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Anchored by Jake Tapper, The Lead airs at 4 p.m. ET on CNN.

Anchored by Jake Tapper, The Lead airs at 4 p.m. ET on CNN.

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May 16th, 2013
07:25 PM ET

Who's really in the Witness Protection Program?

The Witness Protection Program has always loomed large in the public imagination, usually depicted as a haven for turncoat mobsters.

But who really lives within the protected realm of the program? The public does not know for sure, and that's sort of the point.

According the U.S. marshals, the agency that runs the program, more than 18,000 men, women, and children have been in witness protection, and the marshals like to brag that not one of them has ever been harmed.

The marshals also say the program provides 24-hour protection to all witnesses while they are in a "high-threat environment," witnesses receive financial assistance for housing and subsistence for basic living expenses and medical care, and the program provides for job training and employment assistance.

"The subsistence may be minimal, it still adds up to millions of dollars a year," said Gerald Shur in a 2005 interview. Shur founded the Witness Protection Program. "We may have to support them a little longer because their language will prevent them from getting jobs as quick as is necessary."

Deputy marshals decide on a new location for the witnesses and their families, and move them.

"This is a large country, and border-to-border we can find plenty of places to hide people," said Shur.

"They didn't even tell us where we were going until we got to an airport," said Henry Hill in a 2005 interview, the mob informant who was the inspiration for the 1990 film "Goodfellas." Hill died last June.

Hill was reportedly convicted of other crimes while in the Witness Protection Program and kicked out. A reminder, perhaps, that even with a whole new identity - it's still you.

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