Justice Department cites more flaws in Federal Bureau of Investigation handling of surveillance warrants

Inspector General Michael Horowitz testifies before a Senate Judiciary hearing on his report on alleged abuses of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act in the Hart Senate office building in Washington

The new audit, which assessed the FBI's underlying records to support surveillance applications relating to USA persons, said of the Page warrants, "we identified fundamental and serious errors in the agents' conduct of the FBI's factual accuracy review procedures ('Woods Procedures') with regard to all four FISA applications". Those rules, or "Woods Procedures", were developed in 2001 with a goal of minimizing errors in the surveillance applications, known by the acronym FISA.

The Justice Department's watchdog identified an average of 20 issues per application, with one containing as many as 65 problems and another containing fewer than five.

Georgia Republican Rep. Doug Collins, who is now running for Senate, told this news site that it's "absolutely outrageous - but sadly, unsurprising - that the audit of the FBI's use of FISA warrants found an average of 20 errors in applications for surveillance of USA citizens over the span of five years".

Critics have long complained about the opaque, one-sided nature of the application process, and longstanding calls to overhaul the system received a bipartisan push because of the errors identified during the FBI's investigation into ties between the Trump campaign and Russian Federation. Of the 42 applications reviewed, 39 had a "total of about 390 issues, including unverified, inaccurate, or inadequately supported facts, as well as typographical errors".

The review examined the FBI's applications under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA, in terrorism and counterintelligence investigations. The FBI couldn't locate the Woods files for four of the 29 applications and didn't know whether three of those four files ever existed, according to the audit, and the other 25 files contained apparent errors or inadequate supporting facts.

"FBI and NSD officials we interviewed indicated to us that there were no efforts by the Federal Bureau of Investigation to use existing Federal Bureau of Investigation 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.

"We are providing you with this management advisory memorandum because we believe this information about our preliminary results will help inform the Federal Bureau of Investigation in its ongoing efforts to address the recommendations included in our December 2019 FISA Report, and because we believe our audit work to date warrants additional OIG recommendations, which we have included in this memorandum", the IG continued.

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The FBI and Justice Department say they have begun making significant changes, including additional training and other safeguards meant to ensure the accuracy of surveillance applications.

Jordan also said that the preliminary findings "validate" a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court judge's concern about the "reliability of information contained in applications".

The bureau said it would not only review the applications in the active cases but ensure that every application dating back to 2015 has a Woods file.

Horowitz has not reached any conclusion about whether the errors in the applications reviewed so far are important, or would have altered decisions whether to seek or approve FISA surveillance.

The office recommended that the FBI "perform a physical inventory" to ensure supporting documentation exists for every application in all pending investigations. This report was released this week. The motives behind those errors remain a hotly contested issue even after the inspector general's review didn't find any evidence that the missteps stemmed from political bias.

The House struck a bipartisan deal on March 11 to reauthorize the surveillance tools after lawmakers agreed to enhance penalties and punishments for government officials who abuse the spy process. Horowitz expressly stated, more than once, that the IG's office did not make any "materiality judgements" and did not "confirm FISA application accuracy or identify any relevant omissions".

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