Agent provocateur

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An agent provocateur (French for "inciting agent") is a person who commits, or who acts to entice another person to commit an illegal or rash act or falsely implicate them in partaking in an illegal act. An agent provocateur may be acting out of their own sense of duty or may be employed by the police or other entity to discredit or harm another group (such as a peaceful protest or demonstration) by provoking them to commit a crime, thereby undermining the protest or demonstration as a whole.

The proper plural form of the term adds an s to the end of both words, agents provocateurs. A female agent or spy is called an agente provocatrice.[citation needed]

To prevent infiltration by agents provocateurs,[1] the organizers of large or controversial assemblies may deploy and coordinate demonstration marshals, also called stewards.[2][3]

Common usage[edit]

An agent provocateur may be a police officer or a secret agent of police who 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 and be convicted of the crime.

A political organization or government may use agents provocateurs against political opponents. The provocateurs try to incite the opponent to do counterproductive or ineffective acts to foster public disdain or provide a pretext for aggression against the opponent.

Historically, labor spies, hired to infiltrate, monitor, disrupt, or subvert union activities, have used agent provocateur tactics.

Agent provocateur activities raise ethical and legal issues. In common law jurisdictions, the legal concept of entrapment may apply if the main impetus for the crime was the provocateur.

By region[edit]


The activities of agents provocateurs against revolutionaries in Imperial Russia were notorious. Dr. Jacob Zhitomirsky, Yevno Azef, Roman Malinovsky, and Dmitry Bogrov, all members of Okhrana, were notable provocateurs.

In the "Trust Operation" (1921–1926), the Soviet State Political Directorate (OGPU) set up a fake anti-Bolshevik underground organization, "Monarchist Union of Central Russia". The main success of this operation was luring Boris Savinkov and Sidney Reilly into the Soviet Union, where they were arrested and executed.

United States[edit]

In the United States, the COINTELPRO program of the Federal Bureau of Investigation includes FBI agents posing as political activists to disrupt the activities of political groups in the U.S., such as the Black Panthers, Ku Klux Klan, Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, and the American Indian Movement. Though aimed at all radical political groups, the primary targets of COINTELPRO were new left organizations dealing in civil rights and anti-war activity.

New York City police officers were accused of acting as agents provocateurs during protests against the 2004 Republican National Convention in New York City.[4]

Denver police officers were also alleged to have used undercover detectives to instigate violence against police during the 2008 Democratic National Convention.[5]

Also in New York City, an undercover motorcycle police officer was convicted of and sentenced to two years in prison in 2015 for second-degree assault, coercion, riot and criminal mischief after an incident at a motorcycle rally. In 2013, the officer, Wojciech Braszczok, was investigating motorcyclists by blending in with a crowd during the rally; at some point another motorcyclist was hit by a motorist, Alexian Lien. Braszczok is later seen on video breaking a window to Lien's car and assaulting him with others in the crowd. His actions were immediately investigated by the NYPD and he ended up facing charges along with other members of the rally.[6]


In February 1817, after the Prince Regent was attacked, the British government employed agents provocateurs to obtain evidence against the agitators.[7]

Sir John Retcliffe was an agent provocateur for the Prussian secret police.

At the 2001 G8 summit in Genoa, police and security services infiltrated black blocs with agents provocateurs. Allegations first surfaced after video footage in which "men in black were seen getting out of police vans near protest marches" [8][9]

Francesco Cossiga, former head of secret services and Head of state of Italy, advised the 2008 minister in charge of the police, on how to deal with the protests from teachers and students:[10]

He should do what I did when I was Minister of the Interior. [...] infiltrate the movement with agents provocateurs inclined to do anything [...] And after that, with the momentum gained from acquired popular consent, [...] beat them for blood and beat for blood also those teachers that incite them. Especially the teachers. Not the elderly, of course, but the girl teachers, yes.

It is alleged by British Liberal Democrat MP Tom Brake that the Metropolitan Police made use of agents provocateurs during the G20 Protests in London.[11]

Another example occurred in France in 2010 where police disguised as members of the CGT (left trade union) interacted with people during a demonstration.[12]

After the 2011 anti-cuts protest in London, a video filmed by the BBC was distributed throughout the internet, which might show an alleged agent provocateur being passed through police lines after displaying his identification to the officers. There are other explanations however, such as the man being a member of press.[13]


On August 20, 2007, during meetings of the Security and Prosperity Partnership of North America in Montebello, three police provocateurs were revealed by Dave Coles, president of the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada. The police posing as protestors wore masks and all black clothes, one was notably armed with a large rock, they were asked to leave by protest organizers. After the three masked provocateurs had been revealed, their fellow officers in riot gear handcuffed and removed them. The evidence that revealed these three men as police provocateurs was initially circumstantial, they were imposing in stature, similarly dressed, and wearing police boots.[14][15] According to veteran activist Harsha Walia, it was other participants in the black bloc who identified and exposed the undercover police.[16] After the protest, the police force initially denied then later admitted that three of their officers disguised themselves as demonstrators; they then denied that the officers were provoking the crowd and instigating violence.[17] The police released a news release in French where they stated "At no time did the police of the Sûreté du Québec act as instigators or commit criminal acts" and that "at all times, they responded within their mandate to keep order and security".[18]

During the 2010 G-20 Toronto summit, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) arrested five people, two of whom were members of the Toronto Police Services.[19] City and provincial police, including the TPS, went on to arrest 900 people in the largest mass arrest in Canadian history.[20] RCMP watchdog commission saw no indication that RCMP undercover agents or event monitors acted inappropriately.[dubious ]


In December 2012, during protests against the inauguration of President-elect Enrique Peña Nieto, there is evidence that agents provocateurs worked with police. These individuals were paid MXN 300 (about USD 20) for their acts of vandalism. Photos show the vandals waiting in groups behind police lines prior to the violence. Previous protests had been entirely peaceful, but on this occasion, in apparent response to violence, the police fired rubber bullets.[21] In contrast to the protests, there were no public celebrations for the new presidency.

In November 2014, agents provocateurs were transported by army vehicles to participate in the 2014 Iguala mass kidnapping protests, as was shown by videos and pictures distributed via social networks.[22]


In October 2015, Reuters correspondent Luke Baker observed Israeli provocateurs disguised as Palestinian youths inciting violence. Baker's claim was backed up by video footage. The Israeli provocateurs quickly turned sides when Israeli police arrived, drawing their guns on the Palestinian protesters.[23][24]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Stratfor (2004)
  2. ^ Belyaeva et al. (2007), § 7–8, 156–162
  3. ^ Bryan, Dominic 013/F0020001/art00005?crawler=true The Anthropology of Ritual: Monitoring and Stewarding Demonstrations in Northern Ireland, Anthropology in Action, Volume 13, Numbers 1–2, January 2006, pp.22–31(10)
  4. ^ Dwyer, Jim (December 22, 2005). "New York Police Covertly Join In at Protest Rallies". The New York Times. p. A1. Retrieved 2006-09-22. 
  5. ^ Cardona, Felisa (November 7, 2008). "ACLU wants probe into police-staged DNC protest". The Denver Post. p. A1. Retrieved 2008-11-07. 
  6. ^ Gainer, Alice (August 5, 2015). "NYPD Undercover Detective Gets 2 Years In 2013 Motorcycle Melee Case". WCBS-TV. Retrieved 2015-08-05. 
  7. ^ R. R. Palmer. A History of the Modern World. p. 460. 
  8. ^ Rory Carroll, John Vidal, John Hooper, David Pallister and Owen Bowcott. Men in black behind chaos: Hardliners plan 'actions' away from main protesters. The Guardian, Monday 23 July 2001.
  9. ^ FAIR. Media Advisory: Media Missing New Evidence About Genoa Violence.
  10. ^ Francesco Cossiga interviewed by Andrea Cangini, Quotidiano Nazionale, 23/10/2008 Italian quote:

    "Maroni dovrebbe fare quel che feci io quand'ero ministro dell'Interno. In primo luogo, lasciare perdere gli studenti dei licei, perché pensi a cosa succederebbe se un ragazzino di dodici anni rimanesse ucciso o gravemente ferito. Gli universitari invece lasciarli fare. Ritirare le forze di polizia dalle strade e dalle università, infiltrare il movimento con agenti provocatori pronti a tutto, e lasciare che per una decina di giorni i manifestanti devastino i negozi, diano fuoco alle macchine e mettano a ferro e fuoco le città. Dopo di che, forti del consenso popolare, il suono delle sirene delle ambulanze dovrà sovrastare quello delle auto di polizia e carabinieri. Nel senso che le forze dell'ordine dovrebbero massacrare i manifestanti senza pietà e mandarli tutti in ospedale. Non arrestarli, che tanto poi i magistrati li rimetterebbero subito in libertà, ma picchiarli a sangue e picchiare a sangue anche quei docenti che li fomentano. Soprattutto i docenti. Non quelli anziani, certo, ma le maestre ragazzine sì."

  11. ^ Doward, Jamie; Townsend, Mark (May 10, 2009). "G20 police 'used undercover men to incite crowds'". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 2009-05-10. 
  12. ^ YouTube. Retrieved 13 May 2016. 
  13. ^ "Agent Provocateur At 26th Of March London Demonstration". World News Network (London). March 29, 2011. Retrieved March 29, 2011. 
  14. ^ "Police accused of using provocateurs at summit". The Star (Toronto). August 21, 2007. Retrieved April 23, 2010. 
  15. ^ "canadian Agent Provocateurs caught in the act! SPP protest". Toronto. June 3, 2011. Retrieved June 20, 2013. 
  16. ^ "A Diversity of Tactics - A Diversity of Opinions". Retrieved 13 May 2016. 
  17. ^ Bryden, Joan (August 22, 2007). "Police deny using 'provocateurs' at summit". The Star (Toronto). Retrieved December 15, 2010. 
  18. ^ "Quebec police admit they went undercover at Montebello protest". CBC News. August 23, 2007. 
  19. ^ "G20 report clears RCMP but raises questions over 'kettling'". 14 May 2012. Retrieved 13 May 2016. 
  20. ^ "G20-related mass arrests unique in Canadian history". The Globe and Mail. Retrieved 13 May 2016. 
  21. ^ "Provocadores cobraron $300 por actos vandálicos". December 3, 2012. 
  22. ^ "Identifican en redes a encapuchados, antes de la marcha en DF". Aristegui Noticias. November 21, 2014. 
  23. ^ Trois Palestiniens jeteurs de pierre blessés par des tireurs infiltrés. 7 October 2015. Retrieved 13 May 2016 – via YouTube. 
  24. ^ "Correspondent". Correspondent. Retrieved 13 May 2016.