Criminal Justice

FBI director: Agent's fake claim to be AP reporter ‘appropriate’; news agency outraged

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FBI Director James Comey

FBI Director James Comey

The FBI did not only plant a fake Associated Press article on the MySpace page of a teenage suspect in a high school bomb-threats case: An agent pretended to be an AP reporter in discussing the article with the suspect during a 2007 investigation.

FBI Director James Comey defended the technique in a Thursday letter to the New York Times, saying that the agent had not violated any policy and that the ruse, which tricked only the suspect, resulted in the teen’s arrest, the Associated Press reports.

“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.

The news agency called the deceptive tactics “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,” the AP’s executive director, Kathleen Carroll, said in a written statement.

In a Thursday letter to Comey and Holder, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press also decried the tactics, CNN reports.

“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,” the committee wrote. “It undermines media organizations’ ability to independently report on law enforcement. It lends itself to the appearance that media organizations are compelled to speak on behalf of the government.”

Related coverage: “FBI faked Associated Press news story to identify teen suspect in high school bomb-threats case”

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