Agents provocateurs ... there's a long history

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In the face of damning evidence in the form of a YouTube video and police surveillance footage, Quebec provincial police admitted Thursday to planting undercover police officers amid protesters at this week's North American leaders' summit in Montebello, Que.

To many of the protesters who witnessed three men in masks holding rocks get overpowered by police – the same trio later identified by the Sûreté du Québec as cops in disguise – the implicating video only confirmed what they already knew....

Central to the incident's mystique is that French term media outlets nationwide trumpeted in our reports of the errant boys in blue, that of "agents provocateurs." The name refers to the actors in a clever, controversial ruse used by countless authorities that wish to make arrests, but don't yet have evidence of a crime taking place....

The notion of agents provocateurs perhaps gained most of its notoriety in connection with controversial tactics used by the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation over the course of 20th century. FBI agents have been accused in countless books of posing as radicals in various organizations – from the Ku Klux Klan and the American Nazi Party to the Communist Party and civil rights groups.

A 1976 report by a U.S. Senate committee on government operations found that "[u]nsavory and vicious tactics have been employed" in the drive to collect intelligence from Americans, "including anonymous attempts to break up marriages, disrupt meetings, ostracize persons from their professions, and provoke target groups into rivalries that might result in deaths."

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