FBI, DOJ announce sweeping new FISA reforms in aftermath of Russia debacle

Changes include creation of new audit office to ensure accuracy of surveillance warrant applications.

Updated: September 1, 2020 - 2:30pm

Seeking to address massive failures during the Russia probe, FBI Director Chris Wray and Attorney General William Barr  announced Tuesday sweeping new reforms to ensure future warrants targeting Americans under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act are accurate, legal and free from political influence.

The changes include the creation of a new audit office to review FISA applications and new vetting to ensure the accuracy of agents' evidence when seeking to spy on U.S. citizens. The Justice Department also created new protocol governing when surveillance can be conducted on elected officials and candidates for office.

The changes, memorialized in two separate memos, are an outgrowth of a DOJ inspector general report last December that identified 17 instances of misconduct, erroneous evidence, factual omissions and mistakes in the pursuit of a FISA application targeting former Trump adviser Carter Page during the Russia collusion investigation. Last month, a former FBI lawyer pleaded guilty to falsifying evidence during the probe.

"FISA is a critical tool to ensuring the safety and security of Americans, particularly when it comes to fighting terrorism. However, the American people must have confidence that the United States government will exercise its surveillance authorities in a manner that protects the civil liberties of Americans, avoids interference in the political process, and complies with the Constitution and laws of the United States," Barr said. "What happened to the Trump presidential campaign and his subsequent administration after the President was duly elected by the American people must never happen again."

Wray said the new changes build on the more than three dozen reforms he announced to FISA procedures after the IG report became public.

"Since the Inspector General's Crossfire Hurricane report was issued last December, I have made clear that it describes conduct that was unacceptable and unrepresentative of the FBI as an organization," the FBI director said. "That's why I immediately ordered more than 40 corrective actions, including foundational FISA reforms, many of which went beyond those recommended by the Inspector General. The FBI has been working diligently to implement these corrective actions. The additional reforms announced today, which we worked on closely with the Attorney General's office, will build on the FBI's efforts to bolster its compliance program."

The first memo makes improvements to the FBI's internal FISA compliance program, including the creation of the Office of Internal Auditing. You can read that memo here.

Barr's second memo augments Wray's earlier reforms and includes new oversight protocols to ensure that any FISA warrant to surveil federal elected officials, candidates for federal elected office, or their advisors or staff "is justified, non-partisan, and based on full and complete information." You can read that memo here.