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September 2010


How to Become a Bounty Hunter

Cheating Scandal Shows Human Side of FBI

By Allan Lengel

WASHINGTON — The FBI may be the nation’s premiere law enforcement agency — with a worldwide reputation — but in the end it’s made up of humans. And yes, humans do screw up.

Over the years, we saw a drunk agent shoot up a freezer at a Las Vegas hotel. We had an FBI agent arrested for shoplifting in suburban Washington. We had an off-duty agent in Texas shoot dead a neighbor’s Chihuahua. It happens. We don’t expect perfection. Individuals screw up.

But the latest scandal — cheating on an open book exam — is far more embarrassing than some individual screw up, than some agent gone rogue.  The bureau had training sessions on guidelines for conducting surveillances on Americans, and wanted to make sure everyone understood. So it gave open book exams on computers. Some took 20 minutes to finish the exam.  Those were the cheaters. Some agents who legitimately took the test took three or four hours.

There was widespread cheating, according to an Inspector General report. Some took the exam together, which was forbidden.  Many got hold of the answers. Cheat sheets circulated.

What ever the case, the big question is: How did this become so epidemic? Did the big guys at headquarters fall asleep at the switch or rely on managers who were part of the problem?  Or did they simply set up a test in which even some of the most honest folks felt it was ok to cheat on?

At the Washington Field Office, some of the top managers were part of the problem.  The head of the office, Joe Persichini Jr. and two of his special agents in charge got caught cheating.  Not a good sign of leadership. Persichini quit late last year before any discipline was meted out.  The other two are appealing their punishment — a 20 day unpaid suspension along with demotions.

The test has become a joke. And unfortunately, the laugh is on an agency that takes itself pretty darn seriously — as it should.

The bureau needs to be smarter next time around.

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