Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz released an investigative audit report on Tuesday. though, unfortunately, it was not the long-awaited report into the FBI’s alleged abuse of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act warrants to spy on the 2016 Trump campaign.
Rather, this IG report was more narrowly focused on the mismanagement of what the FBI calls “Confidential Human Sources,” or “CHSs,” over the time period of 2012 – 2019, which would encompass the entirety of the tenure of disgraced former FBI Director James Comey, The Federalist reported.
What the 63-page report revealed was a number of “deficiencies” and “issues” that showed that the FBI had not followed attorney general guidelines and its own procedures with validating and vetting confidential sources, both short- and long-term; didn’t have adequate internal reviews over the CHS program; didn’t follow its own process for implementing policy changes; and, perhaps most importantly, placed agents and sources and others at risk of harm due to a lack of proper guidelines covering the use of secure communications between agents and sources.
In the executive summary of the report, in a section titled “Challenges Exist in Securing and Safeguarding CHS Communications and Information,” the IG revealed that his team had “found that the FBI lacked clear guidance to inform its personnel of the acceptable platforms for communicating with CHSs.”
“Without clear guidance, we believe there is increased operational security risk that could result in agents and CHSs being put in harm’s way,” the summary added. “In addition, we found that the FBI is not ensuring its highly classified CHS reporting platform is properly safeguarded from unauthorized access, increasing the potential for unmitigated insider threat risks.”
The report noted later in more depth that there were “varying practices” on proper communications between agents and sources — particularly regarding the use of FBI-issued devices versus non-governmental devices — that were dependent upon such things as different FBI field offices, operational divisions, and supervisory agents, among other factors.
As for the safeguarding of the highly classified system for CHS reporting, much of that section was redacted and blacked out. However, specific details aside, it was made abundantly clear that there was a decided lack of adequate safeguards put in place to prevent “potential unauthorized access” of the system and the classified information it contained.
What all of that means is that, without a universal set of guidelines for all FBI agents to follow regarding communications with confidential sources, there was a risk of “interception and exploitation of highly sensitive information” that could have placed both agents and sources in danger, or at the very least compromise investigations.
More broadly, Horowitz concurrently released a brief video along with the report in which he detailed a few of the key findings:
Horowitz noted “significant issues” with both oversight and guidelines compliance with the CHS program, the first of which was the “vetting process for confidential sources,” which didn’t adhere to the guidelines set previously by the attorney general, “particularly with regard to long-term sources.”
The IG also noted that the department’s review committee that was tasked with providing oversight of the program didn’t comply with the guidelines and hadn’t properly vetted long-term sources.
Aside from the issues with unclear guidance regarding proper communications with sources, Horowitz noted that some FBI agents had been “discouraged” from properly documenting their conclusions and recommendations about the use of certain sources, and also pointed out “issues” with an inability of the FBI to properly “align” its confidential sources with its “highest threat priorities.”
“Ineffective management and oversight of confidential sources can result in jeopardizing FBI operations and placing FBI agents, sources, subjects of investigation, and the public in harm’s way,” Horowitz said.
This report from the IG is just further evidence showing just how terribly the FBI was managed during Comey’s tenure as director, which started in September 2013. It’s also further proof that President Donald Trump was absolutely correct to fire him in 2017.
To be sure, this particular report from the IG isn’t the long-awaited bombshell that is expected to expose potentially criminal wrongdoing during Comey’s tenure, especially during the 2016 presidential campaign.
But it is pretty damning nonetheless and shows that there remains a need for dramatic reform of the FBI to clean up after the years of ineffective management and neglect for proper procedure that appears to have been standard practice during Comey’s time as director.
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