Even the FBI Agrees: When Undercover Agents Pose as Journalists, It Hurts Real Journalists' Work

Aaronson, Trevor
Date Written:  2018-08-07
Publisher:  The Intercept
Year Published:  2018
Resource Type:  Article
Cx Number:  CX22843

The FBI doesn't want the public to know more about how its agents pose as journalists during undercover investigations.The government acknowledged in a court filing that FBI agents who pretend to be journalists create a chilling effect, making it harder for real journalists to gain trust and cooperation from sources.



The astonishing admission came as the FBI attempted to fend off litigation from Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, which has filed requests for documents under the Freedom of Information Act.

The Reporters Committee's litigation involves documents related to an FBI undercover operation in which agents posed as documentary filmmakers from a fake company called Longbow Productions to investigate Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy and his supporters. In response to the Reporters Committee's records request, the FBI issued a Glomar response - in which the agency neither confirms nor denies that it possesses records relevant to the FOIA request.

CONCERNS ABOUT THE FBI practice gained momentum in 2014, when bureau officials reported that agents had pretended to be an Associated Press journalist seven years earlier. In June 2007, a 15-year-old high school student near Seattle emailed bomb threats to his school, causing daily evacuations of the building. FBI agents investigating the threats were unable to track the student due to his use of proxy servers. Hiding behind their cover as an AP journalist, agents emailed the student links to a fake news article and photographs that surreptitiously installed a tracking program.

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