Graduation ceremonies at the FBI Academy are much like those at any school or college: Cameras flash and parents beam with pride. But when FBI Director Louis J. Freeh strides to the lectern to deliver the commencement address, as he does at almost every graduation, the event takes a less festive tone.

After some introductory remarks, Freeh grimly reminded one recent class about a photograph displayed prominently at FBI headquarters. It shows Nazi soldiers taking a young boy off to a concentration camp while a German policeman looks on passively.

The lesson, Freeh told the 36 new agents, is that as law enforcement officers in a democracy, "you must protect human and civil rights as your first priority." To accomplish that, Freeh urged the new agents to rely on "the core assets you bring to this job: your values and your integrity."

Such talk of personal ethics might surprise outsiders expecting a law-and-order theme, but the subject is thoroughly familiar to the agents completing the academy's 15-week training program.

In January, a full course on law enforcement ethics was added to the curriculum, and related lessons on ethical dilemmas are now being woven into every aspect of instruction from the firing range to the computer room.

During one exercise, trainees investigate a bank robbery at "Hogan's Alley," a mock-up of a small-town main street where actors play the parts of victims, witnesses and criminals. Almost all the evidence points to one suspect, but the key to solving the case lies in evidence suggesting the person is innocent. Teachers sternly correct agent-trainees who ignore the exculpatory evidence and simply press ahead with an arrest.

Explaining the exercise, Freeh said in an interview, "I remember asking a new agent about the purpose of this job, and he replied, We lock people up.' Well, that is something we do, but it is not our purpose. We want these young people to understand that our purpose is to get the facts without favor or bias and let the chips fall where they may. Whether the facts may lead to an arrest or they may exculpate a subject, our job is the same."

The new curriculum bears Freeh's distinct imprint, and it offers a glimpse of how the director and other top officials weigh issues that have vexed the FBI recently. There are, for example, classes on the proper uses of deception, a point of controversy in the case of Richard Jewell, the onetime suspect in Atlanta's Olympic Park bombing. And, there is a discussion of when to report ethical lapses by fellow agents, a major issue in the case of Frederic Whitehurst, the whistleblower at the FBI forensic laboratory.

In addition, the ethics course offers a window on the future character of the FBI as it is being shaped at this sprawling campus in the Virginia woods. Since a 30-month hiring freeze ended in August 1994, the number of FBI agents has grown by 15 percent to a force of 11,200. Working at a record pace, the FBI Academy is due to graduate 1,000 new agents this year and an additional 700 under the FBI's budget request for next year. To accommodate this growth, the academy is turning out agents at such a rapid pace that a new class is graduating nearly every other week.

On the very first day that agent-trainees report for classes, dressed in royal blue polo shirts and khaki trousers, they are told they will learn much about firearms, the law and the criminal mind. They are advised that while they will need some of those skills some of the time, moral courage will be demanded of them all the time.

The curriculum at the academy requires competition for prizes in such things as marksmanship, academic prowess and athletic ability. But the agent-trainees are told that they will select the winner of the Fidelity, Bravery and Integrity Award, which is named after the FBI motto and goes to the trainee who best embodies those ethical standards. The agent-trainees are told that Freeh instituted the award himself and takes it very seriously.

The core of the ethics training takes place during seven two-hour classroom sessions designed by Frank Perry, a veteran of the FBI's Office of Professional Responsibility, its internal affairs division. The FBI does not often suffer the kinds of corruption and drug abuse problems that often plague big police departments, Perry said, so in developing the ethics course, "what we tried to do is look at some of the philosophical issues that would help us lay a foundation that would hopefully prevent some of the instances of poor judgment and serious misconduct that we were seeing."

That foundation is built on a close reading of the preamble of the Constitution and the three opening paragraphs of the Declaration of Independence. These texts, sometimes cited by historians as America's secular scripture, are examined virtually word-for-word by agent-trainees. Phrases like "pursuit of happiness" and "insure domestic tranquillity" are explored in detail as the basis for lasting political concepts.

As the academic portion of the course develops, Perry said, the goal is to develop a deeper intellectual understanding of human rights. The trainees are taught basic principles, such as the notion that human beings should never be treated as means but should always be acknowledged as ends in themselves. Then those principles are translated into everyday law enforcement situations. For example, putting an informer in danger without his knowledge would be using that individual merely as a means to advance an investigation. That, the FBI now teaches its trainees, would be unethical.

But the agent-trainees are also taught that some rules are meant to be bent.

Midway through the course, for example, there is an extensive discussion of the philosophical arguments against deception. Deceit, the trainees are told, can cause "social trust {to be} destroyed." But the arguments against deception are followed by a discussion of reasons justifying its use. One such justification: "The harmful effects {of deception} may be counterbalanced by beneficial consequences."

What these competing arguments mean in practice is that deception is prohibited when an agent is called to testify in court, for example, but it is viewed as an essential tool when a case is under investigation. Subjects of FBI investigations, according to the academy's syllabus or study guide, "have forfeited their right to the truth," and as a result, agents are justified in the use of decoys, sting operations and other forms of deception when they are investigating a case.

Michael E. Brooks, an FBI supervisor and ethics instructor, illustrated the point during a recent lecture by recalling a corruption probe in New York City. Extensive evidence had been collected against several municipal inspectors who had approved faulty elevators in exchange for bribes from building owners. As the inspectors were being arrested, Brooks was sent out to interview one of their colleagues who was under suspicion but had not been caught doing anything wrong.

Brooks told his class about how he parked his car in front of the man's house and asked him to get inside. The FBI agent said he put on a friendly guise and talked about how they both had sons the same age. Pretending that there was indisputable evidence against him, the FBI agent told the inspector that he might still save himself by confessing and testifying against his co-workers.

As the man's family looked on, Brooks recalled, "I told him to think about his kid's future. I made him think we had him cold, and I warned him he would only get one chance to come clean."

The elevator inspector burst into tears and confessed. "It was tough," Brooks said, "but we needed the evidence and he had given up his right to the truth by taking bribes."

The trainees are taught to observe "significant restraints" on the use of deception once a subject is under detention or arrest and that the most important restraints relate to constitutional protections meant to assure that statements are given voluntarily and in full knowledge of certain rights such as right to legal counsel.

Disciplinary action was taken against four FBI agents and supervisors involved in the Olympic Park bombing investigation as a result of their failure to observe those restraints when they maintained a ruse, the pretense that suspect Richard Jewell was being interviewed for an FBI training video.

Some of the most delicate and dramatic instruction in the ethics course involves the choices agents face when they see wrongdoing by others in the FBI.

"Your parents give you a split personality from the start," said Chase A. Foster, a supervisor and instructor. They say, " Tell me the truth,' but they also tell you Don't be a tattletale, don't be a squealer.' So, we try to seek a balance."

"There is a very real dilemma of honesty versus loyalty," Foster said. "We don't want to lose the camaraderie, the loyalty to fellow officers, that is so important in law enforcement work and that is the basis for heroism under fire. But we make it clear there are also important loyalties to the FBI as an organization, and an ultimate loyalty to the Constitution."

About a week before graduation, each class breaks into two groups to debate the pros and cons of a real case involving a Florida police officer who initially covered up for fellow officers who fatally beat a suspect, but then cooperated with internal affairs investigators. The issue is whether the officer should be reinstated.

Those who argue for reinstatement often cite the special circumstances of police work. During one recent class, a broad-shouldered young man pleaded "I want you all to understand what it is like to be a law enforcement officer and that the bond between partners is not like anything in civilian life."

There were a variety of arguments among those who opposed the officer's reinstatement, but one was repeated. Echoing a lesson taught on the first day of class that "the FBI is a resource that we must not waste," the team leader in a recent class talked about trust.

"Reinstating this guy would undermine the public trust in the entire force," the team leader said. "And we've heard it over and over again: Once that trust is broken, a law enforcement agency loses its credibility, its image, its budget, and it can't do its job." CAPTION: Supervisory agent Jayme Gentile prepares a critique of FBI trainees practicing an arrest and handcuffing of a suspect to be placed in a police vehicle. CAPTION: FBI Director Louis J. Freeh greets new academy graduates and their families. He told agents that their "core assets" are "your values and your integrity." CAPTION: In ethics course at the FBI Academy in Quantico, Va., trainees watch videotape about police officer who became a thief.