Reporting from Washington — An undisclosed number of FBI agents have cheated on tests on how to legally conduct domestic surveillance cases, FBI Director Robert S. Mueller acknowledged Wednesday, but he added that he is waiting for the results of an inspector general's investigation to determine how widespread the cheating has become.
"I've got a general idea. But I do not know how many'' have cheated, he said in testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee. "And I'm not sure the IG knows how many either.''
But the inspector general "has pointed out instances orally to me where there may be persons and a particular office where it was widespread. And it may be attributable to a lack of understanding and confusion about the procedures,'' Mueller added.
The FBI head was asked about the controversy by Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.), who heads the committee. Leahy he said he knew that some agents had been caught cheating on the tests, in which they were supposed to show they understood the limitations in conducting domestic surveillance and launching new cases without first having evidence of a crime. The test is mandatory, and is administered by the bureau's Domestic Investigation and Operations Guidelines section.
"We learned last year that a small number of agents were accused of cheating on the test. That's what I was told,'' Leahy said to Mueller. "I was amazed when I went online this morning to find from press accounts that the cheating was reportedly more widespread.''
Mueller strongly defended the bureau and said his agents are instructed not to purposely target Muslim-Americans and other religious and ethnic groups for investigations. "That is at the heart of these guidelines. And that is what we teach each of our personnel,'' he said.
He said the guidelines require agents to undertake more than 16 hours of training, followed by an open-book test. He said that problems surfaced last year because some agents were taking it with the help of other agents. At that point, he said, the FBI inspector general's office began to investigate. Since then, he said, the office "has indicated that there are additional personnel that did not abide by those procedures."
"We are expecting a letter from the IG pointing out other occasions, where there were abuses and the procedures were not followed, with recommendations," he said. "And we will follow those recommendations.''
Mueller added that "it is quite obviously my concern that all of our personnel understand the parameters in which we are to work.''
He pledged that eventually all agents will understand "the limitations of what we can do.''