Dana Priest on Polygraphs

Dana Priest, the Washington Post intelligence reporter whose Pulitzer Prize-winning exposé on the CIA’s secret prison network set up to evade U.S. and international law led to a polygraph hunt for leakers at CIA, answered, among others, a question about polygraphs in an on-line chat session held on Thursday, 27 April 2006:

Gaithersburg, Md.: With the firing of Mary McCarthy last week by the CIA, there’s been mention in articles about the use of polygraphs at the agency during their investigations into leaks.

From personal experience, I can say that the machine is not fool proof by any stretch of the imagine. Several years ago, while going through the security clearance process, I was subjected to the polygraph. I failed it the first time, for what the examiner said, was an issue involving questions on terrorist and subversive activity. What nonsense! The second time I failed because I was, according to a different examiner, not being fully truthful about having dealt drugs. Again, what nonsense! On the third attempt, I did pass the polygraph. The problem? I did, in fact, not tell the truth – at the time (though not today) I was doing quite a large amount of popular “club drugs.”

My question for you is, my experiences aside, how effective do you believe the polygraph to really be?

Dana Priest: Well, the CIA thinks they are reliable enough to use in security checks. But courts don’t recognize them. And George Shultz, the former secretary of state, vowed to leave government if ever he was subjected….so go figure. controversial to say the least.

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