Secret FISA court issues highly unusual public rebuke of FBI for mistakes
The criticism comes after a report by the DOJ inspector general that found “so many basic and fundamental errors.”
FBI Director Christopher Wray testifies before a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing about “worldwide threats” Jan. 29.Joshua Roberts / Reuters fileDec. 17, 2019, 4:00 PM EST / Updated Dec. 17, 2019, 4:39 PM ESTBy Pete Williams
WASHINGTON — The secret federal court that approves orders for conducting surveillance on suspected foreign terrorists or spies issued a strong and highly unusual public rebuke to the FBI on Tuesday, ordering the agency to say how it intends to correct the errors revealed last week by a Justice Department report on one aspect of the FBI’s investigation of Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign.
Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz said the FBI made serious and repeated mistakes in seeking under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA, to conduct surveillance of Carter Page, a former Trump campaign adviser.
The FBI’s submission to the court made assertions that were “inaccurate, incomplete, or unsupported by appropriate documentation,” the report said.
Rosemary Collyer, presiding judge on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, said in the unusual public order that the report “calls into question whether information contained in other FBI applications is reliable.” She ordered the FBI to explain in writing by Jan. 10 how it intends to remedy those problems.
Collyer said the FBI’s handling of the Page case “was antithetical to the heightened duty of candor” required by the law that established the surveillance court. Judges on the court rely entirely on the government’s submissions. Because they are the only documents the court sees, the government has a heightened duty of candor, she said.
Her order said the FBI must explain “what it has done, and plans to do, to ensure the statements of facts in each FBI application accurately and completely reflects information possessed by the FBI.”
Inspector General Michael Horowitz said last week that he has already opened a new review, looking at whether the FBI is complying with its duty to provide accurate information to the FISA court in seeking to conduct surveillance of Americans in terrorism and spying investigations.
FBI Director Christopher Wray announced shortly after the inspector general’s report was issued that he has ordered changes in how the FBI submits requests to the FISA court.
“The FBI has some work to do,” he said.
The FISA court, established by Congress, consists of 11 federal judges chosen by the Supreme Court’s chief justice and meets in secret in a federal courthouse in Washington. It has long been criticized by civil libertarians who consider it simply an arm of the government and not sufficiently independent.