The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is well-known for investigating all kinds of people and groups for civil disobedience involving resistance to American government policies, but in the last year, the Bureau has found a new target: itself.
In December 2008, the FBI consolidated several sets of guidelines — addressing criminal investigations, national security investigations, and foreign intelligence collection — into a new “Domestic Investigations and Operations Guide” in an effort to establish consistency in procedures. The new guide became public in 2009 as part of a FOIA lawsuit (by the Electronic Frontier Foundation), as the New York Times reported last year.
These new rules became controversial when advocates of civil liberties and privacy expressed concern that the FBI felt authorized to investigate people whom they didn’t even suspect of anything yet. The FBI argued it needs to proactively find those who intend ill. “The F.B.I. has been told that we need to determine who poses a threat to the national security — not simply to investigate persons who have come onto our radar screen,” FBI general counsel Valerie Caproni told the Times.
The next step was no easier: training and testing 20,000 FBI employees (to say nothing of applying the new rules!). Here’s how it worked: The Bureau required that approximately 20,000 employees take a sixteen-hour training course and pass a computerized (though open-book) examination. Several months into the process, the Bureau received allegations that some managers and attorneys at the Washington Field Office had violated test-taking protocols, and four other allegations of improprieties led the Justice Department’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG) to suspect “widespread assistance” in the exam process. The FBI also advised the OIG that some employees had finished the test with implausible speed, and passed with high scores, despite comments from some employees that some exam questions were “poorly worded and difficult to understand.” The OIG concluded that “a significant number of FBI employees engaged in some form of improper conduct or cheating on the DIOG exam… [a]lmost all of [whom]… falsely certified… that they had not consulted with others.” (We hope they take oaths to tell the truth more seriously in court.)