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An agent provocateur (French for “inciting agent”) is an undercover agent 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 own sense of nationalism/duty or may be employed by the police or other entity to discredit or harm another group (e.g., peaceful protest or demonstration) by provoking them to commit a crime – thus, undermining the protest or demonstration as whole.
An agent provocateur may be a police officer or a secret agent of police who encourages suspects to carry out a crimeunder 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 counter-productive or ineffective acts to foster public disdain—or provide a pretext for aggression against the opponent (see Red-baiting).
Historically, labor spies, hired to infiltrate, monitor, disrupt, or subvert union activities, have used agent provocateur tactics.
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.
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.
New York City police officers were accused of acting as agents provocateurs during protests against the 2004 Republican National Convention in New York City.
In February 1817, after the Prince Regent was attacked, the British government employed agents provocateurs to obtain evidence against the agitators.
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” 
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 strength of the gained population 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.
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.
On August 20, 2007, during meetings of the Security and Prosperity Partnership of North America in Montebello, three protesters were accused of being police provocateurs by Dave Coles, president of the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada. The three masked protesters, one of whom was notably armed with a large rock, were asked to leave by protest organizers. After the three protesters breached the police line, they were brought to the ground, handcuffed, and taken away. The evidence that the arrested people were police provocateurs was circumstantial, including the fact that they were wearing boots identical to those worn by police. According to veteran activist Harsha Walia, it was other participants in the black bloc who identified and exposed the undercover police.
After the protest, the police force initially denied then later admitted that three of their officers disguised themselves as demonstrators; however, they denied that the officers were provoking the crowd and instigating violence. 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”.
In December 2012, during the protests against the swearing in of next President of Mexico, there is evidence that agent provocateurs worked with the police. These individuals were paid 300 Mexican Pesos (about 20USD) 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. In contrast to the protests, there were no public celebrations for the new presidency.
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- Denial and deception
- Sting operation
- Grant Bristow
- False flag
- Security culture
- Black Bloc
- Terry Norman
- Stratfor (2004)
- Belyaeva et al. (2007), § 7–8, 156–162
- 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)
- Dwyer, Jim (December 22, 2005). “New York Police Covertly Join In at Protest Rallies”. The New York Times. p. A1. Retrieved 2006-09-22.
- Cardona, Felisa (November 7, 2008). “ACLU wants probe into police-staged DNC protest”. The Denver Post. p. A1. Retrieved 2008-11-07.
- R. R. Palmer. A History of the Modern World. p. 460.
- 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, http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2001/jul/23/globalisation.davidpallister Monday 23 July 2001.
- FAIR. Media Advisory: Media Missing New Evidence About Genoa Violence. http://www.fair.org/activism/genoa-update.html
- 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.”
- Doward, Jamie; Townsend, Mark (May 10, 2009). “G20 police ‘used undercover men to incite crowds'”. The Guardian (London). Retrieved 2009-05-10.
- “Agent Provocateur At 26th Of March London Demonstration”. World News Network (London). March 29, 2011. Retrieved March 29, 2011.
- “Police accused of using provocateurs at summit”. The Star (Toronto). August 21, 2007. Retrieved April 23, 2010.
- “canadian Agent Provocateurs caught in the act! SPP protest”. Toronto. June 3, 2011. Retrieved June 20, 2013.
- Rabble TV “A Diversity of Tactics – A Diversity of Opinions” Rabble.ca, March 5, 2010
- Bryden, Joan (August 22, 2007). “Police deny using ‘provocateurs’ at summit”. The Star (Toronto). Retrieved December 15, 2010.
- “Quebec police admit they went undercover at Montebello protest”. CBC News. August 23, 2007.
- “Provocadores cobraron $300 por actos vandálicos”. December 3, 2012.
- Belyaeva et al. (2007) Guidelines on Freedom of Peaceful Assembly, published by OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights. Alternative version