SALT LAKE CITY — For the first time, a retired special agent is talking about his more than 20 years of work in undercover cases for the FBI.
Greg Rogers sat down with FBI Confidential co-host Sheryl Worsley in part two of a two-part conversation on undercover operations. Part one of that discussion is here.
Rogers says over time, he busted tourists who traveled to Southeast Asia to have sex with children, usually after they would return to the United States. Worsley asked him whether that meant he had to allow abuse of a child to happen to make an arrest.
“No, thankfully,” Rogers says. “The statute just requires that we’re able to prove that they had traveled to have sex with a minor,” not that the sexual act actually take place.
“We would go to clubs with pedophiles and act like pedophiles, and meet with the people that were traveling to have sex with kids and establish cases so they could be arrested,” he says.
The FBI has programs in place to help undercover agents cope with the dark subject matter they deal with. Rogers says it helps, but says some of the onus is also on the agents themselves.
“If you’re an active undercover, you have to go see counselors every six months. You get assessed. You take a battery of tests,” he says. “That’s not really how you cope with it, though… you gotta come up with ways yourself to cope with it. I, quite frankly, play guitar, read, have a great wife. You just gotta come up with your own coping skills, because you see stuff that you wouldn’t wish on anybody.”
Another memorable case involved a militia group operating out of northern Idaho.
“I would train with them,” Rogers says. “We’d go out and do militia training.”
The issue wasn’t the militia itself or even the training, Rogers points out.
“What you’ll find with militia groups is, the vast majority of people in militias, quite frankly, are just ticked at the federal government,” Rogers says. “There’s a lot of reason to be ticked at the federal government. It’s not illegal.”
Where it crosses the line is when being upset or angry turns into a threat or action, Rogers says.
“That’s what happened here. They wanted to make a bogus 911 call, have the police officers respond, and then blow them up with these hand grenades that they were building,” Rogers says.
Eventually, Kenneth Kimbley pleaded guilty in the case, in large part because of Rogers’ undercover work.
Rogers says a key to building that case was taking the time first to build trust with the people involved.
“I hung out with them for over a year,” Rogers says. “It takes a while for them to trust you. You’re just a new member. Eventually, if you do your job right, they eventually do trust you, but that was a year. I actually had to get a tattoo in that case with the president and founder of the Brotherhood of the America Patriots. We went and got tatted together when they made me the sergeant-at-arms. So then I knew they trusted me.”
Rogers still has the tattoo, though it is hidden by his clothing. He has no plans to remove it.
“I’ve got a bunch,” he adds. “The government paid for a lot of tats… they’ll be great stories for the grandkids.”
The work, however, is not without danger.
“We were in a trailer and they had a plate with who knows how much black powder they had asked me to bring, and the guy was using a cheap ‘Leatherman,’ crimping these primers, which were going to be used to blow the hand grenade up. So he’s crimping the primer over this big thing of black powder. Metal on metal. And this is all being recorded. So the bomb tech called me on my phone,” Rogers remembers. “I acted like it was a girlfriend, and he was like, ‘It’s time to get out of there.'”
Rogers encouraged the militia members to go outside and take a cigar break, and instead, they were all arrested, Rogers included, as part of the cover.
The nature of undercover work means most of his cases have ended with guilty pleas rather than a trial.
“Over 20 years, I think I went to trial twice on undercover cases, and that’s out of hundreds that I worked,” Rogers says. “You’re going to show the jury a movie of these guys talking to me and doing what they’re doing, selling me drugs, selling me guns, whatever we’re working them for.”
The dangers aren’t just in the undercover work alone, either. Rogers has had a suspect try to hire a hit on him while they were awaiting trial.
“It’s frequent,” he says, referring to regular death threats, then went on to describe “the coolest” time his life had been threatened.
“We’re in court, and he’s a bad guy, he’d done time for homicide before, he was rough, but he and I had become ‘buddies’ when I was buying meth off of him,” Rogers remembers.
Just after Rogers finished testifying, as he walked past the table with the suspect and his lawyer, the soon-to-plead guilty drug dealer said, “Good job, mate,” and bumped knuckles with the special agent.