The Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) on Tuesday released a memo detailing the near-ubiquitous failure of the FBI to comply with its own accuracy standards when submitting FISA applications to surveil American citizens suspected of having ties to foreign governments or terrorist networks. The OIG audit — brought on after last year’s Crossfire Hurricane investigation revealed “fundamental and serious errors” with the applications to surveil former Trump campaign aide Carter Page – showed that the bureau disregarded proper procedures with unnerving regularity, dispelling any remaining notion that Page’s surveillance was particularly nefarious.
According to the memo, the OIG reviewed 29 FISA applications from eight FBI field offices to check for compliance with mandatory “Woods Procedures.” Those procedures require agents to compile supporting documentation for each fact contained in a FISA application to ensure that they are “scrupulously accurate.” The OIG found four of the 29 didn’t have any Woods file at all; the other 25 all contained multiple deficiencies:
“Although all 29 FISA applications that we selected for review were required by FBI policy to have Woods Files created by the case agent and reviewed by the supervisory special agent, we have identified 4 applications for which, as of the date of this memorandum, the FBI either has been unable to locate the Woods File that was prepared at the time of the application or for which FBI personnel suggested a Woods File was not completed.”
“Additionally, for all 25 FISA applications with Woods Files that we have reviewed to date, we identified facts stated in the FISA application that were: (a) not supported by any documentation in the Woods File, (b) not clearly corroborated by the supporting documentation in the Woods File, or (c) inconsistent with the supporting documentation in the Woods File. While our review of these issues and follow-up with case agents is still ongoing—and we have not made materiality judgments for these or other errors or concerns we identified—at this time we have identified an average of about 20 issues per application reviewed, with a high of approximately 65 issues in one application and less than 5 issues in another application.”
“This is an embarrassing depiction of the deficiencies in the FBI’s FISA policies, and how greater scrutiny and oversight is needed to avoid this type of sloppiness going forward,” national security attorney Bradley P. Moss said in an email to Law&Crime. “Ironically, this report also undermines one of the president’s favorite talking points, as it indicates that the problems with the Carter Page FISA warrants were not unique to his Trump campaign role but rather reflective of a larger systemic problem at the Bureau.”
Moss wasn’t alone in his assessment of the bureau’s startling shortcomings or its implications on the Page conspiracy theories.
“On first quick read the IG FISA audit seems even more damning of the FISA process than the IG Report on the Carter Page application,” Harvard law professor Jack Goldsmith wrote. “The problems appear systemic.”
Former intelligence community attorney and Lawfare executive editor Susan Hennessey echoed that.
“This is bad news for FBI, since it indicates real systemic issues at play and that FISA problems weren’t just a product of Russia investigation,” she said. “But it’s also bad news for Trump conspiracy theorists, since it means these errors weren’t particular to Russia either. What a mess.”
See below for the full OIG memo:
[image via Mark Wilson/Getty Images]
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