CIA Polygraph Operators Need to Have Their Heads Examined

In a commentary addressing the case of retired CIA polygrapher John F. Sullivan, who is suing the CIA after failing a polygraph test for post-retirement contract employment, Congressional Quarterly National Security editor Jeff Stein, himself a veteran Army Intelligence case officer, proposes that CIA polygraphers — who “claim to be able to read the inner thoughts” of others — should themselves “undergo regular psychiatric tests.” Perhaps he’s onto something.

For more on John Sullivan’s plight, see CIA’s Most Experienced Polygrapher Failed CIA Polygraph After Writing Unwelcome Book on CIA Polygraph Division! on the message board.

Comments 1

  • Having known Sully for 20 plus years during my CIA polygraph career, I was saddened to learn of John’s personal polygraph issues; apparently not entirely of his making. Although we continue to exchange a paucity of email, Sully and I have never discussed polygraph or anything dealing with the Agency. I have read and enjoyed both his books. With that said, I feel a need to defend our Agency. I began my polygraph career in 1979 with the U.S. Marine Corps CID. After CID retirement I served as an examiner with AFOSI prior to joining the CIA’s Office of Security as a Polygraph Officer. During my Agency career there were two occasions when I was asked by a Senior Operations officer to manipulate the results of foreign agent’s polygraph exam. Those two manipulations, or “fixing the test” were considered necessary in order to enhance the covert operation, and by default, the National Security of the United States. ONLY TWICE OUT OF HUNDREDS! However, I’ve never heard of any CIA examiner being asked or ordered to manipulate the result of any U.S. Person’s polygraph examination. Actually, any officer caught deliberately manipulating an examination or falsifying a polygraph examination report, in any way, was not only fired from PD, but terminated from their Agency employment, something that usually ended their security clearances – THAT HAS HAPPENED. I served in positions to know if that kind of activity would have been condoned, much less executed. As I had retired before Sully was administered his last polygraph examination, I can only take what I’ve read here for what happened. I have no reason to doubt John’s veracity. While I believe John, I also do not believe his polygraph results were intentionally manipulated to prevent the reinstatement of his security clearances or for some other reason. Of course, I have no way to know for sure. I realize no one likes to take a polygraph test – liars more so than non-liars, and it are liars who usually complain the loudest. The polygraph procedure and it’s affiliated results are only as good as the examiner who administered the examination. Instruments may experience malfunctions and not perform properly but the same applies to the examiner. They can have a bad day with personal issues. But, at the CIA, most examiners are monitored closely by their line supervisors as well as Quality Assurance officers. Those examiners are second guessed more often than any examiner in the world. Their exams are audio and videotaped, all of which may be analyzed. Picking the nose or scratching a crotch might illicit ridicule but screwing up an examination leads to a very bad day indeed. I defend the CIA polygraph program because, like John, it was my entire life for many years. I am no longer affiliated with PD, thus, I feel free to speak my mind about these matters. Although I have more to say I feel as if I’m beginning to ramble so I’ll EOS for now.

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