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Journalists complain to FBI over informant posing as reporter

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Journalists complain to FBI over informant posing as reporter09/23/96 WASHINGTON--A former publisher of a weekly Spokane newspaper and the Society…

Journalists complain to FBI over informant posing as reporter

09/23/96

WASHINGTON–A former publisher of a weekly Spokane newspaper and the Society of Professional Journalists complained to the FBI in early August for allowing an agency informant to pose as a reporter during the investigation of a case in late 1995.

According to articles in The (Spokane) Spokesman-Review, David Elton III posed as a reporter from The (Spokane) Valley Herald while he was interviewing James Marks, a local leader of a Gypsy community, for the FBI. Marks was being investigated by the FBI for intimidating witnesses that sided with the city of Spokane in a civil rights case concerning a 1986 police raid of Marks’ home. Elton tape recorded his conversations with Marks and gave them to the agency.

U.S. Attorney Jim Connelly confirmed the FBI used Elton in the Marks case, according to the Spokesman-Review. The FBI has not made an official statement as to whether the agency knew Elton was posing as a journalist. Roberta Burroughs, an FBI spokesperson, said the FBI refused to comment on the incident, but added, “We do not direct FBI informants or agents to act as the media.”

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 told the American Society of Newspaper Editors in early 1995 that she was considering a request to create guidelines barring FBI and other federal agents from posing as journalists, according to an Editor & Publisher article. However, no action has been taken since then, according to the Justice Department.

Clark Hager, publisher of The Valley Herald at the time Elton posed as a journalist, wrote a letter to the FBI demanding an apology for allowing an informant to say he was a reporter from Hager’s paper. Hager stated that he was “highly incensed” by the FBI’s use of The Valley Herald and its reputation during an investigation.