The Federal Bureau of Investigation has no business permitting its informants to impersonate journalists, said G. Kelly Hawes, president of the Society of Professional Journalists, after learning that an informant posed as a newspaper reporter during an FBI sting operation.
David H. Elton III posed as a reporter for the Spokane Valley Herald in Washington as he wore a recorder relaying information to the FBI. Elton conducted a series of interviews with James Marks, who was being investigated by the FBI.
"The Society of Professional Journalists opposes the practice of police officers or FBI agents or their informants posing as journalists to obtain information," said Hawes in a letter to Louis J. Freeh, FBI director. "It is imperative that the FBI and other law enforcement agencies be able to do their jobs. The American system of justice depends on it. But it is also imperative that journalists be able to do their jobs, acting as the watchdogs on government and the criminal justice system. Journalists should not pose as police officers, and police officers should not pose as journalists. The welfare of the republic requires it."
Hawes encouraged Freeh to support a policy prohibiting the FBI's use of the journalism profession as a cover for informants or operatives.
This is the third time in the last 18 months that SPJ has criticized a government agency for the use of journalism as a cover for operations. In 1995 SPJ condemned U.S. Postal Inspectors for posing as reporters. Postmaster General Marvin Runyan has since prohibited the practice. Earlier this year, the Society urged the Central Intelligence Agency to get rid of the loopholes in its ban on the use of journalism as a cover.