FBI officials did not publicly describe the general inspector’s report as overwrought, but they suggested that the perception it caused of a secret spy device that got out of hand was wrong.
“Since the government has uncovered only two material errors amidst thousands of facts, and because these errors are not believed to have influenced the likely cause, the FBI believes that the results of the review … should inspire confidence the courts are correct in the accuracy of the material information to which the FBI is submitting, ”wrote Dawn Browning, the FBI’s acting general adviser.
Much of that fear that the FBI was running rough on suspects rights was sparked by President Donald Trump and House Republicans, who said the watchdog report was new evidence of the flawed trial used to defend a Trump supporter, Carter Page, during the 2016 campaign and in the early months of the Trump administration.
However, the Inspector General’s warning last December also demonstrably undermined the idea that Page was the victim of a political vendetta by anti-Trump officials at the FBI, suggesting that mere sloppiness could explain significant errors and omissions in applications for the conduct supervision and physical searches aimed at him.
When Horowitz made his statement last year, several former officials presented his conclusion as troubling because of the powers of the surveillance process to spy on Americans. But the ex-officials also said that evidence of nefarious intent was still lacking in Page’s case.
The review filed with the FISA court last Wednesday and partially closed on Monday may largely bring the debate back to the status quo before Horowitz’s announcement.
Still, the FBI’s assessment confirmed that a surveillance process that many ex-officials touted as rigorous and meticulously documented was flawed due to numerous errors and failed records. The inaccuracies and errors are particularly embarrassing to the FBI and the Justice Department, as they pledged to be more vigilant after a controversy over dozens of flawed filings sparked the anger of a judge who oversaw the FISA court nearly 20 years ago.
The FBI emphasized in its new filing that many of the apparent errors it identified were minor, such as typographical errors, agents using incorrect dates for underlying documents, or incorrect identification of underlying documents. Browning noted that it was ultimately up to the supervisory court to make “final statements” as to how material the errors were and whether they undermined the filed claims.
Shortly after the inspector general warning was released last year, FBI director Christopher Wray announced a slew of reforms to address concerns about the FISA process. The changes included additional agent training and more frequent audits of applications and their underlying files.
“The FBI remains confident that these actions will fully address the DOJ-OIG’s findings and recommendations,” an FBI spokesman said last week. “The FBI views FISA as an indispensable tool for protecting the United States from national security threats and is committed to the continued and continuous improvement of the FISA process to ensure that all statements of fact made in FISA applications are accurate and complete. “