WASHINGTON ― In 2007, the FBI published fake Associated Press articles and impersonated an AP reporter in emails meant to help unmask a hoaxer who was sending bomb threats to a high school in Washington state. But the agency didn’t do a particularly credible job, even failing to follow AP Style.
A new report by the Justice Department’s inspector general focuses on the FBI’s decision to create a fake news article with an Associated Press byline titled, “Bomb threat at high school downplayed by local police department.” Opening the article would be used to put a tracking program on the computer of the hoaxer who sent the threat, and agents planned to use that to identify his location.
Using the name “Norm Weatherill,” an FBI agent identified himself as an “AP Staff Publisher” in emails that were sent to the suspect’s MySpace account and included the link to the computer program developed to track him down. In one email, the agent capitalized the term “staff writer.” In another, the agent capitalized the word “press” and even the phrase “school meeting,” for some reason.
“Disappointed that I did not get a response from my ‘anonymous’ interview request,” the agent wrote in the email. “The article was not published in today’s papers, but my Staff Writer drafted an updated version and we left blanks if you would like to comment.”