FBI employees, entrusted with stopping computer crimesFBI employees, entrusted with stopping computer crimes, commit them too
By Nate Anderson
Though FBI agents are held to a high standard of conduct, some fall short—far short. Take, for instance, an incident in 2007 when an FBI employee "drove past a felony traffic stop, yelled 'Rodney King' out his car window and momentarily lost control of his vehicle, swerving into the oncoming lane and almost striking a police officer," according an account of an internal FBI investigation. (When cops pulled him over, the employee claimed he had yelled, "Geeze Louise.")
Thanks to the FBI's Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR), which rounds up accounts of these infractions and distributes the cautionary tales to employees each quarter, we get glimpses of the seedier side of life inside the agency. CNN has obtained a recent set of these memos (after obtaining earlier ones last year) that show employees sexting, breaking e-readers, viewing pornography in the office, improperly accessing databases, and even shoplifting "two ties from a local retailer."
Given the FBI's size, the number of such infractions is quite low, and the OPR investigations are encouraging. Still, they serve as a reminder of the need to watch the watchers. Here are some of the most intriguing technology-related offenses from FBI personnel over the last five years.
• "During argument with spouse, Employee broke spouse's e-reader in half and pointed unloaded gun at dog's head while dog was sitting in spouse's lap." The OPR report notes that the use of a handgun was "an extraordinarily serious escalation" of the situation.
• "Employee had a recording device in supervisor's office. In addition, without authorization, Employee made copies of supervisor's negative comments about Employee that Employee located by conducting an unauthorized search of the supervisor's office and briefcase." The employee in question then turned this information over to a lawyer and lied about the whole thing during an internal investigation. The employee was subsequently dismissed.
• "Employee destroyed or hid electronic surveillance (ELSUR) evidence instead of properly processing it. An enormous backlog of unprocessed evidentiary material accumulated over several years. When questioned about it, Employee repeatedly lied to supervisors and hid/destroyed the unprocessed tapes." The mishandling "negatively impacted investigations" and led to the employee's dismissal.
• "An employee failed to properly identify and secure materials on a thumb drive related to a child pornography investigation. As a result, the material was inadvertently viewed by other FBI employees."
• "An employee used FBI equipment to view pornographic movies in the office while sexually satisfying himself. In aggravation, the employee was a supervisor."
An entire class of bad behavior concerns unauthorized usage of the FBI's vast databases. In a January 2013 internal e-mail, OPR said it had found only one recent case where an employee "made unauthorized use of FBI database to search for information about friends and coworkers"; that person was suspended for five days.
This is pretty tame stuff compared to past infractions. In late 2007, for instance, an employee was found to have "conducted more than 1,500 unauthorized FBI database searches" and to have shared some of that material with people outside the agency.
In early 2008, an FBI employee "searched FBI databases for information on public celebrities the employee thought were 'hot.' The employee also conducted NCIC searches on two employees' boyfriends and shared the results with those employees."
In late 2010, an employee was found to have "misused government database [sic] to conduct name checks on to friends who were foreign nationals employed as exotic dancers. Employee also failed to report his contact with foreign nationals and brought the two friends into FBI space after hours without proper authorization." And lest you think the employee was some intern who may not have known the rules, the report notes that the employee had already served a suspension for misusing a government database and was currently "in a leadership position at the time of this offense."
Smart phones, dumb people
Smartphones have created a new series of opportunities for humans to do stupid things involving naked bodies and cameras, and FBI employees are not immune to the siren song of sexting.
"Employee e-mailed nude photograph of herself to ex-boyfriend's wife," says the report on one of the oddest incidents. "Ex-boyfriend and wife reported the incident to the local police. Employee failed to cease contact with ex-boyfriend and wife after twice being ordered to do so by supervisor and Chief Security Officer." The sexting employee was "suffering from depression related to break-up" and was suspended for 10 days.
Another employee used a personal cell phone "to send nude photographs of self to several other employees. In aggravation, Employee's conduct created office gossip and negatively impacted office operations." Indeed, the pictures were enough to affect "the daily activities of several squads."
Finally, one employee used a government BlackBerry to send sexually explicit messages to another employee and did so repeatedly, intentionally, and "during work hours."
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