The final loop in the Augustan intelligence dragnet was his employment of a cadre of professional snoops called delators ("denouncers").
Often--and this again sounds all too close to home--the delatores would offer financial reward to confidential informants with information worth (or not worth) purchasing.
The delatores, possessed of information they gathered personally or from their paid informants, would present this evidence at trials, surprising the accused by rehearsing often word-for-word conversations the participants thought they were carrying on in private.
If Edward Snowden, the whistleblower who revealed the level of NSA spying on Americans, knows his Roman history, he must feel especially simpatico with those caught in the snare of the delatores.
Conquest adds that "after Morosov, a whole cycle of delators
of mothers and fathers was celebrated in the Soviet Press, and entered in the Pioneer 'Book of Honour.'"
(62) Levick, 189 (noting that "Delators were hated under the Principate").
At first glance, the historian gives the impression that during Tiberius' reign the use of delatores was a unique phenomenon, whose central objective was to spitefully accuse others in the interest of profit, power and personal gain.
Historians described it as "the crime of acting with malice towards the Roman people." (11) At the time, it was developed as a civil action through which plaintiffs, or delatores (who were often ordinary citizens), would come forth and accuse an individual of malicious conduct.
According to my 11th edition Britannica, the common informers or delators of ancient Rome were a class of private citizens who specialized in bringing accusations against others: "They were drawn from all classes of society - patricians, knights, freedmen, slaves, philosophers, literary men, and, above all, lawyers." The right to file charges against a fellow citizen was not in itself new, but took on a new character when the state began awarding the delator a share of the property of the accused; a successful accusation of treason, for example, carried as a prize a quarter of the victim's estate.
If the delator lost his case or refused to carry it through, he was liable to the same penalties as the accused." But since our legal system sedulously resists a loser-pays principle for accusers, we avoid even this much of a prospective downside.
And if his utterances over a sundowner glass of South African wine have been reported to Rome, this can only indicate delators
at work, as unreliable as they are despicable.