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Surfing Out A Rat

Robert Hendin is producing tonight's CBS Evening News report on Whosarat.com with correspondent Bob Orr .

(CBS)
When we first read the newspaper today, we were intrigued by the article about a website called www.whosarat.com. The story describes the site as an information clearinghouse about confidential informants who have participated with government investigations and helped put people behind bars. Many of these informants have their own criminal histories and some of the defendants and defense attorneys can use this information to try to save themselves, or their clients, from prosecution.

The first thing we did was check out the site for ourselves. We barely got past the front page when we were asked to spend $7.99 for a week's trial membership to see any information. As soon as we could type in some credit card information, the site got very busy and we couldn't access it for some time.

We were able to send an email to the site asking for a call to discuss the story. A short time later, still with no luck getting into the site, a man named Chris Brown called in response to our email. He says he is the site's administrator. He said, contrary to rumors, the site was not shut down and that they got nearly 20,000 web hits today alone, up from the average 4,000 they get on a normal day.

Brown says that he is a friend of Sean Bucci, who is awaiting sentencing in Federal Court in Boston for attempting to sell over 100 KG of marijuana. Bucci started the site because an informant who had sold drugs to Bucci turned him in to the police and allowed the police to bring surveillance on Bucci and his associates. Bucci started the site because he thought it was unfair that one criminal could turn around and be treated as a hero and even get paid by the police to turn against his friends.

Bucci, Brown and others believe the government has a lot of leeway with the use of informants in criminal cases. Informants are essential to many criminal cases and they have aided many recent terrorism cases, including the recent plot to kill soldiers at Fort Dix in New Jersey.

The men behind whosarat.com say that their site levels the playing field a bit, allowing defense attorneys and defendants to post information about informants to be able help others facing prosecution. The site doesn't post any of its own material. It simply allows people who have information about an informant to share it.

The site is doing nothing illegal. All of the information on it is publicly available and most of it comes from first-hand knowledge of a case. It's no different than, say, going down to a courthouse and manually going through the files.

So what's the government to do about it? Well, not much. All they can do is try to limit the amount of information about informants and criminal plea agreements that is available on the web. But that's about it.

The founders of www.whosarat.com sounds say they believe they are doing just as much a public service outing the informants as the informants themselves who help put criminals behind bars.
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    Robert Hendin is senior producer for "Face the Nation" and a CBS News senior political producer.