Justice Department inspector general finds 'widespread' failures in FBI surveillance requests

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Department of Justice Inspector General Michael Horowitz returns from a break to continue testifying at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Dec. 11, 2019, on the Inspector General's report on alleged abuses of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
Department of Justice Inspector General Michael Horowitz returns from a break to continue testifying at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Dec. 11, 2019, on the Inspector General's report on alleged abuses of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

The Justice Department inspector general Thursday faulted the FBI for "widespread" errors in its applications for surveillance authority, concluding that the bureau failed to provide supporting documentation for sensitive wiretap requests.

Building on a 2019 examination of the FBI's surveillance of a former Trump aide, Justice Inspector General Michael Horowitz found that the bureau did not include adequate support for 183 surveillance applications between 2015 and 2020 following a review of more than 7,000 such requests.

The findings, Horowitz said "highlights the need for the FBI and DOJ to ensure rigorous supervisory review and robust oversight to help reduce the risk of erroneous information being included in (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act) FISA applications."

The FISA, enacted in 1978, outlines procedures investigators must follow when they ask judges for permission to conduct electronic surveillance of people suspected of acting as foreign agents.

"The widespread... non-compliance that we identified in this audit raises serious questions about the adequacy and execution of the supervisory review process in place at the time of the applications we reviewed," the report concluded.

Horowitz's review is part of continuing examination of FBI surveillance requests following a harshly critical account of error-riddled applications targeting former Trump foreign policy adviser Carter Page.

Carter Page speaks in Moscow on July 8, 2016.
Carter Page speaks in Moscow on July 8, 2016.

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At that time, investigators identified 17 separate inaccuracies across multiple surveillance applications, effectively inflating the justification for monitoring Page in the fall of 2016. The action was part of a larger FBI inquiry into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

While highlighting the flawed handling of the Page surveillance, the 2019 report concluded the FBI was legally justified in launching its inquiry, adding that there was no "documentary or testimonial evidence that political bias or improper motivation influenced the FBI’s decision to conduct these operations."

In the latest inspector general report, investigators also re-examined 29 FISA applications that were the focus of an earlier review and found slightly more than 200 instances in which the supporting documentation, known as "Woods Files" did not contain adequate support for the applications.

In each of the 200 instances, however, the FBI and the (Justice Department's National Security Division) subsequently "confirmed the existence of available supporting documentation," the inspector general found.

On Thursday, the FBI said it "fully" accepted the inspector general's findings.

"The FBI appreciates the OIG’s determined focus on the FBI’s FISA process, especially given the significant changes and policy enhancements that we have worked to make in concert with, and in many instances, prior to the issuance of this most recent ... audit," the bureau said.

Acting Assistant Attorney General Mark Lesko said the FBI was far along in implementing "numerous reforms" in wake of the 2019 inspector general's review.

"It is essential that the Department and the FBI maintain the trust of the courts and the public, including by cooperating with OIG reviews like this one and implementing the recommendations that result," Lesko said.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: DOJ watchdog finds 'widespread' errors in FBI surveillance requests