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How to pass exams the FBI way -- simply cheat

A US government investigation has uncovered evidence of widespread cheating in FBI exams to test agents' knowledge of terrorism and foreign intelligence gathering.

The Department of Justice found that FBI field agents had cheated by conferring and using crib sheets and computers to look up answers.

The report found that "a significant number of FBI employees engaged in some form of improper conduct or cheating" on the test.

Suspicions were raised after 200 FBI staff completed the 90-minute exam in under 20 minutes. All employees were required to take the 51-question computerised exam after undergoing 16 hours of tuition about controversial new guidelines for domestic terrorism investigations.

After interviewing staff, investigators found that many people taking the exam had conferred, workers in one office exploited a programming flaw to call up the answers and in another office, of eleven staff members interviewed, three supervisors and four agents said that they had used answer sheets.

Some agents tried to justify the usage on the basis that these were "notes".

They also found that tutors were "training to the test", indicating which part of lessons would be on the exam by stamping their feet loudly during the relevant sections.

The Office of the Inspector General recommended that those who directly cheated should be disciplined and that there should be a wider investigation. "We believe there was more cheating and improper conduct than we identified through our limited interviews and investigation," the report's authors said.

Robert Mueller, the FBI director, expressed disappointment at his employees' conduct and vowed to investigate the scale of the cheating and take appropriate action.

The report is the latest of a series critical of the federal law enforcement agency, which has been accused of violating civil liberties in the course of its terrorism investigations.

The guidelines tested in the exam have been widely criticised by civil liberties groups as infringing on the rights of ordinary Americans.

The cheating scandal is petty compared with some of the historic controversies that the FBI has been embroiled in.

While J. Edgar Hoover, who founded the bureau in 1935, was credited with building it into an elite crime fighting agency, he also used it to harass political activists and was accused of failing to deploy the FBI against Mafia bosses.

They were all caught doing it . . .

• TV presenter Carol Smillie admitted in 2003 that she cheated on her Mensa test and had a friend finish it.

• A Russian man who tried to sit a Moscow University entrance exam on behalf of a female friend was found out because of his "especially protruding female features".

• Exam cheats have been at it for centuries, academics in eastern China discovered, when they found a miniature book dating from the 19th century that they believe was sneaked into examinations as a cheating device.

• In a less covert cheating operation in 2000, six Egyptian parents were arrested after being caught standing outside a school, shouting exam answers to their children.