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FBI agents found to cheat on exam

Senator Chuck Grassley called for “a more trustworthy exam process’’ and for the FBI to hold its agents accountable. Senator Chuck Grassley called for “a more trustworthy exam process’’ and for the FBI to hold its agents accountable. (Brian C. Frank/ Reuters)
By Mark Sherman
Associated Press / September 28, 2010

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WASHINGTON — A Justice Department investigation has found that FBI agents, including several supervisors, cheated on an important test covering the bureau’s policies for conducting surveillance on Americans.

The department’s inspector general, Glenn Fine, said yesterday that his limited review of allegations that agents improperly took the open-book test together or had access to an answer sheet has turned up “significant abuses and cheating.’’

Fine called on the bureau to discipline the agents, throw out the results, and come up with a new test to see if FBI agents understand new rules allowing them to conduct surveillance and start files on Americans without evidence of criminal wrongdoing.

The troubling review follows Fine’s report last week on the FBI’s scrutiny of domestic activist groups. It said the FBI gave inaccurate information to Congress and the public when it claimed a possible terrorism link to justify monitoring an antiwar rally in Pittsburgh in 2002.

That report also criticized the factual basis for opening or continuing FBI domestic terrorism investigations of other nonviolent left-leaning groups.

In the inquiry into the exam, the inspector general looked at four FBI field offices and found enough troubling information to warrant a comprehensive review by the FBI.

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,’’ Fine said.

Other test-takers used or circulated materials that essentially provided the test answers, he said.

Fine said almost all of those who cheated “falsely certified’’ they did the work themselves, without the help of others.

Last year, Assistant Director Joseph Persichini, head of the FBI’s Washington field office, which investigates congressional wrongdoing and other crime in the nation’s capital, retired amid a review of test-taking in his office.

Persichini wrote down the answers to the test while two of his most senior managers were in the room taking the exam together, the inspector general said. Persichini used the answers to complete the exam another day. A legal adviser was in the room with Persichini and the two agents discussing the questions and possible answers.

Senator Chuck Grassley, Republican of Iowa, said he was “especially disheartened that several FBI supervisors cheated on this exam’’ and called on the FBI to implement “a more trustworthy exam process’’ and hold cheaters accountable.

“This report reinforces that the FBI cannot police itself,’’ said Michael German, policy counsel to the American Civil Liberties Union. “There needs to be stronger oversight and stronger controls over the bureau’s use of its investigative powers.’’

German also expressed concern about the surveillance guidelines themselves, saying they enable the targeting of people for investigation when there is “no factual basis to support that speculative belief.’’

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