FBI policy strictly limiting which employees can speak to reporters was “widely ignored” in 2016, with over 50 officials having contact that year with one or more reporters using government-issued devices, a watchdog found.
The Department of Justice’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) probed allegations that FBI employees improperly disclosed non-public information in 2016 before the presidential election in violation of bureau rules
.A review of FBI records and a forensic examination of FBI devices found that 52 employees had contact in April and May 2016 with reporters who wrote stories using the information.
The investigation also found 33 FBI employees had contact with the reporters in October 2016.Staffers at the OIG’s office interviewed 56 current and former FBI employees who were identified as having contact with reporters in 2016.
Nearly all of them acknowledged the contacts but denied providing non-public information. Many also claimed they were authorized to be in touch with the media, either by FBI policy or by a supervisory official
.There could well be more employees who were in touch with reporters using their personal devices or face-to-face, the OIG said in the report on its investigation (pdf) released this week.
The probe was hampered by what the FBI described as a gap in its collection of text messages from bureau-issued devices for four of the people in contact with the media.
The OIG asked for the government-issued phones to fill the gap, but the FBI couldn’t locate the devices that the employees were using in 2016.Additionally, the large number of employees in touch with reporters made pinpointing the source of the leaks difficult.
The OIG was unable to figure out which agents or officials were the source of leaks.However, it was able to confirm that six employees at the FBI’s headquarters in Washington were not authorized by policy to have contact with the media and referred those to the bureau to determine if the conduct warrants disciplinary action.