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New Web sites devoted to exposing the identities of informants who cooperate with the government are making federal prosecutors furious and prompting calls to limit public access to electronic court files.
According to The New York Times, the sites, like one called whosarat.com, post the names and mug shots of government witnesses, along with court documents outlining the plea agreements they made in return for more lenient sentences. Much of the data is obtained from files readily available on the Internet.
Last week, for example, whosarat.com posted information about a Florida man who agreed to plead guilty to cocaine possession but not gun charges in exchange for working in an undercover role to contact and negotiate with drug dealers.
Whosarat.com says it has identified 4,300 informants and 400 undercover agents since 2004. The site was started by a man named Sean Bucci, who was indicted in federal court on marijuana charges after an informant provided information to prosecutors.
The Times says the site was "initially modest and free, the seeming product of a drug defendant's fit of pique." It now charges between $7.99 for a week's access to $89.99 for a lifetime membership, which includes a free "Stop Snitching" T-shirt.
A Justice Department official, in a letter quoted by the Times, said these sites were set up "for the clear purpose of witness intimidation, retaliation and harassment," and pose "a grave risk of harm to cooperating witnesses and defendants."
The letter says that in one case, a witness in Philadelphia had to be moved and the FBI called in to investigate after information from whosarat.com was mailed to neighbors and posted on utility poles and cars in the area.
Alongside its lead article on the heated politics of the immigration debate unfolding in Congress, the Washington Post features Another Hat Is Tossed In The RingNew Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson formally entered the race for the White House on Monday, but you'd be hard pressed to find much news about it on the front pages Tuesday morning.None of the major dailies feature a page-one story on the Democrat's official announcement of his campaign to become the nation's first Latino president, although the Washington Post and Los Angeles Times do run photos on the bottom of the first page with teases for articles inside the paper.
The New York Times runs its Richardson story on page A18, pointing out that the former congressman, diplomat and Clinton energy secretary's biggest frustration is that he has "perhaps the strongest résumé but is one of the least-known candidates" in the crowded presidential field.
Coverage on page A18 isn't likely to help.
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