True crime vlogger Alyssa Nicole explains the history of the pseudoscience of polygraphy and why it’s not to be trusted:
We begin publication with an undated “white paper” titled “Timeline Detailing the Countermeasures Classification Issue” (288 kb PDF). Metadata in the Microsoft Word version (140 kb DOC) of the document indicates that it was created on 15 August 2012 by NCCA Quality Assurance Program chief Gary Light.
The white paper argues that “CM [countermeasure] detection information from its inception has been researched, developed and implemented in an unclassified environment. CM procedures were not, are not and need not be classified when teaching the detection process.”
In January 2014, McClatchy investigative reporter Marisa Taylor reported on efforts by the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), NCCA’s parent agency since 2008, to classify certain information about polygraphy. (See AntiPolygraph.org’s commentary on her reporting here.) Gary Light’s white paper helps to shed light on the internal debate over whether information about polygraphy, including polygraph countermeasures, should be classified. Light appears to be firmly in the “no” camp.
The white paper includes an appendix documenting the publication and presentation of information about polygraph countermeasures “in an unclassified environment,” including, among other things, a 2005 class taught by former NCCA (then DoDPI) researcher Charles R. Honts in the People’s Republic of China.
Of particular note, the white paper also mentions a 2011 “Russian CM Policy Chapter #5 provided to the Department of Energy (DOE),” noting “DOE personnel were provided with a 125 page document describing the CM policy of a Russian government agency. The CM criteria described in the text were similar to those of DoD. Basically only the names of the criteria differed.”
On 25 April 2001, then Defense Security Service Deputy Director for Developmental Programs and former Department of Defense Polygraph Institute director Michael H. Capps testified to Congress that “[t]he U.S. government has supported the use of the polygraph among allied nations when mutual interests were at stake, such as when it supplied training and state-of-the-art polygraph equipment to Russia, to help them maintain security over their nuclear weaponry after the fall of Communism.” Perhaps the “Russian government agency” whose polygraph countermeasure policy chapter was provided to the U.S. Department of Energy is the same one to which NCCA (then DoDPI) provided “training and state-of-the-art polygraph equipment.”
In sum, this NCCA white paper acknowledges that information about polygraph countermeasures originated outside of the U.S. government, is widely available around the world, and should not be considered “classified.”
Light also writes that “[i]t should be … noted that since 2000 the federal government has conducted over 1,000,000,000 [sic] examinations.” It seems likely that this is a typographical error, and that the actual number is an order of magnitude lower, or over 1,000,000 polygraph examinations conducted between 2000 and 2012. This would average out to about >83,300 polygraph examinations per year across the federal government during the relevant time period. According to Department of Defense (DoD) polygraph operator Brian R. Morris, DoD alone has been conducting more than 129,000 polygraphs per year in the aftermath of former NSA contractor Edward Snowden’s 2013 revelations.
Light concludes his white paper noting “In this time and after all of these examinations, not one example can be provided wherein NCCA procedures for the protection of CM protocols has [sic] failed.”
AntiPolygraph.org can attest that NCCA procedures for the protection of its polygraph countermeasure protocols have indeed failed. We have them and will be publishing them in due course. Watch this space.
Note also retired DIA counterintelligence officer Scott W. Carmichael’s 2014 claim that the then number two official at NCCA, Donald Krapohl, violated the Espionage Act by funneling classified information about polygraph countermeasures to the government of Singapore.
U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) has introduced Senate Bill 1560, which would expand polygraph screening at the Department of Homeland Security. Specifically, the bill would block any exemptions to U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s (CBP’s) pre-employment polygraph requirement (as contemplated by House Resolution 2213) and mandate pre-employment polygraph screening at U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). In addition, the bill would mandate periodic and random polygraph screening of selected employees of both agencies. The bill has been co-sponsored by Senators Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY).
It would appear that Senator Durbin has introduced this legislation in a cynical ploy to attack Republicans from the right, that is, to appear “tougher on security” than them. House Resolution 2213, which was broadly supported by House Republicans, would allow CBP to waive its pre-employment polygraph requirement for some applicants with prior military or law enforcement experience, which would allow for a more rapid expansion of CBP’s workforce. In January 2017, President Trump signed executive orders mandating the hiring of an additional 5,000 CBP and 10,000 ICE agents.
In 2002, the National Academy of Sciences 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.”
Despite this, in 2010, the U.S. Congress passed, and President Obama signed into law, legislation introduced by Senator Mark Pryor (D-AR) mandating polygraph screening of CBP applicants.
CBP has a pre-employment polygraph failure rate on the order of 60%, and many qualified applicants are falsely accused of lying and are blacklisted from CBP employment based on scientifically baseless polygraph results. If Senate Bill 1560 becomes law, we can expect a similar outcome at ICE.
Senator Durbin’s sponsoring of this legislation is hypocritical because he knows that polygraphy is unreliable. Speaking at a 2001 Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on “Issues Surrounding the Use of Polygraphs,” Senator Durbin stated:
As an attorney, I never advised clients to take a polygraph. I just did not believe in them. I still do not. They are largely inadmissible in most courts of law. I think the Federal Supreme Court has ruled, and others have, as well, that they are not admissible. Perhaps State and local courts can reach other conclusions, and there are a variety of reasons for that.
I guess some feel that if a jury saw a polygraph test, they would think, well, that is really the good measure of truthfulness and we do not have to reach our own conclusion, and some who just question whether the science is reliable at all.
At the conclusion of the hearing, Sen. Durbin summarized his position on polygraph screening thus:
Mr. Chairman, I thank you for this hearing. I have not thought about this issue a lot since I practiced law, but it has come up more and more and I think part of it has to do with our concern over national security. I think part of it has to do with the fact that we are looking for a quick fix here. We are trying to find some machine that is going to solve our problem. I do not think this is the machine. Thank you.
With Senate Bill 1560, Sen. Durbin is hypocritically seeking a quick fix that he knows isn’t going to solve our problem.
Polygraph critic Doug Williams, who was targeted for prosecution in Operation Lie Busters for teaching people how to pass or beat a polygraph “test,” was released this morning from the federal prison camp in Florence, Colorado and is now on his way back home to Oklahoma. We wish him Godspeed and look forward to his renewed participation in the public debate over polygraph policy!
AntiPolygraph.org has obtained and is publishing a copy of a “For Official Use Only” video produced by the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) in 2006 about the Ana Belen Montes espionage case. This never-before-published video, titled The Two Faces of Ana: Model Employee/Cuban Spy, includes interviews with Montes’ colleagues at DIA. The video mentions (at 16:31) that she used polygraph countermeasures to pass a 1994 DIA polygraph screening “test,” which facilitated her espionage:
The polygraph test in 1994 made her even more dangerous. By deflecting suspicion away from her, she was freer to pursue her espionage. And to pass the polygraph, she had used a countermeasure taught to her by the Cubans.
Regarding the significance of the Montes case for DIA polygraph policy, see Ignoring Science After Cuban Spy Ana Belen Montes Beat the Polygraph, DoD IG Recommended More Polygraphs. Regarding the ineffectiveness of DIA’s polygraph countermeasure detection efforts, see Leaked Documents Point to DIA’s Inability to Detect Sophisticated Polygraph Countermeasures.
You may also download this video as a 138 MB MKV file.
Episode 618 of the popular radio program This American Life features the story of Doug Williams, the former police polygraphist who turned against polygraphy and in 1979 began providing the public with information and training on how to pass or beat a polygraph “test.” Over three decades later, Williams was targeted for prosecution in a federal investigation dubbed “Operation Lie Busters” and is now nearing the end of a two-year prison sentence. You can listen online or download the episode as an MP3 file here.
On 21 November 2016, imprisoned polygraph critic Doug Williams filed a court motion seeking amendment of federal judge Vicki Miles-LaGrange‘s sentencing order, which stipulates that upon release, Williams will be subject to three years’ “supervised release” during which time he “shall not participate in any form of polygraph-related activity.” Williams asks the court to modify the conditions of his release to allow him to engage in polygraph-related activity to the extent that it is not “intended or part of a scheme to defraud the United States or tamper with witnesses.”
On 10 February 2017, the U.S. Department of Justice filed a brief opposing Williams’ motion, effectively conceding that polygraph countermeasures work and arguing that “the restriction on polygraph-related activities for the full term of supervised release is the minimum restriction necessary to protect the public.”
On 21 February 2017, Doug Williams filed a reply to the government’s opposition, challenging the Justice Department’s legal arguments and arguing forcefully why his freedom of speech should not be curtailed. His broader arguments are worth citing here (cited as filed, without corrections):
7. Williams is a highly trained and experience polygraph operator. He has been working in his profession for over 44 years. The District Court has discretion to impose an occupational restriction as a special condition of supervised release, but its discretion must be exercised in accordance with 18 U.S.C. S3538 (d) Subsection (a) states that a sentencing court may impose an occupational restriction only if it determines that ” … Imposition of such a restriction is reasonably necessary to protect the public because there is reason to believe that absent such restriction, the defendant will continue to engage in unlawful conduct similar to that for which the defendant was convicted.”
8. In this case there is no reason to believe that Williams will “continue to engage in unlawful conduct.” Williams can practice his profession as a polygraph operator and continue to publish information about the ineffectiveness of the polygraph examination without engaging in a scheme to defraud the United States Government, or without tampering with a witness. Williams has a 1st Amendment right to provide information about how a person taking a polygraph test can avoid being falsely accused of deception simply because they have a nervous reaction to a relevant question. Williams has no intention of providing information or training to any person for the purpose of defrauding the government, or the tampering with a witness. In his business and occupation, Williams seeks to provide comprehensive information about the use of the polygraph examination as well as methods used by the subject being tested to prove their truthfulness on a polygraph examination.
9. Any occupational restriction must be “reasonably necessary to protect the public” which requires a finding by the Court that, in the absence of the restriction “the defendant will continue to engage in unlawful conduct similar to that for which the defendant was convicted.” U.S.S.G. 5F1.5 (a)(2). In providing information about the use of the polygraph examination as well as methods to produce a “truthful” polygraph chart tracing, Williams is actually protecting the public and individual citizens from being defrauded by government agencies or employees who improperly use the polygraph testing process, and falsely brand a truthful person as a liar simply because they are nervous.
10. The government’s response states: “Given the defendant’s (Mr. Williams) extreme disregard for public safety and national security, there are no less restrictive alternatives that would adequately prevent him from helping individuals lie in order to obtain or keep sensitive government positions. Williams would submit that he is more concerned with our national security as evidenced by the fact that he has devoted almost forty years of his life proving the polygraph is nothing but a scam and he has been warning the government that it is foolish and dangerous to rely in the polygraph as a “lie detector”. In truth and in fact, it is the polygraph operators and those government officials who rely on the polygraph who are the ones who have demonstrated little regard for public safety and national security by relying on such an unreliable procedure as polygraph testing. Furttier, there IS no evidence that Williams has ever been involved in “helping individuals lie in order to obtain or keep sensitive government positions”. In fact, the government seized Mr. Williams’ computer and downloaded the records of over 4900 people who had either purchased his manual and DVD or took part in my one on one polygraph test preparation training. The government agents, and an AUSA interviewed every one of these people who were of interest to them. They started the interview by saying, “We’re not after you, we are after Doug Williams.”. They interrogated them very intensely asking them if Williams ever told them to lie or if they ever told Williams they were going to lie. Not one of these people ever said Williams told them to lie or that they ever told Williams they were going to lie. It is of interest to note that polygraph operators from this same agency, the Customs and Border Patrol, admit that over two-thirds of the applicants for positions with that agency are denied employment because of a “failed” polygraph test so it is obvious that many thousands of people have been falsely accused of deception by government polygraph operators. This failure rate is another example of the polygraph program’s extreme disregard for public safety and national security by thwarting the Customs and Border Patrol’s efforts to adequately staff their agency.
11. The government’s response states: “Both UCs made it clear to defendant (Mr. Williams) that they could not keep or obtain federal employment unless he helped them lie about their crimes during their respective polygraph examinations. Knowing the UCs intent to lie to federal investigators in order to get or keep federal law enforcement positions, defendant (Mr. Williams) willingly trained them how to provide false responses to polygraphers questions and still pass.” That is not true, neither of the UCs told Mr. Williams they were going to lie on the polygraph test, nor did Mr. Williams ever tell them to lie. The first undercover agent simply said the investigators already knew he had “turned his head” while a friend brought in some drugs and the second undercover agent said he was going to tell the polygraph operator about his “crimes” and his only concern was that it would get back to the sheriff and he would lose his job as a deputy. Also, the government has no evidence that Mr. Williams “trained them to provide false responses to polygraphers questions and still pass”. The fact is that no polygraph test was ever administered to either of these undercover agents, nor did they ever intend to take a polygraph test. And there is no evidence that Mr. Williams helped them “lie about their crimes during their respective polygraph examinations” when no such test was ever taken. The UCs were the ones doing all the lying and they needed no help from Mr. Williams. Indeed, this was all pretend and they were even lying about lying since everything they said was scripted.
12. The polygraph is A simple device that has not changed significantly since in was invented in 1920. It records the subject’s blood pressure, pulse rate, respiration and what’s known as the galvanic skin response which is basically just a measurement of the increase or decrease of sweat activity on the subject’s fingers. Polygraph operators ask a series of questions during the test and measure the subject’s reaction or lack of reaction to the questions. There are two types of questions asked on the polygraph test – relevant and control. The relevant questions are those that pertain to the point at issue. For example, if the polygraph test is about drug smuggling, the questions would be as follows: Did you smuggle drugs into the country? Did you work with someone to smuggle drugs into the country? Right now could you take me to any of the drugs that were smuggled into the country? The polygraph operator will intersperse control questions during the test. The control questions would be as follows: Have you ever lied to anyone in authority to keep from getting in trouble? Did you ever deliberately hurt anyone? Have you ever stolen anything? The theory underlying the polygraph as a “lie detector” is as follows: If a subject has a reaction on a relevant questions that is greater than their reaction to a control questions, the subject is deemed to be deceptive. If the reverse is true, and the subject has a reaction to the control questions that is greater than their reaction to the relevant questions, the subject is deemed to be truthful. This reaction that would brand a person as a liar is simply a nervous reaction such as is seen in the fight or flight response. When a person is confronted with a threatening stimulus their body releases a shot of adrenalin which causes their blood pressure to increase, their breathing to become erratic, and the sweat activity on their hand to increase. In order for the polygraph to be accurate as a “lie detector’, this reaction that polygraph operators refer to as a “lying reaction” or a “reaction indicative of deception” must always indicate deception. The problem is that there is no such thing as a “lying reaction”. In fact, the reaction that brands a person as a liar can and often is caused by any number of innocent stimuli – such as embarrassment, rage at having been asked an accusatory question, simple nervousness, fear of being falsely accused of lying – even the tone of the examiner during questioning can elicit a reaction that would cause a person to fail the test. So, the polygraph records a person’s nervous reaction to relevant questions but the problem is that nervousness does not always indicate deception – in fact it only indicates deception about 50% of the time. Thus the polygraph is no more accurate than “the toss of a coin”. Mr. Williams simply teaches people what the polygraph records, teaches them the difference between the relevant and control questions and runs them through a relaxation exercise similar to that used in the Lamas technique of natural child birth. This training only takes about twenty minutes and then the subject is hooked up to the polygraph and is allowed to demonstrate their ability to relax when answering the relevant questions and think of something frightening when answering the control questions thereby producing a perfect “truthful” chart. When you consider the extraordinary failure rate of almost 70% at the Customs and Border Patrol – as well as other government agencies – it is logical to assume that many thousands of people are falsely branded as liars by government polygraph operators. It would be unconscionable to deprive those persons seeking this training from receiving it by prohibiting Mr. Williams from continuing to educate them about how to avoid being falsely accused of deception simply because they are nervous.
13. The government’s response states: “Because defendant’s criminal conduct was inextricably linked with his polygraph business and because defendant has repeatedly and deliberately sought to avoid knowledge of his clients intention to lie during polygraph examinations (in order to insulate himself from criminal activity), the Court’s restriction on defendants participation in polygraph related activity is necessary to protect the public.” There is no statute that prohibits Mr. Williams from teaching a person to pass, or for that matter to “beat” a polygraph test. Williams was charged with witness tampering and Mr. Williams’ knowledge or lack of knowledge about his clients intention to lie during polygraph examinations is irrelevant simply because having the knowledge that a person he is training plans to lie does not constitute a crime. The crime Mr. Williams was charged with is witness tampering not teaching a person how to pass a polygraph test. Further, as will be discussed later, except in these two cases, there is no evidence that anyone has ever told him they intended to lie during polygraph examinations, and Mr. Williams has certainly never told anyone to lie on their polygraph examinations – and in fact Mr. Williams never told any of these undercover agents to lie – nor did they ever tell Mr. Williams they planned to lie on their polygraph examinations. As regards the charges of witness tampering, it appears from the record that the only “tampering” being done was done by the government’s undercover agents. And it should be noted that these agents were not “witnesses” to anything. In fact everything they said was a lie. Also, everything Mr. Williams told the government’s undercover agents about how to pass a polygraph test was in his testimony to the congress in 1985 in support of the Employee Polygraph Protection Act. So Mr. Williams is in prison for telling the undercover agents exactly what he told the congress over thirty years ago.
14. Williams has been demonstrating how simple it is to “beat the box” on national television and in hundreds of seminars over the past thirty eight years. It is true that anyone can use Mr. Williams’ techniques to pass their polygraph test regardless of whether they are nervous or not, lying or not, no matter what. Mr. Williams has been saying that for almost forty years. He says that is hopes that those who use the polygraph or rely on the results reported to them by polygraph operators will realize that it is not accurate or reliable as a “lie detector” and will quit using it. Besides, liars can pass the polygraph test easily regardless of whether they have been trained or not. History is replete with examples of people who have lied and passed polygraph tests with no problem, Aldridge Ames, the CIA agent who was a notorious traitor, passed many polygraph examinations – and he was actively passing classified information to the Soviets when he took – and passed – many polygraph tests. As a matter of fact, there has never been even one traitor, or spy ever caught by the polygraph. Even the most recent episode with Edward Snowden demonstrates how foolish and dangerous it is to rely on the results of a polygraph test. Snowden passed two polygraph tests in order to get access to the information he leaked from the NSA. Snowden not only passed the pre-employment polygraph test, but he also passed the all encompassing, highly vaunted “lifestyle” polygraph test. Snowden passed both polygraph tests, even though he knew at the time he took the tests what he planned to do when he got his security clearance. If that doesn’t prove the polygraph is worthless, what does? So, the polygraph brands truthful people as liars and allows liars to pass the test with no problem. In fact, liars have demonstrated the ability to pass the polygraph test without any training whatsoever while truthful people are branded as liars at an alarming rate. Therefore, Williams’ training is essential to help truthful people avoid being falsely accused of deception. Accordingly Williams requests that the Court remove the special condition of his supervised release prohibiting his participation in any form of polygraph related activity.
Douglas G Williams
The U.S. Department of Justice effectively conceded that polygraph countermeasures are effective in arguing against incarcerated polygraph critic Doug Williams‘ motion that he be allowed to engage in polygraph-related activities during his upcoming three-year period of supervised release. DOJ’s opposition brief (PDF), filed on 10 February 2017, notes, at p. 2:
In addition to training manuals and DVDs, defendant sold in-person, confidential, “one-on-one” polygraph countermeasures training sessions. During these sessions, defendant taught clients how to pass polygraph tests even if they were lying. (emphasis added)
The brief, which largely recaps details of the government-orchestrated “crimes” for which Williams was convicted, concludes by arguing that “the restriction on polygraph-related activities for the full term of supervised release is the minimum restriction necessary to protect the public.” This flies in the face of the polygraph community’s claims that sophisticated polygraph countermeasures can be routinely detected and are ineffective.
In this video statement posted to YouTube on 31 January 2017, U.S. Customs and Border Protection applicant Megan Brown describes her pre-employment polygraph experience, which included an accusation of attempted polygraph countermeasures:
Associated Press reporter Elliot Spagat reports on the U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s pre-employment polygraph screening program:
SAN DIEGO (AP) — David Kirk was a career Marine pilot with a top-secret security clearance and a record of flying classified missions. He was in the cockpit when President George W. Bush and Vice Presidents Dick Cheney and Joe Biden traveled around the nation’s capital by helicopter.
With credentials like that, Kirk was stunned to fail a lie detector when he applied for a pilot’s job with U.S. Customs and Border Protection, which guards 6,000 miles of border with Mexico and Canada. After two contentious polygraph sessions that lasted a combined eight hours, Kirk said, he drove home “with my tail between my legs,” wondering how things had gone so wrong.
Two out of three applicants to the CBP fail its polygraph, according to the agency — more than double the average rate of eight law enforcement agencies that provided data to The Associated Press under open-records requests.
Stories like David Kirk’s are common at CBP. See, for example, the dozens of comments on our 2010 blog post, Customs and Border Protection Polygraph Failure Rate Pegged at 60%.
It’s a big reason approximately 2,000 jobs at the nation’s largest law enforcement agency are empty, with the Border Patrol, a part of CBP, recently slipping below 20,000 agents for the first time since 2009. And it has raised questions of whether the lie detector tests are being properly administered.
CBP Commissioner Gil Kerlikowske said the failure rate is too high, but that it’s largely because the agency hasn’t attracted the applicants it wants. He and other law enforcement experts contend the polygraphs are generally working as intended at the agency, which has been trying to root out bribery and other corruption.
Gil Kerlikowske should be asked to document how he knows that the reason the CBP failure rate is so high is “largely because the agency hasn’t attracted the applicants it wants.” A more plausible explanation is that an invalid procedure (polygraph screening) is frequently and predictably producing invalid results.
But others, including lawmakers, union leaders and polygraph experts, contend that the use of lie detectors has gone awry and that many applicants are being subjected to unusually long and hostile interrogations, which some say can make people look deceptive even when they are telling the truth.
Republican Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona said he suspects CBP examiners fail applicants to justify their own jobs. He said he worries applicants are being wrongly branded with a “scarlet letter” in the eyes of other potential government employers.
“There seems to be no good explanation, and when we hear so many anecdotal stories, it starts to look like a trend where they feel like they have to fail them, a certain number,” he said. “It makes you angry that people would be put through that.”
Senator Jeff Flake is likely correct. Polygraph operators’ pass/fail rates are compared, and it’s likely that polygraph they don’t want to appear to be “soft” compared to their peers. Sen. Flake raised concern about the level of false positives in the CBP polygraph program in a Judiciary Committee meeting held in June 2016.
In December, the Homeland Security Department’s inspector general said it was reviewing whether CBP’s polygraphs are effective in hiring. The hiring difficulties have become so acute that the Border Patrol recently took the unusual step of asking Congress to use money earmarked for 300 jobs for other purposes. That raises doubts about President-elect Donald Trump’s pledge to add 5,000 agents.
Taking a polygraph became a hiring requirement at CBP in 2012 after a huge hiring surge led to more agents getting arrested for misconduct.
James Tomsheck said that when he was CBP’s chief of internal affairs from 2006 to 2014, about 30 applicants admitted during the lie detector test that they were sent by drug cartels; one said he killed his infant son.
One applicant revealed his brother-in-law wanted him to smuggle cocaine on the job, and another said he used marijuana 9,000 times, including the night before his test, according to the Government Accountability Office.
It is true, as James Tomsheck notes, that applicants sometimes admit to disqualifying behavior during pre-employment polygraph examinations.1 But only the most stupid of applicants make such admissions. Any person of reasonable intelligence seeking to infiltrate CBP on behalf of a drug cartel can pass the polygraph using simple countermeasures (see Chapter 4) that polygraph operators cannot detect.
Interviews with six applicants who failed to clear the polygraph fit a pattern: The examiner abruptly changes tone, leveling accusations of lying or holding something back. The job-seeker denies it and the questioning goes in circles for hours. Some are invited for a second visit, which ends no differently.
Luis Granado applied to the Border Patrol in 2014 with military experience and a bachelor’s degree from the University of Arizona. His father is an agent, and Granado used to proudly try on the badge as a boy.
“This was my dream job,” said Granado, 31, who is now a full-time Air Force reservist in Tucson, Arizona. “I wanted to follow in my dad’s footsteps forever.”
He said the examiner scolded him for answers that were “too emphatic, too fast” and told him to stop grinding his teeth.
Granado said the examiner was troubled by an admission that he cheated on a test in high school. When he denied ever belonging to a cartel or terrorist group, the examiner stopped and said, “Well, I think you’re being deceptive,” according to Granado. After two sessions that lasted a total of 12 hours, his conditional job offer was rescinded.
CBP declined to comment on individual cases.
Luis Granado’s experience is an all-too-common story, and it’s happening not only to CBP applicants, but also to applicants with other federal agencies with a polygraph screening requirement. See AntiPolygraph.org’s Personal Statements page for examples.
CBP’s Kerlikowske put the agency’s polygraph failure rate at about 65 percent. The AP asked law enforcement agencies across the country for two years of lie-detector data for job applicants, including police departments in the nation’s 10 largest cities and in major towns along the Mexican border. The eight that supplied numbers showed an average failure rate of 28 percent.
Tomsheck said that when he was CBP’s internal affairs chief, other federal agencies, including the FBI and Secret Service, had failure rates of less than 35 percent. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, the only federal agency that supplied data to the AP, failed 36 percent in the last two years.
Mark Handler, editor in chief of the American Polygraph Association, said failure rates of about 30 percent are typical in law enforcement hiring.
Kerlikowske explained that the agency isn’t getting the applicants it wants because the relatively new CBP, created in 2003, “doesn’t have a brand” and is unfamiliar to some.
Among other possible reasons offered by some experts for the agency’s failure rate: CBP may have higher standards than local departments, and it get less-experienced applicants who have never taken a lie detector before.
Agencies can and do set their polygraph pass/fail rates as high or as low as they please. For example, in the late 1990s, the FBI had a pre-employment polygraph failure rate of 20%. But after 9/11, with a surge in the number of applicants, that failure rate more than doubled to 50% by 2002. It is not plausible that this rate increase had anything to do with the FBI having higher hiring standards (they didn’t change) or the fact that applicants had never been polygraphed before. Rather, with more applicants, the FBI felt it could afford to arbitrarily brand a higher percentage of applicants as liars and disqualify them.
The duration of CBP’s testing strikes some experts as unusual.
“If there’s an exam that lasts four to eight hours, your polygrapher is either incompetent or a fool or both,” said Capt. Alan Hamilton, commanding officer of the Los Angeles Police Department’s recruitment and employment division. His department’s exams last no longer than 90 minutes.
Handler said prolonged, accusatory interviews can lead to failures for people who are telling the truth. Lie detectors measure blood pressure, sweating and breathing.
The relatively lengthy polygraph interrogations at CBP likely result from the fact that the CBP polygraph program was largely created and initially staffed with retired U.S. Secret Service polygraph operators, who could collect their pensions while receiving federal salaries with CBP (“double-dipping”). Lengthy, abusive interrogations have long been a hallmark of the USSS polygraph program. See, for example, the personal statement of Bill Roche.
Polygraphs are generally not admissible in court, and federal law bars private employers from using them to hire. The military doesn’t use them to screen enlistees, and some law enforcement agencies don’t use them in hiring, including the New York Police Department, U.S. Marshals Service and Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
CBP, under pressure to hire, recently loosened standards on previous marijuana use and, under a law that took effect in December, can waive polygraphs for veterans with top-secret clearances.
A better solution would be to scrap the polygraph program entirely. Given polygraphy’s lack of scientific underpinnings and vulnerability to simple, easily-learned countermeasures, CBP and other federal agencies should scrap their misplaced reliance on it. See AntiPolygraph.org’s proposed legislation for effecting this outcome.
Kirk, 47, of Friendswood, Texas, applied to CBP in 2013 after 20 years as a Marine officer and calls it one of the worst experiences of his life. In the Marines, “one of our biggest mantras is our honesty and integrity,” he said. “Someone calling me a liar, I take it very personally.”
During the 2013 polygraph exams, he said, he was accused of cheating on his wife and mishandling classified information and was told he acted like a drug trafficker trying to infiltrate the agency. Kirk vehemently denies the allegations.
The accusation of marital infidelity “almost made me want to jump across the desk,” said the father of four. He told the examiner that he tried marijuana in college and says the biggest mark on his record is a speeding ticket.
“They treated me like a criminal,” said Kirk, now a private pilot. “I don’t know who was better qualified than me to fill this position.”
See also this video report produced by the Associated Press, which includes an interview with David Kirk:
- AntiPolygraph.org is unaware of any instance where someone attempting to infiltrate CBP on behalf of a drug cartel was criminally prosecuted. [↩]