Top-level FBI corruption alleged


WASHINGTON -- A day after the FBI announced it couldn't account for 449 guns and 184 computers, the Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday aired new and embarrassing disclosures by bureau whistle-blowers alleging corruption in the FBI's senior ranks. "There are some very, very serious management problems at the FBI," said Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), who chairs the committee. Republicans joined in. Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) called the gun and computer losses, which FBI officials attributed to sloppy record keeping, "simply inexcusable." Yesterday's criticisms, the latest of many alleging FBI gaffes, come at a convenient time for reforms: between the regime of former director Louis Freeh, who stepped down last month, and the confirmation hearings for Robert S. Mueller III, President Bush's nominee to replace Freeh. Attorney General John Ashcroft, who ordered a Justice Department investigation of the FBI's missing weapons and computers Tuesday, called the situation "serious" at a news conference yesterday. Ashcroft is moving on several fronts to rein in the FBI's tradition of independence from the Justice Department. Four present and former agents told the Senate panel that the FBI has suffered from what they called a "culture of arrogance" and blasted the promotion and internal disciplinary systems as corrupt and unfair. John E. Roberts, unit chief in the FBI Office of Professional Responsibility, which investigates employee misconduct, told lawmakers that senior agents had covered up their mistakes in the 1992 Ruby Ridge, Idaho, shooting in which the suspect's wife and son, 14, were killed. A follow-up investigation found that "crucial interviews" with senior agents directing the Ruby Ridge assault were never done, Roberts said, despite "significant" allegations of their misconduct. At the same time, the bureau came down hard on Ruby Ridge's junior agents. Roberts said he initiated charges against seven senior agents for misconduct, including destroying an "after action report" detailing the FBI's mistakes. The Justice Department in January dismissed criminal and misconduct charges against all but one of the senior agents. "I find this conclusion to be outrageous," Roberts testified. "And I believe anyone who reviews this matter will find the conclusions alarming." The agents said members of the Senior Executive Service, the top rank of federal managers, traditionally receive little or no punishment for misconduct for which junior agents would have been suspended or fired. They cited an October 1997 case in which more than a dozen senior FBI agents who attended a retirement dinner for former Deputy Directory Larry Potts charged their expenses to an "Integrity in Law Enforcement" conference they'd made up. Participants received mild written reprimands -- far less than junior agents would have expected. "Potts-gate" as the incident became known in the FBI, was detailed in a 1999 investigation, revealed to lawmakers yesterday. Investigators concluded that the FBI tolerated a double standard of discipline. Then-director Freeh responded by eliminating the tradition by which only executive-level agents reviewed misconduct allegations against other senior executives. Former agent John Werner, now a general contractor in Cary, N.C., testified that the bureau's Career Development Program contributes to the agency's problems. It requires candidates for senior management to make at least six career moves, most requiring family relocations, including at least three tours of duty at FBI headquarters in Washington. "This gives headquarters senior management a stranglehold over these rising agents," Werner testified, "requiring absolute allegiance to the SES staff." Werner said a 1998 internal survey showed agents regarded headquarters duty as "clerical, devoid of supervisory responsibility" and irrelevant to their future assignments. Testifying on the matter of the missing equipment, Kenneth Senser, the FBI's deputy assistant director in charge of internal security, acknowledged that no single official was responsible for keeping track of weapons or computers containing classified information. GOP Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa, ranking Republican on the Finance Committee, called for the Treasury Department -- which includes the Secret Service -- to account for its guns and secure computers. Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.) said he wants the General Accounting Office, Congress' investigative and auditing arm, to check every federal agency to see if any other weapons are missing. "If our premiere law enforcement agency, the FBI, is so lax in keeping track of its guns, I shudder to think about what other abuses may exist at other federal agencies," said Dingell, top Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee. The Associated Press contributed to this report.