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FBI problems with FISA warrants extend beyond Russia case, DOJ watchdog warns

Inspector General Michael Horowitz says FBI is doing a poor job complying with Wood procedures designed to protect Americans' civil liberties in surveillance warrants.

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Justice Department inspector general Michael Horowitz
Justice Department inspector general Michael Horowitz
Justice Department Office of Inspector General
Updated: May 27, 2020 - 7:20pm

The Facts Inside Our Reporter’s Notebook

The Justice Department's chief watchdog issued an extraordinary warning Tuesday that the FBI is failing to follow its own rules when pursuing surveillance warrants in sensitive intelligence and terrorism cases, confirming that problems first exposed in the Russia collusion probe extend to other cases.

DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz wrote FBI Director Chris Wray in a management alert memo that a review of more than two dozen Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act warrant cases found agents were not complying with the so-called Woods Procedures designed to protect American civil liberties during such probes.

Among the problems cited was a failure by agents to substantiate allegations submitted to courts, similar to the missteps the FBI made in failing to ensure allegations in the Steele dossier back in 2016 were verified before securing a FISA warrant targeting the Trump campaign and former adviser Carter Page.

"As a result of our audit work to date and as described below, we do not have confidence that the FBI has executed its Woods Procedures in compliance with FBI policy," Horowitz wrote.

"...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," the IG added.

The report found that investigators:

  • could not review original Woods Files for four of the 29 selected FISA applications because the FBI has not been able to locate them and, in 3 of these instances, did not know if they ever existed; 
  • identified apparent errors or inadequately supported facts in all of the 25 applications we reviewed;
  • identified deficiencies in documentary support and application accuracy;
  • interviewed FBI officials who indicated to us that there were no efforts by the FBI to use existing FBI and National Security Division oversight mechanisms to perform comprehensive, strategic assessments of the efficacy of the Woods Procedures or FISA accuracy.

Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, a senior member of the Judiciary Committee who played a key role in exposing FISA abuses during the Russia probe, said Horowitz's memo show the problems first exposed with the faulty Carter Page warrant were "just the tip of the iceberg."

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

“The FBI has an important job to protect our national security, but it does not have carte blanche to routinely erode the liberties of Americans without proper justification. Oversight mechanisms like the Woods Procedures exist for a reason, and if the FBI wants to restore its reputation among the American people, it had better start taking them seriously,” he added.

You can read the full memo below.