The FBI routinely violates its own procedures when applying for warrants to spy on American citizens, a new report from the Department of Justice’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG) found.
In a memo dated March 30, Inspector General Michael Horowitz followed up on an earlier report from December 2019, which found the FBI violated its own procedures when obtaining Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act warrants against Carter Page, a former adviser to President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign.
The OIG found that the FBI violated what’s known as the Woods Procedures, which were implemented in 2001 “following errors in numerous FISA applications submitted to the [Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court] in FBI counterterrorism investigations.” The Woods Procedures are meant to “minimize factual inaccuracies in FISA applications and to ensure that statements contained in applications are ‘scrupulously accurate,’” Horowitz wrote.
After its massive report late last year, which found 17 “inaccuracies and omissions” that led to Page getting spied on by his own government when he had done nothing wrong, Horowitz led a team to look into other FISA applications to see if violating the Woods Procedures was routine. It turns out, it was:
Our lack of confidence that the Woods Procedures are working as intended stems primarily from the fact that: (1) we could not review original Woods Files for 4 of the 29 selected FISA applications because the FBI has not 3 been able to locate them and, in 3 of these instances, did not know if they ever existed; (2) our testing of FISA applications to the associated Woods Files identified apparent errors or inadequately supported facts in all of the 25 applications we reviewed, and interviews to date with available agents or supervisors in field offices generally have confirmed the issues we identified; (3) existing FBI and [National Security Division] oversight mechanisms have also identified deficiencies in documentary support and application accuracy that are similar to those that we have observed to date; and (4) 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.
Horowitz’s memo, however, did not make “judgments about whether the errors or concerns we identified were material” nor did it speculate as to whether the potential errors influenced the decision to approve the FBI’s FISA applications in those cases.
“Nevertheless, we believe that a deficiency in the FBI’s efforts to support the factual statements in FISA applications through its Woods Procedures undermines the FBI’s ability to achieve its ‘scrupulously accurate’ standard for FISA applications,” Horowitz wrote.
The memo also stated that FBI officials told OIG investigators that corrective actions or training may take place at field offices based on the results of its reviews, yet Horowitz noted no such training exists at the FBI headquarters.
The memo stated the OIG will conduct further investigations into the deficiencies of the FBI FISA applications and their renewals, as this investigation is just preliminary and took place over two months. The OIG recommended the FBI regularly review its past cases to determine if there were any violations of the Woods Procedures and conduct “a physical inventory to ensure that Woods Files exist for every FISA application submitted to the FISC in all pending investigations.”
In response to the memo, FBI Associate Deputy Director Paul Abbate accepted Horowitz’s findings and said the bureau is still implementing the corrective measures it announced after the December 2019 report. It also noted the OIG’s own deficiencies in its memos relating to examining complete files and whether evidence supported the allegations in the FISA applications.