FBI: Agents may have cheated on test
inquiry determining whether hundreds broke rules in 2009
WASHINGTON — The Justice Department is investigating whether hundreds of FBI agents violated rules in taking a 2009 exam meant to ensure that they could follow aggressive new guidelines for terrorism investigations without intruding on Americans’ privacy, FBI Director Robert Mueller acknowledged Wednesday.
Glenn Fine, the department’s inspector general, is looking into whether agents across the country improperly took the training test in groups, shared answers or completed it in unusually short periods.
Appearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Mueller said he had a “general idea” how many agents are under scrutiny but not an exact number. He said the violations “may be attributable to a lack of understanding and confusion about the procedures.”
Investigations into the alleged cheating surfaced publicly in the bureau’s Washington Field Office, where it was linked to the retirement of one of the FBI’s most-senior managers. Joseph Persichini stepped down as head of the Washington office in December after he came under scrutiny for allegedly completing the open-book exam in less than 20 minutes; some testtakers required more than two hours.
The Associated Press first reported the wider inspector general’s investigation.
In a letter to Fine in May, the FBI Agents Association acknowledged that rules had been violated but blamed “uneven and unclear communication” by senior leaders about how to administer the test. Agents were unaware that they were required to take the exam alone, without discussion, for a formal grade, wrote Konrad Motyka, president of the association.
Disclosure of the review swiftly revived questions about the FBI’s ability to apply guidelines, adopted in 2008, that for the first time allowed agents to conduct surveillance and counterterrorism and espionage investigations within the U.S. without evidence that a target has ties to a terrorist group.