Representative Darrell Issa Proposes Polygraph Screening for Congress

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA)
Rep. Darrell Issa

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) has proposed polygraph screening for members of Congress who receive CIA briefings. Susan Crabtree reports for The Hill:

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) wants fellow lawmakers who receive classified CIA briefings to submit to polygraph tests.

“We should have a very high standard for those who are briefed by CIA — to make sure the information isn’t compromised and [lawmakers] who are briefed are telling the truth about what they’ve been told,” he said. “Fact-finding and oversight is only as good as the group of people able to do it.”


Issa said he first believed all members of Congress with oversight over the CIA should submit to polygraph tests during former Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham’s (R-Calif.) bribery scandal that ultimately landed him in jail. Issa, the ranking member on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, won a seat on the Intelligence panel after Cunningham resigned his seat in Congress and pleaded guilty to taking $2 million in bribes in a criminal conspiracy involving at least three defense contractors.

Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R-Mich.), the ranking member on Intelligence, quickly shot down the idea of forcing members to submit to polygraph tests, arguing that constitutional separation-of-powers protections would prevent the FBI or the CIA from administering the test to federal lawmakers. Hoesktra, an outspoken defender of the agency, had spent weeks hammering Pelosi over her charges that the CIA lied in its congressional briefings.

“We’re not talking about leaks — that’s a very different issue,” he said. “[The idea of polygraphs] open[s] a whole series of separation-of-powers questions. The FBI cannot be evaluating the people who manage them.”

Issa said he believed that Congress could develop and administer its own polygraphs.

Rep. Issa’s assumption that polygraph screening increases security is deeply flawed. As the National Academy of Sciences has confirmed, polygraphy has no scientific basis. It’s inherently biased against the truthful, yet easily fooled through the use of simple, readily available countermeasures.

Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-Fla.), a member of the Intelligence panel, was even more blunt.

“Cut me some slack,” he said when asked whether he believed members on the Intelligence panel should submit to polygraph tests. “We take an oath to uphold the Constitution when we’re elected.”

But military, intelligence, and law enforcement officers subject to polygraph screening also take an oath to uphold the Constitution when they are hired. That doesn’t immunize them from having their honesty and integrity assessed through the pseudoscience of polygraphy.

If members of Congress are unwilling to subject themselves to polygraph screening, then they should close the giant loophole in the 1988 Employee Polygraph Protection Act that allows federal, state, and local government agencies to use this voodoo science on applicants and employees.

Polygraph Hypocrite Richard Shelby Behind Firing of L. Britt Snider

In a puff piece on Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL) titled “Shelby’s doubts drove inquiry”, St. Petersburg Times staff writer Mary Jacoby notes that it was Senator Shelby who was behind the sacking of L. Britt Snider as head of the joint congressional inquiry into the intelligence failings surrounding the events of 11 September 2001. Snider was fired for having hired a staffer who had “failed” a CIA polygraph “test” — a “test” that the National Academy of Sciences has recently declared to be without validity. Excerpt:

Eventually, Shelby, Graham, Goss and Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., House Intelligence Committee ranking member, agreed on a one-year, $2.6-million joint inquiry.

The next problem was getting someone to run it. Shelby thought he had the perfect choice: former Department of Defense Inspector Eleanor Hill.

Hill was not only a Democrat who had come highly recommended by her former boss, ex-Sen. Sam Nunn, D-Ga., but she was a Florida native and former Tampa federal prosecutor.

Shelby said he thought this background would make Hill especially appealing to the Floridians [Graham and Goss].

But when Shelby put forth her name, he found out that Graham and Goss had hired someone.

As former special counsel to Central Intelligence Agency director George Tenet, L. Britt Snider had been a close associate of the very man the joint panel was investigating.

“I questioned whether Snider would be independent enough to conduct an open, unbiased and hard-hitting inquiry,” Shelby said. “But I went along in a spirit of bipartisanship.”

An anonymous caller, though, soon tipped a Shelby aide off to the fact that Snider had hired a staffer for the inquiry who had failed a CIA polygraph examination.

Bam! Shelby had the ammunition to oust Snider. The Floridians quickly hired Hill, who proceeded to release a series of devastating staff reports that helped churn public opinion in favor of intelligence reform.

Earlier this year, when FBI agents investigating a suspected leak of classified information asked Shelby and other senators if they would be willing to submit to a polygraph test, Shelby sputtered, “I don’t know who among us would take a lie-detector test. First of all, they’re not even admissible in court, and second of all, the leadership [of both parties] have told us not to do that.”

“FBI Leak Probe Irks Lawmakers: Many Spurn Polygraph Requests on Issue of NSA’s 9/11 Intercept

Washington Post staff writer Dana Priest reports in this front page article. Excerpt:

FBI agents have questioned nearly all 37 members of the Senate and House intelligence committees and have asked many if they would be willing to submit to lie detector tests as part of a broad investigation into leaks of classified information related to the Sept. 11 attacks, according to officials involved in the inquiry.

Most of the lawmakers have told the FBI they would refuse a polygraph, citing the constitutional separation of powers between the legislative and executive branches of government and the unreliability of the exam, those involved in the inquiry said.

Although the chairmen of the intelligence committees, Sen. Bob Graham (D-Fla.) and Rep. Porter J. Goss (R-Fla.), asked the FBI to conduct the inquiry, its unprecedented scale has angered some lawmakers, according to people close to the investigation. The lawmakers are unhappy that the FBI, an agency they oversee, is investigating them.

In addition to committee members, FBI agents have questioned 60 congressional staff members and officials at the CIA, the Defense Department and the National Security Agency. They are trying to find the source of news stories that quoted Arabic communications making vague references to an impending attack on the United States, which were intercepted by the NSA on Sept. 10 but not translated until Sept. 12.

Ranit Schmelzer, spokeswoman for Senate Majority Leader Thomas A. Daschle (D-S.D.), said Daschle had “grave concerns about the congressional separation of powers issues raised by having one branch of government asking to polygraph employees of another branch.” But, she added in a statement, “this matter is between the House and Senate intelligence committees and the Justice Department. The intelligence committees asked the Justice Department to conduct this investigation and it is up to these parties to determine the appropriate guidance” for members regarding the polygraph.

“Leak Probe: FBI Wants Polygraphs for Lawmakers”

The Associated Press reports in this article carried on the CNN.com website:

WASHINGTON (AP) — Several members of the House and Senate intelligence committees have been asked by the FBI to take lie-detector tests as part of an investigation into the leak of documents related to the September 11 attacks, a law enforcement official said.

The official emphasized that the polygraph exams “are always voluntary.”

“Lie-detector tests are a standard element of FBI investigations and they are meant to eliminate people from suspicion,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity late Thursday.

The Washington Post reported in Friday editions that nearly all 37 members of the intelligence committees have been questioned and many have been asked to take polygraphs.

Several lawmakers have refused to take the test, citing the constitutional separation of powers between the legislative and executive branches of government, along with the unreliability of the exams, the newspaper said.

“F.B.I. Inquiry on 9/11 Leak Upsets Lawmakers on Committees”

Christopher Marquis reports for the New York Times. This short article is cited here in full:

WASHINGTON, Aug. 1 — The F.B.I. has interviewed dozens of members of the House and Senate intelligence committees and asked them to submit to lie detector tests as part of an effort to learn who leaked classified material to reporters in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Congressional officials said today.

But a number of the lawmakers on the committees have refused to take the polygraph tests and have voiced uneasiness over the constitutional precedent of being investigated by the agency they oversee, the officials said.

Ranit Schmelzer, a spokeswoman for Senator Tom Daschle of South Dakota, the majority leader, said the inquiry had provoked “grave concerns about the constitutional separation of powers issues raised by having one branch of government administering a polygraph to employees of another branch.”

Still, Ms. Schmelzer said, the matter “is between the House and Senate intelligence committees and the Justice Department.”

The committee had asked that the F.B.I. conduct the investigation into accusations of leaks of secret information by someone affiliated with the committee and, Ms. Schmelzer said, it was up to the bureau and the committee officials to develop appropriate guidelines.

Lawmakers’ complaints about the F.B.I. inquiry were first reported in the Friday issue of The Washington Post, which said nearly all 37 members of the two committees had been interviewed, as well as 60 Congressional staff members and officials at the Central Intelligence Agency, the Pentagon and the National Security Agency.

The F.B.I. inquiry was requested by the chairmen of the intelligence committees, Senator Bob Graham, Democrat of Florida, and Representative Porter J. Goss, Republican of Florida, after news organizations reported on Arabic conversations that had been intercepted by the National Security Agency a day before the attacks.

That disclosure embarrassed the officials at the security agency, which failed to translate conversations that anticipated the attacks until Sept. 12. The agency intercepts reportedly included the remark: “Tomorrow is zero hour.”

“FBI’s Sept. 11 Leak Probe Irks Senators”

John Bresnahan reports for Roll Call. Excerpt:

FBI agents began fanning out on Capitol Hill in recent weeks, questioning Senators serving on the Intelligence Committee as part of an unprecedented effort to find out who leaked classified information from the Congressional probe of intelligence failures prior to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

FBI officials are also asking Hill staffers caught up in the investigation to submit to polygraph examinations, according to Congressional sources.

FBI agents are asking the staffers if they would undergo polygraphs, although the number of staffers who have actually been tested so far cannot be determined. No similar requests have been made of lawmakers who serve on the panels.

FBI May Polygraph Congressional Staff in Leaks Probe

Los Angeles Times staff writers Paul Richter and Greg Miller report in an article titled, “White House Moves to Tighten Loose Lips, Stop Leaks to Media.” Excerpt:

WASHINGTON –The Bush administration, until now considered one of the most effective ever at controlling information, is suddenly struggling to plug leaks that threaten political embarrassment and, officials say, harm to national security.

FBI investigators recently were interrogating the staff of a congressional panel probing intelligence failures of Sept. 11, and they may take the unprecedented step of using polygraph exams.

After a public display of anger by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, Pentagon officials have begun an inquiry into who gave newspapers draft war plans for a possible attack on Iraq. And the State Department took the highly unusual step recently of detaining a reporter at its Foggy Bottom headquarters in an effort to find out who leaked a classified diplomatic cable that contained embarrassing information about the department’s visa program.

Top administration officials have said from the beginning of President Bush’s term that they are serious about enforcing the laws that make it a crime to leak classified documents. But not until now has it become fully apparent how vigorous they are willing to be.

The cases also demonstrate the limits on how tightly any administration can control information. Though Bush’s team is known for keeping the lid on–even Cabinet members were unaware of Bush’s plan to create a Department of Homeland Security–the president’s team has not been able to control everyone in the executive branch or in Congress.

And questions are beginning to arise about the wisdom of even trying to root out the sources of leaks.

William Kristol, who was chief of staff to former Vice President Dan Quayle, said the government should only mobilize against leaks that genuinely threaten lives and national security.

“There’s not much evidence that any of the leaks here are of that character,” said Kristol, now editor of the Weekly Standard magazine.

The Capitol Hill investigation was launched last month after news organizations, citing congressional sources, disclosed contents of a classified briefing by the ultra-secret National Security Agency.

In closed-door testimony, NSA officials reportedly acknowledged that the agency had intercepted Al Qaeda messages Sept. 10 saying “tomorrow is zero day” and “the match begins tomorrow,” but had not translated the messages from Arabic until Sept. 12. Within hours of the officials’ testimony, those messages were being reported on television and on the Internet.

Angered by the disclosure, Vice President Dick Cheney called the chairmen of the House and Senate intelligence committees, demanding a crackdown. The lawmakers, Sen. Bob Graham (D-Fla.) and Rep. Porter J. Goss (R-Fla.), responded by sending a letter to Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft inviting an inquiry.

Among the questions staff members faced was whether they would be willing to submit to polygraph tests, according to one aide.

Polygraphs for Congressmen in Leak Probe?

In an article titled, “AG Asked to Hunt for Sept. 11 Leaks,” the Associated Press reports that the House and Senate intelligence committees have asked the U.S. Attorney General to investigate a press leak regarding NSA intercepts of Al Qaeda communications. The article notes: “Asked if lawmakers would submit to FBI interviews and polygraphs, [House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence Chairman Porter] Goss said they ‘will cooperate with the FBI in any way possible.'”

“Faulty Lie Detector”

The St. Petersburg Times calls for dumping the polygraph in this editorial. Excerpt:

In a stark overreaction to the spying allegations against Wen Ho Lee, a scientist at the Los Alamos weapons lab in New Mexico, Congress ordered the Energy Department to begin a massive polygraph screening program for employees at the nation’s nuclear weapons labs. About 16,000 people in jobs with possible access to sensitive material were selected for security evaluations utilizing polygraph tests.

But the results of those tests have not been what Congress intended. Rather than flushing out spies in our midst, they have demoralized staff with false positive results and driven top scientists from our nuclear weapons program. Now, a study by the National Research Council suggests that polygraph tests are practically useless for security screening.

The 245-page report indicates that polygraph tests, which measure physiological changes of subjects as they are questioned, have little actual science backing up their validity. This reliability problem has always dogged the tests, which are not admissible in court except in rare instances. Even so, they continue to be widely used as an investigative technique.

The report’s findings would be little more than an interesting note if lie detector tests weren’t so damaging. In criminal investigations, they can create a rush to judgment. Police may abandon other leads and focus on making the evidence fit a certain suspect who failed a lie detector test, when in fact the results may be a false positive. Polygraph tests used as an employment screening device can harm morale, while offering little in the way of enhanced security.