The Justice Department watchdog determined that the FBI failed to properly document the facts in 29 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) applications reviewed for an audit.
The findings are part of a report (pdf) released on March 30 by the Department of Justice Office of Inspector General. The office had previously found widespread fundamental and serious errors in the FISA applications used to spy on Trump campaign associate Carter Page.
The review of the Page applications determined FBI agents broke bureau policy by failing to adequately maintain a so-called “Woods file,” a set of records substantiating the factual assertions in surveillance applications. The flaws with the surveillance of Page prompted the inspector general to launch a review of the Woods procedures throughout the bureau, which in turn unearthed pervasive errors spanning every FISA application audited.
“We believe that a deficiency in the FBIs efforts to support the factual statements in FISA applications through its Woods Procedures undermines the FBIs ability to achieve its scrupulously accurate standard for FISA applications,” the report stated.
The watchdog reviewed a sample of 29 FISA applications spanning five years across eight FBI field offices. The FBI did not have Woods Files for four of the applications reviewed. The Woods Files for the remaining 25 applications all had “apparent errors or inadequately supported facts,” the inspector general said.
The inspector general also reviewed the internal audits the FBI conducted on 42 FISA applications and similarly found that “these oversight mechanisms routinely identified deficiencies in documentation supporting FISA applications,” similar to those flagged during the watchdogs review.
The flaws in the internal audits are especially notable because FBI agents were warned about an audit in advance and had the opportunity to retroactively plug gaps in the Woods Files. 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.” Just three applications had no issues.
The FBI officials responsible for reviewing the Woods procedures had access to the internal reports but did not use them to ensure that the statements the FBI submitted to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court were “scrupulously accurate,” as is required by bureau policy.
The applications sampled for the inspector general audit had an average of 20 issues each. One application had approximately 65 issues.
The inspector generals findings suggest that at least some of the serious errors found in the case of the Trump-campaign associate may have been part of a bureau-wide failure. The motives behind the errors in the Carter Page surveillance remain a hotly contested issue even after the inspector generals review did not find any evidence that the missteps stemmed from political bias.
Some of the FBI officials involved in the investigation of the Trump campaign expressed intense bias against then-candidate and eventually President Donald Trump. Text messages between FBI special agent Peter Strzok and bureau attorney Lisa Page exposed the pairs hatred of Trump, discussions about an insurance policy in case he became president, and plans to stop Trump from winning the election.
An unverified dossier of opposition research on Trump compiled by a former foreign spy played a crucial role in the FBIs decision to seek a warrant to spy on Page. That dossier was funded through a law firm by the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee.
The applications used for a warrant to surveil Page cast him as an agent of Russia, despite the FBI being in possession of evidence to the contrary which was not included in the applications. Notably, the FBI was advised by the CIA that Page was working with the agency and had regularly reported on his contacts with Russians.
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