Customs and Border Protection Polygraph Failure Rate Pegged at 60%

Customs and Border ProtectionOn Thursday, 11 March 2010, in testimony before a subcommittee of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, it was disclosed that the failure rate associated with the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) pre-employment polygraph screening program stands at 60 percent. New York Times correspondent Randal C. Archibold reports, among other things:

Polygraph examinations, which officials call an important tool to help weed out bad hires, were administered to about 15 percent of applicants by the end of 2009.

That was an increase from the 10 percent of the previous year, but made possible only because hiring slowed for the first time in several years.

James F. Tomsheck, who is in charge of internal affairs for Customs and Border Protection, said that about 60 percent of candidates failed the test and were turned away, including some who officials believed had ties to criminal organizations.

Senator Mark Pryor, an Arkansas Democrat and chairman of the subcommittee that held the hearing, described the failure rate as “alarming to me.”

“It is to me, too, sir,” Mr. Tomsheck replied.

He said the agency had 31 polygraph examiners but needed 50 more to reach a goal of screening all new hires.

In addition, he said, the agency is far behind in conducting periodic background checks of current law enforcement employees.

He also proposed giving periodic polygraph examinations to those employees but said that Congressional authorization and financing would be needed.

In assessing the significance of the 60% polygraph failure rate, it is important to bear in mind the 2002 finding of the National Academy of Sciences that polygraph screening is completely invalid. Upon completion of a comprehensive review of the scientific evidence on polygraphy, the NAS advised that “its accuracy in distinguishing actual or potential security violators from innocent test takers is insufficient to justify reliance on its use in employee security screening in federal agencies.”

Applying polygraph screening to all CBP applicants will not solve the problem of corruption within the organization. Polygraphy is highly vulnerable to countermeasures, and members of criminal enterprises seeking to infiltrate CBP will likely fool the lie detector. Meanwhile, given polygraphy’s complete lack of scientific underpinnings and inherent bias against the truthful, many well-qualified applicants will be wrongly excluded from the agency. Anecdotally, has heard from a number of CBP applicants who report having been falsely accused of deception.


  1. My history: No criminal record, 21yrs old, Bachelor’s degree, got a 93 on the Entrance exam, never drank underage, never used any pot or other drugs. I disclosed everything questionable I’ve done in my past, from illegal downloading, trespassing as a dumb kid, careless driving/drifting, to even my sexually “deviant” behavior including masturbating in a car as a mid-teen, and having sex in a public park, all because these things are technically “illegal.” There were other things I mentioned but these were the worst. I went to my exam 2 weeks ago, passed all questions but the one “are you intentionally omitting or falsifying any information you disclosed on the application ‘forms?’” Which was a clear “no” for me, with having nothing else to hide in my history… I’ll swear on ANYTHING to that. They tested me again that day and got a similar result. My examiner told me he wanted to test me again in a couple of weeks, so today I went back with a different examiner, where I disclosed even more embarrassing information that I honestly forgot the first time. Guess what? SAME F**&ing result! He said he was going to forward his “report” to quality control and I left, after explaining how pissed I was for “not knowing what else on Earth I could be ‘hiding’” He said that I “KNOW” what I am hiding, and that it isn’t just “nerves” or “forgetting” something. The interesting part is that for apparently “deliberately” lying on the “intentionally falsifying/omitting information” question, I still passed the “do you intend to answer all the questions truthfully today?” question… which is funny because if I was going to fail a specific question, shouldn’t I fail the one that’s even broader? Doesn’t make sense. The examiner also asked me “if you’re offered a 3rd chance to come here for further questioning would you be interested?” I said yes, but now I’m more pissed than anything.

    • incredible reading your experience, it was EXACTLY my same experience, I mean, evrything, same responses from examiner saying with that deep stupid voice “You’re hidding something from me” ridicoulous. I was so mad and frustrated. any how, I’m amazed that your story is an exact reflection of mine, I mean, everything, it looks like they are the one that are hiring something from you and they are the one who are intentioally dumping you from the hiring process.

  2. The questions are really basic, but what takes forever is disclosing anything that might trigger a “lie” which in my case ended up being BS anyways. I only had 3 basic questions that I could mess up actually, with the other questions being controls. When I went it took over 3hrs before I even sat in the chair. All time before was spent discussing forms and going over any “potential” criminal things in my past, which we all have, even if you have nothing on your record like me. @JIMY

  3. Polygraphers ask the following: have you ever lied? cheated on your wife? ever assaulted a person in anyway? have relatives in MX? have you gone into MX?tried any illegal drugs?, (anything over mariguana will disqualify you)you know any current federal agents, do you know of any corruption going on? Are you involved in any illegal activity? have you ever sold drugs? Have you ever stolen from your work place? have you ever stabbed a person, have you impersonated a law emforcement officer? Has a drug cartel asked to infiltrate US customs? have you read any blog or websites related to POLYGRAPHS? have you ever ready ANTIPOLYGRAPH.ORG? Did you research the polygraph? How many time have you done drugs(if admissions) have you served in the armed forces? Do you have tattoos? Did you drive to your polygraph test? where did you park your car? etc.

  4. When I took my polygraph in South Carolina Fort Jackson, I thought my agent was so incompetent. Firt he had to start it over twice, then he said my hand was not sweating so he put the object that I had to put our hand on back in the microwave to make it hotter and then he place my hand on it then put my hand on it and place a plastic bag over my hand(what????) I said this will make my hand sweat he said, not the sweat they looking for (WHAT?) After the test he said I fail. I thought he was joking because I was as honest as I could, well that is what I thought. He said that the test indicated that I lied when I said I have never sold, buy, distributed, or been a look out for drug sales (WHAT?) I knew that was a joke, I try to argue and told him to take it over he said he could not. This is so absurd, I serve 20 plus years in the military never got in trouble at nopoint in my life, and here a incompetent agent and a computer ended a career that I was looking forward too. Life goes on. I call the supervisor and told him, ( the integrity of these guys need to be check. I asked for a copy of it he said he will call me back in 10 min and never called back, I emailed him and he never response back, I got my denail letter. POLYGRAPH TESTING SUCK THEY ARE NOT ACCURATE AT ALL ESPECIALLY WHEN IT CAME TO THE POINT THAT I WAS BASICALLY A DRUG DEALER. (WHAT THE F$$#@)

  5. I took this polygraph test sometime last year> I failed and was told I was not suitable for the job. They never told me why I failed. My process was completed and was waiting for EOD date. without any kind of notification from anyone, on day I received a phone call from a special agent telling me he needed to bring me in for a polygraph test. When I started my process this polygraph examination wasn’t part of the process. I’ve been trying to appeal this to IA and all they tell me is that I have no right to appeal and that this is a final desicion. I contacted several people in CBP and the US Congress. All I got from one congress man was that he was going to look into it and get back to me. This was more that 5 months now and still waiting to hear from him. I went to my local congress woman and was told that if she doesn’t know me she will not help me out. But yet she was calling me when it came to voting for her last year. This is our goverment! sad to know they hire people based on a polygraph that some people with criminal background are able to pass it.

  6. My husband has been waiting to get into the border patrol for years. He is the most honest person I know and failed the polygraph test. He is devastated! He didnt lie! He is a honest man who has never done drugs, never drank and has always been a moral hard working man. They should actually look into a persons life not trust a machine. I am heartbroken for our family but mostley for my husband who has been waiting for this position for years!

  7. I have a son in law that failed because he said he never used drugs they said he lied. then I know another kid that did drugs even sold drugs and guess what he passed he’s going to the class in two weeks go figure.

  8. This test is straight Bull Shit! All this test does is cover up for the current and past officers getting busted. CBP is just trying to clean up their repertation with congress to get more funds. It’s all a Game and for those who fail the test, that’s just part of the Game! Before the examiner meets you, they all got it figured out who will pass and who will fail. It’s all a numbers game to keep the heat off their backs! The research is out there explaining the test is worthless. But they trick everyone into using it. If you really trying to catch a crook do a hands on background check. It’s almost impossible to hid anything with one of those. But wait that would cost to much, what the hell was I thinking!!

  9. This test is ridiculous! My husband has taken the test more than once. A person that was taking the test that same day in another room informed him this was his third time taking the test. If this thing was so accurate they wouldn’t feel the need to re-test more than once! Not to mention the time and money that people are already loosing to go get this test to then just be told you failed. This is a machine which is not a 100% accurate so why use it as so?

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