“FBI Describes Polygraph Failure Rate as ‘Surprisingly Low'”

Lenny Savino of the Knight Ridder Washington bureau reports. Excerpt:

WASHINGTON – “Less than 25” top FBI officials and other personnel in sensitive positions failed to pass polygraph exams initiated in the wake of the Robert Hanssen spy case, according to senior bureau officials.

Failure to pass could mean either that the findings were inconclusive or that polygraph subjects “showed deception,” officials told Knight Ridder Newspapers on Friday, speaking on condition that they not be named. They would not say how many of the polygraph exams indicated FBI personnel might be lying.

More than 500 FBI personnel took the tests, ordered in March by former FBI director Louis Freeh after criticism from Congress that most veteran agents had never taken a polygraph exam.

There’s no way to tell what a normal failure rate would be for the FBI, but a senior official characterized the preliminary failure rate as “surprisingly low.”

The questions asked dealt with “counterintelligence issues” such as unreported contacts with foreign nationals, and not with lifestyle issues such as unreported marijuana smoking.

Mueller is expected to endorse more reliance on polygraphs, required only in recent years of new recruits only.

Former FBI director William Webster, who is conducting a review of agency counterespionage procedures that allowed Hanssen to spy undetected, is also expected to recommend more polygraph exams.

The current round of tests focused on officials and support staff exposed to “extremely sensitive information or sources,” according to Freeh’s memorandum ordering the polygraphs, plus all personnel leaving for long term overseas assignments or returning from them.

“We realize it’s probably a necessary step in security given what happened with Hanssen,” said Nancy Savage, president of the FBI Agents Association, of increased use of polygraph exams at the bureau. She cautioned that they should not be “the sole indicator of trustworthiness.”

That can happen, said Mark Mallah, a former FBI agent accused in 1995 of being an Israeli agent largely on the basis of a failed polygraph exam and cleared two years later.

“In the FBI’s misguided zeal to corroborate polygraph charts and convict me,” Mallah wrote Mueller and the Judiciary Committee last week, “they flouted due process, demonstrated an incompetence borne of arrogance, distorted my statements[,] and fabricated evidence.”

For discussion of this article, see the AntiPolygraph.org message board thread, On the FBI Polygraph Failure Rate.

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