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The FBI Didn't Follow Proper FISA Protocol for Years on Dozens, Potentially Hundreds of Cases

(AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Department of Justice Inspector General Michael Horowitz released the findings of an internal audit of the Federal Bureau of Investigation this week and found that agents haven't been following proper protocol, legally known as "Woods Procedures," on potentially hundreds of FISA warrant applications over the past five years. The audit was launched after the office conducted a lengthy investigation, which found nearly two dozen egregious errors and conduct from FBI agents during the 2016 presidential election. Horowitz testified in front of Congress on those findings last fall. 


"In December 2019, my office initiated an audit to examine more broadly the FBI’s execution of, and compliance with, its Woods Procedures relating to U.S. Persons covering the period from October 2014 to September 2019. As an initial step in our audit, over the past 2 months, we visited 8 FBI field offices of varying sizes and reviewed a judgmentally selected sample of 29 applications relating to U.S. Persons and involving both counterintelligence and counterterrorism investigations," the latest report explains. "This sample was selected from a dataset provided by the FBI that contained more than 700 applications relating to U.S. Persons submitted by those 8 field offices over a 5-year period."

One of the applications reviewed contained 65 accusations or claims without supporting evidence. 

"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. Specifically, the Woods Procedures mandate compiling supporting documentation for each fact in the FISA application. Adherence to the Woods Procedures should result in such documentation as a means toward achievement of the FBI’s policy that FISA applications be 'scrupulously accurate,'" the report continues. 

In other words, the FISA applications submitted by the FBI were not "scrupulously accurate" as required and yet, were used by agents to justify spying on American citizens. 


Democrat House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff has repeatedly argued FISA rules and regulations were strictly followed by FBI agents, including leadership. This report and previous findings from Horowitz prove the opposite. 

"We believe that a deficiency in the FBI’s efforts to support the factual statements in FISA applications through its Woods Procedures undermines the FBI’s ability to achieve its “scrupulously accurate” standard for FISA applications," the report states. 

Senate Republicans are furious with the findings. 

“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," Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley said about the 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 continued. 

In March the Senate voted for an short extension of the FISA program as lawmakers call for additional reforms and accountability of the system. 

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