Following the release of a disturbing watchdog report detailing potential misconduct by FBI employees in using photos of female staff for sex trafficking investigations without their consent, U.S. Senator Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) is seeking answers from the Bureau’s top officials and requesting a detailed plan in how they will change their practices.
Ernst, a survivor of sexual assault and domestic violence, said she was “gravely concerned” over the Inspector General report released last week, which exposed that multiple special agents used provocative photos of female support staff as bait for online predators. Most concerning, there was no consent obtained from any of the women in the pictures before they were used in an investigation, and female colleagues were instructed not to tell anyone else about them.
In her letter to FBI Director Chris Wray, Ernst writes, “Due to the reckless actions of these special agents and the indifference of the FBI, there is no way of knowing how many times these images have been downloaded, copied, or further shared across the internet. These careless actions were crimes and have placed these women in danger of being victimized for years to come.
She continues, “The Federal Bureau of Investigation has endangered the women who have chosen to serve under them by not addressing this before it became a problem. In light of this report, and for Congress to exercise its legislative and oversight authority, I ask you to respond to the questions below with urgency.
1. When was the FBI made aware of the issue of special agents using female support staffs’ pictures during investigations of online predators?
2. How many special agents were found to have committed such actions? Is it possible there are more you are unaware of?
3. Can you please detail the actions taken against the special agents who have disseminated their female coworkers’ pictures online without their consent?
4. What resources are being given to these young women and what are you doing to remove their pictures from social media sites?
5. Can you please give an example of when pictures of FBI employees not certified undercover have been used and mandated by the Special Agent in Charge under the existing policy?
6. Can you please give an example of when pictures of support personnel might need to be utilized?
7. Please send, in specific detail, exactly what steps you are taking to follow the OIG’s recommendations and by which date you plan to see these new policies implemented and all staff trained on them. Please be ready to brief Congress in person on this question.“