United States Federal Witness Protection Program

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search
U.S. Marshals do a drill of guarding a protected witness

The United States Federal Witness Protection Program, also known as the Witness Security Program or WITSEC,[1] is a witness protection program administered by the United States Department of Justice and operated by the United States Marshals Service that is designed to protect threatened witnesses before, during, and after a trial.

A few territories, including California, Connecticut, Illinois, New York, Texas, and Washington D.C. have their own witness protection programs for crimes not covered by the federal program. The state-run programs provide less extensive protections than the federal program.[2][3]


The WITSEC program was formally established under Title V of the Organized Crime Control Act of 1970, which in turn sets out the manner in which the United States Attorney General may provide for the relocation and protection of a witness or potential witness of the federal or state government in an official proceeding concerning organized crime or other serious offenses. See 18 U.S.C.A 3521, et. seq. The federal government also gives grants to the states to enable them to provide similar services.

WITSEC was originally created as the Federal Witness Protection Program in the mid-1960s by Gerald Shur, when he was Attorney in Charge of the Intelligence and Special Services Unit of the Organized Crime and Racketeering Section of the United States Department of Justice.[4] Most witnesses are protected by the United States Marshals Service, while protection of incarcerated witnesses is the duty of the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

Former decorated federal law enforcement officer John Thomas Ambrose was convicted of leaking information about a federal witness in the Witness Protection Program, Chicago Outfit hitman Nicholas Calabrese, to other members of Chicago organized crime.[5][6][7][8]


As of 2019, 18,900 witnesses and family members have been protected by the U.S. Marshals Service since 1971.[9]

According to Gerald Shur, the person who created the federal program, about 95% of witnesses in the program are "criminals". They may be intentional criminals, or people who are doing business with criminals, such as one engineer who bought off a mayor "'because that's how you do business in the city.' In his mind, he wasn't doing anything criminal," as Shur said. A witness who agrees to testify for the prosecution is generally eligible to join the program, which is entirely voluntary. Witnesses are permitted to leave the program and return to their original identities at any time, although this is always discouraged by administrators.[10]

In both criminal and civil matters involving protected witnesses, the U.S. Marshals cooperate fully with local law enforcement and court authorities to bring witnesses to justice or to have them fulfill their legal responsibilities.[1]


Fewer than 17 percent of protected witnesses who have committed a crime will be caught committing another crime, compared to parolees, of whom almost 41 percent return to crime.[11]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "U.S. Marshals Service". United States Marshals Service. Retrieved 2019-07-03.
  2. ^ "California Witness Relocation and Assistance Program". California Department of Justice. Retrieved 2019-07-03.
  3. ^ Glaberson, William (2003-07-06). "'Lie or Die' -- Aftermath of a Murder; Justice, Safety and the System: A Witness Is Slain in Brooklyn". The New York Times. Retrieved 2019-07-03.
  4. ^ Pete Earley and Gerald Shur. WITSEC: Inside the Federal Witness Protection Program. Bantam Books, Hardcover February 2002, ISBN 0-553-80145-7, Paperback April 2003, ISBN 0-553-58243-7
  5. ^ Chuck Gouldie (April 13, 2009). "Trial begins for deputy accused of leaking secrets". Retrieved 2019-07-03.
  6. ^ "Pope Recovering in Hospital; Task Force Hunts Down Fugitives; Oscar Nominees Diverse This Year". CNN. February 25, 2005. Retrieved 2019-07-03.
  7. ^ BJ Lutz (2009-07-14). "Deputy Marshal Guilty of Leaking Info to Mob". NBC Chicago. Retrieved 2019-07-03.
  8. ^ "Marshal's mob-leak trial loses a juror". Chicago Sun-Times. April 28, 2009. Archived from the original on May 2, 2009.
  9. ^ "Fact Sheet: Facts and Figures 2019" (PDF). U.S. Marshals Service. 2019-04-03. Retrieved 2019-07-03.
  10. ^ Falcon, Gabriel (2013-02-16). "Inside the witness protection program". CNN. Retrieved 2019-07-03.
  11. ^ Bonsor, Kevin. "How Witness Protection Works". HowStuffWorks.com. Retrieved 2019-07-03.

Further reading[edit]

  • Pete Earley and Gerald Shur. WITSEC: Inside the Federal Witness Protection Program. Bantam Books, Hardcover February 2002, ISBN 0-553-80145-7, Paperback April 2003, ISBN 0-553-58243-7
  • King, John W. The Breeding of Contempt: Account of the Largest Mass Murder in Washington, D.C. History and First African-American family in the Witness Protection Program (1976), Xlibris Publishing 2003. ISBN 978-1401079031.[self-published source]
  • Gregg and Gina Hill, On the Run: A Mafia Childhood, Warner Books, October 14, 2004, hardcover, 256 pages, ISBN 0-446-52770-X.