The Justice Department inspector general said it does “not have confidence” in the FBI’s FISA application process following an audit, according to a report released Tuesday.
The FBI failed to keep all the records it needed to justify wiretaps within the United States, the internal watchdog said, raising new questions about a domestic surveillance program criticized by lawmakers in both parties and civil libertarians.
The findings by the office of Michael Horowitz, represented another setback for the FBI. Horowitz in a December report criticized the FBI for its handling of surveillance warrants in the early stages of its investigation into contacts between President Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign and Russians.
The December report cited 17 “basic and fundamental” errors and omissions in the FBI’s applications under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA, for warrants to monitor Carter Page, a former Trump campaign adviser. James Comey was the director of the agency at the time.
Those errors prompted a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court judge to issue a rare public ruling ordering the FBI to provide details on how it would correct its policies and procedures.
The Horowitz FISA report bolsters critics
Critics have questioned whether the FBI is conducting unlawful surveillance and trampling on the privacy rights of U.S. citizens. Republican lawmakers have questioned whether the surveillance court should be shuttered.
The report released on Tuesday looked at how the FBI follows procedures devised in 2001 after numerous errors were discovered in FISA applications submitted to the court in counterterrorism probes. Such procedures are meant to minimize factual inaccuracies in FISA applications and require the FBI to include only “scrupulously accurate” statements.
The inspector general’s office said it could not be certain the FBI met that standard in FISA applications, based on a review of documentation underpinning warrants from October 2014 through September 2019.
The FBI could not find Woods Files for four of the applications, while the other 25 all contained “apparent errors or inadequately supported facts,” according to the report. The applications were made from 2014 to 2019 by eight “FBI field offices of varying sizes,” it said.
When applying for a surveillance warrant, the Department of Justice submit a Woods File including evidentiary support for all stated facts, which must have been verified to be accurate.
(Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch; Pluralist contributed to this report.)