FBI aims to tighten pro­to­cols for elec­tronic sur­veil­lance

Watch­dog re­port knocked agency for Rus­sia in­ves­ti­ga­tion

Baltimore Sun - - NATION & WORLD | OBITUARIES - By Eric Tucker

WASH­ING­TON — The FBI has laid out new pro­to­cols for how it con­ducts elec­tronic sur­veil­lance in na­tional se­cu­rity cases, re­spond­ing to a Jus­tice Depart­ment in­spec­tor gen­eral re­port that harshly crit­i­cized the bureau’s han­dling of the Rus­sia in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

The changes, de­tailed in a 30-page fil­ing with the se­cre­tive For­eign In­tel­li­gence Sur­veil­lance Court, are meant to en­sure that wire­tap ap­pli­ca­tions are more closely scru­ti­nized be­fore be­ing sub­mit­ted for a judge’s ap­proval and that they con­tain ac­cu­rate in­for­ma­tion about the reli­a­bil­ity and po­ten­tial bias of sources whom agents rely on.

The FBI also said ad­di­tional train­ing would be im­ple­mented.

The fil­ing last week came one month af­ter the chief judge of the sur­veil­lance court — in a rare pub­lic di­rec­tive — or­dered the FBI to say how it would cor­rect short­com­ings iden­ti­fied in the watch­dog re­port on the bureau’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion into ties be­tween Rus­sia and Donald Trump’s 2016 pres­i­den­tial cam­paign.

The in­spec­tor gen­eral re­port found that FBI ap­pli­ca­tions to eaves­drop on a for­mer Trump cam­paign aide, Carter Page, omit­ted key in­for­ma­tion about the cred­i­bil­ity of sources it was re­ly­ing on. It also al­leged that an FBI lawyer doc­tored an email used in con­nec­tion with one of the ap­pli­ca­tions.

In re­sponse, the FBI said Fri­day that it was de­vel­op­ing a check­list to be com­pleted dur­ing the ap­pli­ca­tion process to en­sure that all in­for­ma­tion about a source’s reli­a­bil­ity and pos­si­ble bias or mo­ti­va­tion is dis­closed to the court.

The FBI is also re­vis­ing a form used to re­quest and re­new sur­veil­lance so as to “elicit in­for­ma­tion that may un­der­mine prob­a­ble cause.”

The re­port, which also con­cluded that the FBI in­ves­ti­ga­tion was opened for a le­git­i­mate pur­pose, pro­duced bi­par­ti­san calls for change. SomeDemocr­ats who­had al­ready been skep­ti­cal of the FBI’s ex­pan­sive sur­veil­lance au­thor­i­ties raised fresh con­cerns, while Re­pub­li­can al­lies of Trump held up the re­port to ar­gue that agents had over­stepped their bounds and un­fairly treated a cam­paign aide.

The in­spec­tor gen­eral’s of­fice rec­om­mended mul­ti­ple im­prove­ments to the FBI’s sur­veil­lance pro­ce­dures and is also con­duct­ing an au­dit.

The sur­veil­lance court au­tho­rizes the FBI, with a war­rant, to eaves­drop on Amer­i­can soil on in­di­vid­u­als it be­lieves to be agents of a for­eign power.

It’s a pow­er­ful tool for ter­ror­ism, es­pi­onage and other na­tional se­cu­rity cases, though crit­ics have said the court func­tions as a rub­ber stamp for the govern­ment and with­out ad­e­quate trans­parency or pub­lic scru­tiny.

FBI Di­rec­tor Christo­pher Wray, in a 15-page dec­la­ra­tion in­cluded in the fil­ing, said that he plans to is­sue a bureau-wide email Mon­day in­form­ing the work­force of the changes it is im­ple­ment­ing.

“Crit­i­cally, the FBI must also bal­ance the im­ple­men­ta­tion of th­ese ac­tions with its on­go­ing re­spon­si­bil­ity to pro­tect the Amer­i­can peo­ple and up­hold the Con­sti­tu­tion of the United States, dur­ing a time of ever-present threats to our na­tional se­cu­rity,” Wray said.

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