The FBI in Seattle created a fake news story on a bogus Seattle Times web page to plant software in the computer of a suspect in a series of bomb threats to Laceyâ€™s Timberline High School in 2007, according to documents obtained by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) in San Francisco.
The deception was publicized Monday when Christopher Soghoian, the principal technologist for the American Civil Liberties Union in Washington, D.C., revealed it on Twitter.
In an interview, Soghoian called the incident â€œoutrageousâ€ and said the practice could result in â€œsignificant collateral damage to the public trustâ€ if law enforcement begins co-opting the media for its purposes.
The EFF documents reveal that the FBI dummied up a story with an Associated Press byline about the Thurston County bomb threats with an email link â€œin the style of The Seattle Times,â€ including details about subscriber and advertiser information.
The link was sent to the suspectâ€™s MySpace account. When the suspect clicked on the link, the hidden FBI software sent his location and Internet Protocol information to the agents. A juvenile suspect was identified and arrested June 14.
The revelation brought a sharp response from the newspaper.
â€œWe are outraged that the FBI, with the apparent assistance of the U.S. Attorneyâ€™s Office, misappropriated the name of The Seattle Times to secretly install spyware on the computer of a crime suspect,â€ said Seattle Times Editor Kathy Best.
â€œNot only does that cross a line, it erases it,â€ she said.
â€œOur reputation and our ability to do our job as a government watchdog are based on trust. Nothing is more fundamental to that trust than our independence â€” from law enforcement, from government, from corporations and from all other special interests,â€ Best said. â€œThe FBIâ€™s actions, taken without our knowledge, traded on our reputation and put it at peril.â€
An AP spokesman also criticized the tactic.
â€œWe 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,â€ Paul Colford, director of AP media relations. â€œThis ploy violated APâ€™s name and undermined APâ€™s credibility.â€
Before we jump all over the FBI, it happens more than you think and has similar things happened recently in Saskatoon with false news stories planted in the media. Â That and the Seattle Times got itâ€™s outrage wrong. Â You donâ€™t need spyware to get an I.P. address.