Watchdog: FBI's use of support staff's images in sex-trafficking stings could be dangerous

Watchdog: FBI's use of support staff's images in sex-trafficking stings could be dangerous
© Greg Nash

The FBI has agreed to limit the practice of using photos of young female staffers who are not undercover agents in their operations after a watchdog review found an agent shared them on social media without approval from supervisors.

A report from the Department of Justice’s Office of Inspector General found the bureau “​​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” even when they were not certified for undercover operations.

The practice risked “​​potentially placing them in danger of becoming the victims of criminal offenses,” Inspector General Michael Horowitz said.

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The investigation detailed that a special agent shared the photos on social media, but did not alert either their supervisor or the support staff’s supervisors that their images were being used for “fishing.” 

“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, during which time the photographs could have been—and potentially could still be—downloaded, copied, or further disseminated,” the report states.

In a response to the report, the FBI said it “fully accepts” the recommendations and will set new guidelines to ensure employee photos are used “safely and appropriately.”

“In the coming weeks the FBI will evaluate existing policy and determine which policies require adjustment, drafting new language to establish the needed guidelines,” the agency said.