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Senator Leahy Criticizes FBI For Creating Fake News Story

The letter comes after agents created a fake Associated Press article to nab a suspected school bomber in Seattle in 2007. This is the latest in a series of incidents in which cops have been criticized for pretending to be someone else.

Last updated on July 3, 2018, at 12:58 p.m. ET

Posted on October 30, 2014, at 5:08 p.m. ET

United States Attorney General Eric Holder, left, and Senator Patrick Leahy, right.
Gary Cameron / Reuters

United States Attorney General Eric Holder, left, and Senator Patrick Leahy, right.

UPDATE — Friday 12:30 p.m.

The Associated Press sent its own letter to Attorney General Holder "to protest in the strongest possible terms the FBI's fabrication and publication of a fake Associated Press news story."

The letter is signed by Karen Kaiser, the news agency's general counsel, and asks the Department of Justice to reveal whether federal agents have impersonated the press in other situations.

Read the whole letter here.

Senator Patrick Leahy isn't happy with feds pretending to be journalists online — even if they are going after dangerous suspects.

On Thursday, the Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee sent a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder asking him to review "all techniques involving federal law enforcement officials impersonating others without their consent."

Leahy's letter comes just days after the American Civil Liberties Union revealed that agents with the Federal Bureau of Investigation created a fake Associated Press article, as part of a 2007 operation to catch a potential school bomber.

A high school in Washington State had received bomb threats; the FBI created the fake article to lure a teenage suspect into unknowingly downloading software that allowed the bureau to trace his computer activity. The operation resulted in the arrest and conviction of a juvenile suspect, the Seattle Times reported.

Still, Sen. Leahy raised questions about the bureau's techniques.

"Such tactics carry legal and ethical risks," Leahy wrote in the letter. "When law enforcement appropriates the identity of legitimate media institutions, it not only raises questions of copyright and trademark infringement but also potentially undermines the integrity and credibility of an independent press."

A spokesman with the FBI's national headquarters said that the bureau generally does not comment on correspondence with lawmakers. In a statement issued earlier this week after the AP incident became public, the bureau's Seattle Division said that its agents only impersonate others when not doing so could put people in danger.

"Use of that type of technique happens in very rare circumstances and only when there is sufficient reason to believe it could be successful in resolving a threat," Special Agent in Charge Frank Montoya said in the statement. "We were fortunate that information provided by the public gave us the opportunity to step into a potentially dangerous situation before it was too late.'

The AP told BuzzFeed News that the news agency was also corresponding with government officials about the incident.

"We at The Associated Press have raised our own concerns about this matter directly with the Justice Department," said spokesman Paul Colford.

The office of Attorney General Holder did not return requests for comment.

The incident with the AP is just the last one in a recent string of cases in which federal law enforcement agents have impersonated people or institutions to obtain information.

Earlier this month, BuzzFeed News' Chris Hamby revealed that the Drug Enforcement Administration created a fake Facebook profile under the name of a cooperating witness. Agents used the profile to communicate with suspects and gather information, going as far as posting intimate pictures of the witness — without her permission.

This week, attorneys for a Malaysian poker player (and alleged triad member) asked a Las Vegas judge to suppress evidence that FBI agents gathered by shutting down the defendant's Internet access — and then gaining access to his hotel room by dressing up as technicians.

Read Sen. Leahy's full letter here.