Australia: “ASIO Polygraphs ‘Unreliable'”

Political correspondent Brendan Nicolson reports for The Age. Excerpt:

Lie detector tests being carried out on officers of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation were not scientifically proven, and could be beaten by real spies and incriminate innocent officers, the Federal Opposition has warned.

Labor’s justice spokesman Daryl Melham told The Sunday Age that the polygraph, or lie detector, was very controversial technology that could cause serious injustice.

The polygraph is an instrument which measures the automatic responses of the nervous systems of people being questioned. It works on the basis that when people tell a lie, uncontrollable changes are apparent in their blood pressure, pulse rate and respiration. Tension is also reflected as minor shocks measurable on the skin.

Following the arrest in 1999 of a former Defence Intelligence Organisation officer Jean-Philippe Wispelaere after he tried to sell highly classified material to a foreign government, the Federal Government ordered a review of security procedures in departments which handled highly classified material.

The review was carried out by the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security, Bill Blick, who made more than 50 recommendations designed to tighten procedures.

These included a suggestion that staff of intelligence agencies should be subject to psychological testing, financial checks and random bag searches.

In September 2000 Attorney-General Daryl Williams announced that ASIO had agreed to undertake an internal and voluntary trial of polygraph tests “to evaluate the potential of the tests as a personal security tool”.

Mr Williams said he could not provide further details because of the matter’s sensitive nature.

In August this year Mr Melham asked Mr Williams a series of questions on the trial’s progress including the number of officers subjected to lie detector tests, how many passed or failed and if any were charged or demoted as a result.

Mr Williams responded late last month that he still could not give details but he said the trial was still in progress.

Mr Melham said the ASIO trial was not an acceptable basis on which to consider such a controversial and questionable security measure.

Australian courts refused to admit lie detector information as evidence and use of the device was illegal in New South Wales.

Mr Melham said the government had not ruled out more extensive use of polygraphs to security check all Commonwealth staff with access to national security information. He said any trial should be carried out in the open with independent scientific scrutiny.

U.S. Pressures Australia to Embrace Polygraph Screening

Brian Toohey writes for the Sydney Morning Herald in an article titled, “Security proves a complicated affair.” Excerpt:

The war on terrorism also means that US intelligence officials want tough action taken against any Australian minister who has an affair which they regard as a security risk.

Although ministers will want to be exempt, the US is applying strong pressure to force Australian officials to undergo polygraph tests about their sex lives and other personal matters.

Because US officials believe politicians can be compromised by illicit affairs, they will no longer accept the relaxed approach previously taken by Australian security officials to ministers’ sexual indiscretions.

Even before September 11, the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation agreed to undertake a trial of US polygraph tests designed to see if its staff lie when asked about their sex lives, finances and political sympathies.

On June 25, the Foreign Minister, Alexander Downer, signed a new, legally binding, pact with the US to protect classified information. Although no details were spelled out in the pact, the US wants Australian officials who have access to highly classified US intelligence material to be subjected to the same polygraph tests that routinely apply to American officials.

The rationale is that ministers leave themselves open to blackmail.

The Australian public is unlikely to accept that security officials should be able to march into Parliament House and hook ministers up to a polygraph machine to check whether they curl up with more than a copy of Hansard at night in their lonely Canberra digs.

Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) Officers to Undergo Lie-Detector “Tests”

Lincoln Wright of the Canberra Times reports that ASIO officers “will be the first to undergo a new trial of lie-detector tests after the Howard Government endorsed a report recommending tougher rules to fix leaks of national security secrets.”

Australia should learn from America’s mistakes, not repeat them.