On Monday, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press argued before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit in a case where the Reporters Committee and the Associated Press are seeking records related to the FBI’s impersonation of journalists. In her argument, Reporters Committee Litigation Director Katie Townsend challenged the thoroughness of the FBI’s search for records related to the impersonation practices and asked that the case be sent back to the district court with instructions to direct the FBI to conduct a more extensive search.
“The FBI deliberately avoided searching locations where relevant records were likely to be found, thereby shielding them from public scrutiny,” said Katie Townsend, litigation director for the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, following the argument. “This was an overly narrow search and the public has a right to more information about this practice and how often it’s used.”
For just the second time, the court granted approval to broadcast audio of the arguments live. You can listen to a recording of the argument here.
The case centers around information that revealed that during the course of a 2007 investigation, the FBI impersonated an Associated Press journalist and sent a link to what appeared to be an Associated Press news article in order to deliver malicious computer software to a juvenile who was suspected of sending bomb threats to his school in Washington state. The Associated Press and the Reporters Committee are seeking records to determine how often the FBI uses this tactic, and sued the FBI under the Freedom of Information Act. The case is on appeal.
In a separate case, the Reporters Committee is also suing the FBI for records related to its impersonation of documentary filmmakers after it was revealed in court that, over the course of its investigation into an armed standoff between the Bureau of Land Management and supporters of cattle rancher Cliven Bundy, FBI agents posed as filmmakers in order to interview suspects and used “professional credentials, websites and business cards” to lend their fake documentary film company – Longbow Productions – the appearance of authenticity.
“The practice of impersonating reporters and filmmakers seriously undermines the credibility and independence of those who are trying to bring news and information to the public,” said Townsend. “It also threatens the public’s willingness to share information with journalists. We’re bringing these lawsuits because the public has a right under the law to information about what its government is doing.”