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Undercover Operations

Undercover investigations involve covert means of discovering information based on the actions of a human operative. The operative will be a licensed Investigator or an informer with unique access to criminal activity.

The informer may provide information and serve to introduce the investigators to the activity, in return for leniency or other benefits. The defining characteristic of such investigations is secrecy with respect to the true identity or purposes of the operative(s). Undercover means, are often used in conjunction with other covert means, such as hidden video recorders. But the presence of an active human operative who can influence the course of events sets the undercover investigation apart from more passive means of secretly gathering information.The interaction may be impersonal. 

Our investigators use of deception as a tool for gathering evidence can be viewed as a necessary evil in a context in which operatives face legal and logistical limitations.

When investigating crimes of a consensual nature that do not involve a direct victim as with bribery; those in which victims may be unaware and thus not complain, as is frequently the case with white collar crimes such as consumer fraud; those where witnesses and victims are intimidated, rewarded, or indifferent and do not report crimes or cooperate with investigators; and those where there are well-organised and well-insulated criminal groups engaged in complex violations, against whom it is difficult to gather evidence.

Several types of undercover operations as defined by their basic objective can be noted;

  • Intelligence Investigations

  • Preventive Investigations

  • Facilitative investigations


Intelligence undercover efforts may be postliminary or anticipatory. The former involves seeking information after the fact. Investigators know that a crime occurred and seek to learn the identity and location of those responsible. Anticipatory intelligence undercover efforts are more diffuse, open ended, and involve an effort to learn about events that may be planned but have not yet occurred.

If not conducted cautiously and competently, the use of covert intelligence gathering can increase crime and cause events that would previously not have happened. This could occur as a result of providing a motive or temptation for a crime, persuading or coercing an otherwise non-predisposed person, providing a scarce skill or resource without which the crime could not be carried out, creating a market for the purchase or sale of illegal goods and services, and the indirect provision of resources used for other illegality.


Given the unique characteristics of undercover work such as secrecy, prevention, immersion in criminal enviroments, the tactic should generally be one of last resort, used only for serious offences and subjected to intense oversight at all stages. There must be proportionality between the seriousness of a problem and the risks associated with the means. Sometimes the risks will be greater than not taking action.

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