Oakland Tribune staff writer Ian Hoffman reports. Excerpt:
Hundreds of nuclear weapons scientists and intelligence analysts will still be strapped to the polygraph machine for the time being, despite a recent report concluding that polygraphs miss spies and tar the innocent as security risks.
The U.S. Energy Department is racing to change its routine polygraph screening program before a six-month congressional deadline. But its lawyers argue that Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham is legally barred from suspending the controversial lie-detector tests until a new program is in place, according to an internal memo issued Wednesday.
“We are committed to moving rapidly on this issue but, until the secretary issues new regulations, we are obligated by law to continue the present program,” wrote Linton F. Brooks, acting chief of the Energy Department’s National Nuclear Security Administration that oversees Lawrence Livermore, Sandia and Los Alamos weapons labs.
More than 750 Sandia and Livermore employees in California who handle plutonium or nuclear weapons or have access to human intelligence face polygraph tests this year.
A Livermore union, the Society of Professional Scientists and Engineers, had written Brooks urging suspension of the tests after a panel of national experts found that polygraphs were based on poor science and too unreliable to justify such heavy use by federal national-security agencies to screen their workers.
Given Brooks’ memo, the union now will ask Congress to scrap the law requiring polygraphs.