or "victimless" crimes; since each participant in such crimes are willing participants, it is often difficult for the authorities to discover such crimes without the use of undercover agents.
Agents provocateurs are also used against political opponents. Here, it has been documented that provocateurs deliberately carry out or seek to incite counter-productive or ineffective acts, in order to foster public disdain for the group and provide a pretext for aggression against the group; and to worsen the punishments its members are liable for (see Red-baiting).
Historically, Agents provocateurs activities have been one operational tactic of labor spies who may also be hired to infiltrate, monitor, disrupt, or subvert union activities.
The activities of agents provocateurs pose a number of ethical and legal issues. Within common law jurisdictions, the law of entrapment seeks to discern whether the provocateur's target intended to commit the crime he participated in with the provocateur, or whether the suggestion to commit the crime began with the provocateur. It is also debatable whether the institutionalized deception that the use of agents provocateurs implies is in fact more harmful to the social order than the various consensual offenses typically investigated by provocateurs.
Within the United States
, the COINTELPRO
program of the Federal Bureau of Investigation
had FBI agents posing as political radicals in order to disrupt the activities of radical 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 have been accused of acting as agents provocateurs during protests against the 2004 Republican National Convention in New York City.
The activities of agents provocateurs
against dissidents in Imperial Russia
was one of the grievances that led to the Russian Revolution of 1917
. Yevno Azef
is an example of agent provocateur.
In various European countries, Agent Provocateur is an official legal term for a person who approaches other people with a bribe offer, with consent of the police. It has proved fairly effective in combating corruption especially in former Eastern Bloc European countries.
Three protesters in Montebello
, Canada during the Security and Prosperity Partnership of North America
were accused of being police provocateurs on August 20, 2007, by Dave Coles, president of the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada. The entire incident was filmed and posted on YouTube
before being picked up by mainstream media. The video shows three masked men, one of whom was armed with a large rock, being confronted by peaceful protesters. One of the masked men spoke to police officers, and then all three pretended to breach the police line and were 'arrested.' Photographs revealed that their boot-tread matched that of the arresting officers. Although they at first denied that the individuals in question were agents provocateurs, the Sûreté du Québec
issued a news release on August 23 admitting that the three protesters were, in fact, police officers.