An FBI Veteran Comments on the Pentagon’s Polygraph Push

In “Paranoia in the Pentagon,” security consultant and 25-year FBI veteran Jim Dooley lampoons the Defense Intelligence Agency’s decision to greatly expand its polygraph screening program:

The Pentagon, speaking as a single scary voice, says that it needs more polygraph studios. They need them to catch the spies. What spies? The spies it just knows are everywhere, in the Army, in the Navy, in the CIA, and even in the ranks of the presumptive spy catchers, the FBI. Colonel Clousseau suspects no one, but he is no fool; everyone is a suspect.

I would say that The Pentagon is likely to get everything it wants, being the Pentagon, studios, machines, operators, especially operators, with all but the dentist’s chair contracted out. Too bad. In the gigantic incomprehensible incoherent mess of stuff the Pentagon gets, this idea falls flat in the zone of pernicious blunder.

It would be bad enough if it were just another example of security theater, similar to TSA airport screening. ‘That vial of suntan lotion, not that one miss, the one that says SPF 45, it’s too big.’ ‘No it’s not, it says 3 ounces right on it.’ ‘Are you telling me?’ ‘No, I guess I have a flight to catch, where can I throw it away.’

As it is, I don’t imagine that the Pentagon, which after is all there to conduct wars, is the most fun place to work. You never really know, though. I have a friend Lee who told me that the most fun he ever had was the year he spent flying Helicopters in Viet Nam. He showed me pictures of the bullet holes in the canopy of his Cobra to prove it. Whatever, however the work-a-day world once was in the Pentagon, the polygraph is about to make it a lot worse.

My own experience in the FBI with the polygraph was uniformly bad. One of the first substantial cases on which I worked was a kidnapping case. The kidnappers left some confusion as to where they wanted the ransom package dropped and we got it wrong. We dropped the package of money on top of some railroad workers who thought that it was their lucky night. Realizing our mistake we interviewed the workers who denied knowing anything about the money. The polygraph cleared them. Several weeks later, one of them confessed, implicating the other. Each one said that from the start the other one threatened to kill him if he said anything. I still don’t know which one I really believe.

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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.”

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Senate Report Disputes Press Accounts of CIA Polygraph of Iraqi Informant

As mentioned by Washington Post staff writer Walter Pincus in a recent article, the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence‘s recently released report, The Use by the Intelligence Community of Information Provided by the Iraqi National Congress (9.5 mb PDF), documents three intelligence sources who provided unreliable information but nonetheless passed DIA polygraph screening examinations.

One of these intelligence sources, identified in the report as Source One, appears to be Adnan Ihsan Saeed al-Haideri (عدنان احسان سعيد الحيدري), whom author James Bamford discussed in his Rolling Stones investigative article, “The Man Who Sold the War”:

The road to war in Iraq led through many unlikely places. One of them was a chic hotel nestled among the strip bars and brothels that cater to foreigners in the town of Pattaya, on the Gulf of Thailand.

On December 17th, 2001, in a small room within the sound of the crashing tide, a CIA officer attached metal electrodes to the ring and index fingers of a man sitting pensively in a padded chair. The officer then stretched a black rubber tube, pleated like an accordion, around the man’s chest and another across his abdomen. Finally, he slipped a thick cuff over the man’s brachial artery, on the inside of his upper arm.

Strapped to the polygraph machine was Adnan Ihsan Saeed al-Haideri, a forty-three-year-old Iraqi who had fled his homeland in Kurdistan and was now determined to bring down Saddam Hussein. For hours, as thin mechanical styluses traced black lines on rolling graph paper, al-Haideri laid out an explosive tale. Answering yes and no to a series of questions, he insisted repeatedly that he was a civil engineer who had helped Saddam’s men to secretly bury tons of biological, chemical and nuclear weapons. The illegal arms, according to al-Haideri, were buried in subterranean wells, hidden in private villas, even stashed beneath the Saddam Hussein Hospital, the largest medical facility in Baghdad.

It was damning stuff — just the kind of evidence the Bush administration was looking for. If the charges were true, they would offer the White House a compelling reason to invade Iraq and depose Saddam. That’s why the Pentagon had flown a CIA polygraph expert to Pattaya: to question al-Haideri and confirm, once and for all, that Saddam was secretly stockpiling weapons of mass destruction.

There was only one problem: It was all a lie. After a review of the sharp peaks and deep valleys on the polygraph chart, the intelligence officer concluded that al-Haideri had made up the entire story, apparently in the hopes of securing a visa.

But the Senate report contradicts Bamford, stating at p. 41: “DIA administered a polygraph of Source One in early 2002, which he passed.” Following three full lines of redacted text, the report continues: “There were no other Intelligence Community polygraphs of Source One prior to the DIA administered polygraph.” A footnote then adds: “Press stories alleging that Source One failed a CIA polygraph in December 2001 are inaccurate.” Thus, it appears that the case of Adnan Ihsan Saeed al-Haideri is no polygraph success story.

Iraqi Fabricators Passed DIA Polygraph

On Saturday, 9 September 2006, Washington Post staff writer Walter Pincus reported on the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence’s recently released review of pre-war intelligence on Iraq in an article titled, “Report Details Errors Before War.” Excerpt:

The long-awaited Senate Intelligence Committee report released yesterday sheds new light on why U.S. intelligence agencies provided inaccurate prewar information about Saddam Hussein and his weapons programs, including details on how Iraqi exiles who fabricated or exaggerated their stories were accepted as truthful because they passed Pentagon lie detector tests.

The two newly declassified chapters of the report fueled political accusations yesterday that the Bush administration lied to justify invading Iraq, but the documents’ nearly 400 pages contain several examples of how bad information wound up accepted as truthful in intelligence assessments at the time.

A section includes the results of an evaluation by the CIA of its performance, which concludes that, despite repeated prewar assessments that the Iraqis were practicing deceit and deception to hide their weapons, there actually were no such efforts because there were no weapons.

The CIA concludes: “There comes a point where the absence of evidence does indeed become the evidence of absence.” That statement is a play on a remark Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld made frequently in the months before the war — after U.N. inspectors in late 2002 and early 2003 could find no weapons — that “the absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.”

One 208-page chapter from the Senate committee report covers the use of intelligence provided by the Iraqi National Congress and its leader, Ahmed Chalabi. The panel wrote that three Iraqi exiles gave the Pentagon inaccurate information about Hussein’s alleged training of al-Qaeda terrorists, as well as about the existence of mobile biological weapons factories and an alleged meeting between the Iraqi leader and Osama bin Laden. All three exiles passed lie detector tests given by the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), adding credibility to their stories.

In each case, the information proved to be questionable, if not inaccurate….

One of the three polygraph-passing fabricators, identified as Source Two in the report, The Use by the Intelligence Community of Information Provided by the Iraqi National Congress (9.5 mb PDF), is former Iraqi army major Mohammad Harith, who has been previously discussed on in the message board thread, Iraqi Fabricator Passed Polygraph.

It should be noted that former DIA employee Ana Belen Montes, a Cuban double agent who penetrated the agency and rose to become the Pentagon’s senior analyst on matters related to Cuba, passed at least one polygraph screening examination while spying for Cuba.

“Cuban Spy Passed Polygraph at Least Once”

Miami Herald Washington correspondent Tim Johnson reports. Excerpt:

WASHINGTON – Even though confessed Cuban spy Ana Belen Montes already outwitted a lie-detector test, the government plans to rely on polygraph exams to check her honesty as they debrief her about her 16-year spying career while working for U.S. military intelligence.

Montes took a polygraph examination at least once during her career as an analyst at the Defense Intelligence Agency, her attorney says.

”At the time she was polygraphed, she passed it,” said prominent Washington attorney Plato Cacheris, who added that he did not know when the exam was given.

Critics of polygraph exams, which are designed to snare liars, say they are astounded that U.S. officials would rely on them to determine if Montes is telling the truth.

”Isn’t this incredibly ironic?” asked Drew C. Richardson, a retired FBI agent who wrote a doctorate dissertation on polygraph research. “She beats the polygraph and now we’re going to use a polygraph to assess the damage? It’s utterly, unbelievably stupid.”

Montes, 45, is the most senior spy for Cuba ever caught. FBI agents arrested her Sept. 21 at her workplace. In a plea agreement with the Justice Department, Montes confessed March 19 to spying for Cuba and offered to reveal all details of her betrayal to investigators before her Sept. 24 sentencing. If polygraph exams show that she has been honest and candid, she will get a 25-year jail term, with five years of parole.

Montes isn’t the first turncoat in the U.S. intelligence community to beat the polygraph, or lie-detector, exam, and her case is sure to add to controversy over whether the government can rely on the polygraph to catch spies.

Some critics assert that the polygraph tests lure counterintelligence units into a false sense of security, and should be abandoned for other methods.

The Defense Intelligence Agency, which is the preeminent military intelligence arm of the Pentagon, declines to say whether — or when — Montes was given a polygraph exam after her hiring in September 1985. It also refuses to provide details of results of any exams given to Montes.

”All DIA employees are subject to polygraphs,” said an agency spokesman, Lt. Cmdr. James E. Brooks, declining further details.

For discussion of the Montes case, see the discussion thread Source: Cuban Spy Montes Passed DIA Polygraph.

“Top U.S. Analyst Admits to Spying for Cuba”

Knight-Ridder Washington correspondent Tim Johnson reports in an article published in the Miami Herald on the guilty plea of DIA analyst Ana Belen Montes, who was recruited by Cuban intelligence even before she began her DIA career. Excerpt:

WASHINGTON – A senior U.S. intelligence analyst, Ana Belen Montes, admitted in federal court on Tuesday that she was a longstanding spy for Cuba, burrowing a long and deep tunnel through the ranks of the U.S. intelligence community and unmasking at least four U.S. covert agents to Havana.

In new revelations, the Justice Department said Montes was already working for Havana when she began as a junior analyst at the DIA in 1985, suggesting that Cuban spy-masters may have directed her career to the most sensitive sanctuaries of U.S. intelligence.

Her recruitment, when she was in her late 20s and still a graduate student, and her climb to senior ranks of the DIA, where she helped draft a 1999 finding that Cuba no longer presents a military threat to the United States, revealed the meticulous tradecraft of Cuban intelligence in directing her, experts said. Still unanswered is how she could have remained undetected so long as a spy in the DIA.

After the arrest last year of FBI Robert Hanssen — who gave intelligence to the Soviet Union, and Russia, while running U.S. counter-intelligence operations at the bureau — FBI investigators were chagrined to learn that he had never been given a polygraph test.

The FBI is now seeking about $7 million from Congress to hire more polygraph test experts, and require every FBI employee granted a security clearance to take one.

“Pentagon’s Top Cuba Expert Pleads Guilty to Espionage”

Tim Golden of The New York Times reports on the case of Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) analyst Ana Belen Montes, who according to court documents was already working for the Cuban Directorate of Intelligence when she joined the DIA in September, 1985. If Montes was ever subjected to a counterintelligence-scope polygraph “test,” then it would appear that like CIA spies Aldrich Ames and Larry Wu-tai Chin, Montes beat the polygraph. Reporter Golden notes that Montes “is obliged to submit to extensive debriefings and lie-detector tests by American intelligence and law-enforcement officials who will try to assess the damage she caused to national security.”

For discussion of the Montes case, see the message board thread, DIA Analyst Charged with Spying for Cuba.

See also Neely Tucker’s Washington Post article “Defense Analyst Pleads Guilty to Spying for Cuba.”