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Media Companies Blast the FBI After It Created Fake News Site To Catch Suspect

November 2, 2014  |  Posted by: Giovanni DePhillips
Media Companies Blast the FBI After It Created Fake News Site To Catch Suspect Image courtesy of nypost.com

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The FBI has come under scrutiny from media organizations after reports surfaced that it created a fake news website to track down a suspect in a bomb threat case.

Documents reveal that the FBI created a fake Associated Press news article that appeared to be published to be in the Seattle Times, in order to trick the suspect to install malware, which would enable them to locate the suspect’s whereabouts..

The incident took place in 2007, but the documents surfaced this week after a member of the American Civil Liberties Union tweeted a link to the case file on Monday.

“The FBI impersonating the press is just as irresponsible as the CIA running fake immunization programs. Completely unacceptable,” said ACLU researcher Christopher Soghoian in revealing the documents.

The news prompted an angry response from the Associated Press and Seattle Times.

“We are extremely concerned and find it unacceptable that the FBI misappropriated the name of The Associated Press and published a false story attributed to AP,” said Paul Colford, a spokesman for the news agency, said in a statement to AFP.

“This ploy violated AP’s name and undermined AP’s credibility.”

Seattle Times editor Kathy Best said the newspaper was “outraged” by the incident.

“Not only does that cross a line, it erases it,” she said in a statement in the daily.

The newspaper’s editorial board went further on Tuesday, saying the FBI action is an affront to a free press.

“The laudable end — conviction of a student making school bomb threats — does not justify the government’s outrageous disregard of the role of the press in a free society,” the editorial said.

“In fact, it utterly undermines that role at a time when media companies are struggling to remain strong in the face of government abuses over the last two presidential administrations.”

Information revealed that the FBI, in trying to locate the bomb threat suspect at a Seattle area high school, sent a link to the article to the suspect’s MySpace account.

By posting the article about the suspect, the Feds believed he would click on the link, which would have installed the malware to allow the agency to locate him.

The FBI maintains they did not use the name of the Seattle Times, even though the fake website resembled the newspaper.

In a written statement, FBI agent Frank Montoya said, :Every effort we made in this investigation had the goal of preventing a tragic event like what happened at Marysville and Seattle Pacific University.”

He added that this technique is used “in very rare circumstances and only when there is sufficient reason to believe it could be successful in resolving a threat. We were fortunate that information provided by the public gave us the opportunity to step in to a potentially dangerous situation before it was too late.”

Trevor Timm at the Freedom of the Press Foundation said the case raises questions about how frequently have federal law enforcement have actually used this tactic..

“How often have US law enforcement agencies impersonated news organizations to send malware to suspects?” Timm said in a blog post.

“What other news organizations have they pretended to be? And how do they prevent innocent readers from clicking on these malicious links? We call on the FBI and Justice Department to condemn this sleazy tactic and make sure the US government never again impersonates a news organization.”

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