Ignatz Theodor Griebl: The Nazi Spy Who Escaped Thanks to the Polygraph

The FBI’s first documented use of the polygraph in an espionage investigation came in 1938 in connection with a Nazi German spy ring operating in the United States. The most important suspect interrogated with the polygraph was Dr. Ignatz Theodor Griebl, a medical officer in the U.S. army reserve who is believed to have been the ring’s coordinator.

According to the lead FBI investigator, Special Agent Leon G. Turrou, the results of a polygraph examination administered to Dr. Griebl on 5 May 1938 “made us relax all vigilance, all watchfulness over him.” Five days later, Griebl fled to Germany aboard the S.S. Bremen.

AntiPolygraph.org has previously made available Chapter 15 of Leon Turrou’s memoir, Nazi Spies in America, which discusses the role of polygraphy in the Nazi spy ring investigation. We have also obtained and published FBI case file documents related to Griebl’s polygraph examination.

However, until recently, we had never seen a photograph of polygraph-passing spy Theodor Ignatz Griebl. Recently, two archival news photographs of Griebl were offered for public sale. AntiPolygraph.org has obtained both of them and places them into the public domain.

The first photograph has a mimeographed short news story dated 18 May 1938 (eight days after Griebl fled the country) glued to the back. It appears that a person behind Griebl has been painted out of the picture with gray paint. Features of Griebl’s face, hair, and spectacles have also been retouched with paint.

Ignatz Theodor Griebl (second photograph)
241255 KEY SPY WITNESS FEARED KIDNAPED DR. IGNATZ T. GRIEBL, (ABOVE), THE GOVERNMENT’S CHIEF WITNESS AGAINST A FOREIGN SPY RING, LEFT NEW YORK QUIETLY ON THE LINER BREMEN, RECENTLY, AND IS NOW BELIEVED TO BE IN GERMANY, IT WAS REVEALED TODAY. DR. GRIEBL, NATURALIZED AMERICAN CITIZEN, WAS KEPT AWAY FROM THE FRENCH SURETE OF POLICE WHEN THEY BOARDED THE LINER AT CHERBOURG TO QUESTION HIM AT THE REQUEST OF THE UNITED STATES AMBASSADOR TO FRANCE, WILLIAM C. BULLITT. THE MASTER OF THE BREMEN ORDERED THE FRENCH DETECTIVES TO LEAVE THE VESSEL. G-MEN ARE INVESTIGATING TO DETERMINE WHETHER THE PHYSICIANS WAS “SHANGHAIED” ABOARD THE LINER AND FORCED TO RETURN TO GERMANY, OR WHETHER HIS DEPARTURE WAS VOLUNTARY. DR. GRIEBL FORMERLY WAS AN OFFICER IN THE GERMAN MILITARY INTELLIGENCE. A WOMAN AT THE PHYSICIAN’S HOME SAID HE WAS “ON VACATION.” CREDIT LINE (ACME) 5/18/38 (#1 FOR JAP IT MEX BA)

Initial fears that Griebl had been kidnapped proved to be unfounded.

The second photograph has a mimeographed news story dated 14 October 1938 glued to the back. However, this unretouched photograph appears to have been taken at the same time as the previous photograph, as Griebl appears to be in the same location wearing the same clothes.

Ignatz Theodor Griebl (second photograph)
675533..WATCH YOUR CREDIT..INTERNATIONAL NEWS PHOTO SLUG(GRIEBL) HE’LL BE AT SPY TRIAL –IN SPIRIT NEW YORK…….ALTHOUGH HE WAS REGARDED AS ONE OF THE KEY MEN IN THE ALLEGED SPY RING UNCOVERED HERE LAST FEBRUARY, DR. IGNATZ GRIEBL (ABOVE) WILL NOT BE PRESENT IN THE FLESH AT THE TRIAL OF THE ESPIONAGE SUSPECTS THAT OPENED HERE AT FEDERAL COURT THIS MORNING. DR. GRIEBL, FORMER HEAD OF THE NAZI FRIENDS OF NEW GERMANY AND A FORMER RESERVE OFFICER IN THE U.S. ARMY MEDICAL CORPS, FLED TO GERMANY WHILE UNDER BAIL AFTER HE HAD “SPILLED” THE STORY OF THE CONSPIRACY TO FEDERAL AGENTS. U.S. INVESTIGATORS RECENTLY RETURNED FROM EUROPE AFTER AGAINS QUESTIONING DR. GRIEBL. TESTIMONY THUS ACQUIRED MAY BE PRESENTED AT THE CURRENT TRIAL. W.10-14-38-10.30

The experience of 1938 should have served as a warning to the FBI and other federal agencies that polygraphy is not to be relied upon. Nonetheless, a decade later the CIA and NSA implemented mandatory polygraph screening, with numerous other federal agencies eventually following suit.

Sadly, in 2020 the pseudoscience of polygraphy, which has not improved in any meaningful way since its spectacular failure in 1938, sits as the centerpiece of U.S. counterintelligence and personnel security policy.

NCCA Interview & Interrogation Manual

The 1991 Department of Defense Polygraph Institute (DoDPI) interrogation manual, Interview & Interrogation (PDF) is among the first documents published by AntiPolygraph.org nearly 20 years ago.

Since then, DoDPI has undergone two name changes and is now called the “National Center for Credibility Assessment” (NCCA). AntiPolygraph.org has obtained and now made available the November 2013 NCCA version of Interview & Interrogation (PDF). This document is also available in Microsoft Word format.

In addition, we have obtained and published a 9-page Counterintelligence Post-Test Interview Supplement dated November 2013. This document, too, is also available in Microsoft Word format. This document provides minimization/rationalization strategies or “themes” for eliciting admissions in post-polygraph counterintelligence interrogations.

Both of these documents are marked “For Official Use Only” and include the admonition, “No part of this handbook may be reproduced or distributed in any form or stored in a database or retrieval system without the written permission of the Director of NCCA.”

These documents make it clear that polygraph “tests” are actually interrogations in disguise and will be of interest to all who may face polygraph “testing.”

DIA to Expand and Outsource Polygraph Screening

Associated Press writer Pamela Hess reports on the Defense Intelligence Agency’s scheme to greatly expand polygraph screening of its personnel. It should be noted that Ana Belen Montes, the most notorious spy ever to infiltrate the DIA, was neither detected nor deterred by polygraph screening:

Pentagon’s intelligence arm steps up lie detecting

By PAMELA HESS – 12 hours ago

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Pentagon’s intelligence arm is adding more polygraph studios and relying on outside contractors for the first time to conduct lie detection tests in an attempt to screen its 5,700 prospective and current employees every year.

The stepped-up effort by the Defense Intelligence Agency is part of a growing emphasis on counterintelligence, detecting and thwarting would-be spies and keeping sensitive information away from America’s enemies.

A polygraph is not foolproof as a screening tool. The test gives a high rate of false positives on innocent people, and guilty subjects can be trained to beat the system, according to expert Charles Honts, a psychology professor at Boise State University.

The National Research Council noted these deficiencies in a 2003 report. The council, an arm of the National Academy of Sciences, found that lie detectors can be useful for ferreting out the truth in specific incidents, but are unreliable for screening prospective national security employees for trustworthiness.

“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 council concluded. “Polygraph testing as currently used has extremely serious limitations in such screening applications, if the intent is both to identify security risks and protect valued employees.”

Continue reading DIA to Expand and Outsource Polygraph Screening

Former CIA Polygrapher John Sullivan Files Suit Against the Agency

Steven Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists’ Secrecy in Government Project reports in his Secrecy News electronic newsletter and blog:

A former polygrapher for the Central Intelligence Agency has filed a lawsuit (pdf) alleging that the Agency unlawfully retaliated against him for publishing a critical account of CIA polygraph programs.

John Sullivan, author of the forthcoming book “Gatekeeper: Memoirs of a CIA Polygraph Examiner,” argued that his security clearance was improperly revoked in the course of a lengthy pre-publication review dispute, though it was ultimately restored.

“The CIA’s treatment of John Sullivan, a former employee who dared speak out, is indicative of a pattern and practice by the CIA of unlawful and disgraceful retaliation through the abuse of the security clearance process,” said Mark S. Zaid, the attorney who is representing Mr. Sullivan.

The allegations were described in an April 5 press release.

The CIA response to the lawsuit will be posted when it is filed.

See the message board thread, Gatekeer: Memoirs of a CIA Polygraph Examiner to discuss the book that cost John Sullivan his security clearance. (Perhaps in recognition that the revocation of his clearance was baseless, the CIA has already restored it.)

Taiwan: “All Intelligence Officials Soon to Face Lie Detectors”

Rich Chang reports for the Taipei Times. Excerpt:

All intelligence officials will be subjected to polygraph tests in future in a bid to root out spies, the Ministry of National Defense (MND) announced yesterday.

Legislators said they support the ministry’s policy, but that they hoped the ministry would take human rights into consideration when implementing the tests.

“Officials of the Military Intelligence Bureau, the military’s electronic information department, the ministry’s security unit and the National Security Bureau will randomly undergo psychological and polygraph tests on a regular basis,” Deputy Minister of National Defense Michael Tsai (蔡明憲) told legislators yesterday.

In the most recent case of espionage, Major Chuang Poh-hsing (莊伯欣), a former official in the ministry’s electronic information department, had on six occasions downloaded secrets form the ministry’s computers and passed them on to China, Tsai said.

“I would like to apologize for the espionage on behalf of the ministry,” Tsai said.

Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator Shuai Hua-min (帥化民), a former head of the National Defense Management College, said he supports the polygraph policy, but that the ministry should conduct the tests properly.

Mr. Shuai is apparently unaware that even a “properly” conducted polygraph “test” is without scientific basis.

“Lie Tests for Spy Suspects”

Niles Lathem reports for the New York Post. This short article is cited here in full:

December 20, 2003 — WASHINGTON – Army counterintelligence agents are forcing many Iraqi employees of the U.S.-led civilian authority in Baghdad to submit to polygraph tests after a list of Saddam Hussein’s spies was discovered in his briefcase, The Post has learned.

Military officials said yesterday “several” Iraqis working as translators and low-level functionaries for the Coalition Provisional Authority and some who have been hired for the police are being given lie-detector tests this week on suspicion they are giving inside information to Ba’athist terrorist cells.

Army counterintelligence officers are investigating whether Saddam’s nest of spies inside the coalition may have helped set up unsuccessful assassination attempts on top civilian leader Paul Bremer and Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, military sources told The Post.

Officials said those who fail the test will lose their jobs and will could be arrested and charged as enemy combatants for aiding terrorist campaign to undermine the rebuilding of Iraq.

U.S. officials confirmed a list of double agents who have penetrated the coalition was discovered in documents found in Saddam’s briefcase during his arrest last week.

“We experienced the same problems in Vietnam. And given that the CPA was in such a rush to get set up after the war and was desperately looking for English speakers, it should come as a surprise to no one that there was penetration,” said retired Lt. Col. Patrick Lange, a former Middle East chief for the Defense Intelligence Agency.

That U.S. Army counterintelligence officials would fire and arrest an employee for “failing” the polygraph, or choose not do so because the employee “passed,” evidences the counterintelligence community’s continuing misplaced faith in the lie detector.

Two Agents in FBI’s Los Angeles Chinese Counterintelligence Unit Reportedly Failed Polygraph

Washington Post staff writer Susan Schmidt reports in an article titled, “Physicist’s Case Examined for Link to Alleged Spy.” Excerpt:

FBI inspectors are now poring over the activities of [former Supervisory Special Agent James J.] Smith’s squad. According to sources with knowledge of the FBI’s Los Angeles office, two other agents who worked with the Chinese counterintelligence unit failed polygraph examinations in the past several years and were assigned less sensitive duties. One of the agents was put on administrative leave and has left the bureau, the sources said.

Ex-FBI Agent Who Had Affair With Suspected Double Agent Passed DOE Polygraph

AntiPolygraph.org has learned that William “Bill” Cleveland, Jr., a retired FBI counterintelligence agent who has admitted to having had a longterm sexual relationship with FBI informant and suspected Chinese double agent Katrina M. Leung, passed a Department of Energy (DOE) counterintelligence-scope polygraph examination. The “Test for Espionage and Sabotage” polygraph format used by DOE includes a question about unauthorized contact with any representative of a foreign government.

Cleveland became chief of counterintelligence and later, security, at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory after his retirement from the FBI in 1993.

An informed source has told AntiPolygraph.org that Cleveland was among the first to be polygraphed under the expanded DOE polygraph screening program adopted in 1999. Cleveland was polygraphed in Albuquerque, New Mexico and passed.

See also:

For discussion of this story, see the AntiPolygraph.org message board thread, Ex-FBI Agent and Informant Accused in Spy Case.

“F.B.I. Never Gave Agent in Spy Case a Polygraph”

Eric Lichtblau reports for the New York Times. Excerpt:

WASHINGTON, April 10 – A former F.B.I. agent arrested on Wednesday in an espionage case had not been given a polygraph test in his nearly 30 years with the bureau, and lax oversight of his relationship with an informer now accused of being a Chinese double-agent appears to have violated numerous policies, bureau officials said today.

The officials added that the informer, Katrina Leung, a Los Angeles political fund-raiser who was paid $1.7 million by the F.B.I. for information on her native China over the last two decades, had not been asked to take a polygraph test since the 1980’s.

Ms. Leung and the former agent, James J. Smith, were arrested at their homes. Mr. Smith, was charged with gross negligence in his handling of national military documents. Ms. Leung, who officials said was Mr. Smith’s longtime lover, was charged with the unauthorized copying of national military information with the intent to injure the United States or benefit a foreign nation, in this case, China.

Historically, the F.B.I. has resisted the use of polygraph, or lie detector, tests for its employees, in part because many agents have viewed the procedure as a sign of distrust. In the mid-1990’s, the bureau began broadening its use of polygraph tests for employees with access to secret intelligence after the espionage arrest of a C.I.A. official, Aldrich H. Ames, and it significantly increased their use again after the 2001 arrest of an F.B.I agent, Robert P. Hanssen, on charges of spying for Moscow.

An F.B.I. official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that because polygraph tests were not routinely used in the 1980’s and 1990’s, it appeared that Mr. Smith had never been asked to take one, while Ms. Leung had not taken one for many years.

“We just didn’t really do it much back then,” the official said. “It wasn’t a focus.”

Robert S. Mueller III, the F.B.I. director, has requested internal reviews to determine what went wrong.

Officials outside the F.B.I. questioned whether more aggressive use of polygraph tests by the bureau might have raised questions much earlier about whether Mr. Smith and Ms. Leung were having an affair and whether she was improperly gaining access to secret intelligence that could do damage to American national security interests in the hands of the Chinese.

For discussion of the Smith-Leung case, see the AntiPolygraph.org message board thread, Ex-FBI Agent and Informant Accused in Spy Case.

“2 FBI Whistle-Blowers Allege Lax Security, Possible Espionage”

James V. Grimaldi reports on allegations made by fired FBI contract linguist Sibel Edmonds regarding possible espionage by a co-worker on behalf of a Middle Eastern organization targeted for electronic surveillance by FBI counterintelligence. Edmonds states that the co-worker herself claimed to be a member of the targeted organization and also tried to recruit her into it. Grimaldi mentions that “[g]overnment officials familiar with the matter who asked not to be identified said that both Edmonds and the woman were given polygraph examinations by the FBI and that both passed.” If Edmonds’ allegations are true, the FBI may have been penetrated by a double agent who beat the polygraph.