Agent provocateur  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

An agent provocateur (plural: agents provocateurs, French for "inciting agent") is a person who secretly disrupts a group's activities from within the group. Agents provocateurs typically represent the interests of another group, or are agents directly assigned to provoke unrest, violence, debate, or argument by or within a group while acting as a member of the group.

An agent provocateur is often a police officer that 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, so they 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 and/or ineffective acts, in order to foster public disdain for the group and provide a pretext for aggression; and to worsen the punishments its members are liable for (see Red-baiting). Terrorists sometimes act as agents provocateurs when they seek to provoke government repression that they hope will alienate their potential constituency from the government in question, and thus increase support for themselves (as the opponents of the government in question). In this sense, provocation may be combined with endorsement terrorism.

Historically, Agents provocateurs activities have been one operational tactic of labor spies who may also be hired to infiltrate, monitor, disrupt, and/or subvert union activities.

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. 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.

New York Police officers have been accused of acting as agents provocateurs during protests against the Republican National Convention in New York City.

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.

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 European countries.

Three supposed protesters in Montebello, Canada during the Security and Prosperity Partnership of North America were accused of being police provocateurs August 20th 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, Sûreté du Québec issued a news release on August 23 admitting that they these three protesters were, in fact, police officers.

See also

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Agent provocateur" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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