U.S. Embassy in Yemen Reportedly Forces Local Employees to Submit to Polygraph “Testing”

Embassy of the United States, Sana'a, Yemen

Embassy of the United States, Sana’a, Yemen

The Arabic-language website Nashwan News reports that the U.S. embassy in Sana’a, Yemen is forcing all locally hired staff to undergo polygraph interrogations, and that any who fail to pass will be terminated. The policy has reportedly had a severely negative effect on employee morale, with some submitting their resignations in protest. AntiPolygraph.org has e-mailed an inquiry to the embassy’s public affairs section, asking:

  • Is the Nashwan News article essentially correct?
  • Is there anything in the article with which the Embassy takes issue?
  • If indeed local employees are being subjected to polygraph screening, why has such a policy been implemented? Who ordered it?
  • Who is conducting the polygraph examinations?
  • In what language are the polygraph examinations being conducted? Is/are the polygraph operator(s) fluent in Arabic?
  • What questions are employees being required to answer?
  • Is there precedent for this? What other U.S. Embassies have enacted a similar requirement for local employees?

This post will be updated upon receipt of a response. (See update below.)

It should be noted that in 2002, the National Research Council, an arm of the National Academy of Sciences, completed a thorough review (10.3 mb PDF) of the scientific evidence on polygraphy and concluded that “[polygraph testing’s] 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.” There is no documentation that the polygraph has ever caught a spy, terrorist, or saboteur. Al-Qaeda’s Encyclopedia of Jihad notes that “lie detectors are nothing more than a myth to trick the accused” and an article titled “The Myth of the Lie Detector” published in an Iraqi insurgent publication explains how to countermeasure the polygraph.

AntiPolygraph.org has prepared the following English translation of the full Nashwan News article , which was originally published on Tuesday, 26 March 2013:

U.S. Embassy in Sanaa Demeans Its Yemeni Employees by Forcing Them to Submit to the Lie Detector

After a spate of wrongful terminations to which local guards at U.S. embassy facilities in Sana’a were subjected, a source close to the embassy reported that it has notified all local embassy employees without exception of its intention to subject each employee to lie detector (polygraph) testing after implementing it in a limited fashion with respect to some employees.

In an exclusive statement to Nashwan News, the source clarified that the embassy provided no justification for this measure, which has agitated all employees and made them feel that they are the objects of suspicion and doubt on the part of the embassy, in whose service most of them had spent long years without a hint of doubt with regard to any of them.

The embassy employees found no one who would listen to them after the embassy refused to meet with the Local Staff Association there, which resulted in the decision of all of the employees to dissolve the association in protest against the embassy’s refusal to even permit it to meet with embassy employees.

In protest against these wrongful and demeaning measures, a number of employees submitted their collective resignations because they felt the measures denigrate the dignity of Yemeni employees, who are known for their sensitivity to such abuse, especially as these measures were, for the first time in their professional lives, limited solely to Yemeni employees, and not their American colleagues, and as they feel that those who are subjected to such a device as this are criminals: thieves and spies. The embassy gave them no choice but to submit to the measure despite the fact that the embassy periodically refers employees to the Criminal Investigative Laboratory for a criminal records check.

The source expressed the employees’ hope that the president of the republic would intervene with the embassy to halt these immoral, demeaning measures, protecting their dignity and human rights. Moreover, this measure will result in the termination of everyone who fails to pass the test, and any employee who has a disagreement with his supervisor in the future may be threatened with a polygraph test.

This measure comes in the wake of a recent series of wrongful measures by the embassy against employees. A little over two weeks ago, approximately 50 local guards were wrongfully terminated. Afterwards, there was a clampdown on entry procedures for employees, with daily exaggerated searches before their entering the embassy compound.

It goes without saying that those who utilize this device don’t have faith in its accuracy, as it has a substantial error rate, measuring nothing more than internal bodily reactions and resulting in error merely because of anxiety and confusion, which has been grounds for its exclusion from courts in all countries and its restriction to the criminal and intelligence spheres.

Update: In an e-mail sent on Saturday, 30 March 2013, information officer Vanessa de Bruyn of the U.S. embassy, Sana’a  declined to address AntiPolygraph.org’s questions, writing, “Thank you for your email.  Unfortunately, we only deal with local press here at the Embassy.  I advise you to contact the U.S. State Department’s press office and/or Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs for more information.” We have sent our questions to the State Department’s duty press officer and will again update this post upon receiving a response.

Update 2: Nashwan News reports that U.S. ambassador to Yemen Gerald Feierstein, at a press conference convened at the U.S. embassy in Sana’a, declined to respond to a question about Nashwan News’ report that Yemeni employees are being forced to submit to lie detector testing, replying, “We do not discuss our security measures.”

Update 3: In an e-mail sent on Monday, 1 April 2013, U.S. State Department press officer Katherine M. Pfaff responds: “We do not discuss security  measures taken to ensure the security and safety of our American and Locally Employed Staff at our missions overseas.”

Update 4: Diplopundit confirms that local employees at the U.S. embassy in Sana’a have been required to submit to polygraph screening and cites documentation of polygraph screening at other diplomatic facilities. See, “US Embassy Yemen to Polygraph All Local Employees, Is $4.55M Poly-Money Well Spent?

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