Federal Polygraph School May Classify Training and Research Materials

NCCAMcClatchy Newspapers investigative reporter Marisa Taylor reports that the National Center for Credibility Assessment (NCCA), which trains all federal polygraph operators, is proposing that certain training and research materials be classified or subjected to limited distribution. An NCCA internal draft memo dated 2 December 2013 obtained by McClatchy notes that “there is almost nothing about the polygraph, PCASS, and the emerging credibility assessment technologies that remains to be classified” but nonetheless proposes additional secrecy:

Proposal for the Protection of NCCA-unique Information

Tradecraft and technologies unique to the intelligence community (IC) must be shielded from disclosure to American adversaries, a stance recognized and strongly supported by the NCCA. NCCA  proposes that it consider the following categories of information classified:

  1. New countermeasure detection methods developed through classified projects by the NCCA or other government entities.
  2. Disclosure that particular US intelligence, counterintelligence or security programs use a specific type of polygraph technique.
  3. NCCA research on new credibility assessment technologies and analytical methods to be used solely by intelligence or security agencies.
  4. Information deemed classified by any NCCA customer agency, irrespective of recognition by DoD as being classified.
  5. Research into new technologies designed for covert applications.

There remains a category of information that is sensitive, but not classified. This type of information may be necessary for state and local law enforcement polygraph examiners serving, for example, on the Joint Terrorism Task Force where there are demonstrable US interests. However, disclosure of this same information to foreign governments or the media would still be prohibited except as approved through appropriate channels. Sensitive information of this type would include:

  1. Methods for detecting and thwarting countermeasures.
  2. Research into new polygraph testing methods.


Note that NCCA seems particularly keen on keeping anything about polygraph countermeasure detection a secret. Polygraph community documentation obtained by AntiPolygraph.org suggest that the polygraph community has no reliable methodology for detecting polygraph countermeasures, and that countermeasure “detection” consists largely of guesswork and badgering the examinee for an admission.

Professor Charles R. Honts indicates that one supposed countermeasure detection technique used by the federal government is invalid. The technique involves looking for the breathing reactions illustrated in former police polygraphist Doug Williams’ manual, “How to Sting the Polygraph.” In a laboratory experiment, Honts found that those same reactions are exhibited in roughly equal proportions by both truthful and deceptive examinees, including those with no knowledge of polygraph countermeasures.

By keeping supposed countermeasure detection techniques secret, NCCA would prevent the kind of scrutiny that Honts was able to bring. That might save NCCA embarrassment, but it’s hard to see how that’s in the interest of America’s national security or public safety.

NCCA also floats the idea of classifying the fact that a “particular US intelligence, counterintelligence or security programs use a specific type of polygraph technique.” This is a particularly bad idea. To the extent that polygraphs are administered to individuals without security clearances, for example, to job applicants, information about the polygraph techniques used by federal agencies cannot be kept secret. For example, AntiPolygraph.org knows, from examinee reporting, that the NSA and CIA persist in using the (thoroughly discredited) relevant/irrelevent technique for applicant screening (documented in Ch. 3 of The Lie Behind the Lie Detector), while DoD and DOE use the directed-lie Test for Espionage and Sabotage and federal law enforcement agencies use the probable-lie Law Enforcement Pre-Employment Test (PDF). This kind of information simply cannot be kept secret, and it’s pointless to try.

In short, classifying polygraph training and research materials will simply serve to shield more bad science from critical review.

McClatchy has also published a bulletin dated 13 December 2013  from the Defense Intelligence Agency’s Director of Security, Stephen R. Norton, warning against the use of polygraph countermeasures. Norton writes:

13 December 2013

SUBJECT: Attempts to Undermine DIA Administered Polygraph Examinations

The Office of Security’s Credibility Assessment Program helps to protect national security through the use of the polygraph examination. The polygraph vetting process is a critical element in protecting the safety and security of this Agency and the United States of America. We have seen examples of when examinees attempt to employ tactics designed to undermine the polygraph. Attempts are not likely to be successful due to sophisticated detection devices. Any attempt to undermine a polygraph exam will be viewed — regardless of motivation — as a threat to this Agency and national security.

DIA employees or DIA-affiliated persons who engage in purposeful and deliberate tactics to alter the outcome of a polygraph examination will be the subject of administrative or disciplinary action. This can include suspension, loss of security clearance, or even removal from federal service. The same penalties may apply to any DIA or DIA-affiliated person who coaches or collaborates with others to deliberately undermine a polygraph examination. Contractors who undermine a polygraph examination place their livelihood in jeopardy.

Bottom line: It is a dangerous game to play with your career and with the national security of the country you serve.

Thank you for your cooperation and support of the Office of Security’s mission to protect the Agency’s people, property, and information.

Stephen R. Norton
Director of Security

AntiPolygraph.org agrees with Norton that it is a dangerous game to play with national security. But it is DIA that is playing with national security by relying on scientifically baseless polygraph screening to assess the honesty and integrity of its employees. We note that Ana Belen Montes, the most notorious spy in DIA’s history, beat the polygraph. And in 2009,  DIA fired analyst John Dullahan after a (wrongly) failed polygraph.

We invite DIA employees, and all who may face polygraph screening, to educate themselves about this unreliable procedure and learn how to protect themselves against the risk of a false positive outcome. Our free book, The Lie Behind the Lie Detector (1 mb PDF) is a good place to start.

Comments 1

  • My father was the head instructor at fort McClellan and over my life time he did not once give me the wrong number I had written down.

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