Justice Report: Standards Lacking on “Lie Detector” Tests

Jeff Stein, Congressional Quarterly’s national security editor, reports on the U.S. Department of Justice’s recently released report, “Use of Polygraph Examinations in the Department of Justice” (1 mb PDF). Excerpt:

The FBI and three other Justice Department components are conducting over 16,000 polygraph tests a year, even though they have no uniform standards for administering them, the department’s inspector general reported Monday.

The FBI requires job applicants and employees in sensitive positions to pass polygraphs as a condition of employment, even though their scientific basis and reliability have been sharply challenged in the past decade.

The FBI’s polygraph program failed to meet federal standards during 2003-2005, the inspector general (IG) said.

More than 49,000 polygraph examinations were conducted by the FBI, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) and the office of the Inspector General (OIG) itself during that period, the report said.

The lion’s share of those — 77 percent, or 38,017 tests — were conducted by the FBI during 2003-2005.

Thousands more polygraph examinations –by the CIA, the military services, Pentagon agencies or other Justice Department components that do not have their own programs, such as the Bureau of Prisons and the U.S. Marshals Service–are conducted annually on subjects as varied as job applicants, employees, contractors, confidential sources and even participants in the Witness Protection Program.

“However, our review found no [Justice] Department-wide policy concerning the conduct and use of polygraph examinations,” the OIG said. “Rather, each Department component has developed its own policies, procedures, and practices to govern polygraph examinations.”

In 2004, the Justice Department’s Management Division concluded that without a uniform standard, agencies under its jurisdiction should not be able to “compel Department employees to take a polygraph in a misconduct investigation.”

Two years later, only the FBI among its components has codified its policies and procedures for making an employee submit to a polygraph, the report said.

Critics were quick to point out that the polygraph examinations can give the FBI a false sense of security.

Such infamous turncoats as the CIA’s Aldrich Ames and the FBI’s Robert Hanssen, both of whom spied for the Russians for years, passed routine polygraph examinations, where they were asked about their loyalty to the United States.

More recently, in May, an FBI intelligence analyst with a top secret clearance pled guilty in May to spying for Philippines officials.

Leandro Aragoncillo, who joined the FBI in 2004 after 21 years in the Marines, which included a stint in the office of the vice president, would have been asked about any unauthorized use of classified documents in a standard polygraph test.

The Senate Intelligence Committee’s review of pre-Iraq war intelligence also reported that three key Iraqi exiles who supplied false or misleading intelligence to the Pentagon all passed polygraphs.

None of these cases was part of the OIG’s study, which focused on the administration of polygraph programs, not the validity of the tests themselves.

For discussion of the DOJ report, see DOJ Report on Use of Polygraph Examinations on the AntiPolygraph.org message board.

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