Report finds 'significant lapse' in FBI's management of surveillance warrants

Report finds 'significant lapse' in FBI's management of surveillance warrants
© Greg Nash

The Justice Department inspector general found widespread shortcomings in the FBI’s compliance with procedures that govern applications for surveillance warrants, according to a new report.

The report was triggered by an earlier investigation into the FBI’s handling of surveillance applications targeting former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page.

In December 2019, Justice Department inspector general Michael Horowitz released a report detailing multiple inaccuracies and omissions in the surveillance warrant applications targeting Page that were submitted to the court associated with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA).

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According to the new Justice Department inspector general report released Thursday, the subsequent investigation found 209 errors in a sample of 29 FISA applications reviewed.

The inspector general also found an additional 209 instances in which the Woods File in the sample applications did not contain adequate documentation or support statements in accordance with FBI policy. Additionally, the inspector general found 183 missing or incomplete Woods Files in a larger pool of thousands of FISA applications filed between 2015 and 2020.

“The OIG initiated this audit to determine whether the significant errors found in that December 2019 OIG report were indicative of a more widespread problem with Woods Procedures compliance,” the inspector general report states.

“Given the FBI’s reliance upon its Woods Procedures to help ensure the accuracy of its FISA applications, we believe the missing Woods Files represent a significant lapse in the FBI’s management of its FISA program,” it states.

The initial findings of the review of 29 FISA applications had been released in March 2020.

After the release of the 2019 report, the FBI has said it is working to implement reforms to the FISA process. The inspector general on Thursday outlined 10 recommendations for the FBI and the Justice Department's National Security Division to undertake.

Ashley Gorski, a senior staff attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union's National Security Project, said in a statement that the new report "provides yet more evidence that FISA surveillance is in need of reform."

"The FBI has repeatedly failed to comply with the procedures for ensuring the accuracy of its FISA applications, and its efforts to improve oversight policies in the wake of the Carter Page debacle have not gone nearly far enough," Gorski said. 

In a response to the inspector general’s report, the FBI agreed with the recommendations and said it had already implemented them.

“We fully accept the OIG’s recommendations, having cooperated with the OIG’s review of our Woods Procedures, which is just one important part of our overall FISA program,” the FBI said in a statement to The Hill. 

“The FBI’s FISA authorities are indispensable national security tools and a vital means of accomplishing our mission of protecting the American people from national security threats. But our mission is also to uphold the Constitution, and the FBI remains committed to executing our FISA process with the unwavering rigor it requires,” it added.

Acting Assistant Attorney General Mark Lesko said in a statement that the Justice Department's National Security Division concurs with the two recommendations made by the inspector general that are specific to the division and said one has already been "fully resolved."

"NSD remains dedicated to ensuring that all applications submitted to the FISC meet the highest standards of accuracy," Lesko added. 

Updated at 4:18 p.m.