The growing threat of terrorist menace in the United States has placed enormous pressures on the country's intelligence gathering agencies. It falls upon them to track and put a stop to any potential plots before they're carried out. The Federal Bureau of Investigation is the chief agency behind these efforts. Produced by Al Jazeera Investigates, the documentary Informants exposes the inner workings of one of their most popular methods of investigation: the employment of undercover operatives.
These informants don't fit the profile of fresh-faced patriots anxious to serve the common good. In many cases, they're hardened criminals with the street-wise credentials to fit in where others cannot. Each has their own personal motivation for engaging in this dangerous undercover work. Some even use these mission as a means of lessening their sentences from previous crimes.
The film profiles three FBI informants who employ various approaches to their infiltration of Muslim communities under suspicion. First, there's Elie Assaad. Known as "The Closer", he's a violent criminal who's brought in to help the FBI complete a sting operation involving suspected terrorists. Another convict, known as "The Bodybuilder", faked a conversion to Islam in an effort to fit into the Muslim community. He gains the trust of young worshipers at mosques and coerces them into sharing secrets through the allure of personal fitness training.
Finally, we're introduced to Darren Griffin, a United States military veteran who first accepted his role as an FBI informant as a way of escaping drug charges. Working under the code name of "The Trainer", he gathers intelligence as a weapons trainer to Muslim men.
Preemptive counter-terrorism measures have their drawbacks, and the FBI program has garnered much criticism for relying on such questionable characters in their intelligence gathering efforts. They argue that much of the information they produce may be suspect at best, the methods of their investigations may constitute unlawful entrapment, and that potential terrorist plots may even be manufactured at times.
The whole notion of using criminals to catch criminals is a double-edged sword. Utilizing superlative investigative techniques, Informants sheds light on this shadow world of intelligence gathering which may actually work to subterfuge its own intended outcome.