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FAQ – Dissociative Identity Disorder In Undercover Agents
What Is DID
Since World War II, the United States government has worked to identify characteristics of an effective undercover agent for national and law enforcement interests. The duality of expectation begins when an officer is recruited based on performance measures to include good judgment and integrity, but then is taught to lie.
The undercover agent must falsify his identity to misrepresent himself to others for the sake of detecting crime and gathering information. This same agent is also expected to return home at the end of their shift to resume a regular family life.
How Was It Identified
To examine the detrimental effects to SOG Operators in undercover capacities, a study of 271 undercover agents demonstrate that chronic exposure to undercover work causes psychological symptoms. Also, those agents with cognitive traits such as extroversion and emotionality are prone to excessive drug and alcohol use.
Undercover work becomes associated with an erosion of psychological, behavioral, and moral standards jeopardizing both health and police operations. There is a tremendous conflict of living a double life. This causes SOG undercover agents to experience elevated symptoms resembling those of psychiatric outpatients.
What Are Other Effects
In addition to the psychological harm associated with undercover operations, SOG Narcotics Operators were examined to reveal a disassociation from self-identity and unprompted reappearances of altered identities developed for conducting undercover operations. For example; upon entering an assignment into a Narcotics unit, the officer receives training in the practice of conducting undercover drug purchasing operations.
The officer is instructed to begin constructing an undercover identity that shall be assumed during her role-playing in the course of actual drug purchasing operations.
The depth and complexity of the undercover identity might be as simple as using a false first name for initial introductions to a potential drug dealer who has become the target of your investigation. The assumed identity may also involve a completely new, yet fictitious life including official identification, residence and sometimes family.
What might appear as innocuous fantasy or role-playing, when conducted under stressful or life-and-death situations exacts a heavy toll on the individual forced to slide in and out of character.
Do Good Cops Experience DID
Despite the depth of commitment or the duration of the undercover operation requiring the falsification of the undercover agent’s assumed identity, the toll is exacted upon the individual’s psyche. Additional research shows that even the most ethical of officers may succumb to the powerful draw of the SOG sub-culture.
There are occupational maladjustment, psychiatric disturbances and personality changes associated with undercover work. Those at highest risk for suffering this effect are the elite units within law enforcement, who serve outside the traditional boundaries of policing.
The acts of establishing deviant networks give rise to stress disturbances, corruption and perceptions of “self as unreal,” along with paranoia and other troubles. This study expands the concept to determine the extent to which the alter-persona becomes part of who the agent really is.
Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) has been linked to undercover agents and was used as a criminal trial defense strategy in 1997 when a former Federal Bureau of Investigations undercover agent was arrested for attempted murder.
The DID phenomena was examined in a study of federal undercover agents participating in a three week training exercise to measure the strength of attachments to the false identities assumed by these agents. After just three weeks of role assumption, 61 percent of the participants acknowledged that their false identities appeared without calling it up in a non-operational context.
Is DID Real
There are numerous actual experiences involving field operators who have experienced difficulty in subduing their fabricated identity, such as former FBI Agent Bennett cited in the study. The conclusion shows that predispositions to dissociative experiences have a greater influence on the reappearance of an alter-identity assumed during undercover work while in a non-operational setting.
The length of time spent in these operational assignments is also related to the similarly harmful effects to those in the cop culture working SOG duty. It is linked to higher rates of corruption, disciplinary infractions and social detachment.