“Pentagon Foresees Expanded Polygraph Testing”

Steven Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists’ Project on Government Secrecy discusses the National Academy of Science’s polygraph report in his Secrecy News e-mail publication:


Despite escalating criticism concerning the validity of polygraph testing, the Defense Department may seek to increase reliance on the polygraph as a security and counterintelligence tool, according to a new report to Congress.

In 1991, Congress authorized the Pentagon to conduct no more than 5,000 counterintelligence-scope polygraph (CSP) tests annually (not including tests on intelligence agency personnel, which are performed under the authority of the Director of Central Intelligence).

But “since that time, the Department has identified additional vulnerabilities and threats to classified information that did not exist over a decade ago,” according to the new report.

In particular, “the broad based use of information technology systems, coupled with the development of information sharing capabilities over the internet and through other electronic media, require the updating of DoD information assurance policies and practices to keep pace with this emerging threat.”

“These enhanced security requirements may require a CSP polygraph examination for access to DoD information systems.”

Accordingly, “an increase in the CSP ceiling … may be requested from Congress,” the report stated.

The Defense Department’s “Annual Polygraph Report to Congress, Fiscal Year 2002,” contains recent program statistics, anecdotal summaries of cases in which polygraph testing aided investigators, and descriptions of current polygraph research initiatives. The report is available here:


“It is important to note that the NRC report… concluded that the polygraph technique is the best tool currently available to detect deception and assess credibility,” the Pentagon said. But this is quite disingenuous.

What the NRC report actually said, critic George Maschke of Antipolygraph.org pointed out, is that “[s]ome potential alternatives to the polygraph show promise, but none has yet been shown to outperform the polygraph” (p. 8-4). As for the polygraph itself, “[t]here is essentially no evidence on the incremental validity of polygraph testing, that is, its ability to add predictive value to that which can be achieved by other methods” (p. 8-2).

While the majority of persons who undergo polygraph testing do so without incident, it is a career-ender for some and a deeply disconcerting experience for quite a few others. And at least some polygraph examiners apparently engage in occasional free-lance interrogation of their own.

One recent applicant for employment at the CIA told Secrecy News that his polygraph examination included the question “Do you have friends in the media?”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *