Justice Department Inspector General Glenn Fine said Monday 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 open files on Americans without evidence of criminal wrongdoing.
The exam covers the FBI's Domestic Investigations and Operations Guide (DIOG), implemented in 2008, which covers procedures governing the conduct of domestic investigations.
In September 2009 the FBI investigated several allegations of misconduct involving the exam. Bureau officials also expressed their concerns to the IG about a large number of FBI employees who had finished taking the exam in 20 minutes or less, with many receiving high passing scores.
In the inquiry into the exam, the inspector general looked only 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 software flaw in the Virtual Academy computer program "to reveal the answers to the questions as they were taking the exam," Fine said.
The investigation also found that "study guides" which essential provided the answers to the exam's 50 questions were widely distributed.
Fine said that almost all of those who cheated "falsely certified" that they did the work themselves, without the help of others.
Fine wrote that at one office, of 11 employees interviewed, 3 supervisors and 4 agents said they'd used answer sheets for the exam, arguing that such "notes" were explicitly allowed under the exam's open-book procedures.
"We do not believe that any FBI employee could reasonably believe that using someone else's answers to the exam constituted using 'notes' or could be viewed as complying with the test instructions, and verbal guidance, requiring them to take the test without assistance from others," the report states.
Last year, Assistant Director Joseph Persichini, the head of the FBI's Washington field office that investigates congressional wrongdoing and other crime in the nation's capital, retired amid a review of test-taking in his office.
Persichini took the test alongside two of his most senior managers and one of the bureau attorneys in charge of making sure the exam was administered properly, current and former officials said. The two agents who took the test with him have been moved to headquarters while the investigation continues.
There were complaints that the exam diverged from other similar software-based exams - for one, instead of learning immediately of an incorrect answer input, test-takers would have to wait until the end to find out if they'd passed, and did not received feedback on which answers they'd gotten wrong. Some employees also suffered technical glitches, where their exams went unrecorded, forcing them to re-take the test.
The IG also agreed that the administration of test instructions, which varied from one office to another, could be improved.
Yet, the IG concluded, "we found test-taking conduct that constituted cheating and abuse."
The troubling review of the exam follows.
That investigation found that the FBI gave 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 IG report also criticized the factual basis for opening or continuing FBI domestic terrorism investigations of some other nonviolent left-leaning groups.