Judge Issues Scathing Order After Watchdog Flags Rampant Flaws in FBI Surveillance

April 3, 2020 Updated: April 3, 2020

The lead judge of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court reprimanded the FBI over widespread flaws in surveillance applications uncovered by the Justice Department inspector general.

In an order issued on April 3, Judge James Boasberg directed the FBI to turn over the names of the targets in the 29 applications audited by the inspector general.

The inspector general’s audit, the results of which were released in a memo to the FBI on March 30, found that every one of the 29 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) applications reviewed had a missing or inadequate Woods File—a group of records that substantiate the facts the bureau asserts in applications to the court.

The inspector general concluded that it was not confident that the FBI’s procedures were adequate in ensuring the bureau followed its own policy that FISA applications have to be “scrupulously accurate.”

“It would be an understatement to note that such lack of confidence appears well founded,” Boasberg wrote.

In addition to turning over the names and docket numbers for the 29 FISA applications, the judge asked the government to assess whether any of the applications contained “material misstatements and omissions,” and whether these flaws render the court’s surveillance orders invalid. The judge is also asking the bureau to identify the four applications for which a Woods File was missing entirely.

Boasberg gave the bureau until June 15 to comply.

The review by the Department of Justice Office of Inspector General (OIG) was prompted by the damning findings of its inquiry into the FISA applications the FBI obtained to spy on Trump-campaign associate Carter Page. That review turned up 17 significant errors and omissions, including multiple instances in which the FBI withheld exculpatory information from the court.

carter page
Carter Page, petroleum industry consultant and former foreign-policy adviser to Donald Trump during his 2016 presidential election campaign, in Washington on May 28, 2019. (Samira Bouaou/The Epoch Times)

The findings in the Page case led the court to order the FBI to show why the court should trust any of its future surveillance applications. The bureau has since embarked on a list of reforms. The findings of pervasive flaws beyond the Page case underline the need for the court to supervise the bureau’s efforts, the order states.

“The OIG Memorandum provides further reason for systemic concern. It thereby reinforces the need for the Court to monitor the ongoing efforts of the FBI and DOJ to ensure that, going forward, FBI applications present accurate and complete facts,” Boasberg wrote.

The FBI acknowledged the receipt of the order.

“Maintaining the trust and confidence of the Court is paramount to the FBI and we are continuing to implement the 40-plus corrective actions ordered by [FBI] Director [Christopher] Wray in December 2019,” the bureau said in a statement.

“Although the applications reviewed by the IG in this audit predate the announcement of these corrective actions, the FBI understands the Court’s desire to obtain information related to the applications.”

The surveillance of Page prompted President Donald Trump and his allies to assert that the Obama-era FBI spied on the Trump campaign in 2016 for political gain. However, the inspector general’s inquiry did not find evidence that political motivations factored into the decision to surveil Page.

An unverified dossier of opposition research on Trump compiled by a former foreign spy played a crucial role in the FBI’s decision to seek a warrant to spy on Carter Page. That dossier was funded through a law firm by Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign and the Democratic National Committee.

The applications used for a warrant to surveil Carter Page cast him as an agent of Russia, despite the FBI being in possession of evidence to the contrary that wasn’t included in the applications. Notably, the FBI was advised by the CIA that he was working with the agency and had regularly reported on his contacts with Russians.

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