The FBI used photos of female staffers without permission in sexual predator stings, federal watchdog says

FBI
The FBI seal hangs in the Flag Room at the bureau’s headquarters. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
  • The FBI used photographs of female staffers without their permission in sexual predator stings, according to the OIG.
  • The special agent responsible did not record which sites the images were posted to.
  • The FBI said it does not know if the photos are still online or how many times they have been distributed or downloaded.
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An FBI agent repeatedly used photos of female staffers without their permission in undercover sex trafficking operations, according to a recently published memo from the Office of the Inspector General.

The office said investigators had identified “concerns” over photographs of female staffers who are not certified undercover employees or certified online covert employees being used in online undercover investigations. The memo says the women’s photos were posted by “an FBI Special Agent,” suggesting the action was only done by one person.

“The SA [special agent] 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,” the memo says.

While the faces of the staffers were blurred, the OIG says in the memo the staffers never consented to their photos posted online. Without knowing which sites the images are on, the FBI said that it does not know if the staffers’ photos are still online or how many times they were “downloaded, copied, or further disseminated.”

The memo also notes that the special agent asked an FBI support staff employee to send “provocative pictures of herself” for online undercover operations.

When confronted about posting the images without consent, the special agent told investigators that he was “fishing” on social media sites with the photos but never recorded which websites he used the images on. It’s not immediately clear if this was related to “phishing,” a term meaning an online scam where someone impersonates a person or vendor to receive sensitive and private information.

The inspector general’s office concludes that there is “potential” for consequences if no policy is implemented to prevent photos of non-certified covert officers in undercover operations. In response to the memo, the FBI said that it will draft a new policy “in the coming weeks.”