FBI still failing to follow FISA warrant rules, jeopardizing civil liberties, probe finds

More than 200 FISA applications flagged for problems, including under new Director Chris Wray, inspector general reports

Updated: September 30, 2021 - 2:39pm

The FBI under Director Chris Wray continues to fail to follow its rules and procedures for Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act warrants in the aftermath of the Russia fiasco, jeopardizing American civil liberties, the Justice Department's internal watchdog warned Thursday.

In all, Inspector General Michael Horowitz found more than 200 FISA warrant applications with missing information or documentation that violated the bureau's so-called Woods Procedures between 2015 and 2019, making clear reforms that Wray put into place have not solved problems that first surfaced in the 2016 election cycle, particularly a FISA warrant against Trump adviser Carter Page during the now-discredited Russia probe.

"The FBI’s Woods Procedures are designed to ensure FISA applications are 'scrupulously accurate' and require agents to document support for all factual assertions contained in them," Horowitz reported. "However, our audit found numerous instances where this did not occur." 

Horowitz first flagged 29 applications in March 2020 that had problems including 209 errors. He said Thursday the review found another 200 instances of problems in those 29 applications and also identified 183 additional FISA warrant applications that failed to have proper documentation.

"The FBI and DOJ are implementing important reforms as a result of our prior FISA reports," he wrote. "However, we believe additional action is necessary to ensure rigorous supervisory review and to further strengthen Woods Procedures oversight to reduce the risk of erroneous information being included in FISA applications, which can lead to faulty probable cause determinations and infringement of U.S. persons’ civil liberties."

The investigation said the procedures used by the FBI are designed to find problems such as "human error" and "confirmation bias" but only worked if agency supervisors provided vigorous oversight, which Horowitz said was not occurring from either the FBI supervisory agents or the Justice Department's national security division.

"We observed that the Woods Files generally did not contain evidence of the thoroughness or completeness of this supervisory review," he wrote. "The widespread Woods Procedures non-compliance that we identified in this audit raises serious questions about the adequacy and execution of the SSA review process in place at the time of the applications we reviewed. We also have concerns with the FBI’s and NSD’s oversight efforts – specifically the need to be strategic, accountable, and timely."

The report marks a new black eye for Wray, whose bureau has been rocked by sexual harassment problems and major failures in the investigation of sex abuse of U.S. gymnasts, which occurred before his tenure.

Wray has assured Congress multiple times that the FISA problems were fixed after a 2019 probe by Horowitz found widespread failures and abuses during the Russia collusion probe that tarnished the start of the Trump presidency.

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