WASHINGTON - FBI Director Robert Mueller told Congress Wednesday that he does not know how many of his agents cheated on an important exam on the bureau's policies, discussing an embarrassing investigation 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 FBI agents cheated on the test - a brewing scandal that could be further embarrassment for the FBI as it continues cleaning up after years of collecting phone records without court approval.
"I've got a general idea, but I do not know how many," Mueller testified. "And I am not certain the IG knows how many either. He has pointed out instances orally to me where there may be persons in a particular office where it was widespread and maybe attributable to a lack of understanding and confusion about the procedures."
In some instances, agents took the open-book test together, violating rules that they take it alone. Others finished the lengthy exam unusually quickly, current and former officials said.
In Columbia, S.C., agents printed the test in advance to use as a study guide, according to a letter to the inspector general from the FBI Agents Association that summarized the probe. The inspector general investigation also was confirmed by current and former officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the case.
"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 the letter obtained by the AP.
Depending on the outcome of the investigation, agents could be disciplined or even fired.
The inquiry threatens to be another black eye for the FBI as it tightens controls after years of collecting phone records and e-mails without court approval.
The FBI had no comment on the investigation late Tuesday.
The test had 51 questions. The last question asked if anyone assisted the test-taker.