On 2 September 1999, I sent the following message to Secretary of Energy Bill Richardson and the directors of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Sandia National Laboratories, and Los Alamos National Laboratory. They did not reply -- George Maschke,


Dear Secretary Richardson:

I urge you to rescind your proposed polygraph rules and to 
use your discretionary authority to halt all polygraph 
screening of Department of Energy and contractor employees.

In your notice of proposed rule-making and public hearings 
regarding polygraph policy dated Aug. 18, 1999, you invite 
the public to "comment on the balance [you have] struck in 
[your] proposal between legitimate national security 
interests and regulatory limitations to protect employees 
from inappropriate or imprudent use of polygraph 
examinations and the results of such examinations."

Your proposed rules fail to protect both national security 
interests and employees.

While you may indeed have struck some sort of "balance" by 
failing on both scores, I hope to convince you that your 
proposed rules are unwise and that you should not implement 

Your decision to rely on Counterintelligence Scope Polygraph 
(CSP) exams fails to protect our national laboratories from 
espionage because such polygraph screening is without 
validity. As Dr. Drew C. Richardson of the FBI Laboratory 
testified regarding polygraph screening before the Senate 
Committee on the Judiciary in 1997 (1): 

    [Polygraph screening] is completely without any 
    theoretical foundation and has absolutely no validity. 
    Although there is disagreement amongst scientists 
    about the use of polygraph testing in criminal matters, 
    there is almost universal agreement that polygraph 
    screening is completely invalid and should be stopped. 
    As one of my colleagues frequently says, the diagnostic 
    value of this type of testing is no more than that of 
    astrology or tea-leaf reading.

Dr. Richardson further testified:

    If this test had any validity (which it does not), 
    both my own experience, and published scientific 
    research has proven, that anyone can be taught to 
    beat this type of polygraph exam in a few minutes.

Polygraph screening has absolutely no validity and anyone can 
be taught to beat this type of polygraph exam in a few 
minutes. Don't you suppose that any spies at our national 
laboratories will take those few minutes and more to learn to 
beat the polygraph?

In para. II of your notification of proposed rule, you state, 
"DOE is aware of no scientific studies that establish that 
polygraph examination results are unreliable for use as an 
investigative tool, as DOE today has proposed to use them."

You disregard one of the most fundamental principles of 
rational discourse: it is incumbent on the one making an 
affirmative assertion to prove it (not on others to disprove 

Is the DOE aware of any scientific studies that establish 
that polygraph examination results *are* reliable for use as 
you propose?! As Dr. Richardson testified, there is almost 
universal agreement among scientists that polygraph screening 
is completely invalid and should be stopped.

Your alleged unawareness of scientific studies establishing 
that polygraph examination results are not reliable for 
counterintelligence security screening leads to the 
inescapable conclusion that you have not seriously studied 
the matter.

I refer you first to a comprehensive review of the available 
scientific literature on polygraph validity conducted by the 
U.S. Congress' Office of Technology Assessment (OTA) in 1983 
(4). It states:

    OTA recognizes that the administration as well as 
    NSA, CIA, and DOD believe that the polygraph is a 
    useful screening tool. However, OTA concluded that 
    the available research evidence does not establish 
    the scientific validity of the polygraph for this 
    purpose. (p. 100)

The OTA report goes on to state:

    One area of special concern in personnel security 
    screening is the incorrect identification of innocent 
    persons as deceptive. All other factors being equal, 
    the low base rates of guilt in screening situations 
    would lead to high false positive rates, even assuming 
    very high polygraph validity. For example, a typical 
    polygraph screening situation might involve a base 
    rate of guilt of one guilty person (e.g., one person 
    engaging in unauthorized disclosure) out of 1,000 
    employees. Assuming that the polygraph is 95 percent 
    valid, then the one guilty person would be identified 
    as deceptive but so would 50 innocent persons. The 
    predictive validity would be about 2 percent. Even if 
    99 percent polygraph validity is assumed, there would 
    still be 10 false positives for every correct detection. 
    (p. 100)

The OTA review assumes that a polygraph screening validity 
rate of 95% entails that 95% of guilty subjects will be 
detected. But with an extremely low base rate of guilt, as is 
the case with espionage, such an assumption is not warranted. 
If we allow that not more than one in a thousand persons 
examined are actually spies, then a validity rate of at least 
99.9% can be achieved simply by ignoring the polygraph charts 
altogether and peremptorily declaring all examinees innocent. 
Of course, the usefulness of such a "test" for catching spies 
would be zero. Yet this is essentially how the CSP achieves 
its claimed validity of 99.9%! The interpretation of 
polygraph charts is manipulated so that almost everyone 

In 1991, Professor Charles R. Honts (3) reviewed Department 
of Defense data on the CSP examination and concluded:

    Research and analyses conducted on the Department 
    of Defense's Counterintelligence Scope Polygraph 
    (CSP) Screening Program indicate that the polygraph 
    tests used in that program are unable to discriminate 
    truthtellers from deceivers. It appears that the CSP 
    polygraph examinations correctly classify only about 
    2% of the guilty subjects. Effective countermeasures 
    exacerbate this problem and may render the CSP Screening 
    Program completely ineffective at detecting deception. 
    (p. 91)

A laboratory experiment conducted by Professor Honts also 
showed the CSP exam to be a poor discriminator (2).

The OTA report also acknowledges that deceptive persons can 
beat the polygraph by employing physical countermeasures, 

    ...[T]he evidence, while limited, is that deceptive 
    subjects who use physical countermeasures and who can 
    distinguish non-relevant from relevant questions (in 
    a CQT or R/I test) can increase their chances of 
    avoiding detection.

The CSP exam is a form of the Control Question Test (CQT) 
referred to above.

David T. Lykken, an emeritus professor at the University of 
Minnesota, explains how to defeat the polygraph in chapter 19 
of the 2nd edition of his often-cited study, A Tremor in the 
Blood: Uses and Abuses of the Lie Detector (5).

Polygraph screening also entails a tremendous ethical 
problem. You, as Secretary, should be aware that in 
conducting the Counterintelligence Scope Polygraph, the 
polygraph examiner will formulate "control" questions (they 
are not a control in any scientific sense) to ask of each 
emloyee for purposes of comparison. These "control" questions 
do not involve matters of espionage, but are more general, 
often along the lines of, "Have you ever betrayed a friend's 

The polygraph examiner tells the examinee that he must answer 
all questions truthfully, but he actually assumes that the 
examinee will be deceptive when answering these "control" 
questions. He deceives the examinee about that expectation.

As the OTA report (4) explains at p. 20:

    The polygraph examiner does not tell the subject 
    that there is a distinction between the two types 
    of questions (control and relevant). Control questions 
    are described as intending to determine if the subject 
    is the "type of person" who would commit a crime such 
    as the one being investigated.... The examiner stresses 
    that the subject must be able to answer the questions 
    completely with a simple "yes" or "no" answer, that the 
    polygraph will record any confusion, misgivings, or 
    doubts, and that the subject should discuss any 
    troublesome questions with the examiner.... Thus, the 
    situation is set up such that the subject is persuaded 
    that the examiner wants the truth. In reality, however, 
    the examiner wants the subject to experience 
    considerable doubt about his or her truthfulness or 
    even to be intentionally deceptive....

The polygraph examiner, assuming first that the examinee is 
being deceptive when answering the "control" questions, 
assumes next that if the examinee's physiological responses 
as measured by the polygraph are stronger when answering a 
relevant question (e.g. "Have you made classified information 
available to a foreign government?") than when answering the 
"control" questions (e.g. "Have you ever lied to a 
supervisor?"), then the examinee must have been deceptive in 
answering the relevant question.

The conscientious examinee who, at the polygraph examiner's 
urging, "discuss[es] any troublesome questions with the 
examiner" and then truthfully answers the "control" questions 
(and thus exhibits weaker physiological responses to the 
"control" questions than to accusatory relevant questions 
like,"Are you a spy?") is the most likely to be found 
deceptive! As Honts (3) writes:

   ...Lykken [(5)] has persuasively argued that the 
   individual who tries to be truthful during a pre-
   employment polygraph examination and who, at the 
   examiner's urging, bares all of his or her past 
   wrongdoing, is the very individual who is most 
   likely to be rejected by the preemployment screen-
   ing process, whereas the individual who makes minor 
   admissions and then dishonestly maintains his or her 
   innocence is more likely to be given the benefit of 
   the doubt and passed through.... (p. 98)

The same phenomenon of which Lykken speaks regarding 
preemployment polygraph exams also applies to the CSP exam. 
Indeed, the CSP is commonly used for preemployment purposes.

In every polygraph screening exam, at least one person truly 
is deceptive: the polygraph examiner.

This trickery is unethical, and it boggles the mind that you 
intend to practice it against men and women who have 
dedicated their lives to discovering the nature of things.

You are demanding of some of America's most loyal, dedicated
scientists that they prove their trustworthiness to you, 
when it is *you* who are not worthy of *their* trust.

What do you intend to do with those informed and honest 
scientists who, in answer to their polygraph examiner's 
question, "So, what do you know about the polygraph?" reply, 
"I know that polygraph screening has absolutely no validity, 
that you are going to formulate "control" questions in reply 
to which you expect me to lie, that if I answer all your 
questions truthfully, you will be more likely to conclude 
that I am being deceptive, that it is many times more likely 
that you will falsely accuse me or one of my colleagues than 
that you will catch any real spies, and, oh yes, I am also 
familiar with and know how to employ polygraph 

If you have not already contemplated this situation (and I 
suspect you have not), you had best do so before implementing 
your proposed rules. Scientists at the national labs will 
soon know much more than you want them to know about 

The use of polygraph examinations for security screening has 
a validity approaching zero, and even if it had some 
validity, anyone can still be taught to beat the polygraph in 
a matter of minutes. By substituting cheaper polygraph exams 
for more expensive background investigations, you are 
shirking your duty to protect America's atomic secrets. 
Indeed, to the extent that you rely on polygraph 
examinations, you undermine the national security: spies who 
"pass" by employing countermeasures will escape further 
scrutiny, while innocent scientists who "fail" be will 
targeted for rigorous investigation, and their research will 
be adversely affected. And our atomic weapons programs will 
lose the services of those principled scientists who refuse 
to be a party to this modern-day trial by ordeal.

Your proposed rules also fail to protect your and your 
contractors' employees from polygraph abuse (even were we to 
accept the premise that polygraph screening does not in and 
of itself constitute abuse):

1) Section 709.4(b)(3)

This section allows the Secretary of Energy to exempt anyone 
he pleases from the polygraph requirement if he certifies 
that it is in the interest of "national security." One 
suspects that the key criterion here is being a friend of the 
Secretary. If the polygraph is truly as reliable an indicator 
of truth and deception as DOE claims, why should *anyone* be 
exempted? How could that be in the national interest?

2) Section 709.11(b) and (c)

Subsection (b) limits polygraph questions to topics 
concerning the examinee's involvement in espionage, sabotage, 
terrorism, unauthorized disclosure of classified information, 
unauthorized foreign contacts, or deliberate damage to or 
malicious misuse of a U.S. government information or defense 
system. And Sec. 709.11(c) provides that DOE may not ask 
questions that:

    (1) Probe a person's thoughts or beliefs;

    (2) Concern conduct that has no security implication; or

    (3) Concern conduct that has no direct relevance to an 

However, the "control" questions that a polygraph examiner 
must ask in an attempt to elicit a "deceptive" response for 
comparison purposes will necessarily run afoul of the 
prohibition on questions concerning "conduct that has no 
direct relevance to an investigation."

3) Section 709.13(a)

DOE claims that polygraph exams will be "voluntary." Sec. 
709.13(a) states, "...An individual may refuse to take a 
polygraph examination, and an individual being examined may 
terminate the examination at any time."

But the consequence of refusing or terminating a polygraph 
examination is suspension or denial of access to classified 
information. You lose your job, or you don't get hired. DOE's 
claim that the polygraph is "voluntary" is an intellectually 
dishonest exercise in casuistry.

4) Section 709.14.(c)

Regarding the consequences of refusal to be polygraphed, this 
section states in part, "If the individual is a DOE employee, 
DOE may reassign or realign the individual's duties or take 
other action, consistent with that denial of access."

What is meant by "other action?" Re-assignment to a dead-end 
job at some remote DOE facility? Reduction in pay? Will DOE 
look for some other excuse to fire these employees?

5) Section 709.24(b)

This section requires that before administering the polygraph 
examination, the examiner must "[e]xplain to the individual 
the characteristics and nature of the polygraph instrument 
and examination."

Is the polygraph examiner to explain to the employee that he 
has crafted "control" questions and assumes that the employee 
will be "deceptive" when answering them? And that if the 
examinee truly feels that he is answering all questions 
honestly, he is likely to be found "deceptive?"

If not, and the polygraph examiner is to do his utmost to 
deceive the examinee into believing that the polygraph is 
virtually infallible and to deceive him about the true nature 
of the "control" questions (in conformance with the standard 
procedures endorsed by such prestigious organizations 
as the Department of Defense Polygraph Institute and 
the American Polygraph Association), then I suggest that you 
strike the words "and examination" from Sec. 709.24(b).

6) Section 709.25(a)

This section states that DOE and its contractors may not 
"[t]ake an adverse personnel action against an individual 
solely on the basis of a polygraph examination result of 
"deception indicated" or "no opinion" except when the 
Secretary or the Secretary's designee makes a written 
determination that the information to which the individual 
has access is of such extreme sensitivity that access under 
the circumstances poses an unacceptable risk to national 
security or defense..."

This means that any employee whose polygraph results are 
"deception indicated" or "no opinion" may indeed have his or 
her access to classified information suspended based on the 
polygraph alone. Career over. In the current political 
atmosphere, can anyone seriously imagine that the Secretary 
or his designee will not revoke the clearances of employees 
whom the FBI says lied about counterintelligence issues 
during their polygraph exams?

7) Section 709.26(e)

This section states, "DOE must afford the full privacy 
protection provided by law to information regarding an 
employee's refusal to take a polygraph examination."

Such privacy protection is virtually impossible to ensure. 
Counterintelligence officials will doubtless share 
information on the polygraph "refuseniks," who, one suspects, 
will have a hard time ever holding a security clearance 
again. When such employees are reassigned for their refusal 
to be polygraphed, how will their personnel and security 
files explain their sudden departures from their former jobs 
for new, less prestigious ones? What are they to tell their 

Mr. Secretary, I hope I have convinced you to reconsider 
your proposed program of polygraph screening. I would 
remind you of the dénouement of the Hans Christian Anderson
fable, "The  Emperor's New Clothes," with which Professor 
Honts opens his review of polygraph screening in the 
American workplace (3):

    In a sudden blinding flash the vain Emperor saw 
    how he had been tricked and cheated. But being a 
    mighty Emperor, with purple blood in his veins, 
    he held his head all the higher and walked
    on and on down that long street.

I urge you not to repeat the Emperor's mistake. Don't think 
that you must continue on this misguided path.

Your proposed rules fail to protect national security 
interests and they fail to protect employees. Please exercise 
your authority as Secretary of Energy to rescind these 
proposed rules, and halt polygraph screening within the 
Department of Energy.

Ask Congress for the funding you will need to conduct 
thorough background investigations with periodic updates for 
scientists with access to atomic secrets. You will catch more 
spies (if there indeed are any at the national labs), provide 
real rather than illusory deterrence against espionage, and 
avoid falsely accusing the innocent.


George W. Maschke



1. Drew C. Richardson. Testimony to the Senate Committee 
   on the Judiciary, Sep. 29, 1997. Available on-line at:

2. Honts, Charles R. "Counterintelligence Scope Polygraph 
   (CSP) Test Found to be Poor Discriminator," Forensic 
   Reports, 5 (1992):215-218. [Since the date of my letter, the 
   author has made this article available online]:
3. ---. The Emperor's New Clothes: "Application of Polygraph 
   Tests in the American Workplace," Forensic Reports, 4 
   (1991):91-116. [Since the date of my letter, the 
   author has made this article available online]:

4. Scientific Validity of Polygraph Testing: A Research 
   Review and Evaluation -- A Technical Memorandum. 
   Washington, DC: U.S. Congress, Office of Technology 
   Assessment, OTA-TM-H-15, November 1983.

5. Lykken, David T. A Tremor in the Blood: Uses and Abuses of 
   the Lie Detector. 2nd ed. New York: Plenum, 1998.