According to a recent memo from the Office of the Inspector General, an FBI agent repeatedly used photos of female staffers in an undercover sex trafficking operation without their permission. The female staffers did not give consent for their photos to be used and were urged to “not tell anyone”. Now several concerns are surrounding the incident as there was no legitimate documentation process, and the women were not certified, undercover employees.
The special agent who used the photos of female staffers failed to “document which employees were used, obtain written consent from the employees, document which sites were used, or document when the photos were posted”.
Thankfully, the women’s faces were blurred, but that does not excuse the fact that the staffers never consented to their photos being used online. The FBI has stated that it cannot keep track of how the photos were used since their original posting. Since the photos were intended to lure sexual predators in an undercover operation, one would think that they would monitor the distribution of the photos that were leaked. However, it seems as if the safety and feelings of female staffers are not high on their priority list as the FBI cannot tell how the photos were “downloaded, copied, or further disseminated.”
The FBI should have never used the women’s photos without their consent especially, in such an intimate operation revolving around sexual predator stings. If the FBI cared more about their female staffers than the “gold star” of completing a case, then they would have asked for permission, followed the dissemination of the photos, and ensured the safety of their employees.
Users on Twitter sounded off with their thoughts about the situation. User @justexcel wrote it, “says a lot about the FBI culture”.
Says a lot about the FBI culture. I have to doubt that they were used with permission.
— Der Schuss wird Sie befreien (@justexcel) August 2, 2021
Another user, Dr. Shari Schwartz sought for common sense and integrity among agent in the FBI.
Ooh when people with power obnoxiously abuse it! The @FBI did this without the women's permission because their current policy doesn't require consent. Someone with some common sense and integrity needs to oversee that agency. https://t.co/y5He4Gtk92 via @thedailybeast
— Dr. Shari Schwartz (@TrialDoc) August 2, 2021
As the photos were such an integral part of the sting operation and they were garnered without consent, the victims should be given monetary compensation. In addition to compensation, they should also receive written apologies documenting the wrongdoing of the FBI.
The source from within the FBI states that the reason the images were used is because “young female support staff employees [were] to pose as minor children or sex workers to entice sexual predators on various social media websites.” The accessibility of the internet scarily could not contain the photos as they remained in circulation after the operation. This circulation puts the women at risk for being identified, trafficked, and leaves them open to a variety of other crimes.
Internal investigators uncovered the nonconsensual use of the women’s photos when they were looking into an FBI agent who allegedly had an “inappropriate relationship” with a female coworker. The agent also asked her to send “provocative pictures” to use in the online sex trafficking sting, even though she was an office staffer — not a law enforcement agent who had the authorization to do undercover work.
The female co-worker sent the photos and has been rumored to come forward afterward. This co-worker, and other female staffers, were told to “not tell anyone” about the photos.
This unconventional use of female staffers, along with lack of documentation, and prior “inappropriate relationships” violates several FBI policies. The FBI has stated their main problem is the violation dictating, “support personnel will not be used in undercover roles unless it is absolutely necessary.”
With that said, the FBI should be more worried about the unequal power dynamics and corrupt agents that led to this behavior in the first place. Perhaps instead of using explicit pictures of female staffers without their consent, the FBI could commission verified sex workers for explicit photos. As long as the photos are taken with consent and could be removed from the internet this would fix the relationship between female staffers and the bureau. This commission would also provide a solution for the FBI, jobs for sex workers, and together there could be a protection program in place to stop the dissemination of photos once the FBI finished their targeted sting operations.
It is unclear whether the FBI agent who procured the photos will be reprimanded as the inspector general’s office concluded there was a “potential” for consequences. This potential is based on the fact that there was no specific policy regarding the usage of staff members. Although there was no specific policy against the previous actions, I think that the dissemination of fellow coworkers explicit pictures without their consent should be common knowledge and in any other setting it would be. In any other environment the pereptrator would be punished and I believe the same should apply to this case.
The FBI has received recommendations that they say will be taken into consideration when establishing a policy to get consent and notify managers if similar cases arise. The FBI states this policy will arrive “in the coming weeks”. A top FBI official also came forward to say that the bureau “fully accepts” the recommendation and will teach the new rules to staffers involved in undercover operations.