U.S. appeals court orders dismissal of criminal case against Michael Flynn

By Sarah N. Lynch

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A U.S. appeals court on Wednesday directed a federal judge to drop a criminal case against President Donald Trump’s former national security adviser Michael Flynn for lying to the FBI, handing a victory to the Justice Department and effectively ending the politically charged case.

In a split decision, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled in favor of Flynn and the Trump administration in preventing U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan from exercising his discretion on whether to grant the department’s motion to clear Flynn, who twice pleaded guilty.

The ruling prevents Sullivan from hearing arguments at a July 16 hearing from retired judge John Gleeson, whom he appointed as a “friend of the court” to argue against dropping the case.

“In this case, the district court’s actions will result in

specific harms to the exercise of the executive branch’s

exclusive prosecutorial power,” wrote Judge Neomi Rao, who was appointed by Trump.

“The contemplated proceedings would likely require the Executive to reveal the internal deliberative process behind its exercise of prosecutorial discretion,” she added.

Judge Robert Wilkins, an Obama administration appointee, dissented.

Flynn, a retired Army lieutenant general, was one of several former Trump aides charged under former Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation that detailed Moscow’s interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

Flynn twice pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his conversations with Russia’s then-ambassador, Sergey Kislyak.

He switched lawyers to pursue a new scorched-earth tactic that accused the FBI of entrapping him, and asked the judge to dismiss the charge.

(Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Alistair Bell)

FBI finds evidence linking al Qaeda to 2019 Saudi shooter at Florida naval base: U.S. source

By Sarah N. Lynch and Mark Hosenball

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The FBI has found cellphone evidence linking al Qaeda to the Royal Saudi Air Force trainee who killed three American sailors and wounded eight people in a December shooting spree at a U.S. naval base in Florida, a federal law enforcement source said on Monday.

The shooter, Second Lieutenant Mohammed Saeed Alshamrani, 21, was killed by law enforcement during the Dec. 6, 2019 attack.

He was on the base as part of a U.S. Navy training program designed to foster links with foreign allies.

Since then, the Justice Department has been working to try and unlock the encryption on the shooter’s phone to get a better sense of his motives and whether he had connections to known terrorist groups.

In February, an audio recording purporting to be from the Islamist militant group al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) claimed responsibility for the fatal attack, but it provided no evidence.

Prior to the shooting spree, the shooter also posted criticism of U.S. wars and quoted slain al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden on social media.

The Justice Department has also previously said that Alshamrani visited the New York City memorial to the victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States – carried out by Saudi hijackers for the Islamist militant group al Qaeda – and posted anti-American, anti-Israeli and jihadi messages on social media, including two hours before the attack.

The FBI’s newly discovered evidence on Alshamrani’s phone signals the end of a spat between Attorney General William Barr and Apple Inc.

Earlier this year, he accused Apple of failing to help the FBI to get Alshamrani’s two cellphones unlocked, an allegation Apple staunchly denied.

Barr has said the Saudi government did not have any advanced warnings of the shooting.

However, in January, Saudi Arabia withdrew its remaining 21 cadets from the U.S. military training program and brought them back to Saudi Arabia, after the Justice Department’s investigation revealed that some of them had accessed child pornography or had social media accounts containing Islamic extremist or anti-American content.

(Reporting by Mark Hosenball and Sarah N. Lynch; additional reporting by Susan Heavey; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and David Gregorio)

U.S. attorney general highlights ‘new threat’ to security from drones

By David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Attorney General William Barr on Monday issued guidance to Justice Department agencies on the use of protective measures against drones, including the destruction of any that pose a threat to national security.

Congress in 2018 gave the Justice and Homeland Security departments new powers to disable or destroy any threatening drones, which can compete with satellites as modern day spies in the sky, after officials raised concerns about their use as weapons.

The United States ranks among the world leaders in drone warfare after employing the technology widely in countries including Afghanistan.

Barr, in a statement, said the guidelines issued Monday “will ensure that we are positioned for the future to address this new threat, and that we approach our counter-drone efforts responsibly, with full respect for the Constitution, privacy, and the safety of the national airspace.”

The guidance says the FBI, Drug Enforcement Agency, Bureau of Prisons and other Justice Department agencies can intercept communications from a threatening drone or destroy it without prior consent. It also details how agencies “may seek approval for the use of counter-drone technologies and request designation of facilities or assets for protection.”

Justice Department agencies under certain circumstances may maintain records of communications intercepted from drones for up 180 days, the guidance says.

In a reference to the downing, destruction or disabling of any threatening drones, the guidance says agencies must work with the Federal Aviation Administration and conduct a risk-based assessment to examine the impact of operations on the national airspace. That “includes potential effects on manned and unmanned aircraft, aviation safety, airport operations and infrastructure, and air navigation services.”

Agencies, the guidance adds, “should consider and be sensitive at all times to the potential impact protective measures may have on legitimate activity by unmanned aircraft and unmanned aircraft systems, including systems operated by the press.”

More than 1.5 million drones have been registered with the Federal Aviation Administration and they are flown by more than 160,000 certified remote pilots.

(Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Tom Brown)

Military landlord, under fire following Reuters reports, issues improvement plan

By M.B. Pell

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Military housing landlord Balfour Beatty Communities, the focus of a Justice Department inquiry following Reuters reports it falsified maintenance logs, said it has taken steps to prevent the practice and make its homes safer for service families.

In an improvement action plan filed with the U.S. Air Force in December and approved in February, the landlord detailed a series of steps it said it has taken since coming under federal scrutiny.

Balfour Beatty changed its electronic maintenance system, making it more difficult for employees to falsify logs. It hired additional staff and outside health experts and began more aggressively resolving housing safety hazards. And, it restructured management.

“We have undertaken a comprehensive review of our military housing operations and saw clearly that our leadership structure – at the project, regional and corporate levels – was not adequately serving residents or the business,” said the company’s action report, obtained by Reuters via a Freedom of Information Request.

The company has already achieved a number of the objectives and is committed to meeting the rest, a company spokesperson said in a statement.

Balfour Beatty Communities, a unit of British infrastructure conglomerate Balfour Beatty plc, has also briefed the Army, Navy and members of Congress about its action plan.

The report says that, after a Reuters-CBS News story last June revealed how company employees falsified work orders at the Tinker Air Force base in Oklahoma, the Department of Justice opened an investigation. Later, the DOJ issued Balfour a Civil Investigative Demand, a pre-litigation tool used by the government to gather information related to an investigation under the False Claims Act.

“The company voluntarily brought the matter to the attention of the Department of Justice and has been actively cooperating with the investigation,” Balfour Beatty said in a statement.

Reuters described how Balfour Beatty falsified maintenance documents at Air Force bases to qualify for bonus payments worth millions of dollars, citing five former employees who said they falsified records, internal company emails, company documents and internal Air Force communications.

The company maintains the practice was not widespread and that it never sanctioned doctoring of records. Its improvement plan would make such practices more difficult.

The company now restricts when a maintenance work order can be cancelled, and such cancellations require approval from a company vice president. Before, base managers said the company often cancelled tenants’ work order requests when they could not be completed on time, so the delay wouldn’t count against potential incentive payments.

Similarly, Balfour Beatty now prohibits base staff from editing work orders after they are closed. Former staff said they sometimes changed work order completion dates to make it appear as if they were finished on time, helping the company receive bonuses.

Balfour Beatty said its outside counsel, Hunton Andrews Kurth LLP, and auditor PricewaterhouseCoopers are examining its bonus payments.

“If it is determined that we did not properly earn incentive fees paid to us, we will refund those amounts,” the report said. “If the investigation determines wrong-doing by any member for our staff, we will take appropriate action.”

At the Tinker Air Force base, residents say the company still has much work to do. Jana Driver, who lived in a moldy, leaky home at Tinker and now advocates for military families, said she is skeptical Balfour Beatty’s plan will improve housing.

“They all have important names and important titles and it sounds significant, but nothing is changing,” Driver said.

(Reporting by M.B. Pell in New York. Editing by Ronnie Greene)

U.S. task force to tackle coronavirus market manipulation, hoarding

By Sarah N. Lynch

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States is launching a task force to address market manipulation, hoarding and price gouging related to the coronavirus pandemic, following an order by President Donald Trump to crack down on such crimes.

At the same time, federal law enforcement agencies across the country are prioritizing investigations into an array of coronavirus-related crimes following reports they have surged.

Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen said among the reported crimes were the targeting of federally-insured Medicare patients with fake tests or unnecessary antiretroviral prescriptions.

“You should be on the lookout for these sorts of schemes,” Rosen wrote in the memo, which was directed to the heads of all the Justice Department’s law enforcement components and all U.S. Attorneys offices.

Other reported crimes included threats of violence to local mayors and robberies of patients and doctors leaving hospitals.

In a separate memo, Attorney General William Barr said the new task force on hoarding and price gouging will be led by Craig Carpenito, the U.S. Attorney for the District of New Jersey.

“We must do the best we can to protect Americans’ rights and safety in this novel and troubling time,” Barr wrote.

Barr earlier this month directed federal prosecutors to prioritize crimes related to the coronavirus outbreak. That initiative required each U.S. Attorney’s office to appoint a designated prosecutor to oversee coronavirus fraud cases.

The coronavirus pandemic has killed more than 660 people in the United States and infected more than 50,000, with some officials warning the crisis could last for months.

Law enforcement officials who specialize in healthcare and drug-related crimes who spoke with Reuters this week said they anticipated rising crime as fraudsters seek to capitalize on people’s fears about the outbreak.

Marking its first coronavirus case, the Justice Department revealed on Sunday it had closed down a website selling non-existent vaccines.

Barr has already launched investigations into the hoarding and price gouging of critical medical supplies, part of actions tied to an executive order by President Donald Trump that authorizes the criminal prosecution of anyone whose purchases exceed reasonable limits.

(Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch; editing by Jane Wardell)

U.S. court denies Trump administration bid to resume federal executions

By Sarah N. Lynch

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A U.S. appeals court on Monday denied the Justice Department’s request to overturn a lower court decision that temporarily stalled plans by President Donald Trump’s administration to resume executions of prisoners convicted of certain federal crimes after a 16-year hiatus.

The three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit found that the administration had “not satisfied the stringent requirements” to stay the lower court’s ruling. The administration had planned to resume executions of federal death row inmates starting on Dec. 9.

The ruling follows a Nov. 21 decision by U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan to stay the planned executions of four federal death row inmates until a long-running legal challenge to the Justice Department’s lethal injection protocol can be resolved.

The lawsuits, the first of which was filed in 2005, challenged the protocol on the grounds that it violated the U.S. Constitution’s Eighth Amendment ban on cruel and unusual punishment by carrying a risk of severe pain. The suits also said the protocol violated a federal law called the Administrative Procedure Act because it was written in secret without public input.

The case fell dormant during President Barack Obama’s tenure after the federal government was forced to halt executions and abandon its previous three-drug protocol due to a shortage of one of the drugs, an anesthetic called sodium thiopental.

But the case was revived in July, after U.S. Attorney General William Barr, appointed by Trump earlier in the year, scheduled the execution of five federal death row inmates and unveiled a new protocol that calls for using a single drug, pentobarbital, for the lethal injection.

(Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch; Editing by Will Dunham)

As new U.S. law frees inmates, prosecutors seek to lock some back up

Monae Davis plays with a grandchild, Dayrone Ferguson Jr., 2, after an interview at a halfway house in Buffalo, New York, U.S., July 16, 2019. Picture taken July 16, 2019. REUTERS/Lindsay DeDario

By Andy Sullivan

BUFFALO, N.Y. (Reuters) – Monae Davis walked out of prison on March 7, thanks to a new law that eased some of the harshest aspects of the United States’ war on drugs.

Now the U.S. Justice Department is trying to lock him back up.

As Davis, 44, looks for work and re-connects with his family, U.S. prosecutors are working to undo a federal judge’s decision that shaved six years off his 20-year prison sentence under the First Step Act, a sweeping criminal-justice reform signed into law by President Donald Trump last December.

“They’re prosecutors and it’s their job to make it hard on people,” he said. “Do I think it is right? No, it’s not fair.”

Even as thousands of prison inmates have been released by judges under the new law, federal prosecutors have fought scores of petitions for reduced sentences and are threatening to put more than a dozen inmates already released back behind bars, Reuters found in an analysis of these cases.

The reason: the Justice Department says the amount of drugs they handled was too large to qualify for a reduced sentence.

Davis, for example, reached a deal in 2009 with U.S. attorneys in western New York to plead guilty to selling 50 grams or more of crack, resulting in his 20-year sentence. Under First Step guidelines, that carries a minimum sentence of five years, less than half the time he has already served.

But prosecutors say Davis should not get a break, because in his plea deal he admitted to handling between 1.5 kilograms and 4.5 kilograms, which even under current guidelines is too high to qualify for a sentence reduction.

In a statement, the Justice Department said it is trying to ensure that prisoners seeking relief under the First Step Act aren’t treated more leniently than defendants now facing prosecution.

The department said prosecutors now have a greater incentive than previously to bring charges that more closely reflect the total amount of drugs they believe to be involved.

“This is a fairness issue,” the department said.

A TOUTED ACHIEVEMENT

Passed by overwhelming majorities in Congress, the First Step Act stands out as a rare bipartisan achievement in an era of sharp political divisions. Trump has invited ex-offenders to the White House and his State of the Union speech.

The law allows inmates who are serving time for selling crack cocaine to ask a judge to reduce their prison sentences. It’s a belated recognition, supporters say, that tough-on-crime policies that required lengthy prison terms for crack dealers were too punitive and fell most heavily on African-Americans.

More than 1,100 inmates have been released so far under this provision in the new law, according to the Justice Department.

In most of the 1,100 sentence-reduction cases, U.S. prosecutors did not oppose the inmate’s release. But in at least 81 cases, Reuters found, Justice Department lawyers have tried – largely unsuccessfully so far – to keep offenders behind bars. They argue that judges should base their decision on the total amount of drugs that were found to be involved during the investigation, rather than the often smaller or more vague amount laid out in the law they violated years ago.

The difference between the two amounts in these cases is often significant – and, depending on whether a judge agrees with prosecutors’ objections, can mean years of continued incarceration rather than immediate release.

Regional prosecutors’ offices, though they often enjoy great autonomy, have made it clear that they are operating on instructions from Washington.

One prosecutor in western Virginia in April objected to nine sentence reductions she had previously not opposed, citing Justice Department guidelines.

The federal government has lost 73 of 81 cases in which the issue has arisen so far, according to the Reuters analysis.

Prosecutors have appealed at least three of those decisions and indicated they intend to appeal 12 more.

If they succeed, men like Davis would return to prison.

First Step Act advocates say the Justice Department is undercutting the intent of the law.

“Many of these people have served in prison for five, 10, 15, 20 years and more. It’s time for them to be able to get on with their lives, and the notion the Department of Justice is just going to keep nagging at them and appealing these cases is not what we ever had in mind,” Democratic Senator Dick Durbin, one of the law’s authors, told Reuters.

Florida resident Gregory Allen, freed in March, appeared with Trump at a ceremony celebrating the new law in April. Federal prosecutors in Tampa, meanwhile, had filed paperwork to appeal that decision and force him back to prison. They dropped the appeal three weeks later, without explanation.

Legal experts say they are aware of few other cases in which the federal government has tried to re-incarcerate someone who has been freed due to a sentence reduction.

“It’s particularly cruel,” said Mary Price, an attorney with Families Against Mandatory Minimums, a nonpartisan group. “The whole point of the First Step Act was to give some relief to people who were sentenced to unduly long sentences.”

A TURBULENT LIFE

According to court documents and his own account, Davis has led a turbulent life. The son of a prostitute who entered the witness protection program when testifying in a criminal case, Davis was given a new name and moved to New Orleans when he was seven years old.

By the time he was fifteen, back in Buffalo, both parents and a younger brother were dead and he was selling drugs. He dropped out of high school.

He killed a woman accidentally when he was nineteen, he said, and records show he eventually pleaded guilty to state manslaughter charges.

By the time he was 30, federal agents say, Davis oversaw a network that sold crack and cocaine across western New York and Pennsylvania.

“Your life has been a disaster, and maybe not all of it your fault,” U.S. Judge William Skretny told him in 2009 as he sentenced him.

In March, the same judge ruled that Davis should be freed under the First Step Act.

“I fell off the chair,” Davis recalled. “I couldn’t believe it.”

Prosecutors told the court they intend to appeal. The U.S. Attorney for the Western District of New York, James P. Kennedy Jr., declined to comment on Davis’s case, but said in a prepared statement that asking for appellate review ” is consistent with our mission of seeing to it that justice is done in each case.”

Meanwhile, Davis is learning to use a smartphone and planning to start welding classes in September. Eventually, he says, he aims to run a cleaning service or auto shop and set aside money for his six grandchildren so they can have a better life than he did.

“I know God has a plan for me,” he said. “I know I’m not finished yet.”

(Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh and Julie Marquis)

Mueller says charging Trump was never an option for Russia probe

U.S. Special Counsel Robert Mueller makes a statement on his investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election at the Justice Department in Washington, U.S., May 29, 2019. REUTERS/Jim Bourg

By Sarah N. Lynch and Andy Sullivan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Special Counsel Robert Mueller said on Wednesday his investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election was never going to end with criminal charges against President Donald Trump and indicated it was up to Congress to decide if impeachment proceedings are justified.

In his first public comments since starting the investigation in May 2017, Mueller said Justice Department policy prevented him from bringing charges against a sitting president, telling reporters it was “not an option we would consider.”

But he also said his two-year investigation did not clear Trump of improper behavior and pointed out there were other ways to hold presidents accountable.

“The Constitution requires a process other than the criminal justice system to formally accuse a sitting President of wrongdoing,” Mueller said as he announced his resignation from the Justice Department.

Democrats in Congress are debating whether to try to move ahead with impeachment, an effort that is almost certain to fall short in the Republican-controlled Senate.

The White House and several top Republicans said it was time to move on to other matters, while several Democratic presidential candidates called for impeachment.

“What Robert Mueller basically did was return an impeachment referral,” Senator Kamala Harris said on Twitter.

“Given that Special Counsel Mueller was unable to pursue criminal charges against the President, it falls to Congress to respond to the crimes, lies and other wrongdoing of President Trump – and we will do so,” said Jerrold Nadler, the Democratic chairman of the House of Representatives Judiciary Committee.

A redacted version of Mueller’s report was published in April, concluding that Russia repeatedly interfered in the 2016 election and that Trump’s election campaign had multiple contacts with Russian officials, but did not establish a criminal conspiracy with Moscow to win the White House.

Mueller’s report also declined to make a judgment on whether Trump obstructed justice, although the report outlined 10 instances in which Trump tried to impede the investigation, including seeking to have Mueller fired.

“If we had confidence that the president clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said so,” Mueller said. “We did not, however, make a determination as to whether the president did commit a crime.”

TRUMP DECLARES ‘CASE CLOSED’

Trump, who has repeatedly denounced Mueller’s investigation as a “witch hunt” and “hoax” meant to hobble his presidency, said the matter was settled.

“Nothing changes from the Mueller Report,” he said on Twitter. “There was insufficient evidence and therefore, in our Country, a person is innocent. The case is closed! Thank you.”

Mueller, who headed the FBI from 2001 to 2013, said he would not elaborate beyond what was contained in his 448-page report, signaling to Democrats that he was unlikely to provide them more ammunition for impeachment if he were to testify on Capitol Hill.

“Beyond what I’ve said here today and what is contained in our written work, I do not believe it is appropriate for me to speak further,” he said.

He did not take questions after making his statement.

The House Judiciary Committee’s top Republican, Representative Doug Collins, said relitigating Mueller’s findings would only divide the country. “It is time to move on from the investigation and start focusing on real solutions for the American people,” he said.

Only one Republican so far, Representative Justin Amash, has said Trump has committed impeachable offenses. “The ball is in our court, Congress,” he said on Twitter.

Mueller’s investigation ensnared dozens of people, including several top Trump advisers and a series of Russian nationals and companies.

Among them are his former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, who is serving 7 1/2 years in prison for financial crimes and lobbying violations, and his former personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, who recently began a three-year sentence for campaign-finance violations and lying to Congress.

Since the report’s release, Democratic lawmakers have tried without success to get the unredacted report and underlying evidence.

Barr now is leading a review of the origins of the Russia investigation in what is the third known inquiry into the FBI’s handling of the matter. Trump harbors suspicions that the Democratic administration of President Barack Obama started the investigation in 2016 to undermine his presidency.

(Additional reporting by Makini Brice and Mark Hosenball; Editing by Tim Ahmann and Bill Trott)

Trump doubles down on Obamacare fight, asks court to overturn law

FILE PHOTO - A sign on an insurance store advertises Obamacare in San Ysidro, San Diego, California, U.S., October 26, 2017. REUTERS/Mike Blake

(Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration has stepped up its attack on the Obamacare health care law, telling a federal appeals court it agrees with a Texas judge’s ruling that the law is unconstitutional and should be struck down.

The Justice Department in a two-sentence letter to the Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit filed on Monday said it backed the December ruling by U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor in Fort Worth that found the Affordable Care Act violated the U.S. Constitution because it required people to buy health insurance.

O’Connor ruled on a lawsuit brought by a coalition of 20 Republican-led states including Texas, Alabama and Florida, that said a Trump-backed change to the U.S. tax code made the law unconstitutional.

The 2010 law, seen as the signature domestic achievement of Trump’s Democratic predecessor, Barack Obama, has been a flash point of American politics since it passed, with Republicans including Trump repeatedly attempting to overturn it.

Democrats made defending the law a powerful messaging tool in the run-up to the November elections when polls showed that eight in 10 Americans wanted to defend the law’s most popular benefits including protections for insurance coverage for people with preexisting conditions. The strategy paid off and Democrats won a broad 38-seat majority in the U.S. House of Representatives.

“The Department of Justice has determined that the district court’s judgment should be affirmed,” Assistant U.S. Attorney General Joseph Hunt and other federal officials wrote in the Monday letter. They said they would file a more extensive legal briefing later.

Obamacare survived a 2012 legal challenge at the Supreme Court when a majority of justices ruled the individual mandate aspect of the program was a tax that Congress had the authority to impose.

In December, O’Connor ruled that after Trump signed a $1.5 trillion tax bill passed by Congress last year that eliminated the penalties, the individual mandate could no longer be considered constitutional.

A group of 17 mostly Democratic-led states including California and New York on Monday argued that the law was constitutional.

“The individual plaintiffs do not have standing to challenge the resulting law because they suffer no legal harm from the existence of a provision that offers them a lawful choice between buying insurance or doing nothing,” they wrote in court papers.

About 11.8 million consumers nationwide enrolled in 2018 Obamacare exchange plans, according to the U.S. government’s Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

About 11.8 million consumers nationwide enrolled in 2018 Obamacare exchange plans, according to the U.S. government’s Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

(Reporting by Scott Malone in Boston; Editing by Bill Trott)

FBI not properly assessing potential U.S. maritime terrorism threats: report

FILE PHOTO: A sign of the Federal Bureau of Investigation is seen outside of the J. Edgar Hoover FBI Building in Washington, U.S., March 12, 2019. REUTERS/Leah Millis

By Sarah N. Lynch

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Federal Bureau of Investigation is not taking appropriate steps to review and assess potential maritime terrorism risks facing U.S. sea ports, the Justice Department’s internal watchdog has found.

The audit, released on Thursday by Inspector General Michael Horowitz, found that while top FBI officials believe the country faces a low maritime terrorism threat, that view is actually based on “incomplete and potentially inaccurate information.”

Moreover, the audit found that the FBI had not conducted its own formal assessment of the matter.

In a letter to Horowitz dated Aug. 30 that was released as part of the final audit, FBI Acting Section Chief Thomas Seiler for the External Audit and Compliance Section of the Inspection Division said the FBI concurs with all of the report’s recommendations and will work to implement them.

In 2005, the FBI created a Maritime Security Program as part of its National Joint Terrorism Task Force in its counterterrorism division. That program is meant to “prevent, penetrate, and dismantle criminal acts of terrorism” directed at ports.

The audit said that top FBI officials believed the terrorism threat in this space was low based on a small number of maritime incidents and investigations logged into its database.

However, the inspector general’s office found that the FBI was not properly coding maritime-related events into its database, and identified at least 10 incidents in the system that were not categorized correctly.

In addition, the report was critical of the role the FBI plays in helping the federal government vet port and rail workers and truck drivers who are able to gain unescorted access to ports through the use of biometric smart transportation security cards.

Although the program for issuing such cards falls to the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), a part of the Department of Homeland Security, the audit uncovered “significant deficiencies” related to the FBI’s role in providing information to TSA, such as information about terrorism watch-list targets and other intelligence to help reduce the risk that someone who poses a threat may be granted unfettered access to U.S. ports.

Some of the specific findings in the report were redacted due to national security.

However, in one section of the report that was unredacted, the audit revealed that FBI memos documenting threats that certain individuals may have posed were not shared with TSA.

Those unidentified people were later removed from the FBI’s terrorism watch list and still have transportation security cards.

(Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch; Editing by Susan Thomas)