Inspector General Finds Damning ‘Widespread’ FISA Failure After FBI Director Dismissed Concerns

Inspector General Finds Damning ‘Widespread’ FISA Failure After FBI Director Dismissed Concerns

Inspector General Michael Horowitz released a damning report on Thursday chastising the Federal Bureau of Investigation for “widespread” violations in the intelligence agency’s applications for searches and surveillance filed through the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.

“The FBI’s Woods Procedures are designed to ensure FISA applications are ‘scrupulously accurate’ and require agents to document support for all factual assertions contained in them. However, our audit found numerous instances where this did not occur,” the Justice Department report states.

In the newly released audit, Horowitz detailed how “the FBI was not meeting the expectations of its own protocols” by failing to comply with the Woods Procedures. Of the 29 FISA applications from 2015-2019 that were reviewed, the inspector general and his team found more than 400 “instances of non-compliance with the Woods Procedures.” When the timeline expands to encompass the approximately 7,000 FISA applications authorized between January 2015 and March 2020, Horowitz found “at least 179 instances in which the Woods File required by FBI policy was missing in whole or in part.”

In February 2020, FBI Director Christopher Wray expressed confidence in his agency’s FISA processes to legislators.

“It’s important for the American people to understand and for this committee to understand that the vast majority of the FISAs that we do, both the initial applications and the renewals, are the kinds of applications that I am quite confident, we don’t know each other, but I’m quite confident you wouldn’t lose any sleep over and we really wouldn’t want to grind things to a halt on that front,” Wray told Republican Rep. Jim Jordan.

Last year, Horowitz released a Management Advisory Memorandum (MAM) informing the FBI that there were errors in the applications under review stating there were 209 errors, four of which the Department of Justice later “deemed to be material.”

“Our further audit work identified over 200 additional instances of Woods Procedures noncompliance—where Woods Files did not contain adequate supporting documentation for statements in the 29 applications—although the FBI and [the Justice Department’s National Security Division] subsequently confirmed the existence of available support elsewhere,” the report stated.

While both the FBI and DOJ have pledged to begin “implementing important reforms as a result of our prior FISA reports,” Horowitz emphasized that the inspector general’s office thinks  “additional action is necessary to ensure rigorous supervisory review and to further strengthen Woods Procedures oversight to reduce the risk of erroneous information being included in FISA applications, which can lead to faulty probable cause determinations and infringement of U.S. persons’ civil liberties.”

A FISA ruling declassified in September of last year demonstrated that the government lied about its legal basis for spying on former Trump campaign official Carter Page because the information produced by the FBI’s unlawful investigation was illegally obtained.

Former FBI Director James Comey claimed exactly one year prior to the release of Horowitz’s report that he should not be held responsible for the factual errors in FISA applications, which were used in 2016 to spy on Page. When asked by Sen. Lindsey Graham “whose job is it to make sure the facts are right when you’re presenting to the FISA court?” Comey simply replied that “whoever is signing the affidavit” is responsible and that he only signed the certification.

Jordan Boyd is a staff writer at The Federalist. She graduated from Baylor University where she majored in political science and minored in journalism.
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