The Intercept, the online news publication that has published National Security Agency documents leaked by Edward Snowden, revealed Tuesday that a former reporter fabricated quotes and impersonated people in his reporting.
The news site issued a series of corrections and one retraction as a result of the reporter’s actions.
In a note to readers, editor-in-chief Betsy Reed detailed the trail of deception left behind by Juan Thompson, who worked at The Intercept from November 2014 until January 2016.
Reed said that an internal investigation found three instances in which Thompson attributed quotes to “people who said they had not been interviewed,” while other times he attributed quotes to individuals who were unreachable, who had no recollection of speaking to him or “whose identities could not be confirmed.”
Thompson “went to great lengths to deceive his editors,” Reed added, noting that he even created a fake email account to impersonate a source. Reed said Thompson also created a fake email account in her name.
Reed said Thompson ultimately admitted to creating fake accounts and fabricating messages, but “stood by his published work” and “did not cooperate in the review.”
The Intercept has posted corrections on four of Thompson’s stories and retracted another.
“The Intercept deeply regrets this situation,” Reed wrote. “Ultimately, I am accountable for everything we publish. The best way we can see to maintain the trust of readers is to acknowledge and correct these mistakes, and to focus on producing journalism we are proud of.”
Reed said The Intercept has alerted news outlets that picked up the stories that have been corrected.
The Intercept launched in 2014 under the auspices of billionaire eBay founder Pierre Omidyar. The site, which is the online home of Pulitzer Prize winner Glenn Greenwald, has reported extensively on the government’s intelligence apparatus and other national security issues.
A month after the site’s debut, Greenwald and Ryan Gallagher reported on classified documents leaked by Snowden showing how the NSA was developing technology to infect millions of computers with malware.
In October 2015, the site published “The Drone Papers,” a sweeping investigation by the reporter Jeremy Scahill based on secret documents about the government’s targeted killing program.
In her note to readers on Tuesday, Reed said that Thompson “wrote mostly short articles on news events and criminal justice.”
The retracted story, originally published in June of 2015, quoted an individual named Scott Roof, whom Thompson identified as a cousin of Dylann Roof, the suspected killer in last year’s massacre at a black church in Charleston, S.C.
“After speaking with two members of Dylann Roof’s family, The Intercept can no longer stand by the premise of this story,” reads an editor’s note appended to the top of the piece. “Both individuals said that they do not know of a cousin named Scott Roof.”