FBI finds one ‘material’ error in audit of 14 FISA applications, far fewer than in Carter Page spy warrants
Chuck Ross on June 22, 2020
- The FBI found just one material error in 14 applications of Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act orders during an audit of the surveillance program.
- That stands in stark contrast to 17 “significant” errors and omissions that the Justice Department’s watchdog flagged in applications to surveil Carter Page, the former Trump campaign aide.
- The disparity raises questions about why the FBI committed more errors during its efforts to surveil a member of the Trump campaign.
The FBI disclosed in a little-noticed court filing last week that the bureau found only one “material” error in a review of 14 applications to conduct surveillance against American citizens, an error count that is far lower than the 17 “significant” issues flagged in surveillance orders granted against Carter Page, the former Trump campaign aide.
FBI’s general counsel, Dana Boente, and Melissa MacTough, a Justice Department national security official, said in a filing June 15 to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) Court that the single material error found in the 14 applications was not a serious enough infraction to invalidate the underlying surveillance warrant.
That stands in stark contrast to the Justice Department’s decision to invalidate two of the four FISA warrants against Page due to the rampant errors in those applications.
While the FBI’s finding may alleviate concerns of widespread problems with the bureau’s surveillance process, it will likely raise the question of why the Carter Page FISAs would be riddled with so many problems.
Supporters of President Donald Trump have accused the FBI of surveilling Page for political reasons.
The FBI is conducting a review of 29 FISA applications that the Department of Justice Office of the Inspector General (IG) flagged in an audit of the government’s surveillance program. The IG said in a report released on March 31 that all 29 of the applications selected for the random audit contained errors of some sort.
According to MacTough, the assistant attorney general for the national security division, the FBI’s Office of Intelligence (OI) identified 63 “non-material errors” in the so-called Woods Files of 14 FISA warrants subject to the audit.
The FBI is supposed to use the Woods File to document each factual statement made in its FISA warrants.
Twenty-nine of the errors were typographical errors or date discrepancies. The FBI claims that the remaining 34 errors include 13 in which factual claims were not backed up by underlying documents, and 21 involving deviations from information regarding source documents.
“As noted above, for the 14 applications described in this submission, OI has identified one material misstatement or omission among the hundreds of pages of facts contained within these 14 filings,” MacTough wrote.
“Moreover, that single misstatement or omission did not render invalid the authorization granted by the Court in that docket or subsequent dockets targeting that individual.”
An IG report on the FBI’s surveillance of Carter Page found far more errors in the four FISA applications granted against the ex-Trump aide.
The report, released Dec. 9, said that the FBI’s initial application to surveil Page, dated Oct. 21, 2016, contained seven “significant errors and omissions.” Three applications to review the surveillance contained 17 significant areas of concern, according to the IG report.
The IG found “many additional errors” in the Woods Files for the Carter Page applications.
“These errors and omissions resulted from case agents providing wrong or incomplete information to or and failing to flag important issues for discussion,” the IG report said.
The FBI asserted in the FISA applications that there was probable cause to believe that Page, an energy consultant who joined the Trump team in March 2016, was working as an agent of Russia. The FBI’s case relied heavily on information from Christopher Steele, a former British spy who investigated the Trump campaign on behalf of the Clinton campaign and DNC.
According to the IG, the FBI omitted statements from Steele’s primary source that raised “significant questions about the reliability” of the dossier. Investigators also omitted information from Steele’s former colleagues who questioned his judgement.
Steele’s statements to the FBI in October 2016 that a key sub-source for the dossier was a “boaster” were also not disclosed in the FISA applications.
Perhaps the most glaring omission involved information from Steele’s primary source of information for the dossier. The source told FBI agents and two Justice Department lawyers in January 2017 that Steele embellished key allegations that appeared in the dossier, including about Page.
The IG report also said that the FBI received evidence in January 2017 and February 2017 that Russian intelligence operatives fed disinformation to Steele, a former MI6 officer.
The FBI did not disclose those potential red flags in its FISA applications, according to the IG. Investigators also withheld information regarding Page’s longstanding relationship with the CIA, as well as exculpatory statements that Page and another Trump aide, George Papadopoulos, made to undercover FBI informants during secretly recorded interviews.
Judge Rosemary Collyer excoriated the FBI in a Dec. 17 memo ordering the bureau to review its FISA procedures. She said that the FBI provided “false information” and “withheld material information” from the Justice Department’s National Security Division. The information, according to Collyer, was “detrimental” to the FBI’s investigation against Page.
On Jan. 7, the Justice Department informed the FISC that it had deemed the final two Carter Page FISA orders to be invalid due to the slew of “material misstatements and omissions.” The agency said it was reviewing the validity of the first two applications.
The FBI did not respond to a request for comment for this story.
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