Audit: FBI May Have Obtained FISA Warrants Using Inaccurate, Nonexistent Supporting Docs

Michael Horowitz
AP Photo/Susan Walsh

The internal watchdog at the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) this week suggested that the FBI may have obtained approval for secret surveillance using inaccurate or even nonexistent documentation to support factual assertions made to judges when seeking a warrant.

Michael Horowitz, the DOJ inspector general (IG), noted in an audit made public on Tuesday that the FBI failed to produce the documents it allegedly used to back claims in four of the 29 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) applications it reviewed.

FBI agents either lost the supporting documents for the four FISA applications, or they did not know “if they ever existed,” the office of the inspector general (OIG) found.

The IG office also said it “identified apparent errors or inadequately supported facts in all of the [remaining] 25 applications.”

On average, Horowitz found 20 errors in each of the applications “with a high of approximately 65 issues in one application and less than 5 issues in another application,” the audit noted.

Horowitz’s recent findings come after his office found “at least 17 significant errors and omissions” in the Carter Page FISA application that enabled the Russian collusion hoax investigation into Donald Trump’s presidential campaign in 2016, known as operation “Crossfire Hurricane.”

In the new FISA audit, the IG reviewed “a judgmentally selected sample of 29 applications” submitted by eight FBI field offices between October 2014 and September 2019 to assess whether the agency complied with its Woods Procedures.

The Woods Procedures refers to the FBI’s process used to review the factual accuracy of the FISA applications.

Horowitz declared that his office does not have confidence that the FBI has executed the accuracy review process in compliance with an internal policy aimed at ensuring the applications are “scrupulously accurate.”

“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,” the IG audit proclaimed.

In other words, at least some of the applications the FBI has submitted to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court could be inaccurate.

The IG noted in a report made public on Monday:

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 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 [DOJ’s] NSD [National Security Division] 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.

In its latest audit, the DOJ IG did not speculate whether or not the potential errors in the applications were material or whether they influenced the judge’s decision to approve the warrants.

Horowitz included a response the FBI issued to a draft version of the new audit in which the agency asserted that reforms issued by the director, Christopher Wray, should address the widespread problems with the Woods Procedures.

“We believe that the process errors identified in the OIG’s preliminary findings will be addressed by Director Wray’s previously ordered corrective actions,” Paul Abbate, the associate deputy director at the FBI, wrote.

The FBI is examining its “accuracy subfiles” for all FISA applications submitted since 2015 and is taking “remedial steps” when possible, he added.

President Donald Trump’s supporters argue that Democrats weaponized the secret surveillance tool against his 2016 campaign.

“But the findings also bolster arguments by critics of that claim who have suggested that errors in the Page application were likelier attributable to systemic sloppiness than sinister intentions,” Politico reported.

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