Seattle Times ‘outraged’ that FBI created fake story on bogus Times Web page to catch suspect
SEATTLE — The Seattle Times said Monday night it was “outraged” to learn that the FBI in Seattle created a fake news story on a bogus Seattle Times Web page to plant software in the computer of a bomb-threat suspect in order to track him down.
The FBI deception took place in 2007, according to documents obtained by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) in San Francisco.
The Times said 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.
The EFF documents reveal that the FBI dummied up a story with an Associated Press byline about bomb threats made against Lacey’s Timberline High School with an email link “in the style of The Seattle Times,” including details about subscriber and advertiser information.
According to the Times, the link was sent to the suspect’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.
“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,” said Seattle Times Editor Kathy Best.
“Not only does that cross a line, it erases it,” she said.
“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 said. “The FBI’s actions, taken without our knowledge, traded on our reputation and put it at peril.”
According to the Times, Frank Montoya Jr., the special agent in charge of the FBI in Seattle, defended the investigation and the technique, which court records show led to the arrest and conviction of a 15-year-old student.
“Every effort we made in this investigation had the goal of preventing a tragic event like what happened at Marysville and Seattle Pacific University,” Montoya 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 said.
Ayn Dietrich-Williams, the spokeswoman for the FBI-Seattle, pointed out that the bureau did not use a “real Seattle Times article, but material generated by the FBI in styles common in reporting and online media.”