National Security

Surveillance court orders FBI to review errors in wiretap applications

A federal surveillance court is seeking information from the FBI after an internal review found pervasive errors in the bureau’s application process for wiretaps.

The court established under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), which reviews wiretap requests for counterintelligence operations, ordered the FBI on Friday to hand over information on 29 applications that were reviewed by the Department of Justice’s inspector general.

The court said that a memo from the inspector general released earlier this week “provides further reason for systemic concern.”

“It thereby reinforces the need for the Court to monitor the ongoing efforts of the FBI and DOJ to ensure that, going forward, FBI applications present accurate and complete facts. When problems are identified in particular cases, furthermore, the Court must evaluate what remedial measures may be necessary,” it stated.

DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz told FBI Director Christopher Wray that it appeared the bureau had not been following a policy that requires law enforcement to compile extensive documentation for its surveillance applications, known as the Woods Procedures.

“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,” Horowitz wrote in the memo to Wray.

“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.'”

Horowitz’s review of the 29 sample cases found that Woods files were absent for four of the applications, and an average 20 issues per application for the rest of the sample.

That broader review came after Horowitz in December found errors and omissions in a wiretap application for former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page as part of an investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential campaign.

Horowitz ordered the FBI to make a series of changes to its surveillance application process after the Page review.

In the surveillance court’s order on Friday, it told the FBI to turn over the target names and docket numbers of each of the 29 applications. The court also ordered the FBI to assess whether the errors were significant and “whether any such material misstatements and omissions render invalid, in whole or in part, authorizations granted by the Court for that target in the reviewed docket or other dockets.”

In a statement, the FBI pledged its cooperation with the court’s review.

“The FBI has received the April 3, 2020 FISC Order, which has requested information from the FBI in light of the OIG’s recent memo summarizing the preliminary results of its Woods Procedures audit,” the bureau said, referring to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. “Maintaining the trust and confidence of the Court is paramount to the FBI and we are continuing to implement the 40-plus corrective actions ordered by Director Wray in December 2019.

“Although the applications reviewed by the IG in this audit predate the announcement of these corrective actions, the FBI understands the Court’s desire to obtain information related to the applications,” the statement continued. “In line with our duty of candor to the Court and our responsibilities to the American people, we will continue to work closely with the FISC and the Department of Justice to ensure that our FISA authorities are exercised responsibly.”

Tags Christopher Wray FISA Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court

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