The epidemic of non-compliance James Comey left behind still ails the FBI

'A careless and negligent culture' was allowed to fester under Comey's leadership, former top FBI official says.

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Former FBI Director James Comey testifies before Senate Intelligence Committee.
Senate Intelligence Committee
Last Updated:
March 31, 2020 - 11:02pm

Often one to claim the high ground, ex-FBI Director James Comey lectured lawmakers in the aftermath of the bungled Russia collusion investigation, assuring them that the bureau’s procedures for securing a warrant to spy on Americans were top-notch and conscientiously followed.

The FBI’s Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act compliance is a “labor-intensive” and “top-tier” program that protects Americans civil liberties by ensuring evidence is “very, very carefully scrubbed” for accuracy, Comey told House members in a closed-door deposition back in December 2018.

Fifteen month later, the Justice Department’s inspector general blew a hole in Comey’s representation. His review of warrant applications in more than two dozen FISA cases over the last five years that found that every one of them failed to meet the requirements of the Woods Procedures, which mandate the compilation of documentary evidence in support of each fact in a warrant application.

Worse yet, Inspector General Michael Horowitz found many of the applications had erroneous information or unsubstantiated evidence — even though they were stamped verified and certified to a court.

The record of FISA compliance under Comey and current FBI Director Chris Wray’s leadership is so deficient that it “undermines the FBI’s ability to achieve its 'scrupulously accurate' standard for FISA applications,” Horowitz warned in an extraordinary memo made public Tuesday.

The FBI’s former chief of intelligence Kevin Brock, who served under prior Director Robert Mueller, said the new IG findings add to a body of evidence that Comey’s tenure at FBI was infected with a record of noncompliance.

The memo’s findings are “reflective of a careless and negligent culture that was allowed to grow under Comey’s leadership,” Brock told Just the News.

He said the FBI agents who pursued the erroneous FISA warrant against Trump adviser Carter Page were able to take advantage of a system already broken.

“When the IG discovers a pattern of FISA affidavits in national security cases where the allegations are not corroborated or substantiated, then it starts to explain why Comey’s team thought they could obtain a FISA warrant on Page without any real facts,” he said. “Nobody was checking.”

The last year has produced a long line of IG findings that have undercut Comey’s carefully manicured claims that his FBI lived by the rule of law on his watch from June 2013 to May 2017.

Comey had claimed the FBI’s conduct in the Russia collusion case was above reproach. But in December, Horowitz disclosed that the FISA warrant that Comey himself approved to start spying on the Trump campaign was riddled with errors, uncorroborated information and other misconduct. And the FISA court officially declared it had been misled.

Comey previously claimed the FBI didn’t engage in politics or leaking. But then Peter Strzok’s anti-Trump text messages came out, and Comey himself was found to have improperly leaked memos. His deputy, Andrew McCabe, was referred for prosecution for lying about a leak. DOJ declined to prosecute either leader.

The Comey FBI’s long-held defense that it properly handled the British spy Christopher Steele as a confidential human source came crashing down when it was revealed that Steele’s own source disavowed the evidence attributed to him, that the retired MI6 agent had expressed extreme political bias, and had been caught leaking while working for the bureau.

For a while, as the FBI’s conduct in the now-debunked Russia collusion probe got pilloried, Comey’s defenders tried to shift the argument, suggesting the case was an aberration by a few bad apples under his command.

But as Horowitz’s meticulous work has shown, the FBI’s culture of noncompliance was systemic under Comey, and has continued into Wray’s tenure.

Tuesday’s memo made clear the failure to follow the Woods Procedures in FISA applications was pervasive, found in multiple offices over multiple years dating to Comey’s time as FBI boss.

Likewise, an earlier report Horowitz issued last fall revealed the bureau’s management of confidential human sources was flawed far beyond the Steele matter, and that those FBI employees entrusted to vet informers often were pressured not to document problems with their credibility.

The shadow cast by these serious systemic issues is troubling both sides of the political aisle, creating worries the FBI can’t be trusted to protect Americans' civil liberties.

“Not a single application from the past five years reviewed by the inspector general was up to snuff," Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, lamented. "That’s alarming and unacceptable."

Added Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, the ranking member on House Judiciary: “The committee must not allow the FBI's extraordinary power to electronically surveil Americans to be so haphazardly rubber-stamped with incorrect, unsubstantiated or erroneous supporting information."

ACLU senior counsel Neema Guliani said Congress must take more aggressive action to rein in the FBI and its record of misconduct.

“It is disappointing that despite repeated examples of deficiencies with our surveillance laws, Congress has failed to advance a strong surveillance reform bill to better protect our privacy rights,” she said.

For longtime FBI leaders like Brock, Comey’s tenure inflicted a culture shift that may take years for the country’s premier law enforcement agency to shed.

"This is not the way it has always been in the FBI. Very specific policies and procedures were written in the early 2000s to ensure the proper use of confidential sources, to assess their reliability and credibility, to protect against abuses and mistakes,” Brock said. “Somewhere along the line, actual practice drifted away from these protective policies. And management and legal counsel didn’t step in. Leadership failed.”