IT IS the worst case of cheating in the history of the United States navy. At its centre is the notoriously difficult electrical engineering exam at the Naval Academy in Annapolis, an hour's drive from Washington on Chesapeake bay. A report just issued says that 133 midshipmen, the future leaders of the US navy, cheated in the exam and 'repeatedly lied' to cover up what they had done.
The Naval Academy's honour code declares: 'Midshipmen are persons of integrity: They do not lie, cheat or steal.' Although the report does reveal that midshipmen cheated in the exam and then lied about it, investigators did not discover who stole the original test paper, though one report suggests a professor gave it to his brother who was a midshipman.
Within hours of the exam taking place on 14 December 1992 a midshipman sent a message 'to a faculty member saying that the exam had been compromised'. Some of the reports said the entire football team 'had obtained an advance copy of the exam'. The original manuscript of the test had disappeared.
There was a brief attempt to play down if not cover up what happened. The superintendant of the Academy, Admiral Thomas Lynch, was known to be obsessed with football. The suspicion was that somebody had decided that a member of the Naval Acadamy's staff - whose success is critical to the prestige of American colleges - had decided to give members of the academy's sports teams a boost by handing over the test.
Adm Lynch also tried to protect the navy's sportsmen when inquiries were made. The report says: 'Many mishipmen said the superintendent was overly supportive of the football team.' The honour system whereby potential officers own up to their sins and are judged by their peers should have have prevented cheating. But the report notes that this system had little influence on the cheaters.
It emerges that the safest approach for anybody being investigated is to keep his mouth firmly shut. The report say '14 midshipmen implicated in the cheating, 11 of whom were athletes, presented a wall of silence by invoking the Fifth Amendment'. Those midshipmen who confessed did so only after being shown proof of their guilt, when they said: 'Okay, now that I know you got me, I'll tell the truth.'