They would cut off his lips. They would cut off his testicles. They would do unmentionable things to his young white wife. Donald Rochon, a black FBI agent, has filed charges against coworkers and supervisors that add up to one of the most sickening, wide-ranging allegations of institutional racism in the history of the Justice Department. During his 2 1/2 years in the Omaha and Chicago offices in 1983-85 the threats came in midnight phone calls and in writing. "YOU MADE YOURSELF A NIGGER AND SHALL PAY THE PRICE," said one note. "... YOU ARE ALWAYS IN OUR SIGHTS AND CANNOT ESCAPE." He received an unsolicited insurance policy for "accidental death and dismemberment." When he took scuba lessons a toy diver was placed on his desk -- its face, hands and feet blackened with a marking pen. A picture of an ape was taped over a photo of his children on his desk.

"There's a crisis situation inside your agency," Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.) told bureau Director William S. Sessions at a congressional hearing last Thursday. "Terrorism is apparently going on inside the FBI."

President Reagan has demanded an explanation, and Sessions -- in office four months -- is seeking one. "Nothing is more important," he told Conyers. The FBI has undertaken a major investigation of itself; the criminal section of the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division has been presenting evidence to a Chicago grand jury about some of Rochon's charges; and FBI Assistant Director John D. Glover -- a black and one of the bureau's top four officials -- is supervising an internal study of racism.

But explanations don't come easily in the Rochon case. What appears so simple and blatant on the surface becomes, on further examination, a quicksand of shifting perceptions and differing sensitivities. When does high-spirited pranking become harassment?

David C. Teer, a former bureau communications specialist who worked with Rochon in Omaha, says that two FBI investigators who recently interviewed him "were a little flippant, and that bothered me. They referred to themselves as 'the Don Rochon road show.' " And last week a federal judge in Chicago suspended the grand jury proceedings pending his decision -- expected today -- on whether the Civil Rights Division can conduct them when its chief, William Bradford Reynolds, is one of 27 defendants in three civil suits that Rochon and his estranged wife Susan filed last November.

In telephone interviews, some blacks in various bureau offices say they have experienced incidents of racism -- and there have been scattered legal actions, usually regarding lack of promotions. But many say they experienced none at all, and all of those interviewed say they never saw anything on the scale of Rochon's nightmare.

Charles R. Wylie, another black agent who served with Rochon in the Omaha office, has said in a written statement that Rochon was an "embarrassment to this organization" who, when confronted with his "ineptness and incompetency, immediately assumed that this was an attack on him because he was black." Yet Rochon received "fully successful" work ratings in Omaha.

A reporter who puts out the word that he is seeking the full story soon begins receiving calls from around the country. A source who knows Rochon telephones at midnight from a booth in the Midwest, saying Rochon is "paranoid" and has just beaten up his girlfriend. According to a 1986 psychiatric report, Rochon is "normal" but suffering "profound emotional distress" from racism; according to sources and a police report earlier this month, the woman also beat up Rochon, breaking his nose, and they both dropped charges. Rochon's lawyer says this "unfortunate" personal incident has nothing to do with the case.

Even Rochon's own testimony, from his successful case before the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) last year, suggests deeper complexities:

"When I was going to Omaha it became a big joke in Los Angeles simply because of the small talk -- the guys talked about it being 'a redneck town.' These guys were guys that I get along with. 'You're going to have a hard time because you're black ...' One agent {said} 'they hang blacks and Hispanics there.' And he drew a picture of me in Omaha. And he said, 'Look, Don, this is going to happen to you in Omaha, Nebraska.' I said, "Thanks a lot, Paul.' It was a joke. He was kind of enlightening on a mentality here {in Omaha}. He said, 'Here you are, Don ... They are going to lynch you there.' I mean, I just laughed. I wasn't going to take it seriously."

In a four-hour interview in the Philadelphia home of David Kairys, his lawyer, Rochon is direct, charming and utterly convincing. He comes across as a smart, sensitive and deeply hurt man who has somehow retained his sense of humor and an idealistic passion for justice. It is impossible not to feel gut-churning outrage at his story. It seems equally impossible to disbelieve him, particularly since the EEOC complaints examiner, addressing some of his key allegations, found there had been widespread FBI discrimination and retaliation against him. The Justice Department adjudication officer who reviewed and approved the EEOC case file went further, finding that "blatant racial harassment" had taken place.

Wayne G. Davis, special agent in charge (SAC) of the Philadelphia office where Rochon is assigned and who is himself black, says, "I would have to conclude this is an aberration." And Elsie L. Scott, executive director of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives, says, "I don't think anybody has been harassed like Rochon." Paul R. Philip, the black assistant SAC in Detroit, says he, too, thinks the Rochon case is "isolated," but adds that "the FBI draws its personnel from the general population {and} perhaps some of the people in the bureau are not as willing to jump into the 20th and 21st centuries as everyone else ... You learn to live with it."

J. Edgar Hoover's antiminority policies during his 48 years as director (he designated his personal servants the first black "agents" to keep them out of World War II) were reversed by directors after Hoover's death in 1972. As of Jan. 31 this year 403 (4.3 percent) of the FBI's 9,443 agents were black, 802 female, 406 Hispanic, 113 Asian American and 41 of American Indian ancestry. Says Davis: "I remember when I could count all the black agents on one hand. I believe we will be doing a lot better, {but} when you start from where I started, 400 doesn't look too bad."

When nationally syndicated black columnist Carl T. Rowan raised some questions last month about Rochon's allegations, Kairys demanded a retraction, and in return Rowan wrote a letter saying he would not "embrace childishly some bizarre and dubious claims by your client." Whatever the result of their dispute, an examination of the case found that:

Tom Dillon, a white agent described in the EEOC decision as Rochon's "greatest single antagonist," is described by black Washington attorney Carl Rowan Jr., the columnist's son and a former agent who roomed with Dillon during 15 weeks of basic training at the FBI Academy at Quantico in 1979, as "a class guy, a terrific leader, just a quality guy in all respects ... In my experience, in my opinion, Tom Dillon does not have a racist bone in his body."

Three black agents assigned to the Omaha office about the same time Rochon had problems there, in 1983-84 -- the period the EEOC case focused on -- say they didn't personally suffer or see racism. "I had an extremely positive experience," says one, Gregory Jones, adding that he "enjoyed a very good working relationship" with all the agents in Omaha, including Dillon and three other whites Rochon said ganged up in tormenting him. However, a black clerical employee, Gertie M. Armstrong, won an EEOC discrimination case alleging racial harassment at the time; she was ordered reinstated in her job. And Rochon dismisses the views of the black agents, saying they had assignments that kept them out of the office while he worked regularly in the central "bullpen" area with the white agents.

A psycholinguistic analysis of the "PAY THE PRICE" note by the FBI's National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime concluded it was probably written by a middle-aged black male. The analysis was made with the aid of a computerized "threat dictionary" of words and dialects. Yet Murray S. Miron, professor of psycholinguistics at Syracuse University and an FBI consultant, says the technique provides general investigative leads and rarely narrows suspects down to one. "Whatever opinion I might render {about} that message or any other is really not evidentiary in character," he says.

Chicago agent Gary Miller told The Post he filled out a "business reply coupon" that apparently led to Rochon's receiving the death-and-dismemberment policy -- an act for which Miller was administratively punished by being placed on two weeks' leave without pay. "It was very harmless," he says. Filling out coupons is "one of the oldest practical jokes in the bureau. You get someone on a mailing list. It's just for yuks ... I'm not a racist. I have good relations with black people." He has been investigated by the grand jury, and sources say if he's indicted Miller's black brothers-in-law and their children may appear in court to testify in his behalf.

Dillon and Miller, according to informed sources, passed FBI-administered polygraph tests clearing them of anything to do with the "PAY THE PRICE" note.

Agent Jerry Webb told The Post he put the toy scuba diver on Rochon's desk in Omaha. "It was never meant as a racial joke. It was funny. The fact that he was black had nothing to do with it." In an affidavit filed in the EEOC case he said Rochon "had discussed taking scuba diving lessons on Bureau time. Several {agents} pitched in to buy a battery-operated toy scuba diver. Its face was painted black, since Rochon is black. I placed the toy on his desk ... Rochon's only reaction was that he laughed and said, 'Do I get to keep this for my kids?' "

Rochon remembers differently. "I told Webb I saw him put it on the desk and he denied it," he testified in the EEOC hearing. "I said, 'Jerry, come on, I know you put it on my desk. I'm really getting sick of all this talk about black people and drowning, you know, that they can't swim. You guys are going overboard with it. You've got to stop it.' "

Jokes and pranks are normal in the bureau's 57 field offices, bonding agents who often face danger together. Early in his career Rochon participated up to a point, but testified in his hearing that "there's positive and there's negative racial jokes." In an earlier affidavit, referred to in his testimony, he said that while assigned to Los Angeles, his first post, he had "enjoyed an excellent rapport with my coworkers and participated in occasional racial jokes. I did not enjoy the same rapport with individuals in Omaha {his second post} and took offense at the racial jokes and comments."

As the matter moves forward, word is buzzing around the FBI that Rochon's girlfriend, Rosemary Anne Coleman Peszko, who is white, told FBI investigators after the March 4 scuffle that Rochon had hit himself with a telephone to make it look as if she did it. But on March 7 Peszko filed an affidavit with the American Civil Liberties Union in Philadelphia charging that FBI agents "interrogated me for over 20 hours ... without my having the opportunity to sleep, eat or rest ... Don did nothing wrong, but they kept leading me to say he did wrong things."

In a March 19 tape-recorded telephone interview with Kairys, Peszko recanted her statements to FBI investigators, saying, "I did throw the telephone at him ... He didn't hit himself with the phone. I did say he did that, because I was frightened ... I lied." Davis, whose agents interrogated Peszko, would not comment on Peszko's statement, but said that in general "our obligation is to look into it. We do that expeditiously and we take whatever steps are reasonable and logical to surface all the facts."

None of this means Rochon can't win his civil suits in federal courts in Washington and Chicago and in D.C. Superior Court, charging racial discrimination and harassment by the FBI, the Justice Department and a total of 25 individuals, including FBI agents and supervisors. The government has filed a motion to dismiss the Washington cases because of the actions taken as a result of the EEOC decision, and the defendants have not yet responded to the allegations. If the cases come to trial they may probe new terrain in the mine fields of American race relations. Kairys, who emerged from the radical movement law of the '60s to become one of the country's ablest civil rights attorneys, faces a formidable defense team that includes, among others, three former U.S. attorneys -- Dan K. Webb of Chicago, Brian P. Gettings of Alexandria and Earl J. Silbert of the District of Columbia -- and Plato Cacheris, who represented Fawn Hall in the Iran-contra hearings.

Already the FBI's racial sensitivity has been ratcheted up a notch or two because of Rochon. Several defendants -- including Dillon and Herbert H. Hawkins Jr., the special agent in charge in Omaha when Rochon was there -- have been ordered to take sensitivity training. A videotape of "Bill Cosby on Prejudice" was shown to Omaha employees, and the FBI's EEO officer, Melvin L. Jeter, flew there last month to emphasize to all the employees, as he certified in federal court March 2, "that a working environment infected with racial antagonism" is illegal.

Nobody ever imagined things would get this far. EEO cases come and go and the FBI has had its share -- 32 last year, 54 the year before -- but never anything like this.

Rochon appeared on "Nightline" saying, "It was terrible. It was like a nightmare."

One agent calls it "the legal equivalent of a nuclear attack."

"We've had lots of movie offers," says Kairys.

The Road to Omaha Rochon, 37, sits forward on the sofa in Kairys' study. His hair and mustache are neatly trimmed. Of medium height with light skin, he appears lean and fit. He speaks quickly and softly:

"My whole objective {is} to send a signal to the FBI and to this country that racism is dead. I'd like to see a stake driven through the heart of J. Edgar Hoover and put his ghost to rest. They have gone overboard. They're using their reputation of intimidation to scare people ... to scare me into feeling I'll be assassinated or killed because I wanted to fight for my rights. It's amazing how many blacks were intimidated by what happened to me ... This is a sophisticated version of putting the sheets over their heads and burning a cross in front of people's homes, by tormenting me and threatening me. It's a bureaucratic plan is what it is, and I want to see them punished."

The only son of a white building contractor and a black housewife, Rochon grew up in a largely white section of West Los Angeles; he has three sisters. Most of his friends were white and for a time he was the only black in his high school. "I went surfing. I hung out with the right people, and as a result everyone thought I was cool."

He graduated from Cal State in 1975 with a criminology degree -- working on the side for the state alcohol control board -- and joined the L.A. Police Department. "I saw police work as being public service," he says. "I was never one who was into weapons." Nevertheless, Jeff P. Davis, a former U.S. Treasury agent who worked with him on the alcohol board, says that in tight spots Rochon "backed me up just great. His gun was out. His reactions were really good. I could count on him 100 percent."

On the LAPD, Rochon worked street patrol and then spent four years undercover in the antiterrorist division investigating what a 1981 rating report called "one of the most violent organizations in the United States." The report cited "his devotion to duty and the outstanding quality of his investigations." A detective who worked with him said he was "a very professional, very dedicated individual."

Rochon obtained a law degree at night school. In 1977 he met Susan McCambridge when he pulled her over for speeding on Wilshire Boulevard. "I joked I wouldn't go out with him if he gave me a ticket," she says. He didn't, and they were married the following year. In 1981 he took a $7,000 pay cut to join the FBI; 100 people attended his bon voyage party, and Police Chief Daryl F. Gates recently wrote him that "you possessed the ability and the dedication to promote up through the ranks."

After basic training and nine months in the FBI's L.A. office, where he had no racial problems, Rochon was transferred to Omaha in January 1983. "It was a very strange environment," he says. "The office was very small. I was dressed in a three-piece suit. A lot of the agents were in kind of western attire -- cowboy boots and little skinny ties."

On his first Friday afternoon he turned to a white agent and asked, " 'Where we going out?' It was just common practice {in the FBI} -- you go out for drinks on Friday. And he looked at me and said, 'Well, we're going to a redneck bar. Where are you going?' ... Later that night I went out with {Charles R.} Chuck Wylie, the other black agent, and he filled me in as to what was going on in the office. 'The whites go to their bars and we go to our bar. We just do our thing and just keep away from them.' "

This wasn't Rochon's style. "I felt very strange. {Wylie} said, 'Don, there's things that are gonna make them not like you.' I said, 'What are they?' He said, 'Number one, you've been to college, graduated from law school. You've been a police officer in one of the top police departments in the nation ... Your wife is white and on top of that she's attractive. And you don't seem to back down. You don't seem afraid of these guys, and they know that. They see you as an uppity nigger ...' I said, 'Well, I'm not gonna back down. I'm gonna be myself.' "

In Rochon's view, Wylie, then the office's EEO representative, was "very spineless and weak. He was an individual who would tolerate discrimination -- an Uncle Tom, to be exact."

"Allegations about my not doing anything are totally off base. It's a goddam lie," says Wylie, a 19-year FBI veteran who was one of the supervisors in the Omaha office. Of the Uncle Tom charge, he says: "I think my accomplishments in this organization will certainly show anyone that I am no such individual, and I will deal with Rochon later. Rochon's going to have to cough it up later on ... I emphatically deny that I am an Uncle Tom for anybody, and I wouldn't be for no sonuvabitch. I've worked very hard. I've done an awful lot to contribute to the changes in this organization ... The bureau has progressed just as much as many of the blue-chip corporations" in racial matters during the past two decades.

Nevertheless, in the year and a half Rochon was in Omaha, according to the June 27, 1987, decision by EEOC examiner Bernard D. Steinberg:

He found in his mail slot pictures of a black man and a white woman standing together, an African in native dress, blacks and whites praying together, the bruised face of a black man, and invitations to office functions with "don't come" written on them.

Bogus phone messages were left for him to call black preachers, gospel singers and "unsuspecting black persons who ... were obviously frightened by the call from an FBI agent."

In addition to the "face of a gorilla or ape" on his children's photo and the toy diver on his desk, a picture of two black scuba divers coming out of a dump with Rochon's face pasted over one was put on the bulletin board, and other agents "joked about how blacks were unable to swim." Dillon testified that such pranks "were funny and that the reason blacks can't swim as well as whites is because their bone density is thicker."

White agents created and spread "demeaning" rumors that Rochon carried a lightning rod when he jogged, slept on duty, burned out the engine on a bureau car by running it all night so it wouldn't freeze, and tried to remove snow from his driveway by spraying it with a garden hose.

Hawkins considered the pranks to be "healthy," a sign of "camaraderie" and "esprit de corps."

In March 1984 Rochon was transferred to Chicago instead of Los Angeles as he requested. Twelve other agents -- all white -- received transfers during the same period, all to or near their requested locations.

Rochon received a letter of censure for failing to report possible race discrimination against himself by a landlord -- the first such censure in FBI history. Steinberg ordered the letter expunged from the files.

Steinberg concluded that the FBI "condoned violations of statutes ... unlawful discrimination, and harassment, failed to report them as required by its own regulations, and retaliated against {Rochon} for opposing racial harassment and participating in lawful EEO proceedings."

"I tried to be very cool," says Rochon, remembering the Omaha days, "and then I started saying, 'Listen, you guys, I don't know what's going on here but ... I wish some of you would grow up and stop it ...' They would just mumble ... {Then} they'd be very boisterous about civil rights, putting down Martin Luther King Jr., supporting J. Edgar Hoover for his campaign against King. I'd sit there and say, 'Listen, I think Hoover was totally wrong in his campaign against King ...' They'd describe him as a communist spy and make references to Jesse Jackson or Jimmy Carter, that they were communist spies trying to destroy the country."

The ape face was the worst. Susan remembers the night "he brought the picture home. I saw them in his briefcase, and I asked him, 'Why don't you have them {the children's picture} on your desk?' He handles things very matter-of-factly. He was very calm. He said, 'Oh, they put a picture of a monkey on the picture.' Then he just went upstairs ... Why were they so mean?"

Rochon's personality changed, and they both say the marriage cracked under the pressure of the harassment; they are separated now. "I just felt so lost there," he says. "It was really a painful experience ... I used to be very outgoing. We were used to entertaining people, having people in the house all the time. As the years went on, I became more withdrawn. I just felt worn out."

When they moved to Chicago -- where Dillon had transferred earlier -- Rochon's problems continued. "Within the first hour there was chocolate on my telephone receiver ... Tom Dillon sat 20 feet from me ... It was an extremely hostile environment. I walked in there and said 'Hi' and people would keep away from me ... I couldn't get anybody to cover me on cases, or work with me even."

Some black agents in Chicago, he says, "would talk 'ghetto.' They'd do the ghetto routine and shuck and jive and mimic ghetto blacks. That's what they {whites} say is a good attitude. But if you come in professional, with dignity and style, you get looked at as someone who's maybe even a threat."

Things took an uglier turn with threatening phone calls at home, the "PAY ANY PRICE" note and death-and-dismemberment policy, according to Rochon's civil suits. In addition, he received bills for items he didn't order, was socially ostracized and "regularly threatened and physically intimidated." When obscene calls began being made to his home -- his unlisted number was in an office directory -- Rochon "complained to the management and they did absolutely nothing." Finally, after "someone called me a 'nigger' on the phone and threatened to cut off my penis," he changed his number and left it out of the office directory. The calls stopped.

Finally, the suits allege, Rochon was involuntarily transferred to Philadelphia in 1986 "because of his race and in retaliation for his complaining about racial discrimination." He says he's had no problems there.

Charge, Countercharge The defense is preparing.

Gettings, who represents Hawkins and two others, says, "Mr. Rochon brought a lot of this on himself ... He behaved like a jerk. As a result of that, he got the needle, and probably a very big needle, but it was not at all racially motivated ... The exact same thing would have happened to him if he were white."

Cacheris, who represents Wylie and others: "When Rochon would come to {Wylie} and talk to him, he would tell Rochon, 'If you feel that way then do {formally file} something about it,' and Rochon didn't do anything for a year."

Feelings tend to run high among the defendants, and they have some harsh views of Rochon. Hawkins said in an affidavit filed in the EEOC case that he had a "cry-baby approach over his transfer to Omaha," "poor work habits" and was considered "a whiner and complainer" by other agents.

Dillon's attorney, Webb, says, "Rochon has taken isolated incidents which were nothing more than the bantering back and forth between the employees in the workplace and, because he did not get the type of transfers he wanted in the FBI, he has magnified them into a racial issue when there never was a racial issue. Ever."

"I've been devastated by this," says Dillon, who is considered one of the FBI's top young agents and who headed tunneling operations during the Atlanta prison riot last fall. "Don Rochon has made me the focus of this {but} I've never done a thing to this guy." In the EEOC hearing Dillon testified that "all the way through my Omaha days, I considered Don Rochon a friend."

"I didn't think that {Rochon} was the victim of any racial pranks other than the normal pranks we did to everybody else in the office. And I liked Don Rochon. I thought it was hilarious -- not hilarious, but I thought it was funny because I really didn't see that he had any basis to complain ... You know, I had more practical jokes played on me than anybody. And I was never offended. And I didn't realize that Don Rochon would be offended by any of the practical jokes."

Rochon responds: "Dillon is a charmer. The only problem with Dillon is that he harassed me. He's toned down over the last several years ... and I take credit for that ..." Then, ironically: "I'm his buddy now. I got the goods on him -- and now we're buddies."

But the question of Dillon's character is not so simple. The Rev. James R. Curtin, his priest, says he "taught reading skills to black children while he was attending Loyola. He was a lifeguard for a number of years and saved black children from drowning -- he gave mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. The man has had a very positive and giving relationship with black people all his life long."

Yet there was this testimony by Dillon in the EEOC hearing:

Q. {By Kairys} You've said it yourself, haven't you, blacks have more difficulty than whites swimming?

A. And I think -- yes, sir, I was a swimming instructor. I don't remember saying it myself, but I believe that their bone density is thicker than the white people. And I swam in high school and, you know -- maybe they do have more difficulty, I don't know ...

Q. You believe it's physiological --

A. Yes, sir.

Q. -- that they can't swim as well?

A. I don't know that they can't swim as well, because I worked as a lifeguard. And I worked with many black lifeguards. But if you look at swimmers in general, it's an exception where a black swimmer reaches the -- you know, the same levels as a white swimmer. So it is a stereotype maybe, but it wouldn't surprise me if it was true, but I don't know.

Asked about this, Curtin says, "It could be really twisted. 'Gee, that sounds like a racist statement or Jimmy the Greek.' But Tom, he's answering from his heart. If I was asked that question, I would say blacks don't swim as well because they don't have the opportunity ... I'm sure it was just an innocence. He didn't see it coming ... He has no guile in him ... In many ways, Tom has the heart of a child in a man's body -- goodness and simplicity and reverence for life ... That's why this is such a bizarre situation."

Michael L. Blakey, assistant professor of anthropology at Howard University and an expert on bones, says most reports show "slightly but significantly greater bone density in American black populations than in white," but adds that it's not clear whether this is a result of genetic or environmental factors.

Rowan, the black former FBI agent who knew Dillon in basic training, says, "I'm certain that down at FBI headquarters there's a chart that deals with bone density and different types of people. It's part of the SWAT training Tom and I both took." "I think Tom was answering the question honestly in saying he's heard the stereotype," Rowan continues. "The difficulty is that everything takes on a supercharged, heightened importance in terms of racial meaning."

At Quantico, he says, "all the discussions we had with regard to racial issues showed {Dillon} to be quite progressive. We'd discuss affirmative action in class. We'd be sitting having a beer later and he'd ask, 'What's it like on the other side? I grew up in Chicago. I don't know what it's like to be discriminated against. I try to raise my kids not to be influenced by racist attitudes.' "

And Rowan told this story: "There was one woman in the class who was not the best student -- a fairly lazy trainee ... Tom was hard on her. In boxing class he wouldn't play patty-cake with her. I wondered, 'Is he being cruel or what?' I'll never forget, one night on our floor there were some {visiting} policemen who made some really derogatory remarks about her, and we had to hold Tom back. He wanted to tear these guys apart. He said, 'I get on her because I want her to be better. On the street her life and the lives of her partners could be in jeopardy. But she's part of the team and I'm not gonna let some outsider treat her with disrespect.' This told me a lot about him as a person. This is a guy I'd want on my team no matter what the situation was."

Racism or Insensitivity? When Rowan was an agent, he was always dieting. One time he tried a banana diet. "I always had a couple bananas in my briefcase. One day the guys in the squad filled my desk with bananas. I got a good laugh out of it ... but if I'd wanted to make the bureau look bad, I'd say it was racial."

He says Rochon's "description of the bureau as a racist hellhole is totally contrary to the experience I had." Yet he concedes "that scuba diving thing could have cut either way. That falls under racial insensitivity. That's what you find these days rather than pure racism."

When, exactly, has the line been crossed?

Black agent Jones, now assigned to headquarters as an FBI spokesman, says the answer is simple: when the joke "ceases to draw humor from the intended" target.

"One person's joke," said Steinberg, "is another person's harassment."