CIA’s “Molly Hale” Lies About Lie Detectors

CIA social media graphic

Since 2002, the CIA has used the pseudonym “Molly Hale” to respond to selected public inquiries. Since 2019, such inquiries may be directed to the CIA’s Twitter or Facebook accounts using the hashtag #AskMollyHale.

On 3 March 2021, Molly Hale replied to the following inquiry:

Dear Molly,

I would really love to work for CIA, and think I would be a great candidate, but I’m nervous about taking a lie detector test. It’s not that I have anything to hide, I just feel like my results wouldn’t be accurate because of my crazy nerves! What do you recommend I do?

Nerves of Jello

Among other things, Molly Hale writes:

I’m here to tell you that the actual polygraph is far less intimidating than your mind might make it out to be. We’re talking less Jason Bourne and more Meet the Parents, if cinema is your thing. But seriously, the polygraph isn’t a strategy to ‘psych out’ potential officers….

This is a lie. The polygraph is precisely a strategy to psych out potential CIA officers. Specifically, it is intended to convince them that the polygraph operator can read their minds (lie detection is a form of mind reading), and that deception is futile. In fact, polygraphy has no scientific basis (it’s a century-old, cop-invented pseudoscience), and polygraph outcomes have no clear connection with whether one has spoken the truth.

In the pre-employment polygraph screening technique used by the CIA, applicants are typically accused of lying or withholding information during the initial polygraph session and are badgered for admissions. If no disqualifying admissions are made, they are typically invited back for one or more follow-up sessions.

Molly Hale continues:

…It is a tool, which is leveraged to assess a person’s strength of character, trustworthiness, honesty, and reliability; nothing more, nothing less. Given the access to sensitive information afforded to CIA officers, it is important we use every tool at our disposal to determine a person’s suitability for employment.

Ouija boards and astrological charts are also at the CIA’s disposal. Should they use these, too? Molly Hale goes on:

To your point about nerves affecting the outcome of the test, understand that CIA polygraph examiners are some of the world’s most capable security professionals. They are well-trained in the use of polygraph instruments and are skilled in properly assessing the results. That is to say, they know how to distinguish nerves from deception. If you’re concerned that the examiner might conflate the two, let me ease your worries: our examiners are incredibly good at what they do.

Molly Hale’s claim that CIA polygraph operators “know how to distinguish nerves from deception” is patently false. The fundamental weakness of polygraphy is that it cannot distinguish between people who are nervous because they are lying and those who are nervous but telling the truth.

In 2002, the National Academy of Sciences completed a thorough review of the scientific evidence on polygraph screening and concluded that “its 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.”

The CIA is willfully ignoring the science on polygraphs.

Molly Hale has yet another lie to tell:

If I haven’t been up to this point, let me be very clear: if you want to work for CIA, don’t let a fear of the polygraph be the one reason that stops you. We’re not looking for perfect people, we’re looking for honest people. If you are candid and forthright through the process, the polygraph will not be an issue.

Many candid and forthright CIA applicants end up being falsely branded as liars and disqualified based on polygraph chart readings. (Some have shared their stories here.) In fact, retired CIA polygraph operator John F. Sullivan has opined that “an honest subject has no better chance than a dishonest subject of getting through the process.”

Molly Hale concludes:

So take a deep breath, calm your nerves, and submit that application!

Before you submit that application, we recommend that you educate yourself about the pseudoscientific means by which the CIA will pretend to assess your honesty and integrity. Our free book, The Lie Behind the Lie Detector, is a good starting point.

Apparent CIA Officer Brian Jeffrey Raymond, Charged With Drugging and Sexually Molesting Multiple Women, Evidently Beat the Polygraph

Brian Jeffrey Raymond
(FBI-provided photo)

On 8 October 2020, the FBI filed a under seal a criminal complaint and supporting affidavit against former federal employee Brian Jeffrey Raymond in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, charging him with a single count of violating 18 U.S.C. §2422(a), alleging that he “[k]nowingly induced an individual to travel for the purpose of engaging in any sexual activity for which any person can be charged with a criminal offense.”

FBI Special Agent Erin L. Sheridan, who investigated Raymond, in still frame from 2017 FBI recruitment video

On 31 December 2020, the FBI filed an additional criminal complaint against Raymond, charging him with further sex-related crimes. In a supporting affidavit, FBI Special Agent Erin L. Sheridan details evidence, including photographs and videos, that Raymond had a years-long history of drugging women and sexually abusing them while they were unconscious. An earlier Motion for Pre-Trial Detention states that “[t]he videos and photographs show at least 21 different unconscious women, all appearing to be adults.” Raymond’s internet search history, recovered from a laptop computer, suggests an interest in such criminal behavior dating back at least as early as 2010.

The 44-year-old Raymond had been a federal employee for some 23 years and had most recently worked at the United States embassy in Mexico City.

While the U.S. Department of Justice and FBI have avoided mentioning the specific U.S. government agency that employed Raymond, circumstantial evidence strongly indicates that it was the Central Intelligence Agency.

In a Motion for Release with Conditions filed on 15 October 2020, Raymond’s counsel mentioned that he had taken and, to his knowledge, passed polygraphs throughout his career, and that the most recent one “addressed allegations against him.”

9. At regular intervals throughout his tenure in public service, as well as shortly after the launch of the current investigation, Mr. Raymond has taken polygraph tests. To his knowledge, he has passed every one of the more than 10 such test [sic], including the most recent one, which addressed allegations against him. Those results were shared with the Department of Justice. He’s taken over 10 polygraphs during his career.

Employees of the U.S. Department of State are not routinely required to submit to polygraph screening. But CIA employees, who often work under diplomatic cover, are.

Brian Jeffrey Raymond
(FBI-provided photo)

The aforementioned Motion for Pre-Trial Detention indicates that Raymond

is extremely comfortable living, working and traveling overseas, to an extent that few others could relate. Indeed, he has lived and worked in multiple foreign countries across the globe. He speaks Spanish and Mandarin Chinese. He has worked in or visited over 60 different countries in all regions of the world….

Brian Jeffrey Raymond
(FBI-provided photo)

Another indication of Raymond’s affiliation with the CIA is the presence of a hardcover copy of Gentleman Spy, Peter Grose’s 641-page biography of CIA director Allen Dulles, on his bookshelf in the above social media photograph released by the FBI in connection with a public request that other potential victims come forward.

The CIA uses a “full scope” polygraph screening technique that includes the question, “Have you ever committed a serious crime?” In light of the compelling nature of the evidence against him, it seems likely that Brian Jeffrey Raymond beat the polygraph at least once during his CIA employment.

Andrew Marvin Warren

In an eerily similar case, the CIA station chief in Algeria, Andrew Marvin Warren, in 2008 came under investigation for drugging and raping two women. Warren ultimately pleaded guilty to “charges of abusive sexual contact and unlawful use of cocaine while possessing a firearm” and in March 2011 was sentenced to 65 months in prison.

In 2013, in one of his last stories, the late investigative reporter Michael Hastings profiled Warren in a Rolling Stones article titled, “The Spy Who Cracked Up in the Cold.” Warren was released from prison on 14 January 2015 whereupon he began serving a 120-month term of supervised release.

In the commission of his crimes, Warren, like Raymond, was undeterred by the prospect of periodic polygraph screening.

Accused Spy Alexander Yuk Ching Ma Evidently Beat the Polygraph to Penetrate the FBI

Alexander Yuk Ching Ma
Alexander Yuk Ching Ma
(LinkedIn profile picture)

On Thursday, 13 August 2020, FBI Special Agent Chris Jensen filed under seal a criminal complaint against Alexander Yuk Ching Ma of Honolulu, Hawaii, charging him with “Conspiracy to Gather and Communicate National Defense Information of the United States to a Foreign Nation.” On Monday, 17 August 2020, the complaint was unsealed.

In an accompanying affidavit, SA Jensen adduces evidence that Ma, a 67-year-old naturalized U.S. citizen born in Hong Kong who worked for the CIA from 1982-1987, acted as a “compromised asset” of the Chinese Ministry of State Security (MSS) “at least by early 2001.”

The evidence against Ma appears to be strong, consisting in part of a video recording of meetings he and an unnamed 85-year-old relative who worked for the CIA from 1967-1983 held with “at least five (5) MSS intelligence officials in a Hong Kong hotel room” from 24-26 March 2001. The 85-year-old relative “suffers from an advanced and debilitating cognitive disease,” and the FBI has therefore not sought his arrest.

SA Jensen’s affidavit states at paras. 22-26:

22. Following the March 2001 Hong Kong meetings, MA continued to remain in contact with MSS officials and to work on their behalf. The investigation has revealed that as a mechanism to once again give himself access to U.S. government information, MA applied for employment with the FBI. On December 26, 2002, MA applied for the position of “Special Agent.” On or about December 30, 2002, after being advised by the FBI that he did not meet the age requirements for the FBI Special Agent position, MA submitted an online job application to the FBI for a “contract linguist/monitor/tester” position.

23. On or about April 14, 2003, MA submitted a written application for a contract linguist position, in Chinese languages, at the FBI Honolulu Field Office, in Honolulu, Hawaii. On or about April 21, 2003, MA used a prepaid calling card to call his MSS handlers to notify them of the status of his efforts to gain FBI employment.

24. On or about May 20, 2004, MA was notified that his background investigation for the contract linguist position was complete and that an employment contract would be ready for review in several weeks. MA agreed to continue the hiring process.

25. On or about August 10, 2004, one day before reporting to work with the FBI, MA telephoned a suspected accomplice and stated that he would be working for “the other side.”

26. On or about August 11, 2004, MA reported to work with the FBI….

Left unsaid in the affidavit is that as a condition of FBI employment, Ma necessarily sat for and passed a pre-employment polygraph “test.” The counterintelligence portion of the polygraph procedure used by the FBI includes relevant questions such as “Have you been involved in espionage or terrorism against the US?” and “Have you had any unauthorized foreign contacts?”

Alexander Yuk Ching Ma
Alexander Yuk Ching Ma
(Facebook, 6 August 2015)

If, as seems likely, the criminal allegations are true, then Ma beat the polygraph to penetrate the FBI.

It is to be noted that around the time Ma applied for employment with the FBI, the Bureau had a roughly 50% polygraph failure rate for special agent applicants, with many honest persons being wrongly branded as liars and barred for life from FBI employment.

SA Jensen’s affidavit goes on to chronicle instances of Ma’s alleged espionage against the FBI up to 30 November 2010. It is possible that Ma faced a second, periodic polygraph screening “test” some time during his FBI employment.

It is not surprising that Ma could have fooled the polygraph. As documented in Chapter 4 of AntiPolygraph.org’s free book, The Lie Behind the Lie Detector (which Ma might have easily found online in 2003), polygraphy is vulnerable to simple, effective countermeasures that polygraph operators cannot detect.

Ma would not be alone in having beaten the FBI’s pre-employment polygraph “test.” On 26 April 2004, Marine Corps veteran Leandro Aragoncillo, acting for current and former officials in the Philippines, beat an FBI pre-employment polygraph “test” to gain employment as an FBI analyst.

Other spies known to have passed the polygraph include Nazi spy Ignatz Theodor Griebl (in the FBI’s first use of the polygraph in a counterintelligence investigation), Czech spies Karel Frantisek Koecher and Jiri Pasovsky, Chinese spy Larry Wu-tai Chin, Russian spy Aldrich Hazen Ames, and Cuban spies Ana Belen Montes and Nicolás Sirgado.

Alexander Yuk Ching Ma in January 2019 meeting with an undercover FBI agent
Alexander Yuk Ching Ma in January 2019 meeting with undercover FBI employee

In 2002, some two years before Ma and Aragoncillo beat the polygraph, the National Academy of Sciences advised 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.”

Sadly, in the aftermath of 9/11, federal agencies ignored this advice. How many more catastrophic failures like the Ma case will it take before the U.S. government terminates its misplaced reliance on the pseudoscience of polygraphy?

Accused WikiLeaks CIA Vault 7 Source Joshua Adam Schulte Knew the Lie Behind the Lie Detector

Joshua Adam Schulte

An exhibit (PDF) submitted by prosecutors in the Espionage Act trial of Joshua Adam Schulte for allegedly providing a collection of CIA hacking tools dubbed “Vault 7” to WikiLeaks shows that Schulte understood that polygraph “testing” is bogus. AntiPolygraph.org has previously reported that Schulte passed multiple CIA polygraphs despite having allegedly downloaded child pornography before seeking CIA employment.

The exhibit, which appears to be an Internet Relay Chat (IRC) transcript, begins with “John” sending “Josh” (Schulte) a link to AntiPolygraph.org’s free book, The Lie Behind the Lie Detector, noting that he was reading it and that it “seems kind of interesting.”

John asks Schulte for his opinion on polygraphs, and he responds that “they’re a means of social engineering” and provides a (no-longer available) link to video of the Penn & Teller Bullshit! documentary series episode on lie detectors.

The chat, which took place over the course of about 11 minutes on January 15th of an unspecified year, concludes with Schulte pasting the following selection from The Lie Behind the Lie Detector and remarking “rofl”:

On Monday, 21 February 1994—just seven days before the Joint Security Commission issued its report—the FBI arrested CIA counterintelligence officer Aldrich Hazen Ames and charged him with spying for the former Soviet Union and later, Russia. Since beginning his betrayal in 1985, Ames had passed two CIA polygraph “tests” during which he falsely denied having committed espionage, first on 2 May 1986 and again on 12 and 16 April 1991.

(In the chat log, the numerals do not appear as a result of the formatting of earlier editions of The Lie Behind the Lie Detector.)

It is not clear what legal argument the chat log is intended to support, but it does help to document the growing understanding of those who are subject to polygraph screening that it is, as Penn and Teller put it, bullshit.

AntiPolygraph.org has transcribed the exhibit (PDF), which was first made available by reporter Matthew Russell Lee (@MatthewLeeICP):

Jan 15 13:18:05 <John> i'm reading this: https://antipolygraph.org/lie-behind-the-lie-detector.pdf
Jan 15 13:18:09 <John> seems kind of interesting
Jan 15 13:18:29 <John> what's your opinion on polygraphs
Jan 15 13:19:03 <Josh> they're a means of social engineering
Jan 15 13:19:16 <Josh> Penn and Teller did a good episode of Bullshit! about polygraphs
Jan 15 13:19:39 <John> yeah
Jan 15 13:20:03 <Josh> https://cryptm.org/data/shows/Bullshit!/Season%207/S07E05%20-%20Lie%20Detectors.avi
Jan 15 13:20:06 <Josh> :)
Jan 15 13:20:09 <Josh> you?
Jan 15 13:20:23 <John> yeah that's basically my opinion too
Jan 15 13:20:26 <Josh> the dude was right, it's the polygraphers who are complete douchebags
Jan 15 13:20:41 <John> i just wonder how hard it is for say a spy to get through an nsa polygraph
Jan 15 13:21:00 <John> like i'd imagine the background checks do a lot more to keep out spies than the polygraph
Jan 15 13:21:21 <Josh> the problem is once someone is in, then the background checks do very little
Jan 15 13:21:32 <Josh> Like, as long as you believe in your lie then you can pass it pretty easily
Jan 15 13:21:44 <Josh> Also, I hear that a lot of people go "inconclusive" in polygraphs
Jan 15 13:21:58 <Josh> meaning there is no clear indicator to the polygraphers
Jan 15 13:22:07 <John> but "inconclusive" means you don't get the clearance
Jan 15 13:22:18 <Josh> nope
Jan 15 13:22:21 <Josh> you can still get it
Jan 15 13:22:24 <John> wtf
Jan 15 13:22:24 <Josh> and you can maintain it
Jan 15 13:22:27 <John> here you don't
Jan 15 13:22:32 <Josh> even if you fail it, you get many more chances to re-take it...
Jan 15 13:22:36 <Josh> says who
Jan 15 13:22:52 <John> i forget
Jan 15 13:22:58 <Josh> I bet it's the same because I know NSA trains your polygraphers
Jan 15 13:23:07 <John> hmmm
Jan 15 13:23:33 <Josh> I mean, it's about the polygraphers and what kind of shit they can get out of you
Jan 15 13:23:38 <Josh> not really about the test itself
Jan 15 13:24:31 <Josh> you can still fail it though, I've heard of some people who dont get a clearance because they outright fail the polygraph
Jan 15 13:24:54 <Josh> and that can be for a number of reasons from nervousness to simple physiology
Jan 15 13:25:21 <John> i heard that a lot of co-ops failed to get their clearance because they lied about not having done weed
Jan 15 13:25:33 <Josh> heh
Jan 15 13:25:46 <Josh> that's actually the question I had the most trouble with
Jan 15 13:25:52 <Josh> and apparently I kept failing it
Jan 15 13:25:58 <Josh> even though I've never done drugs...
Jan 15 13:26:02 <John> lol
Jan 15 13:26:20 <Josh> I think the guy was just phishing because he didn't think a college kid had never even tried drugs before :P
Jan 15 13:26:26 <John> haha
Jan 15 13:26:32 <Josh> so fuck that guy
Jan 15 13:26:46 <Josh> he was such a fucking dick
Jan 15 13:27:06 <Josh> he told me, well, you'll probably be on your way back to texas wish you hadnt lied here
Jan 15 13:27:14 <Josh> I was like wtf
Jan 15 13:27:31 <Josh> I even decided if I had to retake it that I'd just tell them to forget it
Jan 15 13:28:16 <Josh> dude there were some people in my access class that failed it like 4-5 times...
Jan 15 13:28:23 <Josh> and others who took 6 years to get cleared
Jan 15 13:28:26 <Josh> I was like, jesus
Jan 15 13:32:16 <Josh> "On Monday, February —just seven days before the Joint Se-
Jan 15 13:32:16 <Josh> curity Commission issued its report—the FBI arrested CIA counter-
Jan 15 13:32:16 <Josh> intelligence officer Aldrich Hazen Ames and charged him with spying
Jan 15 13:32:16 <Josh> for the former Soviet Union and later, Russia. Since beginning his
Jan 15 13:32:16 <Josh> betrayal in , Ames had passed two CIA polygraph "tests" during
Jan 15 13:32:17 <Josh> which he falsely denied having committed espionage, first on
Jan 15 13:32:19 <Josh> May and again on and April .
Jan 15 13:32:21 <Josh> "
Jan 15 13:32:47 <Josh> he went inconclusive
Jan 15 13:39:20 <Josh> hmmm
Jan 15 13:39:25 <Josh> rofl:

WikiLeaks CIA Vault 7 Leak and Child Pornography Suspect Joshua Adam Schulte Passed Multiple Polygraphs

Joshua Adam Schulte

On 23 August 2017, the U.S. Department of Justice indicted former CIA employee Joshua Adam Schulte for receipt, possession, and transportation of child pornography dating back to 2009.

In 2010, Schulte sought and obtained employment with the CIA. All CIA applicants are required to pass a pre-employment polygraph as well as periodic polygraph screening after hire. The relevant questions asked typically include computer crimes including possession of child pornography. In a proceeding held on 24 August 2017, Schulte’s lawyer, Kenneth F. Smith, stated that Schulte had passed a CIA polygraph that addressed the issue of child pornography:

MR. SMITH: …Pursuant to his employment and his security clearances, he has undergone extensive and extreme vetting, including numerous polygraph examinations. He was subjected to polygraph examinations in the beginning, when he started, and continuing throughout his career. And, Judge, particularly I think it’s important to note  in those polygraph examinations and as a part of that vetting, he was asked specifically about this conduct, and he passed all of those polygraphs with flying colors.

Judge, it’s important because…

THE COURT: He was asked about child pornography in the polygraphs?

MR. SMITH: That’s correct, Judge.

On 18 June 2018, the U.S. Department of Justice issued a superseding indictment additionally charging Schulte with, among other things, “illegal gathering of national defense information…for the purpose of providing it to, and causing it to be provided to, an organization that purports to publicly disseminate classified, sensitive, and confidential information (“Organization-1″), which posted the Classfied Information on the Internet.”

“Organization-1” is widely understood to be WikiLeaks, and the national defense information in question is widely understood to be WikiLeaks’ “Vault 7” release of CIA hacking tools, publication of which began in March 2017.

The indictment alleges that Schulte gathered this information in 2016, the year he left CIA employment. It is unknown whether Schulte was polygraphed after the time that he allegedly gathered information allegedly provided to WikiLeaks.

In any event, if the child pornography charges against Schulte, which again date to 2009, a year before the CIA hired him, are true, and if the polygraph is capable of detecting deception, as the CIA and other federal agencies claim, then the polygraph should have eliminated Schulte from consideration for CIA employment. But it didn’t.

Book Review: A Life of Lies and Spies by Alan B. Trabue

a-life-of-spies-and-liesAlan B. Trabue retired from the Central Intelligence Agency in 2011 after a 40-year career, 38 years of which he spent in the polygraph division. AntiPolygraph.org has received a review copy of his memoir, A Life of Lies and Spies: Tales of a CIA Ops Polygraph Interrogator (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2015). The book comprises numerous entertaining anecdotes about polygraph examinations the author conducted on agents recruited by CIA case officers, with a special focus on operational security matters. As Trabue notes in his epilogue, it is his hope that his story not only entertains, “but also helps keep others in the world of espionage and covert activities safe from harm.” While Trabue provides relatively little detail about polygraph procedure, or about the history of the CIA polygraph division, this review will focus on such details; more general reviews of the book are available here and here.

Trabue notes that when he first interviewed with the CIA polygraph section in 1972, it was known as the “Interrogation Research Section.” The cryptic name is understandable when one realizes that polygraph “testing” is all about interrogation. Trabue refers to himself as a “polygraph interrogator” (p. 7), noting (at pp. 29-30):

During my training, it was constantly stressed that the CIA considered the polygraph process to be an aid to interrogation. My training officer stressed that my mission was to obtain any reportable information regarding the issues under investigation and report the information to the adjudicators. Interrogation and the reporting of information obtained during polygraph examinations were stressed much more than the technical results of actual polygraph testing….

But despite this acknowledgement, Trabue seems not to understand that polygraphy lacks any scientific basis and to actually believe that polygraph charts are a reliable indicator of deception, noting at p. 79, that “[a]fter a deceptive response has been clearly identified on the polygraph charts, an interrogator will confront the examinee with that fact.” He writes that [m]any [polygraph examiners] had cases with polygraph charts clearly indicating that an agent was a double agent…” (p. 83) and speaks of “unmistakable deceptive reactions” (p. 177).

Alan B. Trabue
Alan B. Trabue

Of course, there is no such thing as a “deceptive response” that can be “clearly identified” on polygraph charts. The entire procedure is pseudoscience–the brainchild of interrogators who had little grasp of the scientific method. The author’s failure to understand this after nearly four decades as a polygraph examiner bears out Upton Sinclair’s observation that “[i]t is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.”

Trabue notes that when conducting polygraph examinations of agents recruited from within foreign intelligence services, he “tried to make posttest decisions based solely on analysis of the polygraph charts and avoided any posttest interrogation” (p. 92). No doubt he was following CIA polygraph protocols, but any reliance on polygraph chart readings is misplaced: the procedure is inherently biased against the truthful and yet easily defeated by liars using simple countermeasures that polygraph operators cannot detect.1

Trabue actually provides an example of the unreliability of polygraph chart readings in Chapter 12 (“Castro’s Buddy Beats the Box”). This chapter tells the story of Trabue’s experience conducting “a very thorough polygraph interview and examination” of a Cuban agent recruited by the CIA. Trabue notes that “the results [were]…clearly and unmistakably nondeceptive” and that he “was confident in [his] analysis and with the final call of No Deception Indicated.” But Trabue adds:

Cuban Interior Ministry Officer Nicolas Sirgado (1935-2013)
Cuban Interior Ministry Officer Nicolas Sirgado (1935-2013)

There is an unexpected and bitter ending to this story. In a most unfortunate turn of events, about two years later I was advised that Fidel Castro had been seen on Cuban television with his arm around the shoulders of the agent I tested. Castro revealed to the world that my examinee had been a double agent against American intelligence for many years….

Trabue does not name the Cuban double agent who beat him, but his account closely matches reporting on the late Cuban intelligence officer Nicolás Sirgado, who beat the CIA polygraph three times.

In a letter penned in 2000, convicted spy Aldrich Hazen Ames, who twice passed CIA polygraph screening examinations while spying for the Russians, offered insight into why the CIA continues to rely on polygraphy despite ample evidence of its unreliablity: bureaucratic CYA:

Deciding whether to trust or credit a person is always an uncertain task, and in a variety of situations a bad, lazy or just unlucky decision about a person can result not only in serious problems for the organization and its purposes, but in career-damaging blame for the unfortunate decision-maker. Here, the polygraph is a scientific godsend: the bureaucrat accounting for a bad decision, or sometimes for a missed opportunity (the latter is much less often questioned in a bureaucracy) can point to what is considered an unassailably objective, though occasionally and unavoidably fallible, polygraph judgment. All that was at fault was some practical application of a “scientific” technique, like those frozen O-rings, or the sandstorms between the Gulf and Desert One in 1980.

An anecdote recounted by Trabue (at pp. 197-98) speaks to this sort of reliance on polygraphy as a means of skirting responsibility for one’s decisions:

There was one other occasion when I was pressured, again from the chief of an office. I was within minutes of leaving the office to test an agent who was going to be involved in a diplomatically sensitive and expensive operation.

As I prepared for the case in a vacant office, the chief entered ans slowly approached. Putting his knuckles on the desk, he leaned over me, made sure he had my eye, and said, “I expect DI or NDI results.”

His words were delivered with all the menace, threat, and intimidation he could muster.

He paused and then added, “I don’t want to hear any of that Inconclusive crap.”

At first, I thought he was joking. His menacing words were delivered in an overbearing, intimidating manner and brought an instant smile to my face, but I quickly saw from the expression on his face that he was dead serious.

As my smile faded, I said, “Sir, I’ll do my best to get clear test results, but unfortunately the outcome of some polygraph tests is an Inconclusive call. Sometimes there are health reasons, and sometimes there are just inconsistent and erratic responses for unknown reasons. Inconclusive means you don’t know one way or the other. I’m not about to flip a coin jsut to make it DI or NDI.”

“I want DI or NDI,” he said, glaring down at me. “That Inconclusive call won’t do me any good. We’ve got an expensive operation about to start, and I’ve got to know one way or the other.”

I repeated, “I’ll do my best, but an Inconclusive call is a possibility.”

Still hovering over me, he slowly and emphatically repeated, “I want a DI or NDI call.” He raised himself to full height again, turned his back to me, and walked out of the office.

CIA polygraph trivia mentioned includes the fact that for decades the CIA used the Stoelting three-channel Executive Model polygraph with a communal inkwell that held red ink. The instrument was built into a briefcase  and weighed about 25 pounds (pp. 129-30, 239). Trabue notes that “[t]here was a standing joke in Polygraph Section that foreign intelligence services could easily identify CIA polygraph examiners because their right arm was longer than their left arm” (pp. 118-19).

Trabue also unwittingly offers a counterinterrogation tip for polygraph examinees (p. 229):

All interrogation officers are familiar with the concept called “throwing a bone,” wherein an examinee offers an interrogator information to throw him off track. It is a stalling tactic, usually an act of desperation, used in the hope that the interrogator will take that bone and run with it for a while and perhaps even believe that the bone is the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. A “bone” may be information fabricated by the agent, it may be a partial truth, and it may be an entirely true piece of information, but it most certainly is not the information that the examinee was really concealing during interrogation. After a lengthy interrogation, a confession will many times be treated by an interrogator as a bone thrown by the examinee. The interrogator will say something like, “John, thanks for telling me that, but that could not possibly explain the massive reactions I saw on your polygraph charts. Something much more serious caused you to react. John, what else is there?” The interrogator will continue with the interrogation as if there had been no confession. If what the examinee said was truly the reason for his reactions, he will continue to offer his story over and over again, because he has nothing else to add. (emphasis added)

As one of only three published memoirs by a retired CIA polygraph examiner,2 Trabue’s My Life of Lies and Spies will be of interest to all concerned with polygraphy, interrogation, or intelligence operations.

  1. For an overview of such countermeasures, see Chapter 4 of AntiPolygraph.org’s free book, The Lie Behind the Lie Detector. []
  2. The other two being Of Spies and Lies: A CIA Lie Detector Remembers Vietnam and  Gatekeeper: Memoirs of a CIA Polygraph Examiner, both by John F. Sullivan. []

Federal Polygraph School Gave Countermeasure Information to Polygraph Company

Coming on the heels of an accusation that a senior official at the National Center for Credibility Assessment (NCCA) facilitated the transfer of classified information to the government of Singapore via the Lafayette Instrument Company, AntiPolygraph.org has received information that NCCA has provided polygraph countermeasure documentation to a representative of Stoelting Co., another polygraph-manufacturing company. In 2004, Stoelting’s then CEO Lavern Miller pleaded guilty to attempting to export polygraph instruments to China without a license.

The documention provided by NCCA to the Stoelting representative forms the basis of a slide presentation, a copy of which was made available to AntiPolygraph.org. The presentation includes a caution to keep the information provided in the presentation confidential (slide 2):stoelting-countermeasures (p.2)Of particular note, the presentation includes previously unpublished color screen shots from a pre-employment polygraph examination conducted by the CIA in 1997. This polygraph examination formed the basis for a 1999 American Polygraph Association (APA) journal article co-authored by the CIA polygrapher who conducted it and Donald J. Krapohl, the NCCA official recently accused of an Espionage Act violation.1

Screen shots in the slide presentation include details not shown in the 1999 article, such as the various questions asked, the precise date of the polygraph session, and the fact that it was a CIA polygraph examination. (In the 1999 article published in the APA quarterly, Polygraph, the CIA is not named as the agency involved.) This polygraph screen shot (slide 12) shows the date that the examination was conducted, 30 April 1997, and reveals one of the probable-lie “control” questions used:

stoelting-countermeasures (p.12)

Slide 24 shows that the PolyScore polygraph chart-scoring software developed by the U.S. government gave the examinee a passing score. It also reveals the specific relevant questions that were asked in this polygraph examination:stoelting-countermeasures (p.24)

As we see, the relevant questions were:

  1. Have you been offered any money to work for a foreign intelligence service?
  2. Have you secretly provided the [redacted] technology to any foreign government?
  3. Have you been directed to penetrate the CIA by any foreign intelligence service?

Combine this with the probable-lie “control” questions cited in earlier slides:

  1. Other than what we discussed, have you ever misrepresented you [sic] academic abilities to make yourself look important?
  2. Before joining the military, did you ever lie about anythig [sic] that you don’t want the CIA to find out about?

and you have the key information required to successfully defeat such a polygraph examination.

Polygraph examinations are not difficult to defeat, and it would be hard to credibly argue that public release of the information contained in the presentation will harm U.S. national security interests in any way. But this is the kind of information that NCCA’s parent agency, the Defense Intelligence Agency, would probably withhold from a member of the public who requested it under the Freedom of Information Act. Yet such things seemingly circulate among NCCA’s favored friends.

It’s worth noting that the examinee in the above case study had purchased Doug Williams’ manual, “How to Sting the Polygraph.” The CIA polygraph examiner suspected countermeasures because of the large size of a reaction, but was only able to confirm that countermeasures were employed because the examinee admitted such when asked. An in-depth discussion of this case may be found on the AntiPolygraph.org message board.

The presentation (6.6 mb PDF | 6.8 mb PPTX) runs on for a total of 134 slides, but like other polygraph community documentation on countermeasures previously published by AntiPolygraph.org, it offers no coherent strategy for detecting the kinds of countermeasures described in AntiPolygraph.org’s free book, The Lie Behind the Lie Detector (1 mb PDF), or in former police polygraphist Doug Williams’ manual, “How to Sting the Polygraph.”

Update: With respect to why a polygraph manufacturer might want NCCA training slides on countermeasures, note that as McClatchy reporter Marisa Taylor mentioned last year in her article, “Polygraph world’s close ties spark accusations of favoritism,” Stoelting Co. has purchased a polygraph school. While Stoelting refused comment to Taylor on this, it appears that the polygraph school Stoelting purchased is the Academy of Polygraph Science in Fort Myers, Florida.

  1. The CIA polygrapher wrote under a pseudonym, Peter S. London. The article citation is, London, Peter S. and Donald J. Krapohl, “A Case Study in PDD Countermeasures,” Polygraph, Vol. 28, No. 2 (1999), pp. 143-148. []

U.S. Government Circulates Watch List of Buyers of Information on How to Pass a Polygraph Test

cbp-ia-emblemMcClatchy investigative reporter Marisa Taylor reports that a list of 4,904 individuals whose names were derived from the customer records of Doug Williams and Chad Dixon, both of whom were targeted in a U.S. Customs and Border Protection-led criminal investigation called Operation Lie Busters, has been circulated to nearly 30 federal agencies including the CIA, NSA, DIA, DOE, IRS, and FDA. Exerpt:

WASHINGTON — U.S. agencies collected and shared the personal information of thousands of Americans in an attempt to root out untrustworthy federal workers that ended up scrutinizing people who had no direct ties to the U.S. government and simply had purchased certain books.

Federal officials gathered the information from the customer records of two men who were under criminal investigation for purportedly teaching people how to pass lie detector tests. The officials then distributed a list of 4,904 people – along with many of their Social Security numbers, addresses and professions – to nearly 30 federal agencies, including the Internal Revenue Service, the CIA, the National Security Agency and the Food and Drug Administration.

Although the polygraph-beating techniques are unproven, authorities hoped to find government employees or applicants who might have tried to use them to lie during the tests required for security clearances. Officials with multiple agencies confirmed that they’d checked the names in their databases and planned to retain the list in case any of those named take polygraphs for federal jobs or criminal investigations.

It turned out, however, that many people on the list worked outside the federal government and lived across the country. Among the people whose personal details were collected were nurses, firefighters, police officers and private attorneys, McClatchy learned. Also included: a psychologist, a cancer researcher and employees of Rite Aid, Paramount Pictures, the American Red Cross and Georgetown University.

Moreover, many of them had only bought books or DVDs from one of the men being investigated and didn’t receive the one-on-one training that investigators had suspected. In one case, a Washington lawyer was listed even though he’d never contacted the instructors. Dozens of others had wanted to pass a polygraph not for a job, but for a personal reason: The test was demanded by spouses who suspected infidelity.

The unprecedented creation of such a list and decision to disseminate it widely demonstrate the ease with which the federal government can collect and share Americans’ personal information, even when there’s no clear reason for doing so.

It’s well worth reading the rest of the story. In addition, a DoD response to a McClatchy Newspapers inquiry indicates that Operation Lie Busters remains an ongoing investigation. In declining to answer whether it had checked names on the list against its records, DoD wrote:
The Department of Defense (DoD) has an active criminal investigation, working with US Customs and Border Protection, into the potential training of DoD civilian polygraph examinees in the use of countermeasures and making false statements. Because this is an active criminal investigation, we cannot provide any further information at this time.
Taylor also reveals that NSA whistleblower Edward J. Snowden “underwent two polygraphs for his NSA job” and that “he wasn’t found to have used polygraph-beating techniques to pass them.” Of course, that’s hardly surprising. No polygraph operator has ever demonstrated any ability to detect polygraph countermeasures. A collection of polygraph community countermeasure training materials published by AntiPolygraph.org earlier this year documents that the polygraph community has no coherent methodology for detecting the kind of countermeasures explained in Doug Williams’ manual, How to Sting the Polygraph, or in AntiPolygraph.org’s free book, The Lie Behind the Lie Detector (PDF). Indeed, the very existence of Operation Lie Busters speaks to the federal government’s frustration in this regard. Taylor’s article does not mention whether Snowden’s polygraphs came before or after he began collecting the documents that he ultimately provided to journalists Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras.

CIA Director Brennan Allegedly Threatened CIA Employees With Polygraphs on Benghazi

Greta van Susteren with Sen. Lindsey Graham, 6 May 2013
Greta van Susteren with Sen. Lindsey Graham, 6 May 2013

On 6 May 2013, Greta van Susteren told U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) that Fox News has information that CIA Director John Brennan has threatened Agency employees who might provide information to Congress regarding the 11 September 2012 raid on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya with polygraphs. Sen. Graham said he had heard the same thing:

Van Susteren: We have information that people from the CIA want to come out and testify, but they’ve been told by the CIA director, Brennan, specifically they will be polygraphed if they are tied to this. Do you have any information to corroborate that?

Graham: I’ve heard that same story. I know there’s some CIA agents reaching out. They feel frustrated….

The exchange occurs about two minutes into the segment, which may be viewed on-line here. It should be noted that polygraph “testing” has no scientific basis, and polygraph operators can manipulate outcomes to satisfy the wishes of management.

Also with regard to Benghazi and polygraphs, on 3 April 2013, former CIA and State Department employee Larry C. Johnson reported on his No Quarter blog in a post titled The CIA Playing Hardball on Benghazi:

When I first heard of this from a friend who had first hand knowledge, I was still skeptical. What did I hear? The CIA is conducting weekly polygraphs of officers who work in paramilitary activities (I knew it as Special Activities Division back in my day) and were involved in supporting the operations at Benghazi, Libya last September. So, I asked another friend to run his traps. He reported the same plus that the Intelligence Officers are being pressured to sign an additional Non-Disclosure form.

AntiPolygraph.org welcomes any information readers may be able to provide regarding the use or threat of polygraphs to deter whistleblowing.