An undercover FBI agent who impersonated a journalist to find out who was making bomb threats to a high school near Seattle did not violate federal policy, the Justice Department inspector general says. Since the 2007 incident, the policy has been stiffened but could still allow such a ploy, NPR reports. When police in Washington state couldn’t identify a suspect who sent threatening emails to Timberline High School, FBI agents posing as an Associated Press editor used spyware to snare a 15-year-old student.
The AP said it’s “deeply disappointed” with the Justice Department conclusions. New FBI rules require DOJ higher-ups to approve an operation in which agents plan to impersonate journalists. The inspector general said it wasn’t until the office was finalizing its report this June that “the FBI adopted a much more strict interim policy that makes it clear that FBI agents are prohibited from impersonating journalists unless they obtain a series of special approvals.” The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press said it was “deeply troubled” by the report’s finding that “the FBI believes that there is a place in this country for federal agents to impersonate journalists. Such a policy can seriously damage both the public’s trust in its free press and the ability of journalists to hold government accountable.”