Barr Unveils New Restrictions on FISA Surveillance Applications

Attorney General William Barr is announcing a series of new reforms to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrant application process.

The new reforms come 10 months after Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz released a report on the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI) Russia probe.

Horowitz’s report found several errors in the agency’s FISA applications to surveil members of President Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. 

“The Department of Justice and the Federal Bureau of Investigation press forward with Foreign Intelligence Surveillance reforms,” Barr said in a statement on Tuesday.

Barr issued two memos regarding the FISA reforms that implement new restrictions on applying for a surveillance warrant for an elected official or a candidate or “advisors of such candidate’s campaign.”

“In consultation with FBI Director Wray, I issued two memoranda — one that authorizes the establishment of an FBI Office of Internal Auditing and directs the FBI to undertake aggressive compliance measures, and the other that establishes protocols to ensure the accuracy of FISA applications and the effective oversight of any surveillance applications targeting elected officials and political campaigns.”

The new reforms require that the director of the FBI “considers” whether or not to brief the “target.” However, if the director decides that “such a briefing is not appropriate,” they must provide written documentation about the decision.

FBI Director Christopher Wray said in a statement Tuesday, “Since the Inspector General’s Crossfire Hurricane report was issued last December, I have made clear that it describes conduct that was unacceptable and unrepresentative of the FBI as an organization.”

He added that he “immediately ordered more than 40 corrective actions, including foundational FISA reforms, many of which went beyond those recommended by the Inspector General.”

“The additional reforms announced today, which we worked on closely with the Attorney General’s office, will build on the FBI’s efforts to bolster its compliance program,” he said.

Carlo Allegri/Reuters

The new reforms come months after Horowitz released a separate scathing report expressing skepticism in the FBI’s compliance with FISA warrant procedures, as IJR reported.

Horowitz said in March that his office launched a broader review into the FBI’s compliance with procedures for FISA applications. 

He said, “As a result of our audit work to date and as described below, we do not have confidence that the FBI has executed its Woods Procedures in compliance with FBI policy.”

His investigation detailed several errors in FISA applications from 2014 to 2019. However, Horowitz said he did not make a determination on whether those errors would have impacted the agents’ ability to get the warrants approved.

On Tuesday, Barr called FISA warrants a “critical tool to ensuring the safety and security of Americans.”

He continued, “However, the American people must have confidence that the United States Government will exercise its surveillance authorities in a manner that protects the civil liberties of Americans, avoids interference in the political process, and complies with the Constitution and laws of the United States.”

Finally, Barr said, “What happened to the Trump presidential campaign and his subsequent Administration after the President was duly elected by the American people must never happen again.”

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