DALLAS (AP) _ Some military inspectors responsible for exposing fraud and abuse have helped stifle complaints and retaliate against whistleblowers, a newspaper reported Sunday.

Several people said inspectors general took complaints that were supposed to be confidential directly to commanders, then worked with them to discredit the whistleblower or bury his charges, The Dallas Morning News said.

The newspaper interviewed more than 50 people and examined lawsuits, reports and a draft report by Senate investigators that wasn't made public.

Former civilian Army inspector Don Thompson remembered the reaction of one superior to a new complaint.

''He would pick it up and the first thing he would say is, 'How can this get us in trouble?' Not 'What did you find?' or 'What's wrong here?''' Thompson said.

Inspectors, investigators and other officials may be civilians or service members, but they ultimately answer to a uniformed superior.

The Defense Department's acting inspector general, Derek Vander Schaaf, acknowledged that the military's inspector general system - intended to be an in-house watchdog - has credibility problems. But he denied that it lacks integrity or clout.

''I think it's working because of the sheer number of complaints that are coming into the system,'' he said.

The assistant secretary of defense who oversees the inspector general system wouldn't comment. Neither would the Army and Navy inspectors general. The Air Force canceled a scheduled interview with its inspector general, the newspaper said.

Michael Tufariello, a former chief petty officer, told the Morning News he was forced into a psychiatric evaluation and passed over for promotion after he reported allegations of payroll fraud at the Dallas Naval Air Station in 1983-1984.

He said the Navy inspector general's office in New Orleans told him ''that too many people in the upper echelon were involved in this thing, and if it came out it would put mud on their faces.''

Tufariello said an investigation launched from Washington gave merit to his allegations. ''Once things got hot and the investigation started, all of them - from a rear admiral on down - put their papers in to retire,'' Tufariello said.

Whistleblower advocates contended that even a conscientious inspector general will be thwarted by the command structure, particularly if he confirms an allegation that is viewed as embarrassing.

Not everyone agrees.

Sen. John Glenn, D-Ohio, a retired Marine colonel who is chairman of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, said: ''I'm not saying everybody does a perfectly glorified job.'' But, he said, the system has been good for the military.

''In general, I'm very supportive of them,'' he said.