OIG report details abuse of surveillance warrants

On Behalf of | Oct 11, 2021 | Criminal Defense

North Carolina residents may know that questions have been raised about warrant applications submitted to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The FBI has a set of practices in place known as the Woods Procedures that are supposed to endure FISA warrant applications are completely accurate, but the Office of the Inspector General discovered numerous mistakes when it examined applications that were submitted in late 2019 in connection with an investigation into alleged collusion between President Donald Trump’s election campaign and the Russian government or individuals or organizations working on behalf of the Russian government.

Illegal surveillance

Many of these errors were found on a FISA warrant application to continue surveillance of a Trump advisor who was suspected of working with Russian nationals. When the mistakes were uncovered in December 2019, a FISA judge ended the surveillance and ordered the FBI to explain how it planned to prevent similar occurrences in the future. In March 2020, the OIG released a report that mentioned 29 FISA applications with more than 200 errors. The IOG’s discoveries led to an FBI lawyer being charged with falsifying information on a FISA warrant application. He entered into a plea agreement negotiated by his criminal defense attorneys in August 2020.

Inspector General releases report

The OIG issued a more comprehensive report on Sept. 30. It concluded that the FBI has submitted dozens of FISA applications that contained false information or lacked supporting documentation. The report led to calls for FBI reform from advocacy groups like the American Civil Liberties Union, but a senior Department of Justice official defended the agency. He said the FBI is committed to accuracy and has already implemented several reforms.

Protecting civil rights

These reports are particularly worrying because FISA courts conduct business behind closed doors and are protected by a shroud of secrecy. FISA courts protect the United States and allow intelligence agencies to combat foreign espionage activities, and the warrants they issue are supposed to be based on facts rather than suspicions. The OIG report reveals widespread abuse of the FISA process, which suggests that the Woods Procedures are being ignored and more stringent rules are called for.