Ever wondered what it would be like to spend your time infiltrating gangs and bringing serious criminals to justice as an actual, real-life undercover agent?
In a canid and in-depth interview with Vice, former FBI undercover operative, Bob Hamer discusses his 26 year career infiltrating some of the world’s most brutal and paranoid criminal organisations as well as having to walk the murky ethical line between extracting the information you need and entrapment.
He’s not what you’d necessarily expect from a grizzled undercover cop He speaks in friendly tones and is a practising Christian, yet in an unbelievable career he successfully posed as a “drug dealer, contract killer, residential burglar, fence, pedophile, degenerate gambler, international weapons dealer, and white-collar criminal.
Hamer reveals that his preferred way to infiltrate an organisation was through informants who had previously been arrested and were cooperating with the FBI to lessen their sentences and how once in, he had to get inside the minds of the criminals:
Criminals can smell fear, they can smell hatred, they know when you aren’t accepting of their lifestyle. And as an undercover agent, you’ve gotta understand them in some way, be it the child molester, be it the drug dealer, be it the weapons dealer.
He discusses how he always tried to give suspects ‘an out’ to guard against the argument that they were entrapped or forced into doing anything and tells of how one of the most emotionally harrowing cases he worked was infiltrating the pro-paedophile group, North American Man/Boy Love Association (NAMBLA):
It took me a long time to even be in a position where they were willing to accept me. I met an individual who started talking about how he would fly overseas to have sex with little boys in Thailand and Mexico and starts saying to me, “We should go on a trip to do this.”
That case resulted in the convictions of eight members of the group’s inner circle.
Things didn’t always run smoothly, he tells the story of when friends nearly gave away his identity during a half-million dollar heroin deal in the lobby of a hotel, having just been told that ‘if anything went wrong’ he would be ‘the first person killed’.
He’s not always been impressed with how Hollywood has portrayed undercover agents:
The Departed was way over the top, but I think [Leonardo] DiCaprio did a good job of mentally and emotionally [capturing] what you’re going through when you’re undercover. My biggest complaint about Hollywood is that they portray every undercover agent as a womaniser, an alcoholic—they’re always going over the line.
Hamer’s been busy since his retirement. He’s written five books but he misses the adrenaline rush.
I miss sitting down face to face with a bad guy and convincing him that I’m just as bad as he is, or getting him to admit to me what he wants done and engaging him in a criminal conversation—that’s the greatest thrill. That’s the hardest thing to overcome, knowing that I can’t do this anymore.
Sounds like he’s earned his retirement to me.