The Associated Press issued a harsh denunciation of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) after the internal intelligence agency admitted one of its agents had posed as an AP reporter during a 2007 criminal investigation.
An FBI agent impersonated “an employee of the Associated Press” as part of an operation to bring charges against a young suspect believed to be delivering bomb threats at a high school in Olympia, Washington, FBI Director James Comey wrote in a letter to the New York Times on Thursday.
The comments come as the latest revelations in a story that rattled the news industry last week when it was discovered that the FBI in 2007 had created a mock-up of the Seattle Times in order to spread spyware on to a suspect’s computer.
The FBI’s sting operation involved sending a bogus Seattle Times article to the suspect’s MySpace account. The link, which directed the suspect to an Associated Press article called “Bomb threat at high school downplayed by local police department,” was hosted on an FBI computer, and, when clicked, secretly revealed the suspect’s location and IP address.
Kathleen Carroll, executive editor of the AP, slammed the FBI’s covert activities as “unacceptable.”
“This latest revelation of how the FBI misappropriated the trusted name of the Associated Press doubles our concern and outrage, expressed earlier to Attorney General Eric Holder, about how the agency’s unacceptable tactics undermine AP and the vital distinction between the government and the press,”Carroll said in a statement.
Meanwhile, the FBI director gave no assurance that such methods would not be employed again in future criminal investigations.
“That technique was proper and appropriate under Justice Department and FBI guidelines at the time. Today, the use of such an unusual technique would probably require higher-level approvals than in 2007, but it would still be lawful and, in a rare case, appropriate,” Comey wrote.
Comey defended the use of undercover operations to catch criminals, saying such methods have “long been a critical tool in fighting crime.”
In a letter Thursday to the FBI Director and Attorney General Eric Holder, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press requested full disclosure about this latest media infringement.
“The utilization of news media as a cover for delivery of electronic surveillance software is unacceptable,”the letter said. “This practice endangers the media’s credibility and creates the appearance that it is not independent of the government.
“It undermines media organizations’ ability to independently report on law enforcement.”
The FBI, however, is not the only government agency taking advantage of the virtual world of the internet to ensnare suspects in criminal investigations.
Last month, the US Drug Enforcement Administration [DEA] was slapped with a lawsuit after it was discovered the agency created a bogus Facebook account, complete with photos and other personal data from Sondra Arquiett, who was arrested in 2010 on charges of possessing cocaine and intent to supply the drug.
The Facebook page created in her name by DEA Agent Timothy Sinnigen was devised to lure her associates into revealing information.
Arquiett is claiming $250,000 in compensation, saying she went through “fear and great emotional distress” and that Sinningen endangered her life by communicating through her fake identity with the“dangerous individuals he was investigating,” AP reported.