The Associated Press recently filed a lawsuit against the FBI to seek more information about a program through which the agency created fake news stories.
The full extent of the program is unknown, but in 2007, the AP was tipped off that the FBI created a fake news story using their heading in a scheme to plant malware on the computer of a bomb threat suspect (since this was just the suspect in the case of a threat, it is likely that more elaborate fake news schemes are used for different situations).
The suspect was a Washington State high school student who was later sentenced to 90 days probation, expelled from school, and fined nearly $9,000. He was also barred from using mobile phones, playing video games, and using the internet for two years.
After the discovery that the FBI masqueraded as the news organization, the AP filed a Freedom of Information Act request in 2014 in the hopes of obtaining more information on the bureau’s involvement in creating fake news stories.
The AP also wants to know how many times this type of plot was used, especially in its name. When the FBI attempted to stall and say that it would not be able to provide any information for many years, the AP filed the current lawsuit in an attempt to force the issue.
“By this action, Plaintiffs seek to compel the Department of Justice (‘DOJ’) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (‘FBI’) (collectively, ‘Defendants’) to comply with their obligations under FOIA to release requested records concerning the FBI’s practice of impersonating members of the news media, including the AP, in order to deliver surveillance software to targets of criminal investigations.
“Plaintiffs are statutorily entitled to disclosure of these records, which they seek so that they may inform the public about the nature and extent of the FBI’s impersonation of journalists and news organizations.
“Defendants have improperly withheld the records requested by Plaintiffs in violation of the law and in opposition to the public’s strong interest in obtaining information regarding a law enforcement practice that undermines both the credibility and independence of the news media.”
After the story first broke, AP General Counsel Karen Kaiser wrote in a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder that:
“The FBI both misappropriated the trusted name of The Associated Press and created a situation where our credibility could have been undermined on a large scale.”
The FBI was quick to concede that it was responsible for the fake story. In a New York Times column, FBI Director James Comey admitted that:
“We do use deception at times to catch crooks, but we are acting responsibly and legally.”
Comey went on to proudly admit that in addition to creating a fake news story, the FBI also impersonated an Associated Press employee.