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FBI agents pose as photojournalists to monitor protesters

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    NMU         IDAHO         Newsgathering         Sep 14, 2000    

FBI agents pose as photojournalists to monitor protesters

  • The sheriff’s department had given seven FBI agents media credentials so they could blend in as they monitored demonstrators at a trial, but the passes were revoked after news photographers protested.

Seven FBI agents posed as news photographers in late August to monitor protesters at a civil trial of a neo-Nazi group until other news photographers complained to the sheriff, who had knowingly given the agents press passes, according to a Reuters report.

“I didn’t think it was going to that big an issue,” Capt. Ben Wolfinger of the Kootenai County Sheriff’s department told Reuters. “So we have revoked those passes and are taking them as they are showing up today.” Wolfinger said he had not hesitated to issue the media passes to the agents, whom he said were trying to blend in with the media so they could photograph protesters without causing an incident.

Under Attorney General guidelines established in 1992, FBI agents can be authorized to pose as journalists under limited circumstances and with prior approval from supervisors. Attorney General Janet Reno announced in early 1995 that she was considering a request to create guidelines barring FBI and other federal agents from posing as journalists, but no action has been taken since then, according to the Justice Department.

The protesters, who are reportedly few, are demonstrating against the Southern Poverty Law Center’s civil suit against the Aryan Nation on behalf of a mother and son who were assaulted by armed guards after driving past the group’s compound. They said their car backfired, and the guards, thinking they had been shot at, chased them. Two guards were sentenced to prison for the attack.

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