New Mistakes Discovered With FBI Wiretaps After Russia Investigation Prompts Further Scrutiny

There were problems with dozens of wiretap applications used for national security investigations.

Department of Justice Inspector General Michael Horowitz prepares to testify in a Senate Committee On Homeland Security And Governmental Affairs hearing at the US Capitol.
Samuel Corum / Getty Images

There were problems with dozens of wiretap applications used for national security investigations.

Inspector General Michael Horowitz found on Tuesday, March 31, that additional errors were made with regard to how the FBI managed a secret surveillance program. The Associated Press reported that errors were made while listening to conversations held by potential spies and terrorists. While the surveillance made in conjunction with the investigation on Russia’s interference with Trump’s 2016 campaign first brought this issue to light, the program has fallen under further scrutiny.

While the public and lawmakers fear how the FBI uses its surveillance power and possible abuses, some internal changes to the FBI have been made in response to Horowitz’s conclusions. Furthermore, the incident has initiated a debate within Congress about if and how to cut back on the bureau’s surveillance tools and abilities.

Horowitz ordered a wider audit of the FBI and its spying accuracy after the report on Russia was filed in December 2019. Five years’ worth of counterintelligence and counterterrorism applications were chosen to be reviewed. At the conclusion of the audit, issues were found with more than 24 reviewed applications, namely obvious errors and facts that were not properly supported with evidence.

In 2001, the FBI enacted Woods Procedures, a set of rules that were designed to diminish errors in such applications. These rules call for agents to keep a record with evidence and documentation for every fact agents state based on a surveillance application. This latest audit was also meant to evaluate how well the Woods Procedures were working.

Twenty-nine applications were selected for review in all. Of those, four were reported to have no record of evidence written at the time of surveillance that the FBI could locate. The remaining 25 applications that were said to have obvious errors had unsupported or inconsistent facts when compared to the accompanying record. Each surveillance application was said to have an average of 20 problems. One outlier had as many as 65 issues.

“We do not have confidence that the FBI has executed its Woods Procedures in compliance with FBI policy, or that the process is working as it was intended to help achieve the ‘scrupulously accurate’ standard for FISA applications,” Horowitz wrote according to the AP.

In response to the glaring issues, it was recommended that the FBI “perform a physical inventory” to verify that documentation and records were kept and are available for all surveillance applications that are a part of outstanding investigations. Additionally, the FBI and the Justice Department claim to be undergoing important changes. Among those changes are further training and other precautions to guarantee the accuracy of current and future surveillance applications.