NRO Threatens Polygraph Examiners Who Raise Concerns

In a new article about malfeasance at the National Reconnaissance Office, McClatchy correspondent Marisa Taylor reports on the NRO’s reaction to her recent reporting based on interviews with whistleblowers from the intelligence agency’s polygraph unit. Excerpt:

After McClatchy published stories raising questions about the National Reconnaissance Office’s polygraph program in July based on whistleblower allegations, top agency officials told polygraphers in a meeting that the accusations McClatchy detailed were unfounded and based on incidents that were taken out of context, said one person familiar with the meeting. One official vowed to “take action” against polygraphers named and unnamed who’d cooperated with the reporter, said the source, who asked not to be named. The statement was taken as a threat that polygraphers who raise similar concerns about the agency’s practices – even to the inspector general – would be punished or criminally prosecuted as leakers. At the same meeting, polygraphers then were asked whether they had any problems with the way the program was being run. “You could hear crickets,” the source told McClatchy.

The inspector general recently agreed to investigate the National Reconnaissance Office’s polygraph program, but “people are going to be reluctant to talk with NRO’s inspector general now,” said the source, who was afraid to be identified for fear of being seen as cooperating with the media. Among some employees, the agency’s inspector general office is perceived as overly aligned with the CIA and out to protect the CIA’s interests rather than root out government misconduct. In an unusual relationship, the CIA shares responsibility with the Defense Department in overseeing the National Reconnaissance Office, which is staffed by CIA and Air Force employees.

In addition, McClatchy has published a letter dated August 13, 2012 from Senator Chuck Grassley to NRO Inspector General Lanie D’Allesandro asking that her investigation address allegations of polygraph violations, allegations of unreported criminal conduct, and retaliation for whistleblowing.

Chris French on Polygraph Screening of Sex Offenders

Professor of psychology Chris French writes for the Guardian on why mandatory polygraph screening of convicted sex offenders is a bad public policy choice. Excerpt:

It is clear that offenders only have to spend five minutes on Google to realise that experts generally agree that polygraph testing is in fact not a reliable technique for detecting deception. If such testing becomes mandatory, it is inevitable that this truth about polygraphs will become widely known among offenders. From then on, any effect that unfounded belief in the effectiveness of the technique had in terms of increasing disclosures is likely to disappear.

To make matters worse, techniques exist to beat the test. Once the underlying rationale of the test is understood, steps can be taken to either augment the psychophysiological response to control questions (eg via self-induced physical or mental pain) or else reduce the response to relevant questions (eg using mental training, such as meditation).

 Indeed, polygraphs are easily beaten, and information on how to do so is freely available here on, among other places. Authorities in the US, UK, and elsewhere would be wise to terminate their misplaced reliance on the Emperor’s-new-clothes technology of polygraph “testing.”

DEA Contractor Sued for Violation of the Employee Polygraph Protection Act

San Diego City Beat staff writer David Maass reports on the case of 10 translators formerly employed by Metropolitan Interpreters and Translators, a company that provides services to the Drug Enforcement Agency among other federal agencies. The translators were terminated for either failing, having inconclusive results on, or refusing to submit to, polygraph interrogations conducted by DEA polygraph operators. In a federal lawsuit, attorneys for the translators allege (convincingly, in’s view), that Metropolitan violated the Employee Polygraph Protection Act, which severely restricts the use of polygraphs by private companies. The DEA itself and individual DEA employees may eventually be added to the list of defendants in this case.