How does the Witness Relocation Program work?   no comments

Posted at 11:40 pm in Uncategorized

Answer by Tim Dees:

The United States Marshals Service runs the Witness Protection Program (Witness Security, or WITSEC), and they are understandably very closed-mouth about it. This is what I think I know about it. I doubt you will get a response much more informed than this.

WITSEC protects government witnesses who provide substantial assistance in federal criminal cases and are at risk for retaliation for doing so. Putting someone in WITSEC can be a very expensive proposition, so it's reserved for high-profile, critical cases.

Because WITSEC requires cooperation and long-term, permanent changes to one's life, no one is compelled to do it, as in "go into WITSEC or go to jail." It's more like "go into WITSEC or Vito will put you in the ground." It's usually a Hobson's choice. There aren't a lot of other options if the witness intends to keep breathing.

The witness, and their family if there is one, is relocated to a place somewhere in the U.S. (because the Marshals have to be able to monitor and intervene), far away from where they live. They have to sever all ties with their previous life. There can be no contact with other family, friends, business colleagues, former classmates, anyone. Any continued or renewed contact can provide a conduit to the bad guys finding the witness, and the Marshals are very good at seeing all those doors remain closed.

The witness is given a "memorandum of understanding" that details their responsibilities. Very little of it is negotiable. If they violate any of the conditions, the Marshals can wash their hands of the witness. The Marshals won't go out of their way to reveal the witness' whereabouts, but the witness will lose all support from the Marshals.

The Marshals make arrangements for housing, possibly a job, and provide a small stipend to keep them in socks and groceries until they can become self-supporting. "Self-supporting" often means doing work the witness is not accustomed to, and often below their professional station in life. The witness cannot return to their former line of work, especially if they work in a skilled profession like medicine or accountancy. There are professional networks in any line of work that the bad guys will tap to try and locate them. If the witness has "portable" skills, such as being a salesman, they may be able to move to a different industry. But, mostly, they will be starting over professionally.

The Marshals will create a new identity for the witness and the family. They will have drivers licenses, birth certificates, credit cards and records, school transcripts, etc. These will be as good as anyone could make.

Some witnesses are crooks themselves. In exchange for entering WITSEC, they have to go straight. If they fail to do so, the Marshals will cut them loose. Witnesses who go to prison may be treated to a modified version of WITSEC, where only a few federal Bureau of Prisons people know who they really are.

On reaching adulthood, children can opt out of WITSEC, if they choose. They can continue with their assumed names or go back to their old ones. In doing so, they sever ties with the rest of their family still in WITSEC. The Marshals can facilitate very limited communications by acting as an intermediary, but they will effectively be saying goodbye.

WITSEC has been highly successful. Thousands of witnesses have been placed in the program, and so far as anyone outside the Marshals Service knows, the program has never been penetrated. This is largely because the Marshals don't talk about it, a plan I suspect will continue.

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Written by Tim Dees on June 26th, 2014