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FBI Agent Posing As Journalist To Deliver Malware To Suspect Was Fine, Says DOJ (vice.com) 74

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Motherboard: In 2007, an FBI agent impersonated an Associated Press journalist in order to deliver malware to a criminal suspect and find out his location. According to a newly published report from the Department of Justice, the operation was in line with the FBI's undercover policies at the time. Journalistic organizations had expressed concern that the tactic could undermine reporters' and media institutions' credibility. The case concerned a Seattle teenager suspected of sending bomb threats against a local school. FBI Special Agent Mason Grant got in touch with the teen over email, pretending to be an AP journalist. After some back and forth, Grant sent the suspect a fake article which, when clicked, grabbed his real IP address. Armed with this information, the FBI identified and arrested the suspect. The Associated Press, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, and other journalistic organizations condemned the move. They pointed out that an FBI agent posing as a reporter could create distrust between legitimate journalists and sources, and also raised issues with the way the malware was distributed through a fake news story. The new Department of Justice report noted that, today, this activity would require greater authorization, under an interim policy on impersonating members of the media that was adopted by the FBI this June. Now, for the agency to pretend to be a journalist as part of an undercover operation, an application must be made by the head of an FBI field office to the agency's main headquarters, reviewed by the Undercover Review Committee, and then approved by the deputy director, after discussion with the deputy attorney general.
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FBI Agent Posing As Journalist To Deliver Malware To Suspect Was Fine, Says DOJ

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  • Intent (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday September 15, 2016 @05:32PM (#52896659)

    They pointed out that an FBI agent posing as a reporter could create distrust between legitimate journalists and sources...

    This is a feature.

    • by DaHat ( 247651 )

      And the fault of the Republicans apparently: http://money.cnn.com/2016/09/1... [cnn.com]

      • Which is ridiculous. The republican centric news sources are so ridiculous nobody with critical thinking skills believes in them. The D flavor spin actually tries to sound intelligent and appeal to people who've taken a critical thinking course, relying on logic and avoiding obvious logical fallacies and rhetoric.

        The D media dropped all pretense during the Sanders v Clinton thing right through the convention. Of course D and R are really just two faces of the same ruling party designed to keep us divided.
    • by AHuxley ( 892839 )
      Rewarming COINTELPRO https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/... [wikipedia.org]
      The techniques of dividing press and their contacts, whistleblowers.
      Freedom of the press is now just a cover to get access to domestic contacts, whistleblowers.
      Anyone wanting to contact the press now has doubts about their trackable research been found early on any computer before its ready for publication.
      The press now wonders what the next fake contact with a good story will push up on their computer, network and uncover all their contacts or unpu
  • Why do I think (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Why do I think that if he journalist impersonated an FBI agent, the DOJ's opinion would be very different?

    • by bill_mcgonigle ( 4333 ) * on Thursday September 15, 2016 @05:41PM (#52896705) Homepage Journal

      Why do I think that if he journalist impersonated an FBI agent, the DOJ's opinion would be very different?

      Rules are for thee, not for me. Back to work, subject.

      • Re:Why do I think (Score:4, Informative)

        by lars_stefan_axelsson ( 236283 ) on Friday September 16, 2016 @03:25AM (#52898801) Homepage

        Rules are for thee, not for me. Back to work, subject.

        That's a bit harsh IMHO. Impersonating a federal agent is a crime that has been on the books for a long time and with a substantial body of case law to support it. In this case, as a search was performed it's clearly illegal. (Interestingly it's not the impersonation as such that's a problem, otherwise it'd be difficult to make the X-files, but how you use it. Gaining anything of value, or performing a search are clearly out of bounds.)

        Note that this rule is there (mainly) to protect the public from fraudsters, not to protect the government.

        Journalists are, however, not a protected group in this sense. There are no laws on the books, and that's probably also for the best, lest every blogger in the land be hauled before the magistrate for "impersonating a journalist". So the lack of protection is arguably to the benefit of the freedom of the press.

        Now, impersonating a journalist for law enforcement purposes may be ill advised, no argument there, but but clearly not illegal. It's also noteworthy that the rules have since changed to make this practice less available.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        Your point was exactly what I was thinking! Hilarious!

        Imagine if a journalist called an FBI office with something like, "This is agent Smith, assistant to the director at the NE regional office. Just need to get that list of information we were promised yesterday pronto!"

        And if it worked, wonder if they could say it was in line with "fairly standard operating procedure at the time". He! He!

    • Re:Why do I think (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward on Thursday September 15, 2016 @05:42PM (#52896709)

      Because impersonating law enforcement is a crime and impersonating journalists isn't?

      • by mark-t ( 151149 )
        Wouldn't that be covered under identity theft laws? Or does financial damage have to occur for such laws to come into effect?
      • You're not answering the question. You're walking it back one step. Why is one a crime and the other not?

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Oh, and that's never happened. The myth here is the presumed high ethical code of journalism.

  • by Sowelu ( 713889 ) on Thursday September 15, 2016 @05:33PM (#52896669)

    That's not malware. That's basically any webserver ever made. There's even URL shorteners that can redirect somewhere while grabbing the IP address of someone who passes through. It's sneaky but not even remotely illegal for anyone.

    • Doesn't matter. If it's on your computer and doing something you don't want or didn't agree to, it's malware.
      • It wasn't on his computer (apparently). If you click on any link anywhere, the owner of the web server will get your IP address. That is how the internet works.
        • It wasn't on his computer (apparently).

          But how the hell would any of us know that when the journalists covering this story apparently get their information from packs of pudding?

          Grant sent the suspect a fake article which, when clicked, grabbed his real IP address.

          OK, so he clicked a fake article, and the fake article that he clicked grabbed his real IP address (not his fake IP address).

          or...

          When the suspect clicked on the link to the write up, thanks to software encrypted in the link, he unwittingly identified his location and he was arrested a short time later.

          OK, so apparently some software was "encrypted in the link", which identified his location.

          What the hell are these people talking about? Was the kid just surfing from home without a VPN or any other protection and then they checked the Apache

          • It's pretty obvious that you don't understand.

            FBI -> Gave URL of fake article to suspect.
            Suspect -> Clicked on URL.
            Web server hosting fake article logged IP address of requester , then sent article to suspect using the IP that was just logged.

            Note: ANY WEB SERVER WOULD HAVE DONE THE EXACT SAME THING. The FBI agent could have sent the URL of a real news article and on the log of that web server, the suspect's IP address would have been recorded. However, there would also have been a lot of other IP add

            • by rtb61 ( 674572 )

              No it is not about the software, it is about the fraudulent misrepresentation as being from a specific existing organisation that is criminal. Say for example, I pretend to be from your company, to engage with a violent crime gang. Now something goes wrong and that crime gang wants revenge. You and you employees have no idea what is going on, until a company picnic happens and that crime gang turns up for revenge, and shoot up you family and employees all without any warning, ha, ha, tough luck for you whil

              • You realize that the Supreme Court has ruled that law enforcement can legally lie to you. There was nothing criminal or fraudulent about the actions of the FBI. Contrary to your claims, undercover is not restricted to fake people or organizations, just precautions must be taken so that the claimed identity and organization is not blown by the actual person or organization.

                It is not illegal for the authorities to lie to you to get you to admit to a crime. They can't or lead you into an incriminating stat
            • It's pretty obvious that you don't understand.

              Oh, is it, professor? Thanks for briefly describing how a web server like Apache logs traffic. I'm pretty sure I included that in my comment, but I appreciate you pointing out that I don't understand and just saying it again.

              I'm glad that your level of communication is advanced enough that you can decipher what journalists mean when they say shit like "thanks to software encrypted in the link" and use "malware" distribution (even right in the headline!) to describe the normal operation of a web server.

              My

          • But how the hell would any of us know that when the journalists covering this story apparently get their information from packs of pudding?

            That is true of almost every news article everywhere.
            If we thought of that more often, we would argue less.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    "Journalistic organizations had expressed concern that the tactic could undermine reporters' and media institutions' credibility. "
    I think they do a good enough job of doing that themselves these days.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    I guess if they had any left they MIGHT have a case. But given the sorry state of Journalism in general I can't see that the FBI is doing anything to harm them than Journalists do to themselves today.

    Besides, why are these 'special snow-flakes' worth any more protection than say a Plumber, Electrician or other profession that needs 'integrity' as part of their selling feature...I'm sure the FBI 'impersonate' all kinds of professions all the time, I doubt anyone cares to worry about that.

    A specific Journalis

  • by Anonymous Coward

    "Journalistic organizations had expressed concern that the tactic could undermine reporters' and media institutions' credibility" and "They pointed out that an FBI agent posing as a reporter could create distrust between legitimate journalists and sources" are both hitting on exactly the reasons that the FBI chose this particular ruse over any of their other options. The FBI and the CIA both want it to be impossible for the press to do their job, because when independent investigation occurs then all of a s

    • Sorry, but the "Journalistic organizations" just told me that 78 degrees was "Sweltering" heat.

      Or, alternatively, lumping all "Journalistic Organizations" from the best to the worst, together as a singular unit, an representing that as totally wholesome, is at best very poor journalism ;)

  • undermined? (Score:4, Funny)

    by bloodhawk ( 813939 ) on Thursday September 15, 2016 @06:15PM (#52896845)
    "Journalistic organizations had expressed concern that the tactic could undermine reporters' and media institutions' credibility." Seriously? you have to have some credibility and integrity before it can be undermined.
    • Re:undermined? (Score:5, Informative)

      by reboot246 ( 623534 ) on Thursday September 15, 2016 @06:42PM (#52896995) Homepage
      Amen! The media has reached its lowest level of trust ever, according to the most recent poll.

      Anybody who blindly trusts any media outlet is beyond stupid.
    • And since when is it the job of the DoJ or any law enforcement agency or officer to consider the credibility of reporters as a whole or individually?

  • That's bad... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by darkpixel2k ( 623900 ) <aaron@heyaaron.com> on Thursday September 15, 2016 @09:03PM (#52897659) Homepage
    Don't do that.

    For the same reason why when the cops asked if they could 'borrow' our ambulance to serve a high-risk search warrant because they wanted to catch the suspect unaware...the suspects will start shooting real ambulances.
  • Now the AP cries fowl. Why weren't they speaking out against abuse of other reporters and news organizations?
  • Who cares about the journalist thing, that is the definition of going undercover. But you can't put on a girl scout uniform and bug my computer, install cameras, wiretap me, search (including digital searches), etc.
  • Contrast impersonating a news professional with impersonating a cable repair person:

    http://arstechnica.com/tech-po... [arstechnica.com]

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