A controversial Web site that publicly outs police informants is causing a stir in the justice system, which is scrambling to shield the identities of cooperating witnesses.
“Who's A Rat” (www.whosarat.com) was launched in 2004 by Sean Bucci, a Massachusetts man who was indicted in federal court on marijuana charges after an informant supplied the government with evidence against him. Since 2004, the site boasts that it has identified more than 4,300 informants and 400 undercover agents.
And the disclosures are apparently all protected by the Constitution.
“It's public information. The public's entitled to view it,” the site's manager, Chris Brown, said during an interview Thursday on TODAY.
Brown, who appeared in silhouette because he fears reprisals from law enforcement agencies whose feathers are ruffled by the site, said whosarat.com is designed to out a specific type of informant. The site targets people who get caught committing crimes themselves and turn state's evidence on others to obtain leniency or a free pass, he said.
“Most of these people got arrested for committing the crimes they are informing on, and as opposed to doing the time for the crime they knowingly committed, they are snitching on someone else to save their hide,” Brown said.
A ‘bull's-eye’ on informants
Police and prosecutors fear that criminals and people wrongly accused alike will use the information to seek revenge on government informants. Criminal justice professionals are already taking steps to keep information from whosarat.com, including removing plea agreements and other documents that identify informants from public court files.
“This is public information. Anyone can go to a courthouse, open a document and find out who these informants are. So what's your major objection?” TODAY host Matt Lauer asked another guest, former Westchester County (N.Y.) District Attorney Jeanine Pirro.
“By publicizing this information, what you're doing is you are putting a bull's-eye on the back of these people who are cooperating with law enforcement,” Pirro said. “These names and faces are going up on telephone poles and being mailed to neighbors ... We are subjecting them to the lunatics out there. We are living in a culture where a snitch is someone who should be criticized, if not worse.”
The Web site goes out of its way to state that it does not condone violence against any informant. It claims that the information is designed to help defendants and attorneys defending people accused by informants.
The information on the site is available exclusively to registered members, who pay anywhere from $7.99 for a trial to $89.99 for a lifetime pass.