THE FBI under J. Edgar Hoover was not a part of the federal government where blacks were welcome. There were a few token agents and undoubtedly some clerical personnel, but by and large job applicants and entry-level workers who were not white suffered discrimination. Statistics over the past 10 or 15 years show considerable improvement -- there are now 400 black agents in the bureau. But the case of Donald Rochon, which was detailed in Monday's New York Times, is so egregious as to raise questions about real conditions for blacks inside the FBI.

Mr. Rochon's story sounds like one of the horror stories of the 1950s. He joined the bureau in 1981 and was first assigned to the field office in Omaha. There, according to reports filed by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Justice Department, he was subjected to continual harassment and humiliation by his coworkers. The face of an ape was pasted over a picture of his son in a family photograph on his desk. The message "Don't come" was scrawled on invitations to office parties. A photograph of a black man who had been beaten was placed in his mail slot. His supervisor considered these incidents "pranks" and said they were "healthy" and a sign of "esprit de corps" in the office.

More serious torments awaited him in Chicago when he was transferred there in 1984. His family began to get late-night obscene phone calls. He received unsigned, typewritten letters threatening him with death and mutilation; a photograph of a black man who had suffered this fate was attached. He received two letters from insurance companies requesting payment for death, dismemberment and burial insurance that he had not purchased. An FBI agent in the Chicago office, after an administrative inquiry, was found to have forged these documents, but he was simply suspended for 14 days, and his colleagues chipped in to pay his salary.

Can you imagine any large employer in the country -- public or private -- putting up with this behavior by employees, let alone calling it a "prank"? Yes, the investigation is continuing -- criminal charges may be brought -- and Mr. Rochon has filed a civil suit. But if the FBI knows who was behind this disgusting campaign -- and more than one person was involved -- why haven't they been fired? If agents are this cruel to colleagues, how can the public have any confidence in the way they treat criminal suspects? Weed them out. There is no room in the federal work force for such racism, and no excuse for countenancing it.