A Department of Justice Office of the Inspector General report found that FBI special agents asked female support staff employees to provide photos for online undercover operations without any oversight. One special agent used the photographs of female employees to pose as underage girls without informing their supervisors and without documenting which sites the photos were uploaded to, according to the report.
“During the course of our investigation, the OIG learned that SAs [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,” the report read. “The SA who was the subject of the OIG’s investigation 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.”
According to the report, one special agent “was alleged to have engaged in an inappropriate relationship with an FBI support staff employee that included the FBI SA requesting the support staff employee provide him with provocative pictures of herself for online UC operations.”
The FBI’s guidelines stipulate that certified undercover employees (UCE) and certified online covert employees (OCE) have “various approval and documentation requirements and extensive certification requirements” for undercover operations. No such policy is in place for use of photographs for non-UCE/OCE employees, meaning there is no requirement for informed written consent, supervisor approval, or even supervisor notification to protect non-UCE/OCE employee photographs.
“The SA said he was ‘fishing’ on social media sites but not recording which sites he used,” the report found. “The SA did not inform the support staff employees’ supervisors that the employees were involved in UC operations, and the SA advised the support staff employees who provided photographs to not tell anyone, including their supervisors, about the UC operation.”
Furthermore, according to the report, the FBI was unable to produce documentation of whether the photographs are still on websites, and the amount of time the photographs were online — posing a safety risk for the employees whose photos might still be available for download and distribution.
“The OIG believes that this conduct poses potential adverse consequences for non-UCE/OCE employees participating in UC operations, including potentially placing them in danger of becoming the victims of criminal offenses,” the report stated.
The Office of the Inspector General advised the FBI to enact a policy to protect non-UCE/OCE employees in the future, including obtaining informed written consent and recording which employee photographs are used and the dates, times, and locations they are posted.