FBI agent used photos of female staffers in sex predator sting without proper permission, watchdog says

The Department of Justice’s inspector general expressed concerns over FBI agents using photos of female support staff in sex trafficking stings, and in at least one case without written permission, noting that posting their photos online could place them in "danger of becoming the victims of criminal offenses."

A report shared Monday by DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz states that FBI special agents used photos of female support staff employees to pose as "as minor children or sex workers to entice sexual predators" online as part of a sex trafficking sting. 

Horowitz said the employees’ faces were blurred and they were clothed — but none were certified as undercover or covert employees.

The investigation by the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) began regarding an alleged relationship between an FBI special agent and an FBI support staff employee, the report says. Officials said the "inappropriate relationship" included the special agent asking the female support staff employee to "provide him with provocative pictures of herself for online (undercover) operations."

"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 wrote in the report.

Horowitz added that the FBI special agent who was the subject of the investigation failed to document which employees were used, obtain written consent from the employees, document the websites on which the photos were posted, nor document when the photos were posted. 

The special agent said he was "fishing" on social media sites but not recording which platforms he used, according to the report. He also told the female support staff employees who provided pictures to "not tell anyone, including their supervisors, about the (undercover) operations," the report alleges. 

"Both the (special agent) and the (special agent’s) supervisor told the Office of the Inspector General that they could not produce any documentation regarding how the photographs were obtained or used," the report said.

It continued: "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, during which time the photographs could have been—and potentially could still be— downloaded, copied, or further disseminated."


FILE - The FBI seal is seen outside the headquarters building in Washington, D.C. on July 5, 2016. (Photo credit: YURI GRIPAS/AFP via Getty Images)

The inspector general said the office believes this conduct poses "potential adverse consequences" for the employees photographed, including "potentially placing them in danger of becoming the victims of criminal offenses."

Officials recommended that the FBI create a policy concerning the use of photographs of agency employees who are not certified undercover employees for online undercover operations, which would include proper notification and documentation. 

The FBI agreed with the recommendations, stating it would "evaluate its existing policy and determine which policies require adjustment," as well as make all FBI personnel aware of the new guidelines. 

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This story was reported from Cincinnati.