The FBI admitted last week that it impersonated an Associated Press reporter to track down a suspect. The bureau’s director, James Comey, outlined the 2007 incident in a letter to The New York Times on Friday, attempting to provide a blanket defense for the FBI’s use of deception.
The FBI agent involved in the incident lied to the suspect — who was believed to be responsible for a string of bomb threats and cyberattacks on a high school — and asked him to review a purported AP article about the incident. After the suspect agreed and viewed the article, Comey says the FBI used legal means to find the suspect and eventually solve the case.
The AP’s executive editor and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press have since condemned the impersonation, but the FBI director defended it.
Comey’s letter used the incident as an anecdote showing how deception in the field can work. However, without dipping further into questionable law enforcement activities, it’s clear that this incident has had a chilling effect on news media.
The Associated Press is arguably the most trusted and respected news organization in the world. In many ways, it embodies what the “free press” is meant to be.
When the government feels it has the right to abuse an entity like the AP, it undermines the agency’s credibility and the integrity of journalism. If the FBI wants to seem as though it supports the First Amendment, it must apologize for this behavior and rethink some of its deceptive practices.