National Security Court Orders Deeper Look at 29 F.B.I. Wiretap Applications

WASHINGTON — A secretive court that oversees national security surveillance ordered the F.B.I. on Friday to conduct a searching review of 29 wiretap applications in terrorism and espionage investigations, after an inspector general uncovered pervasive problems with how the bureau prepared them.

In a rare public order to the F.B.I., James E. Boasberg, the chief judge of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, ordered the bureau to immediately tell the court the names of the 29 wiretapping targets, and to scour the applications and underlying case files for any inaccuracies or material omissions.

The F.B.I. is to submit by June 15 a sworn declaration about the results of that analysis, Judge Boasberg wrote. If the F.B.I. finds misstatements or omissions, it must also assess whether they undermined the legal basis for placing those targets under surveillance.

The F.B.I. said in a statement that the 29 flawed applications predated changes it made after a separate damning inspector general report last year uncovered numerous errors and omissions in applications under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA, to monitor the former Trump adviser Carter Page as part of the Russia investigation.

The bureau emphasized that “maintaining the trust and confidence of the court is ”paramount,” adding that: “In line with our duty of candor to the court and our responsibilities to the American people, we will continue to work closely with the FISC and the Department of Justice to ensure that our FISA authorities are exercised responsibly.”

In the report this week, the Justice Department inspector general, Michael E. Horowitz, sought to examine the so-called Woods files, in which the F.B.I. is required to compile supporting evidence for each statement of fact in the application that goes to a judge, for each of the 29 applications.

Mr. Horowitz’s team said that it “identified apparent errors or inadequately supported facts in all of the 25 applications we reviewed” and that the F.B.I. could not even locate the supporting files for the other four. The inspector general wrote that he lacked confidence that the procedures, intended to ensure that surveillance applications were “scrupulously accurate,” were working.

“It would be an understatement to note that such lack of confidence appears well founded,” Judge Boasberg wrote. “None of the 29 cases reviewed had a Woods file that did what it is supposed to do: Support each fact proffered to the court.”

The inspector general report referred to some factual errors in the applications but did not provide a comprehensive accounting of them. It also did not compare the applications to voluminous raw case files in search of omissions of any mitigating evidence that could cast doubt on the F.B.I.’s assertion that a target is probably a foreign agent.

The inspector general audit was a follow-up to the report scrutinizing the F.B.I.’s application for court permission to eavesdrop on Mr. Page.

Although the Page wiretap was only a small part of the Russia investigation, President Trump and his allies have sought to portray the serious problems with the Page wiretap applications as evidence to support their theory that there was a politically biased conspiracy against the Trump campaign at the F.B.I. that amounted to an attempted coup.

But Mr. Horowitz’s follow-up findings of serious problems with how the F.B.I. put together every unrelated FISA application his team scrutinized suggests that the bureau had been routinely and systematically negligent when preparing FISA applications, as opposed to singling out Mr. Page for special mistreatment.

After the report about the problems with the Page applications, the F.B.I. director, Christopher Wray, ordered more than 40 corrective actions, like greater training and new checklists agents must follow when putting together applications. Last month, Judge Boasberg accepted those changes and added a few additional rules.

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