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Department Of Justice Sued For Fake News Story

The Justice Department building in Washington, D.C. on Thursday, Aug. 27, 2015.
Susan Walsh

The Associated Press has filed a lawsuit against the DOJ related to a 2007 sting operation in which the FBI created a fake AP news story and an agent impersonated a journalist. The FBI was trying to apprehend a teenage suspect in several bomb threats in Washington state.

According to the complaint, the FBI sent the 15-year-old suspect a link to the fake story. Once clicked, the link allowed the FBI to install malware on the suspect's computer, revealing a location and internet address. The sting eventually led to the suspect's arrest.

In the suit, the AP and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press (RCFP) are asking the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia to require the FBI to hand over records of the 2007 "fake news story" operation. Both organizations say they requested the records when they first learned of the sting under the Freedom of Information Act but have yet to receive anything.

In a press release, RCFP Litigation Director Katie Townsend says the FBI has left them "no choice but to look to the court for relief."

"We cannot overstate how damaging it is for federal agents to pose as journalists. This practice undermines the credibility of the independent news media, and should not be tolerated."

We previously reported on this news "spoof." NPR's Martin Kaste wrote that federal documents obtained in October 2014 by the Electronic Frontier Foundation led to discovery of the operation.

"The fake article described a rash of bomb threats at a Washington state high school, and the link was sent via MySpace to a juvenile suspected of making those threats. The boy was later arrested.

" The AP says its name was 'misappropriated,' and calls the ploy 'unacceptable.'

" The Seattle Times has also expressed its outrage, though it's not clear it has the same grounds to object. The paper initially reported today that the FBI had created a 'fake Seattle Times web page,' but the FBI says it never used the paper's name."

FBI director James Comey defended the operation in a November 6, 2014, letter to The New York Times.Comey said no article was actually published and "only the suspect was fooled."

"Every undercover operation involves 'deception,' which has long been a critical tool in fighting crime. The F.B.I.'s use of such techniques is subject to close oversight, both internally and by the courts that review our work."

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Lauren Hodges is an associate producer for All Things Considered. She joined the show in 2018 after seven years in the NPR newsroom as a producer and editor. She doesn't mindthat you used her pens, she just likes them a certain way and asks that you put them back the way you found them, thanks. Despite years working on interviews with notable politicians, public figures, and celebrities for NPR, Hodges completely lost her cool when she heard RuPaul's voice and was told to sit quietly in a corner during the rest of the interview. She promises to do better next time.
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