“Aldrich Ames Speaks Out on Polygraph Testing”

Steven Aftergood reports in today’s edition of the electronic newsletter Secrecy News:


“The U.S. is, so far as I know, the only nation which places such extensive reliance on the polygraph…. It has gotten us into a lot of trouble.”

That is the verdict of convicted spy Aldrich H. Ames, who is serving a life sentence at Allenwood federal penitentiary in White Deer, Pennsylvania. During his career at the CIA as a spy for the Soviet Union and for Russia, Ames was notoriously successful in evading detection by the counterintelligence polygraph exam.

Ames provided extensive comments on polygraph testing in a November 28 letter to the Federation of American Scientists that he wrote in response to a recent essay on the subject in Science Magazine.

“Like most junk science that just won’t die (graphology, astrology and homeopathy come to mind), because of the usefulness or profit their practitioners enjoy, the polygraph stays with us.”

“Its most obvious use is as a coercive aid to interrogators, lying somewhere on the scale between the rubber truncheon and the diploma on the wall behind the interrogator’s desk. It depends upon the overall coerciveness of the setting — you’ll be fired, you won’t get the job, you’ll be prosecuted, you’ll go to prison — and the credulous fear the device inspires. This is why the [congressional] Redmond report ventures into the simultaneously ludicrous and sinister reality that citizens’ belief in what is untrue must be fostered and strengthened. Rarely admitted, this proposition is of general application for our national security apparatus,” Ames wrote.

“The national security state has many unfair and cruel weapons in its arsenal, but that of junk science is one which can be fought and perhaps defeated….”

The full text of the letter from Ames is posted here:


Comments 1

  • […] Aldrich Ames, a CIA officer turned Russian spy, caused substantial damage to U.S. intelligence operations in the 1980s and early 1990s. Ames was responsible for the compromise of several U.S. assets, many of whom were executed. Surprisingly, even after his espionage activities began, Ames passed two polygraph examinations in 1986 and 1991, raising significant concerns about the reliability of polygraph tests. His case remains one of the most notable instances where the polygraph failed to detect a high-stakes deception, leading to intensified scrutiny and debate over the machine’s efficacy in security and counterintelligence operations. Ames himself has even given a statement on his concerns of the United State’s overeliance on polyg…  […]

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