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Seattle Times ‘Outraged’ at Method FBI Used to Catch Suspect: ‘Not Only Does That Cross a Line, It Erases It’


“The FBI’s actions, taken without our knowledge, traded on our reputation and put it at peril.”

Image source: Shutterstock

The Seattle Times reacted Monday night to a report revealing that the FBI used a phony webpage aimed at resembling the news outlet's website to plant software on the computer of an individual they suspected of making bomb threats to a school in 2007.

“We are outraged that the FBI, with the apparent assistance of the U.S. Attorney’s Office, misappropriated the name of The Seattle Times to secretly install spyware on the computer of a crime suspect,” Seattle Times Editor Kathy Best said in a statement.

Image source: Shutterstock Image source: Shutterstock

“Not only does that cross a line, it erases it,” she continued.

“Our 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 — from law enforcement, from government, from corporations and from all other special interests,” Best added. “The FBI’s actions, taken without our knowledge, traded on our reputation and put it at peril.”

[sharequote align="right"]“Not only does that cross a line, it erases it."[/sharequote]

The Electronic Frontier Foundation obtained documents revealing the FBI created a phony webpage with an Associated Press byline and "in the style of The Seattle Times" to lure an individual suspected of making bomb threats in 2007 to Lacey’s Timberline High School. Agents then planted software on his computer and tracked his location.

Christopher Soghoian, the principal technologist for the American Civil Liberties Union, told the Times the actions were "outrageous" and noted such actions could result in “significant collateral damage to the public trust” if law enforcement continues to mimic media outlets in sting operations.

The FBI, however, defended the actions their agents took.

“Every effort we made in this investigation had the goal of preventing a tragic event like what happened at Marysville and Seattle Pacific University,”Frank Montoya Jr., chief of the FBI in Seattle, told the Times. “We identified a specific subject of an investigation and used a technique that we deemed would be effective in preventing a possible act of violence in a school setting.

“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,” he added.

Follow Oliver Darcy (@oliverdarcy) on Twitter

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