FBI agent Norman Sanders posed as an Associated Press journalist to learn the identity of a teenage hacker in 2007 in Washington state. The boy confessed and was sentenced to 90 days in a juvenile detention center. How often do FBI agents impersonate members of the news media? “Journalists play a very similar role to doctors in our society in that we trust them,” says Christopher Soghoian, former chief technologist at the American Civil Liberties Union. “And without trust they cannot operate.” A federal judge has rejected a lawsuit by The Associated Press and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press demanding more detail from the FBI about the practice of posing as journalists. The two media organizations are appealing, the Associated Press reports.
The AP has drawn on hundreds of pages of records and interviews with a dozen people to piece together the story of how the teen in Lacey, Wa., prompted a confrontation between the Justice Department and the media. Using hijacked servers in Europe, the teen emailed grandiose, profane bomb threats to teachers and administrators at Timberline High, forcing repeated evacuations at the 1,500-student school. It was then that a supposed AP writer emailed the teen for comment on the threats, promising anonymity. He agreed to chat, and agents learned his internet protocol address. Six hours later, police were at his door. A decade later, “AP is calling for the release of all FBI documents related to the impersonation of any and all journalists in order to make the public aware of this deceptive practice and its breadth,” said Executive Editor Sally Buzbee.