The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press has teamed up with the Associated Press and gone to court to get records from the Justice Department and FBI about the FBI's planting of a fake AP news story to get a criminal suspect to download surveillance software.
The suit argues that AP and the committee are entitled to the records so they can inform the public to the extent of the FBI's impersonation of journalists and news organizations.
"Defendants have improperly withheld the records requested by Plaintiffs in violation of the law and in opposition to the public’s strong interest in obtaining information regarding a law enforcement practice that undermines both the credibility and independence of the news media," the suit claimed.
After the operation was revealed in 2014 thanks to a FOIA request from the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the committee and more than two dozen news outlets wrote then Attorney General Eric Holder and the FBI director calling it "unacceptable" and AP and the committee submitted FOIA requests none of which documents were turned over.
In November 2014, in a New York Times op ed, FBI Director James Comey revealed an undercover agent had impersonated an AP reporter in order to approach the suspect and said it was not improper conduct, AP pointed out, adding that Comey had not ruled out a similar ruse in the future.
"We cannot overstate how damaging it is for federal agents to pose as journalists," said Reporters Committee litigation director Katie Townsend in announcing the lawsuit. “This practice undermines the credibility of the independent news media, and should not be tolerated. Yet while the public clearly has a strong, compelling interest in knowing more about the FBI’s use of this tactic, the FBI seems determined to withhold that information. We have been left with no choice but to look to the court for relief."
AP says that when it asked for documents on how many times the FBI had impersonated media organizations in order to plant malicious software, the FBI told them it could take two years to produce the documents. AP and the committee want the court to order the FBI to hand over the records.
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