To catch a 15-year-old accused of sending bomb threats to a local high school, the FBI emailed the teen a fake Seattle Times article on a counterfeit Seattle Times website that linked to location-tracking malware, according to documents obtained by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF).
The EFF documents reveal that the FBI dummied up a story with an Associated Press byline about the Thurston County bomb threats with an email link "in the style of The Seattle Times," including details about subscriber and advertiser information.
The link was sent to the suspect's MySpace account. When the suspect clicked on the link, the hidden FBI software sent his location and Internet Protocol information to the agents. A juvenile suspect was identified and arrested June 14.
As you would expect, the Seattle Times is furious about the FBI's misrepresentation of the paper.
"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," Seattle Times Editor Kathy Best said in a statement. "Not only does that cross a line, it erases it."
From Best's statement:
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."
Christopher Soghoian, the principal technologist for the American Civil Liberties Union in Washington, D.C., described the FBI's tactic as "outrageous."
"The ends don't justify the means," he told The Stranger. "I'm not saying that the FBI shouldn't be investigating people who threaten to bomb schools. But impersonating the media is a really dangerous line to cross.
"Every effort we made in this investigation had the goal of preventing a tragic event like what happened at Marysville and Seattle Pacific University," Frank Montoya Jr., the special agent in charge of the FBI in Seattle, told the Seattle Times. "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."
The 15-year-old was convicted of sending bomb threats to a high school near Olympia and sentenced to 90 days in juvenile detention. He was also ordered to pay $8,852 in compensation to the school and barred from using computers, video games, or cell phones for two years, according to Ars Technica.