An FBI’s controversial Twitter account may have caused a huge controversy because of a computer bug.
With only a few days before what's perhaps the most acrimonious election in modern American history, an FBI Twitter account started posting a series of links to documents from its archives. Among them, there were documents on Donald Trump's father Fred, and files about the Clinton Foundation that had come from an FBI investigation into President Bill Clinton's controversial pardon of Marc Rich, a trader and hedge fund manager who was accused of evading taxes.
The timing could not have been worse for Hillary Clinton, and unsurprisingly, her supporters and her campaign complained about what they thought was yet another intrusion from the FBI in the presidential contest. As ThinkProgress first reported on Thursday, the bureau launched an investigation into the tweets.
But as it turns out, the timing of those controversial tweets has nothing to do with a rogue social media employee—instead, it's the result of the FBI's buggy website.
An FBI official told Motherboard that the FBI Records Vault Twitter account had been dormant for more than a year because of a bug in the FBI.gov content management system (CMS) that links the website where the documents are posted and the social media account. On Sunday, according to the official, the FBI's IT team pushed a patch to the CMS and fixed the bug, causing the flood of tweets, which had been scheduled over the last few months, to go out on October 30.
The tweet about the Clinton Foundation, however, went out on Nov. 2 because the documents were posted on that day. But the tweet publicizing them was also automated, according to the official.
Why is the FBI dumping dozens of documents tenuously linked to the election just a week before it happens? In statements, the FBI has noted that it is required by law to post documents that have been requested by three separate people to its public reading room (in this case, "The Vault"). "By law, FOIA materials that have been requested three or more times are posted electronically to the FBI's public reading room shortly after they are processed. Per the standard procedure for FOIA, these materials became available for release and were posted automatically and electronically to the FBI's public reading room in accordance with the law and established procedures," the FBI said.
Given the increased interest in the election, this makes sense: In early September, a thread on a popular government transparency listserv suggested that the FBI's files about Fred Trump would be a good FOIA request. Motherboard and, presumably several other journalists and FOIA requesters, asked for those documents. Here is a screenshot of the FBI's processing document for that request, which notes that the records would be posted on the FBI's website:
So while the FBI has to investigate its own Twitter account because the bureau received complaints, the inquiry is unlikely to go anywhere since the tweets were automated. While there's clearly some concern about FBI partisanship right now, a buggy Twitter account isn't part of it.
Jason Koebler contributed reporting and writing.
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