Civil Liberties

The FBI's Sloppy FISA Surveillance Is Exposed

The findings shared by Inspector General Michael Horowitz revealed some rotten practices at the FBI and a major media blindspot.


In December, the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) at the Justice Department released a highly anticipated report on the FBI's investigation of the 2016 Trump campaign's Russia connection. The findings shared by Inspector General Michael Horowitz didn't tell us anything new about President Donald Trump's campaign, but they did reveal some rotten practices at the FBI and a major media blindspot.

Most outlets focused on the OIG's failure to turn up evidence that the FBI launched its investigation into Trump and Russia in order to help Hillary Clinton or to undermine his presidency, as Trump has long alleged. Many of those same outlets acted as if nothing else in the OIG report mattered. A CNN article, for instance, called the Russia probe "legal and unbiased" before conceding that a "low-level FBI lawyer" made "serious mistakes." CNN and MSNBC anchors also invited former and current bureau leaders to come on TV and claim vindication. Yet the FBI's malfeasance is a lot scarier and more complicated than a single lawyer's mistakes.

Inspector General Horowitz found 17 "serious performance failures" relating to warrants obtained by the FBI through the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) courts for the purposes of monitoring Trump campaign adviser Carter Page. The FISA warrant, which was reauthorized three times, contained false and misleading information about Page: It omitted that he had previously disclosed his Russian contacts to a government agency; it overstated the government's confidence in the infamous Christopher Steele dossier and ignored Steele's own doubts about one of his sources; it declined to mention that Page had said he and Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort had "literally never met"; and in general it ignored information that undermined the theory that Page was a Russian asset.

"When the Justice Department's Inspector General finds significant concerns regarding flawed surveillance applications concerning the president's campaign advisors, it is clear that this regime lacks basic safeguards and is in need of serious reform," said Hina Shamsi, director of the American Civil Liberties Union's National Security Project, in a statement. "The system requires fundamental reforms, and Congress can start by providing defendants subjected to FISA surveillance the opportunity to review the government's secret submissions."

Trump and his supporters were mistaken to attribute to malicious conspiracy what is better explained by bureaucratic incompetence, but the latter is not necessarily less dangerous. The OIG gave America its most intimate glimpse ever of the FBI's internal workings. What it revealed doesn't bode well for liberty.

NEXT: Brickbat: Now, Who Was Misbehaving?

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  1. "Trump and his supporters were mistaken to attribute to malicious conspiracy what is better explained by bureaucratic incompetence, but the latter is not necessarily less dangerous."

    Robbie... you generally at least try to do a better job than this. Go watch, or read, Horowitz's deposition on his report. He clearly states he could only put what he has direct evidence for in his report. Since he had nobody admit to bias, his report could not directly lost bias. He stated on his testimony that essentially there was bias in his view, just not overt documentation or testimony of such.

    Only reason could argue FOR animus on the many lawsuits against Trump and his hidden motivations, yet completely ignore it in every other area of discussion.

    1. "Can you say it wasn’t because of political bias?" Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., asked.

      "I do not know," Horowitz answered. He also said he was "not ruling it out," regarding the possibility that bias influenced those decisions.

    2. Hawley: Was it your conclusion that there was — that political bias did not affect any part of the [former FBI lawyer Lisa] Page investigation, any part of Crossfire Hurricane? Is that what you concluded?

      Horowitz: We did not reach that conclusion.

      Hawley: Because I could have sworn — in fact, I know for a fact that I’ve heard that today from this committee. But that’s not your conclusion?

      Horowitz: We have been very careful, in connection with the FISAs, for the reasons you mentioned, to not reach that conclusion, in part — as we’ve talked about earlier — the alteration of the email, the text messages associated with the individual who did that, and our inability to explain or understand what — to get good explanations so that we could understand why this all happened.

      1. SEN. HAWLEY: "They were competent enough to deliberately mislead the FISA court, to change submissions to the FISA court, to alter emails. It doesn’t sound like they’re very stupid to me. What's the explanation? Why over time, why would all of these people. four times over the space of half a year, deliberately mislead a federal court?"
        HOROWITZ: "So we ultimately make — we don’t make a conclusion as to the intent here. So I want to be clear about that... There are so many errors, we couldn’t reach a conclusion or make a determination on what motivated those failures other than we did not credit what we lay out here were the explanations we got.

      2. Just a small correction here. The Page investigation refers to former Trump campaign foreign policy advisor Carter Page, not former FBI lawyer Lisa Page.

        Deep State operatives don't get investigated.

        1. I just cut and paste from the transcripts. Didn't even catch that.

    3. ""bureaucratic incompetence,""

      It's doubtful incompetence would just favor one side.

      If it is, where are the firings? That level of incompetence should not be accepted.

      1. The Ruby Ridge Rules of Engagement leading to the back shooting of Randy Weaver, the shooting of Kevin Harris, the killing of Vicki Weaver, in a "shootout" 22 Aug 1992 where only the FBI fired shots - just a little FBI incompetence.

        The final tank and gas attack at Waco which led to the Davidians bunkering down as the building burned rather than coming out to surrender peacefully, that was major FBI incompetence.

        How much incompetence must the FBI show before we decide too much is more than enough?

        I've said for years I would not trust the FBI any further than I could throw the J Edgar Hoover Building.

        1. The FBI is a "paper Tiger" staffed by bureaucrats and naive people. Without the boundless resources, paid doubious informants and ruthless Assistant US Attorneys most of these agents could not find an elephant in a phone booth. Hoover was ALL ABOUT public relations and public perception. Gangsters and other professional criminals have been snookering the FBI for decades. Informants bilk them out of money. Organized crime people like Whitey Bolger scammed them and operated unmolested for years. Greg Scarpa was fed information about his enemies before his "handler" was exposed as an enabler of that gangster. FBI NEVER REFORMED after the Church Committee report in the 1970's. Still a paper tiger that violates civil rights and bungles more than it succeeds. Look at some terrorist cases for an eye opening experience. Just reading those texts from the "lovers" was a laugh riot.

  2. Lying to get warrants is not sloppy, its a crime
    They aren't poorly trained, they didn't do it by accident
    They know the 4th amendment

    The SoBs who did it, and the SoBs who supervise them and approved all of it should be going to prison.
    That goes for those who did it to Trump as well as the who knows how many hundreds of agents who did the same to spy on Americans.

    This is all completely ignoring that secret courts like FISA are unconstitutitonal and repugnant to a freedom loving people.

    1. They also put their signatures to paper on every submittal to the FISA court warning them of impropriety. Saying these are mistakes is silly. Literally evidence was modified prior to submittal to the court. All exculpatory evidence was removed. Political bias of the Steele report was hidden under vague language. These are all intentional actions.

    2. Lying to get warrants is not sloppy, its a crime

      It's not a crime if the law isn't enforced.

      1. I guess that's true

        The only people to go to prison for MK Ultra were the victims the CIA experimented on.

        The only people to go to prison when the DoD decided to use US soldiers as guinea pigs for an unapproved anthrax vaccine in the 90s were those who refused orders to take it.

        The only people who'll end up going to prison here are the people who were the victims again.

        1. Go watch McCabes cnn interview after the DoJ refused to prosecute him. It will piss you off. He decries how awful the process was for him and his family. the same process he had the FBI use on countless others.

          1. It was an intentional "fuck you" to the American people.
            He must be dealt with

    3. Suppression of exculpatory evidence and puffery of incriminatory evidence is an art form greatly admired in prosecutorial circles.

      The Brady, Jenks, and Giglio rules on discoverable evidence - supposed to balance exculpatory and incriminatory - have become jokes.

      FBI FD-302 interview form is titled "Form for Reporting Information That May Become Testimony". Too often the FD-302 interview is conducted to support the prosecution theory, not to find facts. In too many cases, both prosecution and defense witnesses have disputed what the interviewing agent wrote in their FD-302. Why should we be surprised that it has carried over to FBI presentations before the FISA court judge?

      We should start with an exorcism of the ghost of J Edgar Hoover from the halls of the FBI.

    4. Lying to get warrants is not sloppy, its a crime

      Came here to say this.

      The FBI is still the same corrupt, power-hungry, evil pack of autocratic scum that Hoover built. It's beyond redemption. The American people deserve to see it disbanded.


  3. I'm shocked! Shocked to find gambling is going on in here.

    1. Here are your winnings.

      1. Thank you.

    2. March madness isn’t until April OldGuy.

  4. Inspector General Horowitz found 17 "serious performance failures" relating to warrants obtained by the FBI through the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) courts

    The proper remedy is to abolish the FISA courts, and the FBI. With respect to the FBI, we already have the ATF, CIA, NSA, DHS, TSA, ICE, and more - the FBI won’t be missed.

  5. FBI claims it "lost" informant documents signed by dossier fabulist Christopher Steele in January 2016

    1. But of course. Probably, just incompetence, like Robby says.

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  7. Just like the IRS making mistakes under Lois Lerner. All the unforced errors go against one political party or point of view, but this is a statistical anomaly, not indication of any intent.
    Sort of like Stop and Frisk, but against Republicans and Libertarians.

  8. I agree with most commenters that Robby has fallen for the spin that Horowitz's failure to find signed declarations of evil intent from the investigators equals the absence of such evil intent. Evil intent is much the likeliest explanation for the "failures" that Horowitz admitted he found inexplicable. And I'll note in passing, that the fons et origo of this stuff coming to light - the Page/Strzok emails - is a very incomplete record. Mueller made sure a lot of them got destroyed. But....

    ....there's no reason to believe that the FBI are more rigorous in following the rules and respecting citizen's rights in FISA cases which have no political element. If you're given a power subject to FISA court review, with no defense to get in your way, and you discover that the FISA court is happy to rubber stamp your applications, you have to be of pretty noble character to play it straight.

    The Carter Page thing was obviously deliberate politicking by the FBI. But I betcha the non political FISA appllications contain a lot of cut corners, deliberately omitted evidence (that if included might make the Judge wake up) and so on.

  9. Sure thing Robbie. I'll be sure to apply this metric to all law enforcement and all racial/gender articles in the future. No racism in LE, just sloppy work that only goes one way for the selected facts presented, no big deal. Gang rape, nah, that's just sloppy communication about consent nothing wrong with that. Your reflexive progressive ass covering is nauseating.

    1. Disparate outcomes are proof of racism/sexism according to mainstream correct thinking people, despite otherwise valid reasons to explain those outcomes. But disparate outcomes of government "investigations" into politicians is just those goofy, harmless bumbling fools at the FBI... nothing to see here.

      1. Does the outcome serve them or go against them?

        Anything against someone they don't like is proof of racism/sexism ect. If the same thing is levied against someone they like then it's just incompetence. They like the FBI when the FBI goes against Trump.

        It's about the who not the what. People with principles are concerned about the what, not the who.

    2. Hey! Don't knock the "sloppy" defense! I plan on being sloppy at work and absent-mindedly forgetting that the money in the safe isn't actually mine to put in a garbage bag and take home with me. Oopsy! Silly me, I made a mistake.

      1. I was sloppy with my income tax form.

  10. No one believes this shit dude. You were all wrong for the past three years and you still can't admit it.

  11. How to fix FISA.. Repeal it.

  12. I find Robby's declaration that this was all 'sloppy' to be wholly 'sloppy.'

    Which is pretty much all of Reason lately.

  13. My last month paycheck was for 11000 dollars… All i did was simple online work from comfort at home for 3-4 hours/day that I got from this agency I discovered over the internet and they paid me for it 95 bucks every hour..........Read MoRe

  14. The FISA applications and warrants are secret. If the FBI/DOJ suppress exculpatory evidence and misrepresent facts about you to wiretap you, and they find nothing, then no one ever finds out they did anything wrong. If they do find something and can investigate and indict you, then you and your lawyer will probably never get to see the underlying application, and no one will shed any tears for you anyway, you dirty terrorist/spy. If the DOJ/FBI play by the rules, and an application is denied, and the subject then does something bad, then the government failed in its job and there will be headlines.
    The incentives are thus for the government to cheat in this process.
    Meanwhile, if a FISA judge rubber stamps all the applications that come before her, then the warrants that turn up nothing, and no one will ever know. If she denies an application, and the subject commits a terrorist act later, then she can count on the DOJ/FBI to leak the fact that the judge denied the application. So the judges' incentives are to rubber stamp FISA warrant applications.
    This is a dirty system, and if Democrats lived their supposed principles, the current istuation would present an opportunity for bi-partisan effort to reform the system -- but they won't do that, because it would look good for our President.

  15. /strikes a pose.

    Look ma! My shocked face!

  16. I don't know if it was 'malicious' but it's pretty clear what they were up to and it's a bit rich to chalk it up to just incompetence. You can tell when something unfolds due to incompetence through the Peter Principle. There was more at play here and it was by choice and design.

    Ma verramente, Robby.

  17. They did not think they would get caught. But they knew if they got caught that media people would say it was just bureaucratic incompetence. No deliberate conduct, no specific intent, even when all 17 "incompetent" acts just happened to serve the side that wanted the ability to spy.

    1. How terrifying does a Hillary Clinton government look in retrospect to everything we've found out just since Trump got elected.

  18. Reason, and every writer at Reason, sucks so bad.

    Before anyone asks, I am here to interact with a quality commentariat, and to witness the disintegration of what used to be the vanguard of libertarian media.

    1. I'm pretty sure the comments section is the only reason Reason hasn't gone under.

    2. What is going on with the editorial staff at Reason?

      It is ok to disagree with many, if not all, of Trump's policies while at the same time admitting that elements of the government were conspiring against him and the MSM are covering for them.

      1. I've been thinking about it for a couple years, and the ONLY thing that I can figure is that the only people who are interested in politics during "non-peak" season are hardcore lefties. If you have the choice between writing the truth that nobody will read or publishing lies eaten by the only people paying attention...............

  19. The thing is, now that I think of it, what's malicious is based on this incompetence (and whatever else one may deduce or conclude from the FBI's actions) is that even where evidence shows Trump isn't guilty or at least not as corrupted as pearl-clutchers claim (and certainly no worse at best than your run of the mill politician in North America going back to 1776 and 1867), the damage to perception is already done.

    If you dare say he was cleared and the FBI was trying to usurp power from him, you run the risk of being accused of being naive because you're a fool if you don't think he was doing something - anything!

    Which is frustrating because few of us are naive but neither are we selective with our cynicism. We're not concluding it's not impossible but that the bottom line is they didn't prove their case.

    End of story.

    It's mind boggling despite all the literature, evidence and information regarding the political theatrics of Mueller and impeachment, people actually are willing to believe this mob-mentality junk all because they believe their hate of Trump is accurate.

    It's like Toobin that tool feeling deceived by Avenatti. Only a clown couldn't spot the sleaze game he was playing and Toobin is out there lecturing people about the constitution and what's 'right'.

    In any other walk of life we ignore such people for their shocking vulnerability to bull shit, on TV they get financially rewarded.

    1. Media blindspot indeed. The irony here is rich.

      1. This all day. Nary a word in this rag about 3 years of attempted coup and the chutzpah to write an article naming other media and their deficiencies.

    2. In any other walk of life we ignore such people for their shocking vulnerability to bull shit, on TV they get financially rewarded.

      Not to argue with your main point, but public school administrators are richly rewarded for their failures and have the chutzpah to argue that their failures are evidence that they need to be even more richly rewarded.

      It is odd that anybody who calls themselves libertarian wouldn't automatically be skeptical of government and their police powers and therefore unwilling to give them the benefit of the doubt. Caesar's Wife and all that. And then there's Robbie - to be sure, many members of the mafia are guilty of heinous crimes but we can't know for sure that this particular mafioso is guilty of any sort of crime.

      1. I agree.

        And then there's Dalmia's Trump diatribes.

        I don't seem to recall her expressing grave reservations during Obama years. Or the fact that on immigration (specially ILLEGAL immigration) Trump sounds like just about any damn Democrat going back to the 1990s.

        There are plenty of compilations revealing this on YouTube.

        The latest being Larry Elder.

        I'm old enough to remember Clinton saying as much. Everyone knew it was a problem but now all of a sudden under Trump it's different?

        The hypocrisy is astounding.

  20. Of course Robby, it wasn't malicious at all. And a dog ate Steele's informant docs.

  21. Yeah Robby, I know you penned this a while back.....

    But don't use the word sloppy.

    FISA isn't sloppy. It is a secret process ripe for abuse. It was in fact abused in the presidential election, which is kind of remarkable. That should be your first clue as to how commonly this process is abused.

  22. If the problem was "bureaucratic incompetence," errors would be as likely to weaken the case for permission as to strengthen it, which was not the case.

    We don't know if the motive was malice against Trump, but it pretty clearly was the desire to get permission to wiretap someone. The FBI correctly believed that the FISA court was unlikely to check on their claimed facts, the truth did not provide adequate support for what they wanted, so they deliberately pretended that the evidence for what they wanted was stronger than it actually was.

    The interesting case was whether, as I suspect, this is what they routinely do, whether or not with political motives.

  23. Doubtful though it is, if this is really a case of "Hanlon's razor" it ain't all that comforting. That this is just another case of some random individual who for random reasons and due to random "mistakes", falls into the maw of the government to be ground up, crushed, and spit out wont make me sleep any better.

  24. Oh, how I wish it were true that J. Edgar Hoover's FBI was incompetent. No, the "mistakes" were intentional and the spying was intentional. It is not as easy to bug an opposition's political campaign as it was when Johnson totally covered the Goldwater campaign. The key question I've never heard asked or answered is where did the data from the surveillance go? Was the president provided with the data? He was, of course, a big part of the Clinton campaign. Face it, FISA was devised to give the president plausible deniability and it worked and still works. How do you like that now those tools are in Trumps' hands?

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  26. How about eliminate the FBI. The president does not need his own spy and police force.

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  29. "Trump and his supporters were mistaken to attribute to malicious conspiracy what is better explained by bureaucratic incompetence"

    Perhaps if not ALL of the 17 "mistakes" were in one direction we could give them the benefit of the doubt. However since these "errors" were all in one direction, anybody with a brain can see the investigation was crooked from the start.

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