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After Exposing FISA Application Failures, OIG Orders Audit of FBI’s Surveillance of U.S. Citizens


Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz’s report on the FBI’s efforts to obtain FISA warrants in their investigation into the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia revealed that the bureau committed a multitude of “fundamental errors” and basic procedural errors in applications presented to the court. The report managed to debunk some of the more extreme conspiracy theories surrounding the FBI’s conduct, but it also revealed what is likely a widespread and systematic abuse of a secret process, enabled by a secret court, to circumvent the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution in the surveilling of U.S. citizens.

Horowitz himself said that the contents of the report “don’t vindicate anybody” involved in the process.

While Democrats and Republicans have spent the week arguing about the IG’s conclusions and whether or not they corroborate or contradict their previous claims and predictions, an important aspect of the report has been overlooked, or at least under-reported: that as a direct result of the investigation into operation “Crossfire Hurricane,” the Office of Inspector General (OIG) has ordered a more in-depth probe of the FBI’s use of FISA applications to electronically surveil U.S. citizens.

“Given the extensive compliance failures we identified in this review, we believe that additional OIG oversight work is required to assess the FBI’s compliance with Department and FBI FISA-related policies that seek to protect the civil liberties of U.S. persons,” Horowitz wrote. “Accordingly, we have today initiated an OIG audit that will further examine the FBI’s compliance with the Woods Procedures in FISA applications that target U.S. persons in both counterintelligence and counterterrorism investigations.”

The launching of a more wide-ranging examination of the FISA process is something civil rights advocates have long demanded, particularly due to the apparently low threshold currently applied by the secretive FISC courts that saw only one application denied out of more than 1,000 requests in 2018.

National security attorney Mark Zaid, who is part of the legal team representing the Ukraine whistleblower whose complaint sparked House Democrats to launch an impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump, said that in light of the violations exposed by the OIG report, the audit was “completely appropriate.”

“Not only might it reveal whether systematic abuse/errors have occurred, but also if the [Carter] Page warrant applications were notably significant or part of a common problem,” Zaid wrote Thursday.

Testifying before the Senate on Wednesday, Horowitz again confirmed that a broader probe was set to take place.

“In the preparation of the FISA applications to surveil Carter Page, the Crossfire Hurricane team failed to comply with FBI policies, and in so doing fell short of what is rightfully expected from a premier law enforcement agency entrusted with such an intrusive surveillance tool,” he said during his opening statement. “In light of the significant concerns identified with the Carter Page FISA applications and the other issues described in this report, the OIG has initiated an audit that will further examine the FBI’s compliance with the Woods Procedures in FISA applications that target.”

[image via Win McNamee/Getty Images]

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Jerry Lambe is a journalist at Law&Crime. He is a graduate of Georgetown University and New York Law School and previously worked in financial securities compliance and Civil Rights employment law.