John C. Demers, Assistant Attorney General for National Security issued a statement regarding the 29 FISA applications that were the subject of the March 2020 OIG Preliminary Report. The review shows sloppy FBI handling of documentation in the FISA process.
Although Demers stated that “We are pleased that our review of these applications concluded that all contained sufficient basis for probable cause and uncovered only two material errors, neither of which invalidated the authorizations granted by the FISA Court,” the background notes show sloppy FBI handling.
Demers further expressed confidence in the FBI’s use of FISA authorities, but omitted to report the FBI’s lax handling of documentation.
The good news is that the DOJ remains “committed to improving the FISA process to ensure that we use these tools consistent with the law and our obligations to the FISA Court.”
Used for National Security purposes, the FISA application process is an important tool. Demers said, “The ability to surveil and to investigate using FISA authorities remains critical to confronting current national security threats, including election interference, Chinese espionage and terrorism.”
In March this year, an OIG Memorandum described preliminary findings from an audit of 29 FISA applications. The FBI generates documentation known as “Woods Files,” that contain relevant information to substantiate a FISA application.
The OIG discovered deficient documentation and potential errors in the Woods files and did not allow the FBI to locate a supporting document external to the file. Doing so would have effectively allowed the covering up of the lax handling.
The OIG audit found that in 4 of the 29 applications, the FBI could not produce Woods files. In addition, the OIG identified “numerous apparent errors or inadequately supported facts in all 25 of the 29 applications for which Woods files could be produced.”
The DOJ reviewed the OIG preliminary findings for each application and there was an independent accuracy review.
The DOJ report noted that the Department “was able to resolve many of the potential issues identified by the OIG. The FBI was also able to compile Woods files for the 4 applications where an original Woods file could not be located, and the FBI was able in many instances to locate documentation to support a factual assertion either elsewhere in the Woods file or in other files available to the FBI.”
Only one material misstatement and one material omission were discovered in the hundreds of pages relating to the 29 FISA applications. DOJ says neither of these invalidated the FISC authorizations. The FISA court was notified about the misstatement and the omission.
The Conclusion section of the heavily redacted FISA court filing notes “while the OIG’s audit has revealed process issues with respect to the FBI’s compliance with its Woods Procedures, the Government’s review of the dockets audited by the OIG confirms that the information contained in those applications is overwhelmingly supported by documentation.”