A report by the Navy's inspector general says 133 midshipmen -- nearly 14 percent of this year's graduating class -- were involved in the largest cheating scandal in the U.S. Naval Academy's 149-year history.
Eighty-one midshipmen have admitted they cheated on an electrical engineering exam they took more than a year ago, Navy investigators said yesterday.
A source close to the investigation said as many as 100 midshipmen could be expelled.
The report criticizes academy officials for not acting in a timely manner in their initial review of the scandal last spring and when new evidence of wrongdoing surfaced later. Their restriction of information to midshipmen investigators "constituted mismanagement" and hindered the work of midshipmen honor boards.
In addition, the report found a "perception" among midshipmen that the academy's superintendent, Rear Admiral Thomas C. Lynch, lacked an appropriate commitment to the academy's strict honor code and that he gave football players preferential treatment during the investigation. (In 1963, Admiral Lynch captained the academy's football team, playing center for Navy's legendary quarterback Roger Staubach.)
"I'm disappointed that there's a perception. It's just that -- perception. There's no substance for anything," said Admiral Lynch in a brief interview after addressing the senior class. "[The report] did not say there was wrongdoing done here."
The report notes one incident in which the admiral recused himself in the case of one football player -- the son of a longtime friend of the admiral -- who was found guilty by a midshipmen honor board. The case was reversed by the superintendent's second-in-command, the commandant of midshipmen, who said he was aware of the relationship.
The Navy IG report concludes that the perception that any small special interest group is treated preferentially "is detrimental to the functioning of the brigade of midshipmen and detrimental to the sanctity of the position of superintendent."
Admiral Lynch denied that the criticisms pointed to any failure of leadership on his part.
Navy Secretary John Dalton said in a statement, "I have full confidence in Admiral Lynch. His leadership will be vital to addressing the problems at the Naval Academy." A similar statement came from Admiral Frank B. Kelso II, the chief of naval operations.
At least several female Mids and about a dozen football players were among those implicated, said the source. The report says the compromised exam was distributed to midshipmen from 29 of the 36 companies in the brigade.
Midshipmen involved included an Honor Committee member, those in leadership positions, those with stellar academic records and those who were flunking.
More than 800 people were interviewed by investigators, from most of the 663 juniors who took the test to Admiral Lynch and junior civilian employees. Investigators, who took seven months to complete their report, were unable to determine the source of the stolen exam.
Two weeks ago, Admiral Lynch appointed a three-member committee of retired admirals to review each of the cases and determine whether those that involved violations should be handled by a military court, the commandant of midshipmen or an honor board.
But after reading the report -- which recommends that the 133 cases should be taken out of the academy's hands -- Admiral Lynch yesterday substituted a review board of Navy and Marine officers for the midshipmen's honor board.
The panel, headed by Rear Adm. Richard C. Allen, would determine if an honor offense was committed and the punishment.
The scandal involved the final exam for Electrical Engineering 311 -- nicknamed "wires" and reputed to be one of the toughest required courses -- that was administered Dec. 14, 1992. Initially, 28 midshipmen were implicated in the theft and distribution of the test in the probe handled by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS). Eleven were found guilty by honor boards and recommended for expulsion, although academy officials reduced that number to six.
The 133 cases include those of the six whose cases will be heard again by the officers' panels, as well as the cases of seven midshipmen who already been separated from the academy for VTC other honor violations or for academic failure, and one case against a recent graduate now on active duty. After the initial investigation, some midshipmen, faculty and others were convinced that not all the guilty were caught and that those who lied about their involvement were not punished. The Senate Armed Services Committee urged a new investigation, mounted in June by the Navy inspector general.
With the release of the report, the inspector general has raised new concerns about due process for the midshipmen implicated, leading some officials and lawyers to believe there could be some legal challenges.
Before questioning by NCIS agents, midshipmen were read their constitutional rights against self-incrimination because they were conducting a criminal investigation.
But the probe by the Navy inspector general inspector general centered on violations of the midshipmen honor code, an administrative process. As a result, midshipmen were not read their rights. In addition, investigators told the midshipmen they did not have the right to remain silent, Navy officials said.
Should any midshipmen face criminal action, their interviews could not be used against them, Navy officials said. Such information could be used in disciplinary hearings, however.
"It's beyond comprehension to tell somebody you don't have the right to remain silent," said William M. Ferris, an academy graduate and Annapolis lawyer who represents four of the six who already were recommended for expulsion. "I would think using the information would be subject to judicial attack."
Lt. Cmdr. Paul Weishaupt, a Naval Academy spokesman, said academy lawyers told him the honor code process never has been challenged in court.
Senior Navy officials say some of the 133 midshipmen were innocently involved or had little knowledge of the stolen test, believing it was merely "good gouge" -- academy slang for a practice test. Those midshipmen would likely receive punishments short of expulsion.
The scandal, which strikes at the heart of the honor code, already has led to changes in the administration of the code. A committee headed by Richard L. Armitage, a former State Department official and academy graduate, called for more education on the honor code and stricter legal review of honor cases.
Admiral Lynch has admitted that the academy has not done enough to educate midshipmen on the honor code, which states that midshipmen do not "lie, cheat or steal." He said yesterday that the academy can now focus on how to improve the system.
Yesterday, senior midshipmen streamed across the academy grounds after listening to the superintendent. Many walked quietly back to Bancroft Hall, their dormitory.
"In a way, it's kind of a relief that it finally came out," said one senior, who requested anonymity.
The Navy inspector general's investigation found the following:
* 133 midshipmen were implicated in the scandal.
* 81 admitted to cheating.
* More than a dozen football players, a member of the Honor Committee and eight "stripers" -- those in leadership positions -- were implicated.
* Academy officials did not act in a timely manner with new evidence of wrongdoing.
CHEATING SCANDALS AT 3 MILITARY ACADEMIES
1993 -- U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis. Twenty-eight midshipmen are implicated in the theft and distribution of final exam for Electrical Engineering 311, with six recommended for expulsion. Renewed investigation by Navy Inspector General implicates 133.
1984 -- Nineteen cadets suspended from the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo., for cheating on a Physics 411 course.
1976 -- 150 cadets are separated at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point for cheating on Electrical Engineering 304 exam. Of those, 105 reapplied and 98 returned to their studies.
1974 -- At Annapolis, 61 midshipmen are implicated in using "crib sheets" on celestial navigation course. Seven are expelled.
1973 -- At West Point, 14 cadets are separated for cheating on a physics course.
1972 -- At the Air Force Academy, 39 cadets resigned after exchanging information on a variety of exams.
1967 -- 46 cadets at the Air Force Academy resign after being involved in cheating on a variety of exams; the action involved 34 cheaters and 12 cadets who tolerated the cheating and did not come forward.
1965 -- 105 cadets at the Air Force Academy are separated after stealing and selling a variety of exams.
1951 -- Eighty three cadets are separated or resign from West Point for offenses that involved cheating on a math exam and were broadened to include other offenses.