In the 21st century, the pseudoscience of polygraphy has regrettably been spreading in the republics of the former Soviet Union, where employer-mandated polygraph screening is a growing problem.
Since 2005, Russian polygraph manufacturer EPOS (ЭПОС) has hosted a message board for discussion of polygraph-related topics. While part of the message board is public, it also includes a private “Professional” (Профессионалы) section reserved for polygraph operators that is not visible to the general public. This section includes nearly 1,000 message threads comprising over 20,000 individual posts.
AntiPolygraph.org has received an archive of the EPOS polygraph forum, including the private “Professional” section, as it appeared around 17 November 2020. The archive was downloaded with the free and open source web crawler, HTTrack.
While the archive is sadly not complete, it includes a great wealth of information that was previously inaccessible to the public, including lengthy discussions of polygraph methodology and numerous user-uploaded file attachments. AntiPolygraph.org has scanned the archive using Microsoft Windows Defender and found nothing amiss.
Lawsuits filed in Nassau County, New York allege that TV polygraph operator Daniel D. “Dan” Ribacoff and his “family owned & operated” private investigation company, International Investigative Group, behaved negligently and bilked the plaintiffs out of millions of dollars. Kathianne Boniello reports for the New York Post:
A prominent PI firm was so eager to keep the cash coming in from rich clients, it turned a blind eye to its private eyes acting “like drunken fraternity brothers,” a new lawsuit charges.
Dan Ribacoff, a polygraph expert who bills himself as one of the top private investigators in the country and has appeared on TV shows like “Impractical Jokers” and “The Steve Wilkos Show,” displayed “willful ignorance” and took no action as the gumshoes who worked for him went rogue, according to the $10 million claim.
Ribacoff’s Long Island-based International Investigative Group exchanged thousands of text messages with underlings, encouraging them to double bill and pad hours to run up the tab for wealthy clients like Patty Hearst’s granddaughter Gillian Hearst and ice cream company heir David Smith, according to court papers.
The lawsuit, Susanne Gold-Smith vs. Daniel Ribacoff et al., was filed on 18 December 2020 in the Nassau Supreme Court under index number 614735/2020. Other named defendants include Daniel Ribacoff’s son, Lance Ribacoff, his daughter, Lisa J. Ribacoff, his wife, Barbara Ribacoff, and the Ribacoffs’ company, International Investigative Group, Ltd. The 80-page statement of complaint (23 MB PDF) seeks damages of not less than $50 million and comprises nine causes of action: 1) negligent supervision, 2) negligent hiring, 3) respondeat superior, 4) respondeat superior-IIG and the Ribacoffs, 5) negligent retention, 6) negligence, 7) aiding and abetting, 8) violation of New York Business Law 84, 9) negligent infliction of emotional distress.
Daniel Ribacoff is a member of the American Polygraph Association, and his daughter Lisa Ribacoff is a member of the American Polygraph Association’s board of directors.
A prior lawsuit, David M. Smith vs. International Investigative Group et al., was filed in the Nassau Supreme Court on 31 May 2019 under index number 0607393/2019 and seeks damages of more than $18 million. The 48-page statement of complaint (2 MB PDF) in that litigation cites causes of action including breach of contract, fraud, gross negligence, and “breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing.”
In December 2019, a guest on the Steve Wilkos Show, for which Dan Ribacoff provides polygraph services, attempted suicide after Ribacoff falsely accused her of lying when she denied having burned her infant daughter. In fact, no one had burned the daughter, and lesions that appeared on her leg were the result of a ringworm infection.
On Friday, 11 December 2020, Canada’s National Security and Intelligence Review Agency (NSIRA), which provides oversight for the country’s intelligence agencies, issued its annual report for 2019. Among other things, the report is highly critical of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service’s (CSIS’s) reliance on polygraphy to screen applicants and employees, noting that the Security Intelligence Review Committee (NSIRA’s predecessor agency), “recommended in 1985 that CSIS should cease using the polygraph.”
The NSIRA report notes that “future reviews will examine the polygraph’s use outside of CSIS, and based on the information assessed, NSIRA will make a definitive determination about the legality and utility of this instrument.”
In its future assessments, NSIRA should be mindful of the late University of Toronto professor of psychology John J. Furedy’s work on lie detection. Furedy astutely likened polygraphy to the ancient Roman divination ritual of haruspicy (entrails reading).
It is also worth noting, as documented in a recent post to the AntiPolygraph.org message board, that CSIS discourages applicants from researching polygraphy. A recent CSIS applicant was told:
We do conduct a polygraph exam. We advise that you do not do any research. If you’ve done some research in the past that’s ok, but if you are going to continue with the process we advise that you don’t do any research, because that could have an impact on your candidacy.
NSIRA should demand that CSIS explain the rationale for such an instruction.
82. A final observation relates to the government’s use of the polygraph for screening security and intelligence employees. Commonly referred to as a lie detector test, the polygraph is a technology that measures and records several physiological indicators such as blood pressure, pulse, respiration and skin conductivity while a person responds to a number of questions. “Deceptive” answers produce physiological responses that can, so it is alleged, be differentiated from those associated with “non-deceptive” answers.
83. The TBS Standard on Security Screening, created in 2014, cites the use of the polygraph as an appropriate tool, among others, for assessing candidates seeking an Enhanced Top Secret (ETS) clearance. CSIS, in conducting security assessments for its staff, uses the results of the polygraph as a determinative element when granting ETS clearances, rather than an instructive element, to be considered as part of a series of relevant factors. If an outside candidate, employee or individual contracting with the Government of Canada is denied a security clearance that is necessary to obtain or keep federal employment or a contract, the individual can make a complaint to NSIRA pursuant to section 18 of the NSIRA Act. If NSIRA’s jurisdiction is established, the complaint would be investigated by an NSIRA member. This could include, for example, a complaint where a CSIS employee was terminated solely because of the revocation of a security clearance, and the Deputy Head of CSIS could have based the decision to revoke the clearance on the results of a polygraph test. Given the highly invasive and controversial nature of this technology, NSIRA decided to examine the use of the polygraph within our latest safeguarding review of CSIS. We sought to determine the justifications for its use, and the extent to which such determinations are reasonable and necessary.
84. Several key observations were derived from this analysis. First, this tool can have profound negative impacts on an employee’s mental health if not used appropriately. Second, CSIS was unable [sic] justify the merits of examiners — who are not medical practitioners — to ask medical-related questions of the people they examine. Third, the outcomes or consequences for polygraph exams conducted on external applicants compared with CSIS employees differed. [ Text removed – As of November 20, 2020, NSIRA and CSIS could not agree on how all of the facts of this review should be presented in an unclassified, public document]. Essentially, a successful polygraph is a determinative factor for external applicants in obtaining an ETS clearance through CSIS. Fourth, CSIS requires policy clarity for cases where employees fail the polygraph examination. Finally, CSIS did not conduct a privacy impact assessment (PIA) for the use of the polygraph, despite a PIA being required by government policy when a department or agency is dealing with “personal information.”
85. These issues raised in the CSIS context are related to a much broader consideration: namely, the extent to which the government’s overarching policy document, the Standard on Security Screening, provides adequate guidance for departments and agencies when they implement this safeguarding measure. For example, this standard requires the use of the polygraph for all ETS clearances, but it is silent on any guidance on the implementation of this requirement, including the conditions for the reasonable use of the polygraph. Rather, such key considerations are left to the discretion of specific departments and agencies.
86. The OPC has also raised concerns with TBS as to how the polygraph examination is used as an enhanced screening requirement under the 2014 Standard on Security Screening. In July 2017 correspondence, for example, the OPC noted particular concerns surrounding its effectiveness, sensitivity and privacy implications, and the potential adverse consequences associated with polygraph examinations.
87. These contemporary observations are not new. In seven consecutive annual reports, ranging from 1985–86 to 1991–92, SIRC requested that CSIS stop using the polygraph. One of the key concerns raised by successive committees were SIRC’s “grave doubts” about the use of the technology, pointing to the fact that test results could be wrong 10% of the time or more. As well, Canadian courts have refused to admit the results of a polygraph as evidence in criminal trials. The Supreme Court of Canada has found that they are unreliable and risky, and would not assist the Court in determining a person’s guilt or innocence.
88. After consideration of the foregoing, on December 12, 2019, NSIRA sent a letter to TBS seeking access to the legal advice prepared for Treasury Board on how the polygraph complies with Canadian legal requirements, as well as a summary of the evidentiary basis used to establish the requirement for using the polygraph, and any assessments of how the use of the polygraph achieves its intended goal. The TBS response failed to answer NSIRA’s questions. However, the letter did acknowledge that the next round of security policy modifications was under way.
89. When SIRC recommended in 1985 that CSIS should cease using the polygraph, it was meant to allow the government time to reach definitive conclusions about whether this technique should be employed by Canadian agencies and, if so, under what circumstances and under what rules. SIRC requested what sound government policy instruments should always require: namely, that there are consistent approaches across government; that risks are managed; and that policies exhibit public service values such as probity, prudence, equity and transparency. NSIRA has not been provided with evidence that suggests that the use of the polygraph meets all of these policy requirements. To this end, future reviews will examine the polygraph’s use outside of CSIS, and based on the information assessed, NSIRA will make a definitive determination about the legality and utility of this instrument.
The authors of “Shadows into Light: The Investigative Utility of Voice Analysis with Two Types of Online Child-Sex Predators” declared to the journal that they have no conflicts of interest to report. However, an investigation by AntiPolygraph.org reveals that both the article’s primary author and the source of the data used for the study have ties to NITV that call into question the article’s credibility.
The Journal of Child Sexual Abuse is published by Taylor & Francis, who on their web page on “competing interest” or “conflict of interest” state: “Competing interests can be financial or non-financial in nature. To ensure transparency, any associations which can be perceived by others as a competing interest must also be declared.”
NACVSA is an arm of NITV, which has used the article Stathis co-authored with Chapman to claim in marketing copy that “according to an independent, peer-reviewed, published 18-year study” CVSA “has an accuracy rate of 98%.” However, an earlier investigation by AntiPolygraph.org revealed that the Chapman & Stathis article was published in an obscure publication of the Ukrainian government that has dubious claim to being peer-reviewed and that, in any event, the study was not based on NITV’s CVSA, but rather a different voice stress analyzer whose manufacturer went out of business some three decades ago.
In January 2013, Stathis, a resident of Maryland, gave a presentation at NITV’s Advanced Continuing Education Course in Fort Lauderdale, Florida on the topic of “Current VSA Research.”
Some of the highlights of the conference were lectures by valued members who have advanced knowledge in specialized areas. One such person was Marigo Stathis, a neuroscientist who co-authored a peer-reviewed field study of the CVSA with Professor James Chapman. Marigo has a deep understanding of the scientific workings of the CVSA, but she’s also great at translating the data into everyday language. Her lecture discussed the protocols of the Chapman study and described how they discovered that the CVSA has an accuracy rate of 99.69%, a precision rate of 99.67%, and a verified confession rate of 96.4 %.
In response to a request for comment, Stathis denied having a “close and continuing” relationship with NITV and affirmed that “[a]ll of [her] efforts pertaining to the ‘Shadows into Light’ article were of a pro-bono nature…”
Nonetheless, a reasonable person might conclude that Stathis’ above-documented association with NITV constitutes a conflict of interest that should have been declared.
In “Shadows into Light,” Stathis and Marinakis write that “[t]he data contained in this paper originates from a southeastern US Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) Task Force, an organization that successfully uses both advanced interviewing techniques and investigative tools when eliciting disclosures.” Stathis and Marinakis do not specify which ICAC Task Force produced the data on which they rely, but AntiPolygraph.org’s investigation confirms that it is the Central Florida ICAC Task Force, and that the key person involved was former detective sergeant Jerry W. Crotty II of the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office.
2015 – D/Sgt. Jerry W. Crotty II: Jerry is with the Manatee Co. Sheriff’s Office (FL) and was the recipient of the fourth annual Professor James L. Chapman Award for Excellence. He developed innovative strategies using the CVSA to protect the safety and welfare of children in Florida and elsewhere. Jerry is assigned to the Federal Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force (ICAC), and he introduced the CVSA as a screening tool during investigations of ‘Traveler and Pornography Cases.’ His efforts have resulted in more accurately determining the past predatory histories of these offenders, and also has directly led to the identification and recovery of multiple ‘live victims’ of sexual predators. As a direct result of Jerry’s innovation and creativity the CVSA has been acquired by many ICAC Task Forces across the USA, which have also adopted Jerry’s specialized interviewing approach.
His work is…the subject of an article published in the Journal of Child Sex Abuse, where his use of the CVSA was analyzed in online sex traveler and child porn offenders. Using this technique, he was able to recover 87 unknown live victims of child sex abuse.
Concordantly, in “Shadows into Light,” Stathis and Marinakis write, “…as a result of voice stress analysis procedures, 87 previously undiscovered live victims were identified.”
There can be little doubt but that Stathis and Marinakis’ data is based on CVSA examinations conducted primarily, and perhaps exclusively, by Jerry Crotty.
In response to a request for comment, Stathis stated, “I received the data relevant to ‘Shadows into Light’ in 2017 from a Southeastern US ICAC team that consisted of several individuals who originally approached me in 2016, none of whom was associated with or worked for any forensic or truth verification software/hardware company at that time.”
Nonetheless, a reasonable person might conclude that Stathis and Marinakis’ data source’s association with NITV constitutes a conflict of interest that should have been declared.
Stathis & Marinakis’ “Shadows into Light” is also beset by methodological flaws and omissions that make it difficult to generalize the authors’ conclusions to any other population:
What were the total arrest figures for the ICAC unit during the relevant period?
How many arrestees refused all interrogation?
How many were interrogated without CVSA, and what were their admission/confession rates?
How were the CVSA charts scored? Manually by the operator? Or automatically by the CVSA software?
How many CVSA operators were involved? (Evidence suggests that the number is one, but the authors should have included this data point.)
Stathis and Marinakis write that “[t]his study’s de-identified raw data can be furnished upon reasonable request from the corresponding author.” In order to better understand their research findings, AntiPolygraph.org requested this data by email to the corresponding author, Marigo Stathis, on 22 July 2020 and received no reply. However, in October 2020, following AntiPolygraph.org’s request for comment for this article, Stathis wrote:
…we have appropriately considered your initial July 22, 2020 request for the study’s raw data. However, we additionally require a detailed description of how you intend to use the data. As the corresponding co-author, I will then be able to forward your request to the agencies that comprise the US ICAC task force (that generated the data) with the stated reasonable potential use of such data in order to get their consent to release the data. The latter will be contingent on having met specific criteria re a written limited rights data use agreement, with appropriate protection of the data and defined limited reasonable use.
Given that Stathis did not reply to our request for the study’s data, only addressing it more than two months later when asked for comment for this article, her claim that she needs more information to entertain our request seems disingenuous.
The late astronomer and science communicator Carl Sagan famously observed that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. Stathis and Marinakis’ claim that CVSA—a scientifically baseless device that NITV itself has acknowledged in court “is not capable of lie detection”—produced no false positives and a 100% confession rate from those who failed is an extraordinary claim indeed.
Regrettably, the evidence of Stathis and Marinakis’ “Shadows into Light” is murky.
On Friday, 23 October 2020, Oklahoma district judge Dennis Morris revoked Benjamin Lawrence Petty’s probation and sentenced him to 15 years in prison because he allegedly failed two polygraph “tests” and denied having committed the crime for which he was on probation.
In 2016, Petty pleaded guilty to raping and sodomizing a 13-year-old girl at a church summer camp as part of a plea agreement that spared him prison time while subjecting him to 15 years of probation that included a requirement that he register as a sex offender and enter a treatment program. At the time, the Petty case sparked outrage because of the perceived leniency of the sentence and was reported both nationally and internationally.
Petty, who suffers from type 1 diabetes and is legally blind, insists that he is innocent of the crimes to which he pleaded guilty and that he entered the plea agreement because he feared for his life if sent to prison.
Court-ordered sex offender therapy programs typically include a requirement that the individual admit guilt and pass a series of polygraph “tests,” typically at the offender’s personal expense.
On 14 February and 14 May 2019, Petty submitted to two polygraph “tests” conducted by James R. Kelly of Pauls Valley, Oklahoma. In both instances, Petty denied that he had committed the crimes to which he had pled guilty, and in both instances, Kelly opined that Petty “was attempting deception.”
In 2020, Petty contacted AntiPolygraph.org about his polygraph experience, and AntiPolygraph.org co-founder George Maschke prepared a written critique and evaluation based upon Kelly’s written reports of his polygraph examinations of Petty. That critique shows that Kelly, departing from common polygraph practice, constructed relevant questions that presupposed Petty’s guilt, making his “failing” more likely.
Maschke was unable to perform a complete review because Kelly refused to release the computerized polygraph data file, or even a printout of the charts, to Petty. Kelly told Petty that no data beyond the written report was available, even though Oklahoma law requires that polygraph operators in the state maintain on file all polygraph records for a minimum of two years. In the absence of such documentation, a thorough review of a polygraph examination is not possible.
Despite polygraphy’s complete lack of scientific underpinnings and the specific shortcomings associated with James Kelly’s polygraph examinations, District Judge Dennis Morris relied on those polygraph reports and Petty’s refusal to admit guilt in therapy to revoke his probation and sentence him to 15 years in prison.
Among other things, Ellis reveals previously unreported information that bolsters Petty’s claim of innocence. According to a Department of Human Services report, the alleged victim originally denied that any sexual incident had occurred but admitted having told other girls at the camp that she engaged in sexual acts with Petty.
Petty also “provided The Oklahoman with copies of medical record notes that indicate he is legally blind and suffers from erectile dysfunction, diabetic neuropathy that has resulted in the amputation of two toes, fecal incontinence and other ailments.”
Petty has appealed Judge Morris’ revocation of his probation. The case is State of Oklahoma v. Benjamin Lawrence Petty, No. CF-2016-00159 in the District Court in and for Murray County, Oklahama.
The tabloid television talk show Dr. Phil, which debuted in 2002, has long used polygraphs as a ratings gimmick, especially during Nielsen sweeps, a rating period that is especially important for advertising revenue. For years, the show’s primary polygraph operator was retired FBI special agent Jack Trimarco.
However, Trimarco died in 2018, and for some time after that, it seems the Dr. Phil show did not feature any polygraph examinations. That has changed.
On 29-30 October 2020, the first two days of Nielsen’s November sweeps, the Dr. Phil show ran a two-part episode featuring polygraph operator John Leo Grogan, whom show host Phil McGraw introduced as “one of the most respected polygraph examiners in the country.”
That John Grogan is “one of the most respected polygraph examiners in the country” would have been a shock to Jack Trimarco. In a 7 March 2008 phone call to the Tom Leykis Show, a Los Angeles-based radio program on which Grogan was a guest, Trimarco denounced Grogan as a fraud. AntiPolygraph.org has transcribed that call:
Tom Leykis: Here’s Jack on the Tom Leykis show. Hello.
Jack Trimarco: Hello, this is Jack.
Leykis: I know. I just said that.
Trimarco: [muted laughter]. Well, Tom, I honestly, I haven’t been listening to your show but my, my phone has lit up. My name is Jack Trimarco. I’m a retired FBI agent. I’m former head of the polygraph unit for the FBI in Los Angeles for seven years, former inspector general for the Department of Energy’s polygraph program for two, currently chairman of the ethics committee for [the] California Association of Polygraph Examiners.
John Grogan is a fake. He is not a polygraph examiner. He is quite accurately known as the polygraph parasite. He’s been convicted of twenty-six counts of fraud and had his P.I. license pulled from him, and he simply became a world-known polygraph examiner. It’s all B.S. He never graduated from a polygraph school, and everyone knows him for what he is, and I can’t believe he has the things to go on a radio show, have people like me listen, and expect not to be disclosed.
John Grogan: I think Jack’s hair dye is getting to him. I have never been convicted of any such thing. What, what—
Trimarco: John, do you still have a P.I. license?
Grogan: Wow. Wow.
Trimarco: John, do you still have a P.I. license?
Grogan: No, but [it] has nothing to do with fraud. Jack—
Trimarco: You know what, that’s a lie, too.
Grogan: Oh, my God! Well, Jack—
Trimarco: Contact your lawyers and sue me.
Grogan: Jack, why don’t you bring in proof to Tom Leykis that I’ve been convicted of one count of fraud, let alone twenty-six.
Trimarco: Twenty-six counts of fraud.
Trimarco: The state of California pulled your P.I. license, and you’re violating that by claiming to be a polygraph examiner. It’s complete fraud, John. You’re, you’re an embarrassment to the law enforcement community, and you’re an embarrassment to the polygraph—the real polygraph—examiners of the world. You’re nothing more than a fraud. And you’re about to get burned.
Grogan: Bring in your proof to Tom Leykis
Trimarco: I’ll bring in my proof to the D.A. in Ventura County on Tuesday morning, John. You perjured yourself. You swore under oath about things that you aren’t, and I’m going to get you convicted.
Grogan: Okay, Jack.
Leykis: Well, well, well. Where do you go from there. I’ll tell you what. We’ll take a break, and we’ll figure out where we go from there. You don’t want to go anywhere!
After the call, Grogan dismissed Trimarco as “just another jealous competitor.”
Grogan subsequently filed what seems to have been an abortive lawsuit against Jack Trimarco, Ralph Hilliard, and the late Joseph Paolella, a former U.S. Secret Service polygraph operator from whom Grogan had received some polygraph training.
Jack Trimarco was not wrong when he called John Grogan a fraud. But the fact is that all polygraph operators are frauds. Polygraphy is a thoroughly discredited pseudoscience that it inherently biased against the truthful yet easy for liars to beat using simple, effective countermeasures that polygraph operators have no demonstrated ability to detect.
Phil McGraw, who has a Ph.D. in clinical psychology, should be embarrassed and ashamed for misleading his audience about the validity of polygraphy, all for the sake of ratings.
AntiPolygraph.org has previously reported and commented on U.S. government efforts to foist the pseudoscience of polygraphy on other countries and on local employees at U.S. diplomatic facilities. For example:
Now, for the first time, a victim of such efforts has publicly shared his story with AntiPolygraph.org. An officer in the Afghan Ministry of the Interior who specialized in anti-corruption eforts relates, among other things, how he and some 40 of his colleagues had their careers arbitrarily sidelined in 2018 when they were required to submit to polygraph screening conducted at the U.S. embassy in Kabul. His statement helps to document the ongoing harm caused by America’s stubborn reliance on this pseudoscience. See the Polygraph Statement of Sherzai Sulimany.
Friday, 18 September 2020 marks AntiPolygraph.org’s 20th anniversary online. Over the past two decades, we have published five editions of our featured publication, The Lie Behind the Lie Detector, which with hundreds of thousands of downloads, is arguably the most widely read book on the topic of polygraphy.
In addition, we’ve done original reporting and commentary on polygraph-related topics, most notably on our blog. We have never revealed the identity of a source who requested anonymity, and we’ve never received a secret government order for information about any of our visitors or sources. In recent years, we’ve made available a means for secure and anonymous submission of files.
We avoided an apparent entrapment attempt in the federal government’s misbegotten Operation Lie Busters, in which federal polygraph operators targeted individuals who provided instruction on how to pass or beat a polygraph “test” for entrapment and criminal prosecution, and we provided on-scene reporting from the courtroom in Oklahoma City where prominent polygraph critic Doug Williams stood trial in 2015.
Over the years, we have also received and rejected take-down demands from lawyers for:
AntiPolygraph.org continues to host the internet’s preëminent forum for discussion of polygraph-related topics, with nearly 6,000 registered users and over 44,000 posts. We have privately responded to inquiries from thousands of individuals as well as numerous press inquiries and interview requests.
In recent years, AntiPolygraph.org has also provided pro bono consultation for both prosecution and defense in various legal matters.
Thanks are due to all who have helped to make AntiPolygraph.org a success over the years.
We look forward to continuing our efforts to educate the public about polygraph matters, to assist polygraph victims, and to ultimately bring about the abolishment of the pseudoscience of polygraphy.
On Thursday, 20 August 2020, a grand jury in the Eastern District of Virginia indicted former U.S. Army Special Forces officer Peter Rafael Dzibinski Debbins of Gainesville, Virginia on a single count of “Conspiracy to Gather or Deliver Defense Information to Aid a Foreign Government.” Debbins was arrested on Friday, 21 August 2020.
The indictment states that the 45-year-old Debbins graduated from the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) program at the University of Minnesota in 1997 and served on active military duty from July 1998 until November 2005. During this time, Debbins served in the U.S. Army Chemical Corps in Korea and at Fort Polk, Louisiana, and with the 1st Battalion, 10th Special Forces Group in Germany. Debbins was investigated for a security violation during a deployment to Azerbaijan in 2004, as a consequence of which he was relieved of command and his Top Secret/SCI security clearance was suspended. After leaving active duty, Debbins served in the inactive army reserve until 2010.
The indictment alleges that throughout his military service, indeed while still an ROTC cadet, Debbins was working on behalf of a Russian intelligence service. The indictment alleges, among other things, that during a meeting with two Russian intelligence officers in 2003, Debbins provided information about the 1st Battalion, 10th Special Forces Group, noting at para. 46 that he was instructed not to take a polygraph “test’:
46. During the meeting, RIS 5 and RIS 6 instructed DEBBINS not to take a polygraph and offered to give him training on how to deceive polygraphs. They further encouraged DEBBINS to continue pursuing a career in the Special Forces.
It is not specified whether Debbins ever received such polygraph countermeasure training.
The indictment does go on to note:
60. In January 2010, an Adjudicator with the U.S. Army Central Personnel Security Clearance Facility sent DEBBINS a letter notifying him that he had been granted a TS/SCI security clearance….
The indictment does not state for what purpose Debbins was granted this security clearance, but in a profile of Debbins on the website of the Institute for World Politics he states:
I got a job working at Fort Meade as a Russian analyst and did that for three years. I then transitioned to working as a cyber instructor for CACI for another three years.
If the espionage allegations against Debbins are true—and they seem to be well-documented, including a signed confession—then Debbins necessarily beat the polygraph to work at Fort Meade.
Thereafter, from April 2014 to December 2015, Debbins indicates that he was an associate with Booz Allen Hamilton, another government contractor that among other things provides services to the NSA. However, Debbins’ resume indicates that his work with Booz Allen Hamilton was as a “Russian cyber analyst” for the Defense Intelligence Agency.
Since 1 January 2017, the Defense Intelligence Agency has required that all contractors inside the continental United States with SCI access pass a polygraph “test.” This requirement was extended to contractors outside the continental United States as of 1 July 2017. Thus, it is possible that Debbins also beat the DIA polygraph, though it’s possible that a previously passed army polygraph might have obviated the need for a DIA polygraph.
After that, Debbins indicates that he worked as an instructor for military contractor CACI International, Inc. from January 2016 to September 2017. A statement by DIA Senior Expert for Counterintelligence David L. Tomlinson indicates that this work was with DIA’s Joint Counterintelligence Training Activity.
Debbins’ profiles on LinkedIn and the Institute for World Politics indicate that after leaving CACI International, he worked through contractor CoSolutions, Inc. as a Russian studies instructor from August 2017 to January 2020.
DIA Senior Expert for Counterintelligence David L. Tomlinson’s statement indicates that the specific organization for which Debbins worked was the DIA’s Regional Joint Intelligence Training Facility (RJITF) at RAF Molesworth. The RJITF is closely associated with the DIA-operated Joint Intelligence Operations Center Europe (JIOCEUR) Analytic Center.
In 2015, the U.S. Air Force’s 501st Combat Support Wing produced the following public relations video about the JIOCEUR Analytic Center, commonly called the Joint Analytic Center (JAC):
That spies and security violators are beating the polygraph is not surprising. Polygraphy has no scientific basis to begin with, and as explained in AntiPolygraph.org’s free book, The Lie Behind the Lie Detector, its methodology makes it vulnerable to simple, effective countermeasures that polygraph operators cannot detect.
Debbins’ arrest comes just a week after the espionage arrest in Honolulu of former CIA officer and FBI contract linguist Alexander Yuk Ching Ma, who evidently beat the polygraph to obtain employment with the FBI.
Note: The original version of this article incorrectly assumed that Debbins’ employment at Ft. Meade was with the NSA. This article was updated on 28 August 2020 to reflect new information made public in court filings associated with a detention hearing in this case.
On Thursday, 13 August 2020, FBI Special Agent Chris Jensen filed under seal a criminal complaint against Alexander Yuk Ching Ma of Honolulu, Hawaii, charging him with “Conspiracy to Gather and Communicate National Defense Information of the United States to a Foreign Nation.” On Monday, 17 August 2020, the complaint was unsealed.
In an accompanying affidavit, SA Jensen adduces evidence that Ma, a 67-year-old naturalized U.S. citizen born in Hong Kong who worked for the CIA from 1982-1987, acted as a “compromised asset” of the Chinese Ministry of State Security (MSS) “at least by early 2001.”
The evidence against Ma appears to be strong, consisting in part of a video recording of meetings he and an unnamed 85-year-old relative who worked for the CIA from 1967-1983 held with “at least five (5) MSS intelligence officials in a Hong Kong hotel room” from 24-26 March 2001. The 85-year-old relative “suffers from an advanced and debilitating cognitive disease,” and the FBI has therefore not sought his arrest.
SA Jensen’s affidavit states at paras. 22-26:
22. Following the March 2001 Hong Kong meetings, MA continued to remain in contact with MSS officials and to work on their behalf. The investigation has revealed that as a mechanism to once again give himself access to U.S. government information, MA applied for employment with the FBI. On December 26, 2002, MA applied for the position of “Special Agent.” On or about December 30, 2002, after being advised by the FBI that he did not meet the age requirements for the FBI Special Agent position, MA submitted an online job application to the FBI for a “contract linguist/monitor/tester” position.
23. On or about April 14, 2003, MA submitted a written application for a contract linguist position, in Chinese languages, at the FBI Honolulu Field Office, in Honolulu, Hawaii. On or about April 21, 2003, MA used a prepaid calling card to call his MSS handlers to notify them of the status of his efforts to gain FBI employment.
24. On or about May 20, 2004, MA was notified that his background investigation for the contract linguist position was complete and that an employment contract would be ready for review in several weeks. MA agreed to continue the hiring process.
25. On or about August 10, 2004, one day before reporting to work with the FBI, MA telephoned a suspected accomplice and stated that he would be working for “the other side.”
26. On or about August 11, 2004, MA reported to work with the FBI….
Left unsaid in the affidavit is that as a condition of FBI employment, Ma necessarily sat for and passed a pre-employment polygraph “test.” The counterintelligence portion of the polygraph procedure used by the FBI includes relevant questions such as “Have you been involved in espionage or terrorism against the US?” and “Have you had any unauthorized foreign contacts?”
If, as seems likely, the criminal allegations are true, then Ma beat the polygraph to penetrate the FBI.
It is to be noted that around the time Ma applied for employment with the FBI, the Bureau had a roughly 50% polygraph failure rate for special agent applicants, with many honest persons being wrongly branded as liars and barred for life from FBI employment.
SA Jensen’s affidavit goes on to chronicle instances of Ma’s alleged espionage against the FBI up to 30 November 2010. It is possible that Ma faced a second, periodic polygraph screening “test” some time during his FBI employment.
It is not surprising that Ma could have fooled the polygraph. As documented in Chapter 4 of AntiPolygraph.org’s free book, The Lie Behind the Lie Detector (which Ma might have easily found online in 2003), polygraphy is vulnerable to simple, effective countermeasures that polygraph operators cannot detect.
Ma would not be alone in having beaten the FBI’s pre-employment polygraph “test.” On 26 April 2004, Marine Corps veteran Leandro Aragoncillo, acting for current and former officials in the Philippines, beat an FBI pre-employment polygraph “test” to gain employment as an FBI analyst.
In 2002, some two years before Ma and Aragoncillo beat the polygraph, the National Academy of Sciences advised that “[polygraph testing’s] accuracy in distinguishing actual or potential security violators from innocent test takers is insufficient to justify reliance on its use in employee security screening in federal agencies.”
Sadly, in the aftermath of 9/11, federal agencies ignored this advice. How many more catastrophic failures like the Ma case will it take before the U.S. government terminates its misplaced reliance on the pseudoscience of polygraphy?