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Archive for July 28th, 2010

Column: Ex-FBI Official Mike Mason Says Investigating Cheating Would Be Waste of Time and Money; Better to Re-Administer Test

Mike Mason/fbi photo
Mike Mason/fbi photo

Michael Mason, a former assistant director in charge of the FBI’s Washington field office, retired as the executive assistant director at FBI headquarters in 2007. His column is in response to the Justice Department investigation into whether potentially  hundreds of FBI agents cheated on an open book test on a computer they took without supervision. Some may have worked with others or gotten answers in advance, a violation of FBI policy.

By Michael Mason
For ticklethewire.com

I was reading your blog today and wanted to respond to the issue about the testing problem at the FBI.

I sincerely believe it would be a complete waste of time and money to further investigate the potential of additional cheating on the Domestic Investigations and Operations Guide (DIOG) examination.

Whereas I do not condone cheating, the objective of this “test” was to ensure all agents and analysts had a thorough understanding of the rules of the road according to the DIOC.

Failure was not an option.

As such, employees who failed the test were required to re-take it until they achieved a passing grade. Rather than go through an unnecessarily long and deliberate investigation to determine who else may have cheated, why not simply re-administer the test, under controlled conditions, to the entire relevant employee population.

I was formerly responsible for running the Washington Field Office and retired as an Executive Assistant Director of the FBI, so I am completely familiar with size and scope of this recommendation.

There would be a need for multiple test dates in each field office and other logistical requirements which are by no means beyond the ability of smart people to arrange.

There will undoubtedly be howls of protest from employees who did not cheat in the first place, but that is a relatively small price to pay to resolve this issue and to give the assurance that the test has been correctly administered to everyone.

Further adding to the need to think a bit differently here is that no inquiry will identify everyone who may have cheated.

Is not a controlled administering of the test a simple, straightforward manner of getting to the aforementioned objective of ensuring that all who pass the DIOG examination have done so without any unauthorized assistance?

I hope this matter will not be used as simply another opportunity to embarrass the Bureau. Sometimes external investigations are required, regardless of the consequences.

However, this is categorically not one of those times. There is far too much important work to be done by the FBI to have the entire agency distracted by this “investigation.”

House Passes Bill Reducing Sentencing Disparity With Crack Cocaine

file photo/dea

file photo/dea

By Glynnesha Taylor
ticklethewire.com

WASHINGTON — The House on Wednesday passed legislation drastically reducing the sentencing disparity between crack and powdered cocaine — a longtime disparity critics saw as unfairly targeting African Americans.

Previously, under the 1986 law, a person selling crack got the same sentence as someone selling 100 times the amount of powdered cocaine. The ratio will now go to 18 to 1.

The old bill became law while crack-cocaine was spinning out of control and savaging urban areas. But critics said it amounted to giving harsher sentences to African Americans who sold crack and lesser sentences to whites who were selling more of the powder cocaine.

The bill now goes before President Obama for his signature.

Read more »

Mueller Says Agents Are Helping in Probe into Leaks of Afghanistan Documents

Mueller testifying on Wed./ticklethewire.com photo

Mueller testifying on Wed./ticklethewire.com photo

By Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com

WASHINGTON — FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III said Wednesday that his agents were assisting the Department of Defense in a controversial leak investigation into the ream of documents that were leaked on the Afghanistan war.

Testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee, he also acknowledged a Justice Department probe into the possibility that agents around the country may have cheated on an open book test on FBI procedures. When pressed, he said it was unclear how many agents were involved, but the Associated Press reported that the Justice Department was looking at hundreds of agents to determine whether they cheated.

He also told Senators that that agents were not targeting people for investigations based on race, contrary to allegations by some groups.

In all, the exchanges between Mueller and Senators was amicable and several complimented him for being an outstanding public servant.

Mueller diplomatically sidestepped a question by Sen. Al Franken, who asked him his opinion on whether “enhanced” interrogation techniques in questioning terrorists was effective. Mueller simply said that he felt the FBI’s techniques — which do not involve torture — were effective.

Judgment Day For Ex-Illinois Gov Blago

Ex-Gov on NBC's Celebrity Apprentice

Ex-Gov on NBC's Celebrity Apprentice

By Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com

It’s judgment day for ex-Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

Federal jurors in his public corruption case are expected to get jury instructions on Wednesday and then begin deliberating. Deliberations are likely to take several days and go into next week.

In closing arguments, his attorney Sam Adam Jr. portrayed the ex-governor as a victim with “absolutely horrible judgement in people” who was misled by top advisers and was the target of scalp-hunting FBI agents, the Chicago Tribune reported.

Prosecutors painted him as a seasoned lawyer who refused to take responsibility for his actions as if he was “somehow the accidentally corrupt governor,” the Tribune reported.

“We are all responsible for our own actions,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Reid Schar said in closings, according to the Tribune.

Blago’s attorney Adams said: “I’m not trying to belittle this — much. But these are the feds, and this is what they bring you? Come on!”

More Scandal: Justice Dept. Investigating Whether 100s of FBI Agents Cheated on Open Book Test

fbi logo largeBy Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com

WASHINGTON — There appears to be more scandal in the air relating to allegations of FBI agents cheating on an open book test.

The Associated Press is reporting that the Justice Department is investigating whether hundreds of FBI agents cheated on a test on the bureau’s policies about conducting surveillance and probes without evidence of a crime being committed. Specifically, the test is on the Domestic Investigations and Operation Guide.

The news comes after ticklethewire.com first reported in November that three top officials at the Washington field office had allegedly been caught cheating on the test.

The top official, Joseph Persichini Jr., headed the field office, retired last Christmas before a final resolution could be reached in the internal probe. Two of his special agents in charge, Keith Bryars and Andrew Castor, were removed and sent to headquarters pending an appeal of the findings of an internal probe.

The allegations at the time were that the  three high-ranking officials may have received help on the  exam from an FBI lawyer, and may have some how worked together, a clear violation of agency rules.

Agents say the open-book test can take up to four hours, and is supposed to be taken on their own on a computer. They can look up answers, but are not allowed to work together or rely on answers provided by others. All agents take the test including FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III.

The Associated Press reported that in some cases agents worked together. The news agency also reported that the FBI Agents Association president Konrad Motyka wrote in his letter that in Columbia, S.C., agents printed the test in advance to use as a study guide.

“There are similar stories for practically every office, demonstrating the pervasive confusion and miscommunication that existed,” Motyka wrote.

FBI Director Mueller, testifying Wednesday morning before the Senate Judiciary Committee, said he was aware of the investigation, but was not certain how many agents may have violated the bureau guidelines while taking the test.

The AP reported that Motyka urged the inspector general to focus on the FBI’s “systemic failure” to administer the test without rules.

He urged that agents not be punished “because of a failure to effectively communicate the rules,” he wrote.

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