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Mainstream media web links used by FBI to plant spyware on citizens' computers


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(NaturalNews) Critics of the tactic say it is just another reason for Americans not to trust mainstream media websites after learning that the FBI has recently used an underhanded tactic to nab a suspect.

According to The Seattle Times, Federal Bureau of Investigation techies and agents set up a phony Times website-based news story in order to arrest a bomb threat suspect. The site reports:

The FBI in Seattle created a fake news story on a bogus Seattle Times web page to plant software in the computer of a suspect in a series of bomb threats to Lacey's Timberline High School in 2007, according to documents obtained by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) in San Francisco.

The deception was publicized
[recently] when Christopher Soghoian, the principal technologist for the American Civil Liberties Union in Washington, D.C., revealed it on Twitter.

Soghoian described the incident as "outrageous" in an interview with the Times, adding that the practice has the potential to cause "significant collateral damage to the public trust," especially if police and federal law enforcement agencies begin to co-opt online media for their own purposes.

The documents note that the FBI created a fictional story of the Thurston County bomb threats using an Associated Press (AP) byline. The fake story contained an email link "in the style of The Seattle Times," including subscriber and advertiser details.

'We are outraged'

The link was sent to the suspect's MySpace account and, when the suspect clicked on it, hidden FBI software transmitted his location and Internet Protocol data to waiting agents, who then identified and arrested a juvenile suspect June 14.

As you might imagine, the tactic earned the FBI a strong rebuke from the newspaper.

"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 Kathy Best, the paper's editor.

"Not only does that cross a line, it erases it," she added.

"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."

And, of course, the AP also criticized the use of its byline in the operation.

"We are extremely concerned and find it unacceptable that the FBI misappropriated the name of The Associated Press and published a false story attributed to AP," said Paul Colford, director of AP media relations. "This ploy violated AP's name and undermined AP's credibility."

FBI justifies

Perhaps the worst part, though, is the fact that the FBI defended its highly legally questionable tactic. The FBI special agent in charge in Seattle, Frank Montoya, Jr., pointed to the successful arrest and conviction of a 15-year-old student in the case.

"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 said. "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 added.

And Ayn Dietrich-Williams, a Seattle FBI spokeswoman, tried to further justify the tactic by explaining that the agency did not use a "real Seattle Times article, but material generated by the FBI in styles common in reporting and online media."

Oh. Well, that's different.

The Times reported that Tessa Gorman, assistant U.S. attorney and chief of the criminal division, had no immediate comment but was reviewing the EFF materials. The federal prosecutor who oversaw the case, Kathryn Warma, has since retired from the Justice Department.





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