Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrants issued by the FISA court are used to wiretap people thought to be working with a foreign government. These warrants were used against former President Donald Trump’s campaign aide Carter Page in 2016.
A recently published report by the Justice Department Inspector General, Michael Horowitz, has discovered “widespread” issues among FBI applications that sought to use FISA warrants for surveying American citizens.
Horowitz reviewed 7,000 applications for FISA warrants and discovered that the FBI failed to follow the rules of the Woods Procedures, which refer to rules that the agency must abide by to ensure that FISA applications are “scrupulously accurate.” Woods Procedures require case agents to “gather and document support for all facts” in a FISA application.
A key component of the FBI’s quality assurance process is the Supervisory Special Agent’s (SSA) review of each Woods File. The agency’s policy mandates SSAs to confirm that the Woods File supports “every factual assertion.” But Horowitz found that the Woods File usually did not contain evidence that the SSA review was thoroughly completed.
“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 said.
Among 7,000 FISA applications issued between January 2015 and March 2020, the review found 183 instances where the necessary Woods File was missing, incomplete, or destroyed. In addition, the review also found hundreds of other instances of noncompliance with Woods Procedures.
Since the FBI relies on Woods Procedures to ensure accuracy of its FISA applications, the missing Wood Files represent a “significant lapse” in how the agency manages its FISA program. Failing to adhere to the Woods Procedures can lead to errors that impact “probable cause” thus raising questions of the legality of using poorly obtained FISA warrants.
The report listed 10 recommendations for the FBI and the Department of Justice’s National Security Division to ensure that its FISA warrants are in compliance with the Woods Procedures.
The recommendations for the FBI include establishing a headquarters entity tasked with ensuring accountability of Woods Procedures in the agency and setting up a specific policy on the appropriate format and maintenance of Woods Files.
Following the report’s release, the FBI said that it accepts the Inspector General’s recommendations. “The FBI’s FISA authorities are indispensable national security tools and a vital means of accomplishing our mission of protecting the American people from national security threats. But our mission is also to uphold the Constitution, and the FBI remains committed to executing our FISA process with the unwavering rigor it requires,” an FBI spokesperson told Fox News.
The report, published on Sept. 30, is an extension of an earlier report Horowitz had issued in March last year that had reviewed 29 FISA applications. Of the 25 that he had reviewed, Horowitz had discovered 209 errors. Four applications couldn’t be reviewed as the FBI couldn’t find them.