- The Washington Times - Monday, September 27, 2010

Hundreds of FBI agents, including the head of the Washington field office and several supervisors, cheated on a mandatory test of new procedures employees must follow when conducting investigations of U.S. citizens — the Justice Department inspector general said in the second critical report handed down against the bureau in recent weeks.

The 35-page report issued Monday said that a limited review of allegations that agents improperly took the open-book test on the Domestic Investigations and Operations Guide together or had access to an answer sheet has turned up “significant abuses and cheating.”

The inspector general’s report said a “significant number of FBI employees” engaged in some form of cheating or improper conduct on the guide exam, some in clear violation of FBI directives regarding the exam. Suspicions of cheating were raised when more than 200 employees passed the 90-minute exam in 20 minutes.

The report said that in Washington, two special agents in charge “had taken the exam together, in the same room, while discussing the questions and possible answers with a legal adviser, who was also present.” The report said the assistant director in charge, the head of the Washington field office, was present at the time.

“While the ADIC was also in the room at the time, he did not take the exam that day. Instead, the ADIC wrote down the answers and later used them to complete the exam another day,” the report said.

The report does not name him, but the assistant director in charge at the time was Joseph Persichini Jr. He retired in December in the midst of the investigation.

The new inspector general’s report comes on the heels of a report last week by the office on the FBI’s scrutiny of domestic activist groups, which found the bureau had given inaccurate information to Congress and the public when it claimed a possible terrorism link to justify monitoring an anti-war rally in Pittsburgh in 2002.

That report also criticized the factual basis for opening or continuing FBI domestic terrorism investigations of some other nonviolent left-leaning groups, including the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and Greenpeace USA.

In the latest report, regarding cheating on the guide exam, Inspector General Glenn A. Fine’s investigators looked at four FBI field offices and, according to the report, found enough troubling information to warrant a comprehensive review by the FBI.

Mr. Fine said that, in one FBI field office, four agents exploited a computer software flaw “to reveal the answers to the questions as they were taking the exam.”

Other test takers used or circulated materials that essentially provided the test answers, he said, adding that almost all of those who cheated “falsely certified” they did the work without the help of others.

He has called on the FBI to discipline the agents involved, throw out the test results and come up with new exams to determine whether FBI agents understand the rules allowing them to conduct surveillance and open files on Americans without evidence of criminal wrongdoing.

The FBI, in a statement, said an “uncompromising commitment to integrity remains the backbone of the FBI work force,” and the bureau “moved quickly” to investigate the matter when allegations of misconduct concerning the testing first appeared.

It said in cases where misconduct has been determined, “personnel actions were taken, and that process continues,” although the statement did not elaborate.

“The vast majority of FBI employees successfully completed the DIOG training and the open-book examination that followed, in accordance with the test-taking instructions,” the bureau said.

“While the Office of Inspector General has identified a number of factors that contributed to problems with the test-taking, nothing excuses the conduct of those who chose not to comply when instructions were clear.”

The FBI also said it was “disappointed with the misconduct described in the report,” but acknowledged some responsibility — saying it did not strictly limit how field offices administered the training and testing.

“While these issues explain some of the OIG’s findings, they do not excuse the conduct of employees who did not comply with clear instructions,” the statement said, adding that the FBI’s office of professional responsibility would “review and adjudicate the facts of cases involving misconduct and take all appropriate action.”

The guide, implemented Dec. 1, 2008, replaced several older sets of guidelines that separately addressed criminal investigations, national security investigations and foreign intelligence collection.

The 258-page document implements the attorney general’s guidelines for domestic FBI operations, the most recent version of which was issued in 2008 by Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey.

The Mukasey guidelines gave the FBI authority to open investigative “assessments” of U.S. citizens without any factual predicate or suspicion, including the authority to use intrusive techniques to surreptitiously collect information on people suspected of no wrongdoing and no connection with any foreign entity.

Shortly after the guide’s introduction, the FBI began comprehensive training on the new guide, including classroom study — after which FBI employees had to take and pass a computerized 51-question exam on the guide.

Written instructions given both before and during the exam specified that employees could use the guide and notes to take the exam, but they were not allowed to consult with other employees.

In addition, Question 51 required all employees to “certify that I only consulted the DIOG, notes or training aids but no other person while taking this exam.”

Mr. Fine said the FBI and his office received allegations that some FBI employees cheated or engaged in improper conduct regarding the exam.

Because of concerns about cheating and assistance given during the exams, contrary to the representations made in response to Question 51, the inspector general’s office initiated the investigation.

He also said that, to its credit, the FBI implemented training and a rigorous exam on the important requirements of the guide, but the conduct of some FBI employees undermined those actions.

“The new DIOG is a fundamental document for ensuring that FBI investigations are conducted according to law and policy, and the FBI appropriately placed a high priority on ensuring that FBI personnel learned and understood the new guidelines through training and mandatory testing,” Mr. Fine said.

“Yet, a significant number of the FBI employees we interviewed cheated on the test and did not comply with the test conditions.”