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Dr. Drew C. Richardson sent this letter to the editor of the New York Times on 11 April 2003.
Unnamed sources within the FBI suggest former FBI agent James J. Smith (now charged with negligence in the handling of classified documents) may not have taken a polygraph exam during his Bureau career, that perhaps he should have, and that had he done so, his various alleged inappropriate activities might well have been uncovered or prevented ("F.B.I. Never Gave Agent in Spy Case a Polygraph," Apr. 11). I believe this analysis (assuming factual assertions to be correct) is completely wrong.

As was the case with Robert Hanssen a few years earlier, Mr. Smith was never subjected to astrology, tealeaf, tarot card, animal entrail readings, either. The type of polygraph screening (i.e., questioning large numbers of individuals, e.g., all FBI agents handling informants about numerous issues none of which are known to have occurred) now suggested has no more validity than any of the aforementioned divining activities. As a special agent and research physiologist formerly involved with polygraph research for the Bureau, I provided a similar analysis to former FBI Director Freeh at the time of Mr. Hanssen's arrest and prior to my retirement from the Bureau a couple of years ago. If such a ludicrous program were to be put in place, as was evidenced in the cases of Aldrich Ames, Ana Montes, and actually every spy known to have been given polygraph exams during the period of his or her espionage, future Hanssens and Smiths would likely go undetected, while large numbers of honest hard working employees would be found deceptive.

Such a program, not being a valid diagnostic instrument for the nefarious activities of any guilty parties, would be unfair to innocent employees. Moreover, it would likely draw appropriate attention and action away from issues that should be addressed, i.e., is it appropriate to have a single agent maintaining a handler/informant relationship for excessively long periods of time, should this type of relationship be a shared one as is the case with paired agents conducting interviews, etc.

In summary, a polygraph screening program directed at uncovering matters such as that now discussed would be ineffective, counterproductive, harmful to employees and national security alike, and a serious distraction from issues that should be attended to. As an important aside, since the time of my original analysis of the Hanssen matter, a distinguished panel from the National Academy of Sciences conducted a two year study analyzing polygraph screening and in a report and related press conference issued and held last year, agreed with me by concluding and characterizing such a program to be harmful and a danger to national security. Home Page > Reading Room