FBI Caught Cheating on Investigations Exam

Among all the discussion about FBI wiretap procedures and following the rules, the Department of Justice has just released a report that condemns the FBI for widespread practices of cheating even within top management.

At the heart of the report is the fact that test takers collaborated on the test and then certified on Question 51 that they did not collaborate on the test.

The Inspection Division conducted an investigation and found that the SACs [Special Agents in Charge] had taken the exam together, in the same room, while discussing the questions and possible answers with a legal advisor, who was also present. While the ADIC [Assistant Director in Charge] was also in the room at the time, he did not take the exam that day. Instead, the ADIC wrote down the answers and later used them to complete the exam another day.

The hubris of those accused is hard to believe. Aside from lying on Question 51, another issue in the report is that test takers claimed an answer-sheet provided by someone else should be treated as personal notes:

The ADIC argued that he had not cheated because the answers he wrote down for his later use constituted “notes,” which he argued were permissible under the open-book procedures of the exam.

Is this really who will be working on wiretap authorization orders?

The report also discusses how test takers justified cheating and excused themselves from breaking the rules by saying they were unaware of the importance of an exam covering the Domestic Investigations and Operations Guide (DIOG).

Attorney James admitted creating two answer sheets that consisted of the question number and the answer (for example, 1 – a, 2 – true, 3 – c, etc.) Attorney James told us that he gave the first answer sheet to an SSA who was also a trainer and the second answer sheet to an ASAC. Attorney James also said that he distributed the answer sheets because he felt that the DIOG exam was just another administrative hurdle that FBI employees had to surmount. Attorney James stated that if he had realized that the FBI considered the exam to be so important, he never would have given out the answers.

Regret noted.

Some test takers used a system vulnerability to pass the test.

We also interviewed FBI employees in Field Office 2 about the DIOG test. First, and most troubling, we found four agents who took advantage of a flaw in the Virtual Academy computer program to reveal the answers to the questions as they were taking the exam.

You will never guess who figured this out.

An FBI agent who works on a cyber crime squad in Washington, D.C., told the OIG that sometime in 2008 he was experimenting with Virtual Academy computer programming to see how secure it was when he noticed some “really sloppy” coding that amounted to a programming flaw. According to the agent, the flaw allowed any FBI employee taking some Virtual Academy exams to open an XML file located in the employee’s computer’s “Temporary Internet Files” folder and view all the answers to the exam. The agent told us that he created a computer tool that made it easier to see the DIOG exam answers by taking employees directly to the XML file that contained the answers. While the answers were available without the tool to anybody who realized where to look for them on their computer, he said the tool made it slightly easier to get to the answers.

Caught red-handed, the FBI agents really start to dig a massive hole by describing why they exploited the “slightly easier” way to find the answers to the test. You just can’t make this stuff up.

The agent told us that a week later he sent the computer tool to the other cyber agent in Field Office 2 as an attachment to an e-mail. The agent said that he sent the computer tool only after receiving verbal assurances from the Field Office 2 agent that he would not forward the computer tool to anyone else.

Verbal assurances in place. This is the guy complaining about sloppy security? Yes, as an added measure of security the cyber crime squad expert put a “disclaimer” in his email. Oh, I see, that’s not “really sloppy”.

In one e-mail, the Washington, D.C., cyber agent mentioned the recent computer class that the two agents had attended together and explained the use of the computer tool, noting that it could be used to view the answers on most Virtual Academy exams. The agent added, at the bottom of the e-mail, the following: “DISCLAIMER: This is only a learning tool, not to be used for official test-taking purposes.”

Naturally the agent who received the email used the tool to take the test anyway.

The Field Office 2 agent who received the e-mail told us that he also took the exam on his own without using the computer tool or the XML file to look at the answers. He said, however, that after answering the questions on his own, he looked at the XML file to double-check his answers. He said that he did not believe he violated any FBI rules because he did not change any of his answers after reviewing the correct ones in the XML file.

Perhaps like me you are wondering if the agents are laughing in the face of the DoJ investigators. Do they really believe they are not violating the rules if they use an answer sheet at the end instead of the start?

Remember the verbal assurance by the agent worried about sloppy security?

The tool was forwarded. For good measure this agent emphasized that the tool is useful for cheating…undermining his own statements to the investigators.

However, this field office agent forwarded the e-mail and the attached computer tool he had received to four other agents on his cyber squad in the field office. At the bottom of this forwarded e-mail, the field office agent added this comment: “Depending on how lazy you are, [this program] will make taking the tests faster.”

The report continues with multiple cases of agents who believed they could cheat but answer yes to Question 51 because they saw no relationship between cheating and outside assistance “from another FBI employee”.

I could go on but there really are two sides to this story. We can blame the test takers for cheating and lying and using extremely weak logic to excuse themselves. That seems easy to see. However, it also should be asked whether the test givers were naive to administer a test with so few controls to prevent and detect cheating — the questions were asked by computer but never rotated. Only after more than 200 tests were completed in an impossibly short time-frame were suspicions raised. The report makes three recommendations to the FBI, none of which suggest technical measures to prevent cheating.

…and at the end of it all you have to ask yourself if it really is a good idea to expand or make easier wiretap authorization.

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