The Department of Justice Office of the Inspector General notified the FBI about concerns regarding photos of female support staff used in sexual predator stings without receiving permission or documenting actions.
Inspector General Michael Horowitz on Friday sent a memorandum to FBI Director Christopher Wray following an investigation into a special agent requesting a support staff employee to provide provocative photos of herself for undercover operations.
The special agent and support staff member were said to have "engaged in an inappropriate relationship."
"During the course of our investigation, the OIG learned that [special agents] sometimes used photographs of young female support staff employees to pose as minor children or sex workers to entice sexual predators on various social media websites," Horowitz's memorandum said. "These employees were not certified [undercover agents] or [certified online covert employees]."
The memorandum said the discovered conduct poses potential adverse consequences for non-undercover and noncertified online covert employees participating in undercover operations, potentially placing them in danger of becoming victims themselves.
The photos in question showed employees wearing clothes and with their faces blurred, however the special agent did not "document which employees were used, obtain written consent from the employees, document the websites on which the photographs were posted, or document when the photographs were posted."
The investigation found that the special agent advised the support staff employees who provided photographs to not tell anyone, and did not inform support staff supervisors that staff members were involved in the operations.
Neither the special agent nor the agent's supervisors could provide investigators with documentation regarding how the photographs were obtained or used.
"Additionally, the FBI had no documentation or information regarding whether the photographs still appear on the websites or how long the photographs appeared on the websites," the memorandum said, "during which time the photographs could have been —and potentially could still be — downloaded, copied, or further disseminated."
The FBI Inspections Division advised the OIG that the FBI did not have a policy concerning the use of photographs of agency employees who are not certified for undercover or covert operations.
In the memorandum, Horowitz recommended that the FBI implement a policy concerning the use of such photographs. If that policy allows the use of photographs of agency employees, the following should be stipulated:
- Management notification and approval of the use of photographs of FBI employees for online undercover operations.
- Guidelines regarding the appearance of FBI employees in photographs used in online undercover operations.
- Documentation regarding the use of photographs of FBI employees in online undercover operations, including which photographs are used, the websites on which they are posted, and the dates and times of postings.
- Written consent from FBI employees appearing in photographs for online undercover operations.
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