Profession: undercover agent
Interview by Alessandra Zocca
What are the main differences between the life of a secret agent and the stereotypes proposed in movies?
Lieutenant Giancarlo Rapone
Commander of the Carabinieri station of Muggio’ (Milan)
“Adrenaline” is the real difference factor between playing the role of secret agent in the highly popular spy movies or fiction, and being an undercover agent.
Real secret agents must play their role without a script, but acting according to the situation they are facing, they need to rapidly figure out what to do or what to say even in situations they do not know, or when they know only the elements collected through phone tapping.
All this in addition to the rapidity of action and the creativity in reaction, however the main risk secret agents must avoid is to be identified. adrenalin, in these situation helps a lot.... .
Which reasons or motivations inspired you to accept such a dangerous challenge - as it is a mission as an infiltrator?
My role as a secret agent started from a simple and unexpected consulting request by our colleague from the anti-drug department (called ROAD = Reparto Operativo Antidroga in Italy): they needed me as an interpreter of the dialect of Genoa (city in Italy), so I started listening and transcribing hours and hours of telephone tapping which took several months. The assignment also included tailing/chasing cars, hidden in a specially equipped van – a sort of camper, which was uncomfortable and spartan - especially after long hours and long periods.
After this first, ‘cutting my teeth’ experience I was chosen to attend a course in Rome, held by DIA (American police department fighting the international drug trafficking). Again, the great difference between training/theory and practice as an infiltrator has been the adrenaline running in my veins, which provided me with the push in those stressful and dangerous conditions.
Once I started in that role as an undercover infiltrator – nearly “timidly” assigned by my superiors – the motivation that sustained me for so many years was my willingness and determination to succeed in every operation, meaning confiscating several kilos of drugs and arresting drug-traffickers, reaching the most important international narcotic trafficking bosses and cartels.
Being successful in my mission was giving gave me a sense of omnipotence, the fear of risks was neutralized by my aim to surpass the limits of my own ability, to win the challenge against the criminals and the challenges with myself.
What values and inner strength have sustained you during those long years undercover? What was stronger than risking your own life, stronger than the fear for your family and the stress of being recognized?
During this period I was sustained by the values and the ideals for which I enlisted in the police, which include performing my duty through to the end, independently from the task I have been assigned. My target, meaning accomplishing my operations/tasks at any cost, has always been much stronger than the risks, fears and potential consequences of this profession, which has been so stressful for me and for my family.
What have you learned, lieutenant, from this experience, that otherwise you would not have learned in your life?
From this experience, which lasted 10 years, I learned to know entirely the world of narcotic trafficking, the world of money and avidity. I also learned to:
- Rapidly and courageously make decisions, even the most difficult and risky ones
- Face all kind of situations in order to fulfill my purpose at any cost
- Not giving up for any reason, not even facing the risk of death
Reflect a lot, particularly when I had to deal with misfits and unscrupulous criminals, balancing with attention and wisdom my life opportunities and the love of my family, against the dissolute lives of those criminals, who lived in isolation and were inclined to take great excesses, which I witnessed when I lived so closely alongside them..
Unfortunately some women emulate men in a criminal career instead of keeping their distance and differentiating themselves.
How have women reached power in criminal organisations? Which type of power is exerted by those women, do they exert it in a different way than men do? Do you have some cases or examples?
In the criminal environment there are two types of women:
Also in the army and in the police women have a career nowadays. What do you think motivates them? Which qualities can women bring? Do you have any case to share?
- The devoted and dominated wives, daughters and mothers of men, who, despite being criminals, play in an apparently normal way the role of respectable husband, son or father. These women are passively involved, accustomed to and aware of the profession of their relatives.
- The other type of women involved in the ranks of organized crime are women with important active roles, who do not hesitate to exert their power with perfidy and cruelty, using very feminine, persuasive and deceitful methods, able to trap any kind of man in their network, in order to achieve their own objectives. They are very determined women, capable of crushing people without regret, conscious they can get everything they want: money, power and a luxurious life.
Women in the army and police are moving up in their careers very rapidly, surely due to their merit and competencies and they do not suffer from discrimination in comparison with men.
The contribution of a woman is critical in criminal cases affecting female victims or children, and in cases of rape or violence towards women, thanks to their female sensitivity. Additionally, women’s versatility, supported by the same military training delivered to men, allows them to enter any professional area.
Let’s go back to you: if you could be remembered for only one of your merits or qualities demonstrated in your mission as an undercover secret agent, which one would you choose?
Taking a hard look at my life as an undercover agent, I acknowledge my merit of never giving up, despite all the police and military disciplinary actions/proceedings started by mistake against me and despite the attitude of the judicial system, that ruined my life for a period. All this was crazy!
On the other side all these incidents pushed me to accomplish all my tasks at all costs, whilst remaining at all times within the law, allowing me to demonstrate my loyalty to the values of my institutional role and to the education received from my mother and my father, who also had his career as a “Carabiniere” (branch of the Italian national military police) (1).
Is there something else you would like to share with our readership? Please tell us about the book published in Italy about your experience as an infiltrator.
I think that I had the chance to do the best work in the world and I think I have done it in an excellent way. A lot of people dream of becoming a secret agent, - they are simply identifying themselves with the various characters in stories, where secret agents are depicted in a stereotypical and obviously fictional manner.
Nevertheless I highly discourage anyone from starting this profession due to the huge suffering my family and I had to pay: I could have lost those dearest to me (family), there was the highest risk it could easily occur to me.
I would like also to highlight my sense of impotence towards this ceaseless and deathly trade, against which my many successes in sequestering large quantities of drugs and in defeating the top members of narcotic trafficking bands are only drops in the ocean compared to the drug commerce phenomenon, which looks like a tsunami.
This negative feeling is also increased by the awareness that, due to the international economic interests, there is not enough political willingness to act more effectively: in my opinion the disbanding of the department to which I belonged, despite our successes, is a confirmation of my thoughts.
In 2008 the book <<The Infiltrator>> was published, written by the journalist Carlo Brambilla, who narrates the ten year experience of Lieutenant Rapone as an undercover agent. The book (2) about my story was a sort of liberation for my psyche and I see it as a sounding board about the necessary legal interventions that I think are necessary to continue fighting this battle against drug trafficking and to support the secret agents who are involved. Here are some interventions I suggest:
- Psychological support to the undercover agents, not available now
- A pause between one mission and the following to permit agents to restore their physical and psychological resources after long periods in close contact with drug-traffickers
- Avoiding secret agents being identifiable when acting as a witness in court, because criminals can recognize the agents who betrayed them and enabled their capture … this happened to me in recent years….
The accused could not believe I was a Carabinieri marshal, as I had been so credible acting as one of them, or a customs agent, or a drug-trafficker or even a corrupt policeman.
You might think this is incredible, but the Italian law does not consider the psychological effect of witnessing with an “open-face” (no protection) for a secret agent; this is an inhuman way to treat members of such a risky and necessary profession.
Lieutenant Giancarlo Rapone is the commander of the Carabinieri (1) station in Muggio’ (3).
Lieutenant Rapone joined the Carabinieri Army in 1979 and has covered different positions.
He has participated in several investigation missions abroad (Germany, France, Spain, Switzerland, Slovenia, Turkey, USA) and to the NATO mission in Bosnia Herzegovina.
In 2008 the book <<The Infiltrator>> was published, written by the journalist Carlo Brambilla, who narrates the ten year experience of Lieutenant Rapone as an undercover agent.
In 2011 Lieutenant Rapone has been appointed to “Cavaliere della Repubblica Italiana” (knight, honorific title) by Giorgio Napolitano, President of the Italian Republic.
Lieutenant Rapone is married, has an 11-year old daughter, and a 23-year old son, who is attending the military school to become a Carabiniere.
Lieutenant Giancarlo Rapone
Carabinieri Comando Stazione Muggiò
20835 Muggiò (Monza e Brianza) Italy
Any views and opinions presented in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Arma dei Carabinieri, nor do they constitute a legally binding agreement.