Mar 31, 2020 - Politics & Policy

DOJ watchdog finds flaws in FISA process beyond Carter Page application

Carter Page

Carter Page. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

The Justice Department inspector general found errors in 29 out of 29 randomized FBI applications for acquiring wiretap warrants through the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA, according to a report released Tuesday.

Why it matters: The broad DOJ audit of the FISA program stems from a damning investigation into the FBI's surveillance of former Trump campaign aide Carter Page, which uncovered "serious performance failures" by some FBI officials during the Russia probe. The IG's final findings come as Congress debates whether to renew the authority it grants to the FISA courts.

Details: The inspector general reviewed applications the FBI provided to FISA courts, which decide whether to grant the bureau permission to wiretap Americans suspected of having links to foreign intelligence or terrorism.

  • The IG was supposed to review a random sampling of 29 applications from eight FBI field offices, but the bureau could not find the documentation for four of the applications. The bureau did not know whether such documentation existed for three of them.
  • Documentation in each of the 25 applications the IG surveyed contained “apparent errors or inadequately supported facts,” per the report. The review found an average of about 20 problems in each, with one application containing as many as 65 errors.

The inspector general report states it does "not have confidence" that the FBI followed its own procedures for verifying the accuracy of its filings to the courts, known as the Woods Procedures.

  • The IG also didn't express confidence "that the process is working as it was intended to help achieve the ‘scrupulously accurate’ standard for FISA applications."
  • It recommended the FBI “systematically and regularly examine the results of past and future accuracy reviews to identify patterns or trends in identified errors.”

What they're saying: In a response letter, FBI Associate Deputy Director Paul Abbate agreed with the inspector general's recommendations. Abbate said the bureau is already taking corrective steps that FBI Director Chris Wray ordered last year after a review of the Russia investigation.

  • “As Director Wray has stressed, FISA is an indispensable tool to guard against national security threats, but we must ensure that these authorities are carefully exercised and that FISA applications are scrupulously accurate," Abbate wrote.
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