WASHINGTON — FBI director Robert Mueller told Congress on Wednesday that he does not know how many of his agents cheated on an important exam on the bureau's policies, an embarrassing revelation that raises questions about whether the FBI knows its own rules for conducting surveillance on Americans.
The Justice Department inspector general is investigating whether hundreds of agents cheated on the test. Some took the open-book test together, which is forbidden. Others finished the lengthy exam in unusually quick times, current and former officials said.
The test was supposed to ensure that FBI agents understand new rules allowing them to conduct surveillance and open files on Americans without evidence of criminal wrongdoing. If agents can't pass that test without cheating, civil liberties groups ask, how can they follow the rules?
Mueller said he does not know exactly how widespread the problem actually was.
"I've got a general idea, but I do not know how many," Mueller testified.
In Columbia, S.C., for instance, agents said they got approval from the FBI policy office to print the test in advance and use it as a study guide, according to a letter to the inspector general from the FBI Agents Association. The head of the policy office later said that wasn't true, the letter said.
"There are similar stories for practically every office, demonstrating the pervasive confusion and miscommunication that existed," Konrad Motyka, the association's president, wrote May 13 in a letter.
Mueller told Congress that, despite the cheating investigation, the FBI understands the rules and is following them.
"I do believe that our work force absolutely understands what can be investigated, how it must be investigated, what predication is necessary for a particular investigation in this day and age," Mueller said.
Depending on the outcome of the investigation, agents could be disciplined or even fired.