What Does it Take to Be an Undercover Agent?


Undercover agents need to possess several skills including language proficiency, technological expertise and lock-breaking. They also need to be able to maintain their cover at a high level of dedication for varying lengths of time.


The FBI’s Joe Pistone, known as Donnie Brasco, worked undercover for six years inside the Bonanno crime family in New York City to expose Mafia bosses and other criminals. His efforts yielded numerous convictions.

What is an Undercover Agent?

An undercover agent is a police officer who infiltrates criminal organizations in order to collect evidence and disrupt illegal activity. These agents can work at the local, state or federal level. They often adopt a false identity to maintain their cover and must be willing to travel, learn a new language and spend long periods of time away from home. They must be able to handle the emotional stress of being undercover and may also face physical danger.

Undercover agents are used less often than is commonly believed because they take a considerable amount of time to gain access to criminal organizations and carry an inherent risk to the officers’ personal safety if their identity is discovered. They are also expensive to implement because they require extensive resources and highly skilled UC officers.

Despite the high costs and risks, undercover operations have resulted in a number of significant cases. For example, an undercover agent infiltrated a gang of badger baiters to trap them for violating animal cruelty laws. Another undercover agent infiltrated a political corruption scandal to expose the judge’s acceptance of campaign contributions in exchange for influencing a case.

It is important that law enforcement agencies evaluate the effectiveness and consequences of undercover operations. A study has found that many officers selected for undercover assignments are newly recruited and inexperienced, and that the supervision of undercover agents in the field might not be adequate (Love, Vinson, Tolsma, Kaufmann, 2008). In addition, it has been suggested that officers are encouraged to encourage suspects to commit crimes they would not otherwise have committed by using entrapment, which is illegal in most jurisdictions.

Undercover Agents are Recruited

The job of an undercover agent can be dangerous and requires specialized training, including weaponry. Police departments typically recruit candidates who have a minimum of 21 광주흥신소 years of age, are United States citizens and are physically fit. They undergo extensive background checks and polygraph examinations.

Law enforcement agencies often need a flow of intelligence on criminal activities from undercover agents. One of the most common tasks undercover agents perform involves infiltrating a crime ring to gather information on their operations and find hard evidence to prosecute them. Obtaining this information often requires undercover agents to assume the roles of criminals themselves, or at least closely mimic them.

In some cases, an undercover agent’s identity may be blown during the course of an operation, which can put them in serious danger. This is why the FBI requires all undercover officers to be extensively vetted and psychologically assessed before being recruited for this role, and regular ongoing assessments are also required.

Before an undercover agent begins work, they must be approved by a supervisory special agent who has been specially trained in this area. This officer will carefully examine the operation and its goals, determining whether it is in compliance with the law and guidelines of the FBI and Department of Justice. The SAC may authorize an undercover operation orally in some cases when it is determined that the life or safety of individuals would be placed at risk if time were needed to prepare the required written authorization.

Undercover Agents are Infiltrated

Undercover agents infiltrate criminal groups to gather information for investigations of white collar crime, public corruption, terrorism and offenses involving controlled substances. They can also infiltrate businesses to identify dishonest employees, for example, hackers who steal company passwords or trade secrets and give them to competitors. They can also use body-worn audiovisual equipment to secretly record their interactions with suspects.

Undercover operations can be dangerous and time consuming. They may expose officers to dangers such as violence, sexual assault and physical injury. They can also adversely affect third parties when agents encourage the commission of crimes during a sting operation (e.g., Marx, 1988). They can also compromise the safety and security of other police personnel and the public.

To mitigate risks, an undercover agent’s assignment is limited to cases where other investigative techniques are not feasible. A sergeant or above will approve all undercover work and make sure that adequate cover officers are present for the operation. A written operational plan will be presented to the undercover member and to supervisors before the mission begins. Contingency plans for rescuing an undercover officer are included in the plan and discussed during the pre-operation briefing.

Reintegrating into law enforcement after working undercover is difficult for agents. They must re-adjust to a different lifestyle and to work under a new name, dress code, mannerisms and language. They must shed the free lifestyle of the undercover role and re-adapt to stricter supervision, which can cause psychological problems such as depression and anxiety.

Undercover Agents are Observed

Depending on the circumstances, undercover agents may use electronic surveillance equipment such as miniature microphones and video cameras to gather evidence. Some undercover investigators wear concealable clothing to remain undetected by their targets. The most effective undercover agents may even be able to obtain confessions from suspects without having to expose their true identity.

The effectiveness of undercover investigations is often debated, primarily due to the difficulty of protecting undercover officers from discovery and the dangers they face while working inside criminal organizations. Nevertheless, a number of significant cases have been developed from undercover work. One example involves a department store that contracted to have an undercover officer join its staff to identify employees who were stealing merchandise. The undercover officer worked within the warehouse and was able to capture numerous thefts, both by employees and non-employees.

In a similar case, undercover agents infiltrated a gang of badger baiters to capture video footage of animal cruelty. The undercover agents successfully ensnared the gang and were able to make a series of arrests. Other undercover agents have investigated fraudulent practices in the health care industry, including home health schemes and bogus clinics for the treatment of HIV/AIDS.