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Republican senator presses FBI over female staff photos used in sex-trafficking probes

by Reuters
Thursday, 12 August 2021 16:06 GMT

FILE PHOTO: U.S. Senator Joni Ernst (R-IA) and John Thune (R-SD) face reporters after the weekly Senate Republican caucus policy luncheon on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., June 8, 2021. REUTERS/Evelyn Hockstein/File Photo

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Republican Senator Joni Ernst on Thursday pressed the FBI for details on its sex-trafficking investigations

By Sarah N. Lynch

WASHINGTON, Aug 12 (Reuters) - Republican Senator Joni Ernst on Thursday pressed the FBI for details after the Justice Department's internal watchdog revealed that FBI special agents were using provocative photos of female office staff as bait in sex-trafficking investigations.

In a letter to FBI Director Chris Wray, Ernst, who is a survivor of sexual assault and domestic violence, said the "careless actions" of the agents who asked female staff to pose for photos in the undercover stings amounted to "crimes" that could put those women in danger.

"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," she wrote.

Earlier this month, Inspector General Michael Horowitz revealed his office has been investigating a special agent who asked female office support staff to pose as minors and sex workers to assist with undercover sex-trafficking operations.

The agent allegedly told them not to tell their bosses about their participation, and never obtained their written consent.

In the course of that investigation, the inspector general's office discovered that other agents had also used female staff photos in similar undercover operations, and that the FBI had no policy in place concerning the use of photos of non-certified undercover staff in undercover operations.

The FBI in its response to the report said it would evaluate and update its policies, and said the Office of Professional Responsibility was reviewing the conduct of the agent at the heart of the probe.

Ernst, in her letter, said she wanted to know what resources were being provided to the women to help get their photos scrubbed from the internet, how many agents had engaged in similar conduct, and what other steps the FBI was taking to address the concerns laid out in Horowitz's report.

An FBI spokesperson could not be immediately reached for comment on the letter.

(Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch, Editing by Rosalba O'Brien)