The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press filed a lawsuit Monday against the Justice Department and FBI in an effort to pry loose documents related to the FBI’s prior impersonation of documentary filmmakers.
The FBI has admitted to sending undercover agents to Nevada in 2014 to act as a film crew and interview supporters of rancher Cliven Bundy amid an armed standoff with the federal government.
Footage shot for the fake documentary was later used by the government during criminal trials of some of those involved in the standoff.
The reporter’s committee sought through Freedom of Information Act requests to obtain FBI records regarding the bogus film crew as well as any records on the bureau’s use of the tactic dating back to 2010. The lawsuit filed Monday in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia comes after the committee said the FBI has failed to act on the FOIA requests.
FBI agents pretended to work for a bogus film company, Longbow Productions, to gain access to and interview Mr. Bundy and others who aided him during the standoff. The agents created a website, business cards and other credentials to make Longbow Productions look like an authentic company.
“The FBI’s impersonation of journalists and documentary filmmakers undermines the credibility and independence of those who are trying to report on matters of importance to the public,” said Katie Townsend, litigation director for the committee.
“The public deserves to know more about the FBI’s use of this tactic, and has a right to this information under the law, but the FBI seems determined to evade disclosure. We’re asking the court to step in and compel the agency to release these records,” she said.
The trial of four men accused of criminal charges stemming from the 2014 standoff with the Bureau of Land Management ended this year in a hung jury. Video shot by the FBI as part of the bogus documentary was used in their trial.
A retrial got underway for the four men in July and a jury is deliberating in the case.
Eighteen defendants, including Mr. Bundy and his sons Ammon and Ryan, are scheduled to be tried in a series of three tiers on more than a dozen counts based on their involvement in the April 2014 standoff.
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