FBI Releases Photos of Suspects: Let the Crowdsourcing Begin

For good and ill, Internet amateurs are on the Boston bombing case

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Shannon Stapleton / Reuters

FBI special agent in charge Richard DesLauriers, left, speaks during a press conference in Boston on April 18, 2013, that reveals photos of suspects in the Boston Marathon bombing

At a press conference on Thursday afternoon, federal officials released new photos and video of two men they described as suspects in the Boston Marathon bombing investigation. “We consider them armed and dangerous,” said FBI special agent in charge Richard DesLauriers.

Now begins what might be the most intense act of crowdsourcing in history. Within moments of the FBI press conference, a user on Reddit had posted what looked to be the style of baseball cap worn by one of the suspects. Another posted what appears to be a photo he took before the bombing that happens to contain a tiny glimpse of one of the suspects.

Even before the FBI’s request, the bombing was being dissected in massive detail online. As first responders were still on the scene of the Boylston Street attack on Monday, Internet amateurs were rushing to collect images and data about the attack, with the goal of harnessing their vast numbers to help police zero in on the culprit.

To an untrained eye, some of their findings looked compelling. Combing through countless images, users on the popular social site Reddit singled out more than a dozen arguably suspicious looking people: Doesn’t the guy in a blue robe have a backpack like the one seen in an FBI photo? Why is the guy in a white cap looking in a different direction that everyone else? Hundreds of commenters weighed in on the possible origins of the pressure-cooker bombs used in the attacks; some scoured eBay for recent purchases of the devices. More analyzed crime-scene photos of possible bomb components.

(PHOTOS: Police Manhunt in Watertown)

But what some people derisively call Internet vigilantism can also have a dark side. The photos released by the FBI today do not seem to match the individuals who drew the most interest on Reddit, including an innocent local high school student who wound up on the front page of the New York Post yesterday. The teen, Salah Barhoun, told ABC News that “it’s the worst feeling that I can possibly feel … I’m only 17.”

Perhaps with that episode in mind, DesLauriers implored the public to focus only on the FBI’s photos. “The images should be the only ones that the public use to assist us,” he said, warning that others distract from the investigation.

The impulse to help solve a crime is a noble one. It also reflects some basic impulses of human nature. Many of these armchair sleuths are enjoying something that is part disaster porn, part CSI. It’s the digital equivalent of diagnosing the cause of a car crash while rubbernecking, mixing outrage and sympathy with our innate desire to gawk.

“I’m sure there are some people who think they are really looking to make a significant contribution, but I think for a lot of people it is a way to help deal with the situation,” said Reddit general manager Erik Martin. “[They] feel at least we are doing something, even if it is not really going to lead anywhere. At least they are helping make sense of this thing, doing something.”

Often that looks like reckless finger-pointing. On Reddit and the anonymous imageboard 4chan, one “suspect” after another emerged. Users rushed to link suspicious faces to names — often by sharing them on Facebook with captions like “help find the Boston Marathon Bomber.”

To its credit, Reddit quickly worked to correct the Barhoun error, banning anyone who posted his information on the site. And the site’s moderators have posted a ban against posting personal information about individuals seen in the photos. “We do not condone vigilante justice,” the site’s moderators announced. “[K]eep in mind that most or all of the ‘suspects’ being discussed are, in all likelihood, innocent people.”

Reddit took off as a hub for amateur investigations after the Aurora, Colo., movie-theater shooting last year. Eighteen-year-old Morgan Jones launched a running time line of the police response — and identified nearly every Internet reference to the alleged shooter, James Holmes. A similar frenzy followed the Newtown, Conn., school shooting, with Reddit, along with a host of mainstream news sites misidentifying the shooter Adam Lanza as his brother Ryan, posting his photo and name across the Web.

In contrast to Twitter, where hoaxes and misinformation can live on through viral repetition, Reddit is self-policing, thanks to a simple up-and-down voting system among its users. On Wednesday, the top thread in the “Find Boston Bomber” area of the site, known as a Subreddit, was titled “Does anyone remember Richard Jewell?” — a reference to the man misidentified as the culprit of the 1996 Atlanta Olympics bombing.

That doesn’t mean a crowdsourced investigation can’t be useful. And if Reddit is able to provide the FBI with valuable information, it could change the future of major crime investigations forever.

— With reporting by Elizabeth Dias

msfreeh like.author.displayName 1 Like

February 22, 2007
Ex-FBI man gets 7 years for child sex
Former FBI analyst sentenced in child sex case

A 17-year veteran of the FBI will serve seven years in prison for having sexual relations with a young girl in Spotsylvania County, a judge ruled yesterday.

Anthony John Lesko, 44, entered an Alford plea yesterday in Spotsylvania Circuit Court to nine counts of felony indecent liberties upon a child.

Lesko, who later moved to Jacksonville, Fla., worked as an intelligence analyst at the FBI for 17 years, according to his attorney, James A. Carter II. He is a major in the U.S. Army Reserves and has received numerous military awards.

An Alford plea means Lesko doesn't admit guilt but believes there is enough evidence for a conviction. Under the terms of the plea, he was sentenced to seven years in prison with another 15 years suspended.

Lesko engaged in a sex act with a girl, 9 and 10 at the time, at least nine times in 2003-2004, according to evidence put forth by Spotsylvania Commonwealth's Attorney William Neely.

The girl told a member of the Spotsylvania Department of Social Services about the activity in February 2004, according to the evidence. Lesko at first denied the allegations, but later spoke with a U.S. Navy counselor about them.

Lesko told the counselor that he was the victim of the sexual assault; he said the girl initiated the contact, according to the plea. Lesko entered the plea partly to spare the girl the pain of a trial, his attorney said.

3mta3uko like.author.displayName 1 Like

Here's an idea-when the FBI releases photos of suspects, and you make that your headline. ..maybe you should share the f*_king photos!!!!



Buffalo FBI Agent Busted
Dec 10, 2012  

BUFFALO, NY - A Special Agent working in the Buffalo office of the FBI is due in Eden Town Court later this month, after being arrested by New York State Police last Friday night, charged with exposing himself to a fellow motorist on the New York State Thruway.

State Police Lt. David Denz confirmed for WGRZ-TV that John A. Yervelli Jr., 48, of Lakeview, was charged with Public Lewdness, a class B misdemeanor, punishable by up to 90 days in jail.

According to Denz, a truck driver from central New York was traveling in the right lane while east bound on the Thruway near mile marker 442, between Exits 57 and 57A, when he noticed a grey minivan pull alongside him in the passing lane.

The trucker told police that when he looked down, he noticed the driver of the other vehicle (who had turned his dome light on) was not wearing pants.

"At that point the complainant stated that the driver of the minivan was exposing himself and making lewd gestures," Denz told 2 On Your Side.

TVowels like.author.displayName 1 Like

Ungh. Don't you guys have editors?