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Watchdog faults FBI for 'widespread' errors handling surveillance warrants

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
A sign of the Federal Bureau of Investigation is seen outside of the J. Edgar Hoover FBI Building in Washington, March 12, 2019. (Reuters photo)

The US Justice Department's internal watchdog has found “significant lapse” in the FBI’s compliance with procedures that govern applications for surveillance warrants.

The new DOJ inspector general report released Thursday dealt the bureau another setback and raised questions about the accuracy of the information underpinning its wiretap warrants.

The latest report was triggered by an earlier probe into the FBI’s handling of surveillance applications targeting Carter Page, the campaign adviser of former US president Donald Trump.

In December 2019, Inspector General Michael Horowitz's office discovered that the FBI had made numerous errors in its warrant applications to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISA) targeting Page.

Department of Justice Inspector General Michael Horowitz (Reuters photo)

The new report shows the subsequent probe found 209 errors in a sample of 29 FISA applications reviewed.

Horowitz also found an additional 209 instances in which the Woods File in the sample applications lacked adequate documentation or did not support statements in accordance with FBI policy.

Moreover, there were 183 missing or incomplete Woods Files in a larger pool of thousands of FISA applications filed from 2015 to 2020.

“The OIG initiated this audit to determine whether the significant errors found in that December 2019 OIG report were indicative of a more widespread problem with Woods Procedures compliance,” he added.

“Given the FBI’s reliance upon its Woods Procedures to help ensure the accuracy of its FISA applications, we believe the missing Woods Files represent a significant lapse in the FBI’s management of its FISA program.”

Ashley Gorski, a senior staff attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union's National Security Project, issued a statement, saying the latest report "provides yet more evidence that FISA surveillance is in need of reform."

"The FBI has repeatedly failed to comply with the procedures for ensuring the accuracy of its FISA applications, and its efforts to improve oversight policies in the wake of the Carter Page debacle have not gone nearly far enough," Gorski said.

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