U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley, a senior member of the Judiciary Committee and longtime critic of the FBI’s surveillance application of former Trump Campaign aide Carter Page, expressed alarm over an interim watchdog report revealing systemic failures to verify facts in secret FBI applications to spy on American citizens.
“If the FBI is going to seek secret authority to infringe the civil liberties of an American citizen, they at least need to show their work. FBI rules demand FISA applications be ‘scrupulously accurate’ and backed up by supporting documents to prove their accuracy. But we know that wasn’t the case when the FBI sought and received the authority to spy on Carter Page. Based on the inspector general’s audit, the flawed Page case appears to be 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. The inspector general’s decision to bring these failures to the director’s attention before its audit is even completed underscores the seriousness of these findings.
“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,” Grassley said.
The Justice Department Inspector General (IG) is auditing the FBI’s Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) verification processes, known as Woods Procedures, after discovering failures in the FBI’s handling of the case targeting Page. As a part of the audit, the IG is comparing facts in FISA applications with so-called Woods files, which are supposed to provide supporting documentation for each factual assertion contained in the associated application.
Thus far, the IG reviewed 29 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) applications relating to U.S. citizens and originating from eight FBI field offices over the last five years, and found errors or failures in all of them. The FBI was unable to locate Woods files for four of the applications and couldn’t confirm that they ever existed in three of those instances. The remaining 25 applications contained an average of 20 assertions that were not adequately backed up by the Woods files with one application containing 65 unsupported claims. The IG also found that oversight mechanisms at the FBI identified systemic deficiencies in adherence to the Woods Procedures and application accuracy, but that no steps had been taken to improve the situation.
“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,” the IG wrote in a memo today to FBI Director Christopher Wray.
“We are providing you with this management advisory memorandum because we believe this information about our preliminary results will help inform the FBI in its ongoing efforts to address the recommendations included in our December 2019 FISA Report, and because we believe our audit work to date warrants additional OIG recommendations, which we have included in this memorandum,” the IG continued.