Privacy Law

FBI secret wiretap applications had errors and made assertions lacking factual backup, audit says

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FBI secret surveillance applications contained errors and assertions that were not backed up by required documentation, according to findings of an audit by the U.S. Department of Justice’s inspector general.

Inspector General Michael Horowitz reviewed 29 surveillance applications to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to see whether backup documentation supported statements of fact in the applications, according to Horowitz’s report.

FBI policy requires supporting documentation in so-called Woods Procedures for each fact in the surveillance applications, which are made to the secret court in terrorism or espionage investigations.

There were no Woods files for four of the 29 applications; in three of the four, FBI officials didn’t know whether they ever existed. In the remaining 25 applications, there were apparent errors and inadequately supported facts.

“As a result of our audit work to date,” the report said, “we do not have confidence that the FBI has executed its Woods procedures in compliance with FBI policy.”

The Washington Post, the New York Times and the Associated Press have coverage of Horowitz’s report.

Horowitz undertook the audit after finding in December that there were “significant inaccuracies and omissions” in FBI applications to wiretap Carter Page, a former campaign adviser to President Donald Trump.

The new report shows “the entire process is prone to abuse,” said Stephen Vladeck, a law professor at the University of Texas who spoke with the Washington Post.

The findings show that “the Carter Page episode was not a partisan political scandal,” Vladeck said. “The irony is it suggests it was part of a far bigger and more problematic pattern—a nonpartisan, systemic problem.”

FBI Associate Deputy Director Paul Abbate said in a response that the bureau has already begun implementing more than a dozen remedial measures that address the inspector general’s concerns.

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