The FBI has “significant weaknesses” in its human confidential-source program, which could compromise criminal and intelligence investigations, the Justice Department inspector general said in a scathing report Tuesday.
“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,” Inspector General Michael E. Horowitz said in a statement announcing the report.
The report dinged the FBI for failing to properly supervise its confidential human sources (CHS) and ignoring both Justice Department and internal guidelines.
A confidential human source is an informant who engages defendants and suspects for the purpose of collecting information in a criminal probe. The FBI spends an average of $42 million per year in payment to such sources, according to the report.
However, the FBI failed to validate the credibility of its sources or assess the veracity of the information they provided. When such reviews were conducted, investigators did not “review the full scope” of the source’s long-term work for the FBI.
“FBI employees conducting CHS validation reviews told us they were discouraged from documenting conclusions and recommendations arising from the validation process,” Mr. Horowitz wrote in the report.
The report also found a backlog of vetting reviews for sources who have served more than five years. Under FBI policy, the bureau must routinely vet long-term sources.
Mr. Horowitz’s team also concluded the FBI brass failed to provide agents with clear directions about how to communicate with sources, creating “an increased operational risk.”
However, a full accounting of the CHS program is incomplete because the FBI’s record-keeping system was deemed “inadequate” by the inspector general. Instead of electronic record-keeping, an FBI official had to create a spreadsheet of the data requested.
“These factors increase the likelihood that the FBI has not adequately mitigated the risks posed by every familiar and non-objective handling agent and CHS relationships,” the report said.
The inspector general made 16 recommendations to improve the FBI’s CHS program. In a response accompanying the report, the FBI and Justice Department said they have agreed with the recommendations and have begun taking steps to correct the process.
“We agree it is important to continue to improve the validation process to ensure compliance with the AG guidelines,” wrote Suzanne Turner, an FBI official, in response to the inspector general’s report.
Although the report did not mention President Trump or the FBI’s Russia investigation, the bureau relied on several confidential sources in that probe.
Among the sources enlisted by the FBI included Cambridge professor Stefan Halper who met with Trump campaign official George Papadopoulos. Another source was Christopher Steele, a British ex-spy whose salacious anti-Trump dossier was used to obtain surveillance warrants on Trump campaign aide Carter Page.
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