SEATTLE (CBS SEATTLE) – The Seattle Times said the paper is “outraged” to learn that the FBI created a fake news story on a “bogus” web page in order to plant tracking software in the computer of a bomb threat suspect.
The FBI fabricated a story to look like a news piece with an Associated Press byline about bomb threats against Lacey’s Timberline High School in 2007, according to documents obtained by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and revealed by the ACLU on Monday. The FBI also created a fake email link “in the style of the Seattle Times” including details about subscriber and advertiser information. This link was then sent to the suspect’s MySpace account.
When the suspect clicked on the bogus link, the hidden FBI software forwarded his location and Internet Protocol information to bureau agents. The juvenile suspect was identified and arrested on June 14 of 2007.
But Times Editor Kathy Best ridiculed the FBI’s investigative tactics, saying “not only does that cross a line, it erases it,” in a statement.
“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 Best.
She continued: “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. The FBI’s actions, taken without our knowledge, traded on our reputation and put it at peril.”
The documents detailing the FBI’s investigation to lure out the juvenile bomb threat suspect were obtained by the EFF in San Francisco and then publicized via Twitter on Monday by Christopher Soghoian, the principal technologist for the American Civil Liberties Union in Washington, D.C.
The 172 pages of documents released by the FBI show their software tool called a “Computer and Internet Protocol Address Verifier” (CIPAV) in two cases, with one being the Timberline High School bomb threats. The documents show how the FBI is able to “geophysically” locate a computer and track its Internet Protocal address.
According to Soghoian, the software was activated by the suspect when they clicked on the bogus link – a tactic similar to that used by hackers.
But Frank Montoya Jr., the special agent in charge of the FBI in Seattle during the case, defended the investigation techniques, which 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 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.”
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