On Monday, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press filed a lawsuit against the Department of Justice and the Federal Bureau of Investigation after the agency failed to act on a Freedom of Information request for records about the FBI’s impersonation of documentary filmmakers.
The complaint stems from a request under the Freedom of Information Act filed in April for records of the FBI’s policies and practices concerning the impersonation of documentary filmmakers and/or documentary film crews, including records of any changes to those policies and practices, and of particular instances of FBI impersonation of documentary filmmakers.
RCFP’s request was made 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 FBI’s impersonation of journalists and documentary filmmakers undermines the credibility and independence of those who are trying to report on matters of importance to the public,” said Katie Townsend, litigation director for the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. “The public deserves to know more about the FBI’s use of this tactic, and has a right to this information under the law, but the FBI seems determined to evade disclosure. We’re asking the court to step in and compel the agency to release these records.”
In 2014, it came to light that FBI agents had posed as an Associated Press journalist in connection with a 2007 investigation of a juvenile suspect in Washington. The Reporters Committee and AP sued the Department of Justice and the FBI for records related to that incident and its practice of impersonating members of the news media. That case is currently on appeal.