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OIG Initiating FBI Audit Over FISA Abuses Targeting US Citizens

Commentary

Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz finally released his long-awaited report on the FBI’s alleged abuse of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act Court to obtain a warrant to spy on a member of then-candidate Donald Trump’s campaign named Carter Page.

In short, the inspector general found plenty of abuse — due not to political bias, but rather to a plethora of errors and omissions that misled the FISA Court in order to obtain the warrant.

For a fuller picture of the numerous inaccuracies and omission of facts with regard to the Carter Page warrant and beyond, and what that means in the broader political sense for Democrats and Republicans, check out this rundown by Eli Lake of Bloomberg.

Setting aside the specifics of the Page warrant, as well as the partisan finger-pointing and mutually declared vindication by both sides over certain aspects of the report, Horowitz had a particularly scathing rebuke of the FISA process.

While overlooked by many, the inspector general’s comments should worry anyone concerned about a lack of proper oversight in the realm of government surveillance.

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“Given the extensive compliance failures we identified in this review, we believe that additional [Office of the Inspector General] oversight work is required to assess the FBI’s compliance with Department and FBI FISA-related policies that seek to protect the civil liberties of U.S. persons,” Horowitz wrote.

“Accordingly, we have today initiated an OIG audit that will further examine the FBI’s compliance with the Woods Procedures in FISA applications that target U.S. persons in both counterintelligence and counterterrorism investigations.”

In other words, the problems Horowitz discovered with regard to the FISA warrant were so severe that he launched a separate audit that will more broadly look into the FISA warrant process as a whole, in order to see whether abuses were isolated to the Page case or were more prevalent throughout the system.

Lake explained that the issues with Page’s warrant matter “because his surveillance gives the public a window into how the process for obtaining electronic surveillance warrants from a secret court can be easily gamed.”

Do you think there need to be significant reforms to FBI surveillance procedures?

Indeed, as both Horowitz and Lake noted, the secretive nature of the FISA warrant process requires that the government provide the court with any and all relevant exculpatory information in the absence of defense attorneys. In Page’s case, that didn’t happen, through either incompetence or malevolence.

Over at Reason, Scott Shackford describes that warrant process. The so-called “Woods procedures” mentioned by Horowitz are meticulous processes that FBI agents are supposed to go through in order to ensure that everything on a FISA warrant application is correct and that all pertinent information has been included and vetted.

“It turned out that the FBI failed on several occasions to properly follow the Woods procedures,” Shackford wrote. “And if this hadn’t happened in such a high-profile case involving the current president of the United States, would we have even known?”

Hence the need for an audit of the entire program, because if such a terrible job could be done on such an admittedly sensitive case, where one would presume extra precautions would be taken to ensure everything was right, then the same thing could happen, and perhaps has been happening, in less high-profile or politically sensitive cases.

Such was the question asked by the Cato Institute’s Julian Sanchez, who tweeted: “If there were this many significant errors in applications everyone understood to be incredibly sensitive, and they were *not* the function of some special vendetta against Trump, what would we find if we kicked the tires on a ‘normal’ FISA?”

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Even the American Civil Liberties Union — no friend of the president — was aghast at what Horowitz had discovered with regard to the “alarming” problems with the FISA warrant for Page, and said in a statement it was clear the program “lacks basic safeguards and is in need of serious reform.”

One final thing worth noting about this audit of the FISA process: If the audit ends up showing the problems with the Page warrant were an isolated event, then Trump and others can use that fact to justify their claims that the investigation was all politically motivated against him and his campaign.

If, however, the audit finds widespread abuse, cut corners and slipshod practices among the FBI with the FISA program, then we have a much larger problem of apparent Fourth and Fifth Amendment violations by “deep state” bureaucrats that should be downright frightening to anybody who cherishes our constitutional right of due process.

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