The Justice Department’s chief watchdog issued an extraordinary warning Tuesday that the FBI is failing to follow its own rules when pursuing surveillance warrants in sensitive intelligence and terrorism cases, confirming that problems first exposed in the Russia collusion probe extend to other cases.
Among the problems cited was a failure by agents to substantiate allegations submitted to courts, similar to the missteps the FBI made in failing to ensure allegations in the Steele dossier back in 2016 were verified before securing a FISA warrant targeting the Trump campaign and former adviser Carter Page.
The report found that investigators:
- could not review original Woods Files for four 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;
- identified apparent errors or inadequately supported facts in all of the 25 applications we reviewed;
- identified deficiencies in documentary support and application accuracy;
- interviewed FBI officials who indicated to us that there were no efforts by the FBI to use existing FBI and National Security Division oversight mechanisms to perform comprehensive, strategic assessments of the efficacy of the Woods Procedures or FISA accuracy.
Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, a senior member of the Judiciary Committee who played a key role in exposing FISA abuses during the Russia probe, said Horowitz’s memo show the problems first exposed with the faulty Carter Page warrant were “just the tip of the iceberg.”
“Not a single application from the past five years reviewed by the inspector general was up to snuff. That’s alarming and unacceptable,” Grassley said.
“The FBI has an important job to protect our national security, but it does not have carte blanche to routinely erode the liberties of Americans without proper justification. Oversight mechanisms like the Woods Procedures exist for a reason, and if the FBI wants to restore its reputation among the American people, it had better start taking them seriously,” he added.
Additionally, NR has this summary in part:
Horowitz’s office said in a report released Tuesday that of the 29 applications — all of which involved U.S. citizens – that were pulled from “8 FBI field offices of varying sizes,” the FBI could not find Woods Files for four of the applications, while the other 25 all had “apparent errors or inadequately supported facts.”
“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,” the report reveals.
The Woods Procedure dictates that the Justice Department verify the accuracy and provide evidentiary support for all facts stated in its FISA application. The FBI is required to share with the FISA Court all relevant information compiled in the Woods File when applying for a surveillance warrant.
“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,” the report states.
The OIG concludes by recommending that the FBI “systematically and regularly examine the results of past and future accuracy reviews to identify patterns or trends in identified errors” relating to the Woods Procedure, as well as double-checking “that Woods Files exist for every FISA application submitted to the FISC in all pending investigations.”
In a letter acknowledging the audit, FBI Associate Deputy Director Paul Abbate said that the issues “will be addressed” by the Bureau’s already-issued correctives after the Carter Page review, and added that “the FBI fully accepts the two recommendations.”
McCabe admitted in January that the FBI has an “inherent weakness in the process” of obtaining FISA warrants.