Contributed to TLB by: Susanne Posel
James Comey, director of the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) defended the use of an FBI agent posing as an Associated Press journalist in order to install spyware into the computer of a teenager from Lacy, Washington State.
Comey said in an open letter published in mainstream media that the FBI did not “overstep its bounds” while using deceptive tactics during their investigation into the teen who was in communication “online with the” FBI agent.”
According to Comey: “An F.B.I. agent communicated online with the anonymous suspect. Relying on an agency behavioral assessment that the anonymous suspect was a narcissist, the online undercover officer portrayed himself as an employee of The Associated Press, and asked if the suspect would be willing to review a draft article about the threats and attacks, to be sure that the anonymous suspect was portrayed fairly.”
To entrap the student, the FBI produced a fake news report provided by the FBI agent to the Associated Press regarding a “technology savvy student holds Timberline High School hostage.”
The FBI agent made sure the teen saw the article which facilitated the downloading of spyware into the boy’s computer in order to track the child’s online whereabouts.
Kathy Best, executive editor of the Seattle Times commented : “The FBI, in placing the name of The Associated Press on a phony story sent to a criminal suspect, crossed a line and undermined the credibility of journalists everywhere – including at The Times.”
The FBI maintains that “the operation was aimed at preventing tragedy. We were fortunate that information provided by the public gave us the opportunity to step into a potentially dangerous situation before it was too late.”
Kathleen Carroll, executive editor of AP said : “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.”
The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press (RCFP) wrote a letter to Holder and Comey explaining : “The warrant for such action apparently did not mention that the tracker was delivered as an AP article, with an AP byline “and therefore impersonated a news media organization.” Concerned that the FBI not only failed to follow its own guidelines for such activity, but also did not make clear to the judge who signed the warrant or FBI counsel that the software ‘impersonated a media organization or that there were First Amendment concerns at stake’.”
Mainstream media have joined RCFP in support of exposing how the FBI uses news media to infiltrate the public:
• Association of Alternative Newsmedia
• Center for Investigative Reporting
• Committee to Protect Journalists
• First Amendment Coalition
• Freedom of the Press Foundation
• National Newspaper Association
• The National Press Club
• National Press Photographers Association
• The New York Times Company
• The News Guild – CWA
• Newspaper Association of America
• North Jersey Media Group Inc.
• Radio Television Digital News Association
• The Seattle Times Company
• Stephens Media LLC
• Tribune Publishing Company
• Tully Center for Free Speech
• The Washington Post
The RCFP continued in their letter: “The utilization of news media as a cover for delivery of electronic surveillance software is unacceptable. 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.”
Ironically, the FBI have a program targeting teenagers called, “The FBI Teen Reporter’s Workshop” where “selected” high school students in New York are brought to the FBI field office to “learn about how the FBI interacts with the media. In addition to hearing about the overall mission of the FBI and the mission of the Office of Public Affairs, the teens have the opportunity to meet members of the media and to take photos with FBI equipment.”
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