Sen. Grassley Calls for DoD IG Inspection of NRO Polygraph Program

Sen. Charles E. Grassley

In a follow-up to her excellent investigative series on polygraph practices within the National Reconnaissance Office, McClatchy reporter Marisa Taylor writes that Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA) thinks that the DoD inspector general should investigate whether NRO is in compliance with DoD polygraph regulations:

WASHINGTON — Pentagon officials are scrambling to look into allegations of abusive polygraph techniques by a spy agency but so far they aren’t heeding calls for a more in-depth investigation.

Pentagon officials met Thursday with the National Reconnaissance Office after a McClatchy investigation found that the spy agency was pressuring its polygraphers to obtain intimate details of the private lives of thousands of job applicants and employees, possibly in violation of the law and Pentagon regulations.

McClatchy found that the National Reconnaissance Office is so intent on extracting confessions of personal or illicit behavior that officials have admonished polygraphers who refused to go after them and rewarded those who did, sometimes with bonuses.

The agency, which oversees the nation’s spy satellites, collects the information for employee security clearances, but it isn’t supposed to be pursuing the more personal information, instead asking directly only about spying, terrorism and the unauthorized disclosure of classified information.

Even though it’s aggressively collecting the private disclosures, when people confess to serious crimes such as child molestation they aren’t always arrested or prosecuted, McClatchy’s investigation revealed.

The articles prompted one prominent congressman to call this week for an investigation of the agency’s polygraph program. Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, said he thought that the Pentagon’s inspector general should look at whether the National Reconnaissance Office was in compliance with Defense Department polygraph rules. The Pentagon oversees the agency’s polygraph program even though the agency is a unique mix of CIA and Air Force employees.

“The polygraphers should have clear rules and regulations about the topics they can and should cover in their work,” Grassley said.

He added that he wanted the inspector general to review how the agency handled confessions to crimes and “make sure those rules are adequate and clearly communicated to employees.”

It should be noted, however, that the DoD inspector general was made aware of the problems with the NRO’s polygraph practices in November 2011. If the DoD IG has not yet conducted an investigation, can it be trusted to do so now? Isn’t more direct Congressional oversight called for at this point?

Taylor goes on to discuss the DoD e-mails received by, citing Mark Zaid, who represents former NRO polygrapher Mark Phillips. Zaid opines:

“The email traffic conveys the distinct impression that senior officials within the polygraph community do not understand the nature of the specific allegations against NRO’s practices,” he said. “To some extent that is not surprising, given no one with oversight authority in the intelligence community has yet to speak with my client.”

A message thread for discussion of the NRO polygraph matter is available on the message board. Registration is not required, and anonymous posts are welcome.


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