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Justice probing alleged FBI retaliation

By Terry Frieden
CNN Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The FBI is the subject of yet another outside investigation -- this time for alleged double standards of discipline throughout the agency, and claims of retaliation against whistleblowers in the fallout from the siege at Ruby Ridge, Justice officials said Thursday.

Justice Department officials revealed the probe had been opened in May, but had not been made public. In recent weeks, Senate hearings on a series of FBI failures prompted some lawmakers to complain FBI leaders were not held to the same standard of discipline as rank-and-file field agents.

The review of possible retaliation by executives in the aftermath of the deadly 1992 Idaho siege marks the fourth probe of the FBI undertaken this year by Inspector General Glenn Fine and his investigators. That office is also looking into the Robert Hanssen spy scandal, the failure by the FBI to turn over documents during the trial of Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh, and the disappearance of hundreds of missing firearms and laptops in the FBI and other agencies.

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In addition, Attorney General John Ashcroft has ordered two outside investigations of the FBI. A panel led by former FBI and CIA Director William Webster is examining the counterintelligence problems revealed by the Robert Hanssen spy case, and an independent management review is being conducted for Ashcroft by Arthur Anderson auditors.

Last month Ashcroft handed the Justice Inspector General increased authority to examine the FBI, in a move designed to help rein in the FBI's long-standing independence.

Justice Department officials said the Inspector General's review would not focus on the Justice decision rejecting a proposed censure of former FBI Director Louis Freeh in connection with the Ruby Ridge incident. Officials say they do not know whether the Inspector General will interview either Freeh or former Assistant Attorney General Stephen Colgate who rejected a task force recommendation to censure Freeh.

Freeh disciplined a dozen agents in 1994 following an internal investigation of the deadly Ruby Ridge shootout in which an FBI sharpshooter shot and killed Vicki Weaver, the wife of separatist Randy Weaver, in her mountain cabin. One day earlier, Weaver's 14-year-old son and a federal marshal were killed during a shootout.

Two agents have expressed bitter disappointment that the FBI had unfairly disciplined them, while top managers escaped any punishment. They testified before the Senate of alleged retaliation for their challenge to the FBI hierarchy's conclusions and actions in an internal review of the shootout at Ruby Ridge, Idaho.

FBI Director Robert Mueller recently told a Senate panel that he believes the top executives at the FBI should be held to an even higher standard of conduct than the men and women they lead. Mueller said the FBI had "outgrown" its current management structure, and promised to make changes when he takes over in September.


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