An FBI agent is under investigation for allegedly using images of female colleagues in a sex trafficking operation without obtaining their formal consent – and a wider probe has already uncovered evidence of similar incidents across the bureau.
According to the Inspector General, Michael Horowitz, there have been many cases in which female colleagues were asked to provide “provocative” photos of themselves posing as sex workers or underage girls to act as bait in prostitution- and child abuse-related sting operations.
Mr Horowitz said that while the women’s faces were blurred and they remained clothed, the staff whose photos were used were not certified undercover or covert employees. The agent under investigation appears to have never obtained written consent from the employees, and supposedly advised them “not tell anyone, including their supervisors, about the UC [undercover] operations”.
"This conduct poses potential adverse consequences" for non-undercover certified staff, Mr Horowitz said. He noted that posting their photos online to attract potential traffickers, clients and abusers could place them "in danger of becoming the victims of criminal offences."
According to Mr Horowitz, the FBI has no policy concerning the use of photos of non-certified undercover staff in undercover operations; urged the bureau to establish one and to make sure agents obtain written consent from employees who appear in photographs for undercover operations.
Brian Turner, an executive assistant director at the FBI, responded in a July 27 memo, saying the bureau will “evaluate existing policy and determine which policies require adjustment” and that the findings concerning the special agent’s conduct would be adjudicated by the Office of Professional Responsibility.
The FBI has recently been the subject of outrage thanks to another investigation by the Inspector General, this one finding that it failed the victims of Larry Nassar, a former doctor who abused myriad women and girls while working for the US gymnastics team and Michigan State University.
According to the report, as many as 70 or more victims were abused by Mr Nassar in the year after he was first reported to the bureau until the point where a separate complaint was made to the university’s police department.