The Tennesean Supports State Ban on Polygraphing Rape Victims

In an editorial titled, “Don’t accuse rape victims,” The Tennesean voices it support for legislation that would outlaw the wrongheaded police practice of requiring those who report having been the victims of rape to submit to a lie detector “test” before investigating the complaint:

Monday, 05/01/06

Don’t accuse rape victims

A rape victim shouldn’t be victimized yet again by the process of seeking justice, and the legislature is on the right path in asserting that principle.

The House voted 77-10 to approve a bill prohibiting law enforcement officials from requiring an alleged rape victim to take a lie detector test in order to proceed with an investigation. The vote follows the 27-1 approval of a similar bill in the Senate. The House bill would still allow law enforcement to request such a test. An agreement between the two versions should be easy to achieve.

One House member who voted against the bill said that without a polygraph test, there would be no way to determine if the alleged victim was telling the truth. But police don’t require people who report car thefts, burglaries or other types of crimes to take lie detector tests. They assume the person reporting a crime is telling the truth unless evidence to the contrary surfaces. Why should rape victims be any more likely to lie?

Traditionally, victims of rape and abuse have been reluctant to come forward, talk to the police and press charges against an attacker. Requiring a lie detector test of the rape victim would be a huge deterrent to reporting a crime. Any law enforcement official who would force a victim to take a polygraph test would be placing an undue burden on the victim. The bill stops any chance of that happening.

At every turn, victims should feel security in reporting crimes. The legislation shows that lawmakers understand that need, and the bill should become law. •

Greensboro City Council Lampooned, Member Defends Decision

PleadTheFirst lampoons the Greensboro, North Carolina City Council‘s decision to administer lie detector tests to itself with two scathing cartoons and City Council member Sandy Carmany defends the council’s polygraph decision in a post on her blog titled, The Power to Pull the Plug.

Greensboro Polygraph Follies Update

Polygraph “testing” of eight of nine Greensboro City Council members appears set to begin this week in an ostensible attempt to discover who amongst them provided an investigative report on the city’s former police chief to the local News & Record newspaper. To date, none of the city council members have responded to George Maschke’s e-mail cautioning them about polygraphy’s lack of scientific basis, inherent bias against the truthful, and vulnerability to simple countermeasures.

Continue reading “Greensboro Polygraph Follies Update”

Polygraphs Target Leak Cases

Andrew Zajac of the Chicago Tribune reports on the CIA’s reliance on the polygraph in its efforts to detect and deter unauthorized truth-telling. This feature article is cited in its entirety:

Polygraphs target leak cases

U.S. intelligence, FBI use tool to police their ranks, but some say it is vulnerable to abuse

By Andrew Zajac
Washington Bureau

April 29, 2006

WASHINGTON — When CIA officials sought to ferret out who leaked secrets to a journalist, they quickly turned to a polygraph test to winnow the pool of likely suspects, including longtime analyst Mary McCarthy.

The outcome of McCarthy’s test is not known, and her lawyer, Ty Cobb, declined to comment. But McCarthy, who had announced plans to retire, acknowledged unauthorized contacts with reporters, according to the CIA, which fired her last week.

Long used in criminal inquiries, pre-employment screening and security investigations, polygraph testing has assumed a new importance in secrecy-obsessed Washington, particularly after leaks from the CIA and the National Security Agency led to headline-grabbing news stories late last year.

The prospect of being subject to a polygraph exam, which can be an exceedingly unpleasant process, is among the factors would-be leakers and whistle-blowers now must weigh when deciding whether to reach out to reporters if they can’t find a receptive audience elsewhere, those familiar with the workings of Washington say.

“The Justice Department doesn’t want to hear it. The [congressional] oversight committees don’t want to hear it. So you have to decide if you want to go to the press, [but] because of the pressure of the polygraph, that’s not an easy thing to overcome,” said a retired CIA officer. “It’s an ugly, intrusive weapon.”

A CIA spokesperson said that agency’s polygraph program “operates under strict guidelines with standardized policies and procedures.”

Even advocates of using polygraph tests acknowledge that they can be rigged to “flunk” subjects, that the technology is hardly foolproof and that the results can be open to interpretation.

Most notoriously, former CIA agent Aldrich Ames, whose sale of secrets to the Soviet Union led to the deaths of at least 10 people, passed at least two polygraph tests while aiding the Soviets.

Continue reading “Polygraphs Target Leak Cases”

Dana Priest on Polygraphs

Dana Priest, the Washington Post intelligence reporter whose Pulitzer Prize-winning exposé on the CIA’s secret prison network set up to evade U.S. and international law led to a polygraph hunt for leakers at CIA, answered, among others, a question about polygraphs in an on-line chat session held on Thursday, 27 April 2006:

Gaithersburg, Md.: With the firing of Mary McCarthy last week by the CIA, there’s been mention in articles about the use of polygraphs at the agency during their investigations into leaks.

From personal experience, I can say that the machine is not fool proof by any stretch of the imagine. Several years ago, while going through the security clearance process, I was subjected to the polygraph. I failed it the first time, for what the examiner said, was an issue involving questions on terrorist and subversive activity. What nonsense! The second time I failed because I was, according to a different examiner, not being fully truthful about having dealt drugs. Again, what nonsense! On the third attempt, I did pass the polygraph. The problem? I did, in fact, not tell the truth – at the time (though not today) I was doing quite a large amount of popular “club drugs.”

My question for you is, my experiences aside, how effective do you believe the polygraph to really be?

Dana Priest: Well, the CIA thinks they are reliable enough to use in security checks. But courts don’t recognize them. And George Shultz, the former secretary of state, vowed to leave government if ever he was subjected….so go figure. controversial to say the least.

A False Negative in Arizona

The latest issue of the Arizona Peace Officer Standards and Training Board publication, Integrity Bulletin (Vol. No. 25) includes mention of a cadet who beat the polygraph:


Cadet R informed his fellow cadets that he beat the polygraph test and had passed it even though he lied when asked about cheating on his taxes. Following an investigation, his agency terminated his employment and the Board denied him certification for providing false information in connection with obtaining certified status.

Alleged Hate Crime Victim Asked to Take Polygraph

WOOD TV news reporter Brad Edwards reports on the case of Jason Burns, who reports that he was punched on the campus of Hope College in Holland, Michigan by two men who taunted him because he is homosexual. After he reported the attack, Holland police asked Burns to submit to a lie detector “test.” See, “Alleged hate crime victim talks about incident.”

Polygraph Didn’t Find Secret Prisons Source

It appears that CIA officer Mary McCarthy was not the source of Washington Post reporter Dana Priest’s information on the CIA’s secret prisons. In “Dismissed CIA Officer Denies Leak Role,” Post staff writers R. Jeffrey Smith and Dafna Linzer report that she denies it, and the CIA is not alleging it. Excerpt:

A lawyer representing fired CIA officer Mary O. McCarthy said yesterday that his client did not leak any classified information and did not disclose to Washington Post reporter Dana Priest the existence of secret CIA-run prisons in Eastern Europe for suspected terrorists.

The statement by Ty Cobb, a lawyer in the Washington office of Hogan & Hartson who said he was speaking for McCarthy, came on the same day that a senior intelligence official said the agency is not asserting that McCarthy was a key source of Priest’s award-winning articles last year disclosing the agency’s secret prisons.

McCarthy was fired because the CIA concluded that she had undisclosed contacts with journalists, including Priest, in violation of a security agreement. That does not mean she revealed the existence of the prisons to Priest, Cobb said.

Cobb said that McCarthy, who worked in the CIA inspector general’s office, “did not have access to the information she is accused of leaking,” namely the classified information about any secret detention centers in Europe. Having unreported media contacts is not unheard of at the CIA but is a violation of the agency’s rules.

In a statement last Friday, the agency said it had fired one of its officers for having unauthorized conversations with journalists in which the person “knowingly and willfully shared classified intelligence.” Intelligence officials subsequently acknowledged that the official was McCarthy and said that Priest is among the journalists with whom she acknowledged sharing information.

Priest won the Pulitzer Prize this month for a series of articles she wrote last year about the intelligence community, including the revelation of the existence of CIA-run prisons in East European countries. The Post withheld the names of the countries at the Bush administration’s request, and it attributed the information to current and former intelligence officials from three continents.

The articles sparked a wide-ranging CIA investigation that included polygraphing scores of officials who worked in offices privy to information about the secret prisons, including McCarthy and her boss, CIA Inspector General John L. Helgerson. Nowhere in the CIA statement last week was McCarthy accused of leaking information on the prisons, although some news accounts suggested that the CIA had made that claim.

Though McCarthy acknowledged having contact with reporters, a senior intelligence official confirmed yesterday that she is not believed to have played a central role in The Post’s reporting on the secret prisons. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity, citing personnel matters.

Smith and Linzer also note that the polygraphing of a CIA Inspector General is not unprecedented:

Fredrick P. Hitz, who was inspector general at the CIA from 1990 to 1998, said his office was the subject of a leak inquiry after The Post wrote about a classified report he submitted to Congress on the Aldrich H. Ames espionage case. “I was polygraphed several times, as were some of my staff,” Hitz said in an interview. No source for the leak was found and the investigation was terminated.

For discussion, see The Polygraph and the Mary McCarthy Case on the message board.