DAMNING: FBI’s Wiretap’s Go Beyond Trump Aide Surveillance, Inspector General Says

According to the Inspector General for the Department of Justice, in his review, the FBI has botched surveillance applications in its national-security investigations.

On Tuesday Inspector General Michael J. Horowitz says that he uncovered pervasive problems in F.B.I wiretap applications, according to a memo released on Tuesday detailing the review. The review came after his damning report last year about errors and omissions in applications to target former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page.

Here is one of the most damning statements from the Inspector General’s office.

“Nevertheless, we believe that a deficiency in the FBI’s efforts to support the factual statements in FISA applications through its Woods Procedures undermines the FBI’s ability to achieve its “scrupulously accurate” standard for FISA applications.”

“As you are aware, in December 2019 my office issued a report examining four Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) applications—an initial application and three renewal applications—targeting a U.S. Person and other aspects of the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI) “Crossfire Hurricane” investigation (“December 2019 FISA Report”).1 As detailed in our report, among other things, we identified fundamental and serious errors in the agents’ conduct of the FBI’s factual accuracy review procedures (“Woods Procedures”) with regard to all four FISA applications. We found, for example, numerous instances where the Woods File did not include supporting documentation for factual assertions contained in the FISA applications, as required by FBI policy. Additionally, we determined that the Woods File did not contain, as also required by FBI policy, documentation from the Confidential Human Source’s (CHS) handling agent stating that the handling agent had reviewed the facts presented in the FISA application regarding the CHS’s reliability and background, and that the facts presented were accurate. We further found that the FBI had failed to follow its policies for re-verifying factual assertions made in the initial FISA application that were also included in the three FISA renewal applications.

As a result of these findings, in December 2019, my office initiated an audit to examine more broadly the FBI’s execution of, and compliance with, its Woods Procedures relating to U.S. Persons covering the period from October 2014 to September 2019. As an initial step in our audit, over the past 2 months, we visited 8 FBI field offices of varying sizes and reviewed a judgmentally selected sample of 29 applications relating to U.S. Persons and involving both counterintelligence and counterterrorism investigations. This sample was selected from a dataset provided by the FBI that contained more than 700 applications relating to U.S. Persons submitted by those 8 field offices over a 5-year period. The proportion of counterintelligence and counterterrorism applications within our sample roughly models the ratio of the case types within that total of FBI FISA applications. Our initial review of these applications has consisted solely of determining whether the contents of the FBI’s Woods File supported statements of fact in the associated FISA application; our review did not seek to determine whether support existed elsewhere for the factual assertion in the FISA application (such as in the case file), or if relevant information had been omitted from the application. For all of the FISA applications that we have reviewed to date, the period of courtauthorized surveillance had been completed and no such surveillance was active at the time of our review.

We reviewed these applications, and met with available case agents or supervisors who were responsible for them, to assess whether the FBI complied with its Woods Procedures for FISA applications submitted to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC). We also obtained and reviewed information from the FBI and the Department of Justice’s (Department or DOJ) National Security Division (NSD) about their FISA application oversight mechanisms. Specifically, in addition to interviewing FBI and NSD officials, we reviewed 34 FBI and NSD accuracy review reports covering the period from October 2014 to September 2019—which originated from the 8 field offices we have visited to date and addressed a total of 42 U.S. Person FISA applications, only one of which was also included among the 29 FISA applications that we reviewed. As a result of our audit work to date and as described below, we do not have confidence that the FBI has executed its Woods Procedures in compliance with FBI policy. Specifically, the Woods Procedures mandate compiling supporting documentation for each fact in the FISA application. Adherence to the Woods Procedures should result in such documentation as a means toward achievement of the FBI’s policy that FISA applications be “scrupulously accurate.” Our lack of confidence that the Woods Procedures are working as intended stems primarily from the fact that: (1) we could not review original Woods Files for 4 of the 29 selected FISA applications because the FBI has not 3 been able to locate them and, in 3 of these instances, did not know if they ever existed; (2) our testing of FISA applications to the associated Woods Files identified apparent errors or inadequately supported facts in all of the 25 applications we reviewed, and interviews to date with available agents or supervisors in field offices generally have confirmed the issues we identified; (3) existing FBI and NSD oversight mechanisms have also identified deficiencies in documentary support and application accuracy that are similar to those that we have observed to date; and (4) FBI and NSD officials we interviewed indicated to us that there were no efforts by the FBI to use existing FBI and NSD oversight mechanisms to perform comprehensive, strategic assessments of the efficacy of the Woods Procedures or FISA accuracy, to include identifying the need for enhancements to training and improvements in the process, or increased accountability measures.

During this initial review, we have not made judgments about whether the errors or concerns we identified were material. Also, we do not speculate as to whether the potential errors would have influenced the decision to file the application or the FISC’s decision to approve the FISA application. In addition, our review was limited to assessing the FBI’s execution of its Woods Procedures, which are not focused on affirming the completeness of the information in FISA applications.

Nevertheless, we believe that a deficiency in the FBI’s efforts to support the factual statements in FISA applications through its Woods Procedures undermines the FBI’s ability to achieve its “scrupulously accurate” standard for FISA applications. We are providing you with this management advisory memorandum because we believe this information about our preliminary results will help inform the FBI in its ongoing efforts to address the recommendations included in our December 2019 FISA Report, and because we believe our audit work to date warrants additional OIG recommendations, which we have included in this memorandum.

You can read and download the full report from the Inspector General HERE.

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