Whitey Bulger wasn't the only FBI informant whose criminal activity the agency turned a blind eye to: USA Today has its hands on the FBI's 2011 "otherwise illegal activity report," a tally it sends to the Justice Department every year reporting the number of crimes it has allowed informants to commit. The grand total for 2011? 5,658. The report doesn't say what the crimes were or how serious—they could be anything from selling drugs to bribing an official, though violent crimes can never be approved—and it also doesn't include crimes the FBI knew its sources had committed but didn't OK.
The FBI, which reported having about 15,000 sources in 2007, is the only law enforcement agency required to submit this kind of report. But given it was only responsible for 10% of crimes federally prosecuted in 2011, that 5,658 probably only scratches the surface of the total number of "otherwise illegal activity" OKed by cops and feds nationwide, says USA Today. The FBI would say only that these instances are "situational" and "tightly controlled." "It sounds like a lot, but you have to keep it in context," says a former FBI criminal investigations supervisor. "This is not done in a vacuum. It's not done randomly. It's not taken lightly." (Read more FBI stories.)