FBI Internal Report Says FBI's 2007 Impersonation Of An AP Journalist Not Exactly By The Book
from the but-ultimately-ok-because-suspect-was-apprehended dept
US law enforcement agencies engage in some pretty shifty behavior while pursuing criminals. The DEA and ATF love pushing randos into planning fake raids on fake drug houses containing zero weapons, cash, or drugs. (Better yet, made-up quantities of theoretical contraband are used to determine sentence length during prosecution!)
There’s more than a coin flip’s chance that a teen in a chatroom is actually a law enforcement officer between the age of 25 and 50 — and quite possibly operating extra-jurisdictionally as one of Florida sheriff Grady Judd’s child porn warriors.
Speaking of child porn, the FBI is not above seizing kiddie porn sites and letting them run as honeypots. And that’s when it’s not doing worse things — like shoving a mixture of the mentally challenged and the easily-persuaded towards terrorism… or impersonating journalists to serve up malware to investigation targets.
The FBI pretended to be the Associated Press in order to send malware to a 15-year-old bomb threat suspect. The payload was delivered via a “draft” version of an “article” by an “AP writer,” sent to the suspect for his “review.” The FBI defended its unorthodox investigative technique by saying it was something it “rarely” did and that it only did so in the interest of public safety.
James Comey went further, saying it was all by the (2007) book, while noting that DOJ policies had since changed and the FBI wouldn’t be allowed to impersonate journalists in the future. Comey also expressed his displeasure that this apparent abuse of authority had been given a “one-sided” presentation by the press — completely ignoring the fact that his agency (and the DOJ) issues hundreds of “one-sided” press releases every year.
It appears the FBI’s own internal investigation of the incident disagrees with Comey’s assertions that its impersonation conformed with DOJ policies. A report obtained by the AP and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press (via a FOIA lawsuit) says the FBI’s journalistic ruse shows the agents involved skipped a crucial step or two when deploying the malware.
FBI officials say there’s no clear evidence the agency violated its own rules when it posed as The Associated Press to unmask a criminal, according to a report obtained through a public records lawsuit.
However, the internal FBI report being made public by the AP and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press says “an argument can be made” that field agents bucked protocol by not informing senior brass in Washington of the 2007 operation.
It notes that undercover operations involving agents who pose as members of the media are typically categorized as “Group 1,” the label given to sensitive operations flagged to the agency’s Washington headquarters for review and approval. That does not appear to have happened in the Timberline case. The report says it isn’t clear whether the Seattle office ever even told headquarters about their impersonation of AP.
The report, however, agrees with one of Comey’s defenses of the impersonation: the ends justify the means.
Despite that, the FBI’s Cyber Division found in the Seattle office’s favor, saying it acted reasonably “under the circumstances.”
Those circumstances being the pursuit of a hoaxer who had called in multiple (fake) bomb threats on the same Seattle school. I suppose the FBI found some sort of poetic justice in hoaxing a hoaxer, but it’s incredibly bad form to use an institution meant to help hold the government accountable as an unwitting partner in government-led investigations.