Accused Russian Spy Peter Rafael Dzibinski Debbins Evidently Beat the Polygraph to Penetrate INSCOM and the DIA

Peter Rafael Dzibinski Debbins

On Thursday, 20 August 2020, a grand jury in the Eastern District of Virginia indicted former U.S. Army Special Forces officer Peter Rafael Dzibinski Debbins of Gainesville, Virginia on a single count of “Conspiracy to Gather or Deliver Defense Information to Aid a Foreign Government.” Debbins was arrested on Friday, 21 August 2020.

The indictment states that the 45-year-old Debbins graduated from the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) program at the University of Minnesota in 1997 and served on active military duty from July 1998 until November 2005. During this time, Debbins served in the U.S. Army Chemical Corps in Korea and at Fort Polk, Louisiana, and with the 1st Battalion, 10th Special Forces Group in Germany. Debbins was investigated for a security violation during a deployment to Azerbaijan in 2004, as a consequence of which he was relieved of command and his Top Secret/SCI security clearance was suspended. After leaving active duty, Debbins served in the inactive army reserve until 2010.

The indictment alleges that throughout his military service, indeed while still an ROTC cadet, Debbins was working on behalf of a Russian intelligence service. The indictment alleges, among other things, that during a meeting with two Russian intelligence officers in 2003, Debbins provided information about the 1st Battalion, 10th Special Forces Group, noting at para. 46 that he was instructed not to take a polygraph “test’:

46. During the meeting, RIS 5 and RIS 6 instructed DEBBINS not to take a polygraph and offered to give him training on how to deceive polygraphs. They further encouraged DEBBINS to continue pursuing a career in the Special Forces.

It is not specified whether Debbins ever received such polygraph countermeasure training.

The indictment does go on to note:

60. In January 2010, an Adjudicator with the U.S. Army Central Personnel Security Clearance Facility sent DEBBINS a letter notifying him that he had been granted a TS/SCI security clearance….

The indictment does not state for what purpose Debbins was granted this security clearance, but in a profile of Debbins on the website of the Institute for World Politics he states:

I got a job working at Fort Meade as a Russian analyst and did that for three years. I then transitioned to working as a cyber instructor for CACI for another three years.

If the espionage allegations against Debbins are true—and they seem to be well-documented, including a signed confession—then Debbins necessarily beat the polygraph to work at Fort Meade.

902nd Military Intelligence Group Crest

Debbins’ LinkedIn profile indicates that from January 2011 to March 2014, he worked as a “senior research analyst” for Mission Essential Intelligence Solutions, a government contractor. Debbins’ resume, made public on 27 August 2020 (after this article was first published), shows that this contract work was for the 902nd Military Intelligence Group, a counterintelligence unit falling under the U.S. Army’s Intelligence and Security Command (INSCOM) and headquartered at Fort Meade, Maryland. This position, for which Debbins needed a TS/SCI clearance, would have required polygraph screening.

Thereafter, from April 2014 to December 2015, Debbins indicates that he was an associate with Booz Allen Hamilton, another government contractor that among other things provides services to the NSA. However, Debbins’ resume indicates that his work with Booz Allen Hamilton was as a “Russian cyber analyst” for the Defense Intelligence Agency.

Since 1 January 2017, the Defense Intelligence Agency has required that all contractors inside the continental United States with SCI access pass a polygraph “test.” This requirement was extended to contractors outside the continental United States as of 1 July 2017. Thus, it is possible that Debbins also beat the DIA polygraph, though it’s possible that a previously passed army polygraph might have obviated the need for a DIA polygraph.

After that, Debbins indicates that he worked as an instructor for military contractor CACI International, Inc. from January 2016 to September 2017. A statement by DIA Senior Expert for Counterintelligence David L. Tomlinson indicates that this work was with DIA’s Joint Counterintelligence Training Activity.

Accused spy Debbins at RAF Molesworth nuclear bunker, 30 January 2018

Debbins’ profiles on LinkedIn and the Institute for World Politics indicate that after leaving CACI International, he worked through contractor CoSolutions, Inc. as a Russian studies instructor from August 2017 to January 2020.

DIA Senior Expert for Counterintelligence David L. Tomlinson’s statement indicates that the specific organization for which Debbins worked was the DIA’s Regional Joint Intelligence Training Facility (RJITF) at RAF Molesworth. The RJITF is closely associated with the DIA-operated Joint Intelligence Operations Center Europe (JIOCEUR) Analytic Center.

In 2015, the U.S. Air Force’s 501st Combat Support Wing produced the following public relations video about the JIOCEUR Analytic Center, commonly called the Joint Analytic Center (JAC):

The DIA’s former top analyst for Cuban affairs, Ana Belen Montes, was a Cuban spy who received instruction in polygraph countermeasures from her handlers and beat at least one DIA polygraph while spying for Cuba. Ironically, in response to Montes having beaten the polygraph, the Department of Defense Inspector General recommended more polygraphs, and the DIA complied.

That spies and security violators are beating the polygraph is not surprising. Polygraphy has no scientific basis to begin with, and as explained in’s free book, The Lie Behind the Lie Detector, its methodology makes it vulnerable to simple, effective countermeasures that polygraph operators cannot detect.

Debbins’ arrest comes just a week after the espionage arrest in Honolulu of former CIA officer and FBI contract linguist Alexander Yuk Ching Ma, who evidently beat the polygraph to obtain employment with the FBI.

Note: The original version of this article incorrectly assumed that Debbins’ employment at Ft. Meade was with the NSA. This article was updated on 28 August 2020 to reflect new information made public in court filings associated with a detention hearing in this case.

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’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?

Senior Official at Federal Polygraph School Accused of Espionage

Donald Krapohl
Donald Krapohl

Scott W. Carmichael, a recently retired counterintelligence investigator with the Defense Intelligence Agency, has accused Donald Krapohl, Special Assistant to the Chief, National Center for Credibility Assessment (NCCA) and longtime editor of the American Polygraph Association quarterly, Polygraph, of violating the Espionage Act of 1917. In an e-mail message to retired FBI polygraph examiner Robert Drdak dated 3 September 2014, a copy of which was received by, Carmichael alleges that Krapohl manipulated Drdak in an elaborate scheme to funnel classified information about polygraph countermeasures to the government of Singapore.

Carmichael theorizes that Krapohl encouraged Drdak to write a paper on polygraph countermeasures that was ultimately based on a classified study conducted in 1994 by Dr. Gordon H. Barland, then a researcher with the Department of Defense Polygraph Institute (now the NCCA), and to sell that paper to the Lafayette Instrument Company, knowing that the information in the paper would make its way to the Singaporean government.

Carmichael concludes his e-mail by urging Drdak to “[call] the FBI before they begin to look at you as a suspect.”

Scott Carmichael
Scott Carmichael

Carmichael played a key role in the investigation of Cuban spy Ana Belen Montes (who incidentally beat the polygraph), about which he has authored a book, True Believer.

The full text of Carmichael’s e-mail to retired FBI polygraph examiner Robert Drdak (with one redaction) follows:

From: Scott W. Carmichael <>
Date: Wed, Sep 3, 2014 at 9:22 AM
Subject: Your countermeasures document on Lafayette and Limestone


You’ve got a problem.  Recommend you read this more than once before taking action.

A little background on me:  My name is Scott W. Carmichael.  You and I have never met, and I doubt that you have ever even heard of me. For background, I served for a period of four years as an NCIS agent from 1984-1988, and then took a job in 1988 with the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) as a counterintelligence investigator based in Washington, D.C..  I retired just months ago, this past April, after serving for nearly 26 years with that agency.  I was DIA’s senior security and counterintelligence investigator at the time of my retirement.  Some people in the business know me because of my role in identifying former DIA analyst Ana B. Montes as an espionage suspect, and then persuading WFO to open the investigation which lead in time to her arrest as a Cuban spy back in CY2001.  I wrote a book about the case – you can find a reference to it on  You can find additional references on Amazon to other books that I’ve written, and you can find other references to me simply by Googling my name plus the keyword DIA on the internet.

I am generally aware of your professional background, including the role you played in clearing Richard Jewel of suspicion in the 1996 bombing in Olympic Park.  I took my son to watch the Dream Team play against Yugoslavia that night, by the way, and missed the bombing only because my son was too tired after the game to walk to the Park.

Your problem:  The document which you provided to Lafayette and Limestone was plagiarized.  That is correct.  Worse, the original was an official U.S. government document which summarized the findings of a study performed in CY2003 by Dan Weatherman and Paul Menges.  Their findings were tested/verified by Dr. Stuart M. Senter.  The study conducted by Dan and Paul drew on raw data collected by Dr. Gordon H. Barland and the classified report of his earlier study of mental countermeasures dated in 1994.  Dan, Paul and Dr. Senter performed their work as employees of DoDPI.  Your old colleague and former business partner Don Krapohl provided oversight for their work and edited the report submitted by Dan and Paul back in CY2003.  The entire effort was official, and it was based on a classified study.

Dan and Paul believed their findings constituted a new, reliable, and therefore extremely valuable diagnostic tool.  Dr. Senter tested the tool and determined that, sure enough, the specific diagnostic features identified by Dan and Paul through their study correlated with a high degree of probability to the employment of countermeasures.  As you may know, the U.S. government now requires all federal polygraph examiners to receive 40 hours of instruction on polygraph countermeasures to become certified as federal examiners; and, to receive 4 hours of polygraph countermeasures refresher training every year to maintain their certifications.  DoDPI/DCCA is so confident in the diagnostic tool developed by Dan and Paul, they decided to use the new tool as the very foundation for the 40-hour instruction and the annual 4-hour refresher training.

Again, Dr. Barland’s 1994 study, which formed the basis for Weatherman and Menges’s study, was classified.  By definition, then, and by DoD Instruction, Weatherman and Menges’s study and findings, were therefore also classified.

But DoDPI did something stupid.  They committed a security violation.  In fact, they did so repeatedly.  They found it inconvenient and unwieldy to carry classified briefing slides around with them as they traveled to various parts of the country to teach the diagnostic tool to examiners – and, when they found it necessary to brief uncleared personnel on the tool, rather than follow routine but bothersome administrative procedures which would have enabled them to do so, they elected to simply not stamp their briefing slides at all.  Instead, they stamped their materials as Unclassified/FOUO – while handling and treating their materials as though they were classified, in order to ensure their tool did not fall into foreign hands.  Why?  Because anyone who learns how the entire US government now detects the employment of countermeasures, will be able to device methods to defeat the US government examination process.

And then you sold it to Lafayette and Limestone.

Quite a shock, isn’t it.

Don Krapohl roped you in, Bob.  Used you.  You were a dupe.  Of that, I am fairly certain.  I was in the CI business for 30 years, Bob, and Ana B. Montes was not the only spy whom I personally identified, and not the only one I put in jail.  I achieved some small success in the business, and I got to be pretty good at connecting the dots.

Let me make an educated guess:  One day, out of the blue, Don either called you or approached you, and asked whether you were yet published.  He told you that getting published was a good idea, because it made you an ‘expert’.  And since you were retired, you could command more money for speeches and appearances as a ‘published’ expert.  So he then told you that he had something that he’d been working on in his spare time – some ideas that he’d been kicking around, and that he hadn’t gotten around to actually publishing them yet.  He offered them to you ‘to take a look’ at them.  So he provided a ‘draft’ paper and charts.  Then you probably talked about the concepts a bit, maybe posed a few questions, and then Don probably suggested that you write an introduction and maybe make some changes or whatever – and offered to ‘edit’ the final paper for you.  And then offered to ‘facilitate’ an introduction to both Lafayette and Limestone – since he already had a business relationship with both companies.  Am I far off the mark, Bob?  Don was just being a good friend and generous buddy.

Or am I wrong?

I’m right.

A little history for you:  Back in CY2008, Don Krapohl had just completed a tour as president of APA, and was then the editor-in-chief of APA’s magazine, Polygraph.  As editor, he had to drum up business for the magazine, by which I mean that he had to persuade others to write articles for the magazine. Among those he approached were Donnie Dutton and Jack Ogilvie, who at that time served as chief of Phoenix P.D.’s polygraph shop.  The pitch which Don used to persuade Donnie and Jack was the same as that described above:  Are you published, yet?  It would be good for you to be published….  An article appeared in the magazine by Donnie and Jack which purported to be a re-study of an earlier study of chair sensors used to detect countermeasures.  The earlier study was one conducted by a graduate student at Michigan State University (MSU) in CY2002 who provided both his raw data/charts as well as his ‘unpublished’ paper for use by Donnie and Jack.  The graduate student in question?  A Singaporean military intelligence officer who served as chief of the government of Singapore’s polygraph school – V. Cholan Kopparumsolan – who happened to be a countermeasures specialist.  Cholan was a member of APA.  An APA VP controlled a contract to provide polygraph training to Cholan’s school. I interviewed both Donnie and Jack.  Neither of them ‘wrote’ the article in question.  A ‘draft’ of the article was provided by Don Krapohl to them; they added comments; Don Krapohl ‘edited’ their comments and finalized the article. Question:  Who wrote the ‘draft’, and where did it come from?

Bob – you are a retired FBI Special Agent.  Re-read the above paragraph, then figure that one out, for yourself.

Jack Ogilvie retired shortly after the article was published in Polygraph magazine.  Krapohl, Donnie and..Cholan were invited to the annual AAPP convention to witness as Jack gave a presentation on his and Donnie’s ‘findings’ as published in the article.  Right in front of Cholan.  After the convention, Krapohl and Cholan went for a hike in the Grand Canyon. Thereafter, each year following the annual APA convention, Cholan led a Singaporean delegation to DoDPI/DCCA/NCCA…to request training, including training in countermeasures.  Naturally, the request for countermeasures training was refused.  Cholan and other foreign members of APA had very good reason to believe that NCCA did indeed possess something special in the way of countermeasures training.  Why?  Because every year during the annual APA convention, NCCA set aside a 4-hour block of time for federal/USG examiners to receive their annual 4-hour refresher training in countermeasures – and they penned it onto the calendar!  And every year, foreign members of APA asked the Americans what they knew about countermeasures that no one else in the world seemed to know.

Cholan, therefore, had good reason to believe that NCCA…and Krapohl…had access to something special with regard to countermeasures.  But that NCCA was not willing to simply hand it over.

Until you gave it to Lafayette and Limestone.

I suspect Cholan threatened to blow the whistle on Krapohl for plagiarizing his MSU ‘unpublished’ paper, and that Cholan demanded a quid pro quo – something of equal value in return.  Krapohl wasn’t about to simply hand over the paper written by Weatherman and Menges.  So he had you do it, for him.

The Singaporeans use Lafayette machines.  Once you sold your paper to Lafayette and Limestone, Krapohl simply told Cholan where to find it.

Dan Weatherman and Stu Senter reviewed your paper and compared it to their paper.  There is no doubt whatsoever.

Bob – I worked counterintelligence for 30 years.  I personally identified two suspects who were subsequently convicted under federal espionage statutes and imprisoned – that’s a good record.  And I neutralized quite a few others. I know espionage.  Anyone who should have known that that material would fall into the hands of a foreign government, to the benefit of a foreign government or to the detriment of ours, violated 18 USC 794.  The compromise of the Weatherman/Menges paper constitutes espionage.

And your name is all over that paper, and probably all over contracts with Lafayette and Limestone.

You have a problem.

Call Dan Weatherman.  Ask.  Then call your former colleagues at the FBI and offer to serve as a material witness.

Because frankly and candidly, my assessment is that you were a victim in this.  Just my assessment.

But DO NOT call Don Krapohl.  He does not know that I am even remotely aware of any of this.  If you call him – to alert him – then we’ll know that you and Don cooked this up together.

Call Dan Weatherman at [phone number redacted].  That is Dan’s home telephone number. Verify what I’ve told you.  Then get ahead of this by calling the FBI before they begin to look at you as a suspect.

Call the FBI.  Before I call the FBI.

And don’t you dare alert Don Krapohl.

Scott W. Carmichael

Update: For related discussion of this post, see the message board topic, Don Krapohl Accused of Violating Espionage Act and also retired FBI scientist and supervisory special agent Drew C. Richardson’s commentary here.

Update 2: has obtained a copy of the document (14 MB PDF) by retired FBI Special Agent Robert Drdak referenced by retired DIA investigator Scott Carmichael.

Accused Cuban Agent Marta Rita Velázquez Allegedly Sought Polygraph Training from Cuban Intelligence Service

The Princeton Alumni Weekly identifies the woman on the right as Marta Rita Velázquez as a student on 18 March 1977.
The Princeton Alumni Weekly identifies the woman on the right as Marta Rita Velázquez (class of 1979) at an anti-apartheid demonstration in 1977.

On 25 April 2013, the U.S. Department of Justice revealed the existence of a previously sealed indictment (455 kb PDF) against former U.S. Agency for International Development employee Marta Rita Velázquez, who is charged with a single count of conspiracy to commit espionage. The indictment alleges that it was Velázquez who recruited Ana Belen Montes, the Defense Intelligence Agency’s senior Cuba analyst who in 2002 pled guilty to spying for Cuba. The indictment was secretly issued on 5 February 2004, and an arrest warrant was issued the following day. According to Jim Popkin of the Washington Post, Velázquez lives in Sweden, whose extradition treaty with the United States “does not allow extradition for spying.”

The indictment recounts details of an alleged trip to Cuba that Velázquez and Montes made together in 1985 to received training from the Cuban Intelligence Service, including the following item:

(19) In or about early April 1985, while clandestinely in Cuba, defendant VELÁZQUEZ, with Montes, asked the Cuban Intelligence Service to give them “practice” polygraphs so that they would be able to pass polygraphs they might have to take in connection with future United States government employment.

The indictment provides no further details regarding any polygraph instruction received, but a recent Washington Post magazine feature article (also by Jim Popkin) about Ana Belen Montes indicates that such training was indeed provided:

Her tradecraft was classic. In Havana, agents with the Cuban intelligence service taught Montes how to slip packages to agents innocuously, how to communicate safely in code and how to disappear if needed. They even taught Montes how to fake her way through a polygraph test. She later told investigators it involves the strategic tensing of the sphincter muscles. It’s unknown if the ploy worked, but Montes did pass a DIA-administered polygraph in 1994, after a decade of spying.

For discussion of the Montes case, see Source: Cuban Spy Ana Belen Montes Passed DIA Polygraph on the message board.

Cuban Spy Nicolás Sirgado Passed CIA Polygraph Three Times

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

On 17 April 2013, Cuban intelligence officer Nicolás Alberto Sirgado Ros1 died at the age of 77 years according to a short notice published on 19 April by Granma, the official newspaper of the Cuban Communist Party. Cuban website CubaDebate published a lengthier profile of Sirgado, noting that he worked as a double agent for Cuba against the CIA for ten years beginning in 1966. Miami-based website CafeFuerte also profiles Sirgado, adding that “on three occasions, he was subjected to lie detector testing, without his real mission being discovered.”

Sirgado discussed his experience working against the CIA in an interview transcribed in a document titled “CIA: Cuba Accuses” that was published in English in Cuba in 1978. When asked “Did they ever use a lie detector on you?” Sirgado replied:

Yes, they used a lot of security measures. They used the lie detector three times. Sometimes there were lie detector sessions that were more than two and a half hours long.

Clearly, the CIA’s aim in using this method is not so much to find out whether or not you’re lying as to break you down, humiliate you, impose machine over mind.  Whether or not it’s effective, the method really seeks to humiliate and denigrate.  It’s a reflection of this espionage organization, built upon mistrust and of the lack of moral values to support its activities.

Sirgado is not the only Cuban double agent to fool the polygraph. DIA officer Ana Belen Montes passed the polygraph at least once while spying for Cuba. And former CIA officer Robert David Steele writes, “Two of my classmates got wrapped up in Cuba (and appeared on international television) because the Cuban double-agents all managed to pass the polygraph.”

Make-believe science yields make-believe security.

  1. The Granma article provides “Ross” as his maternal family name, but this appears to be a clerical error. []

The Polygraph and the Confession of Jonathan Pollard

Former Naval Investigative Service agent Ron Olive, to whom convicted Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard provided a confession, writes about the circumstances leading up to the confession in an article titled, “Detecting a lie: Agent recalls role in catching a spy” that was published 18 November 2006 by the Arizona Republic:

I was the assistant special agent in charge of counterintelligence for the Naval Investigative Service on Nov. 19, 1985, when the Pollard case broke wide open.

The night before, we recovered several top-secret and secret documents from Pollard’s apartment. We had him on illegal possession of classified material, but no one thought he was a spy.

I asked him to come in for a polygraph at 10:30 the next morning. He called, telling me he didn’t sleep much and was too tired to come in.

It was critical he take the polygraph. I tried to make light of the investigation. Without threatening, I informed him that none of us had slept well the night before.

“It’s in your best interest to take this stupid polygraph test, Jay. Let’s get this over with once and for all,” I said, adding that once he had passed the test, he could go back to work with a clean slate.

That was a white lie. On account of the documents we’d found in his residence, he would never go back to work in the Anti Terrorist Alert Center or anywhere else in the government.

Then Pollard made a comment that set off alarm bells in my head:

“Ron, I don’t mind taking a polygraph if they only ask me about the Soviet Union or the Soviet bloc countries.”

For the first time, I had a gut feeling that something was very wrong. Gathering my thoughts, I said in a lighthearted voice, “Jay, you’re absolutely right. There’s no way you can’t pass this polygraph when they ask you about the Soviets and the bloc countries.”

“I’m really too tired to drive in,” Pollard said, digging in his heels.

It was time to get firm with him or lose him forever.

“Look, Jay, if you’re so tired, I don’t want you driving down here anyway. Stay right where you are. I’ll have agents from the office pick you up and drive you back home.”

Then I raised my voice: “This mess can’t be put off any longer.”

At last, he agreed to come in and take the polygraph.

When my two agents came through the door with Pollard, the analyst stopped in his tracks.

“Ron,” he said in an urgent voice, “I need to talk to you before I take this polygraph.”

“Sure, Jay,” I said, taken aback.

I escorted him into the office spaces at the far end of the hallway that had been set aside for polygraph testing. I had no clue what he wanted to talk to me about.

Trying to throw me off, Pollard began talking about arms sales to Afghanistan, but I stopped him in his tracks.

Then, for three hours, he confessed to selling highly classified national defense documents and explained how he went about stealing them – the beginning of the end for this spy.

The Pollard case illustrates the potential utility of the polygraph: it seems that fear of the lie detector facilitated Pollard’s confession. It should be noted, however, at the time of his confession, Pollard had already been caught on videotape stuffing his briefcase with classified documents, and as Ron Olive indicates, classified documents had been recovered from his residence. It is also worth noting that at the time of Pollard’s confession, Cuban double agent Ana Belen Montes, who passed the polygraph while spying against the United States, had recently penetrated the Department of Defense.

“Scientists Attack Polygraph’s Accuracy”

Ian Hoffman reports for the Oakland Tribune. Excerpt:

Polygraph tests used by nearly every federal national-security agency as a screening tool will flag loyal workers as security risks and free actual spies from suspicion, a panel of top scientists reported Tuesday.

Gathered by the National Research Council, scientists said the theory and research supporting polygraphy is too weak and the accuracy of the test is “insufficient to justify reliance on its use in employee security screening.”

“National security is too important to be left to such a blunt instrument,” said panel chairman Stephen Fienberg, a statistics professor at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh.

Two lawmakers called on the U.S. Department of Energy to replace its polygraph screening program, targeting 16,000 employees mostly in California, New Mexico and Washington, D.C., with a testing program solely for interrogation of suspects.

Yet beyond the Energy Department and its national labs — Livermore, Los Alamos and Sandia — the polygraph is deeply embedded in the U.S. national-security apparatus, with an estimated 40,000 workers or applicants tested every year at the CIA, Defense Department, National Security Agency, Secret Service, DEA and — in the wake of the Aldrich Ames and Robert Hanssen spy cases — the FBI.

Thousands more are tested at state and local law-enforcement agencies. This summer, many in Congress who voted to polygraph nuclear weapons scientists were themselves “put on the box” in an FBI search for leaks at the Senate and House intelligence committees.

Inventors such as psychologist and feminist theorist William Moulton Marston — later known for creating Wonder Woman, whose lasso compelled truth telling — devised polygraphy to interrogate World War I spies. The polygraph became hugely popular over the next 80 years, and no one has been more captivated by its mystique than Americans and their law officers.

Yet, said NRC panelist Kathryn Laskey, a professor of systems engineering at George Mason University, “We stress that no spy ever has been caught using the polygraph.”

The conclusions of the 310-page report are not new. Scientists have criticized polygraphs as poorly grounded and researched since their creation.

The 310-page NRC report, however, is among the most comprehensive and authoritative on the subject, and the first to highlight the national security risks of growing federal reliance on a test that invariably clears the spies and saboteurs it was designed to catch.

Employees of the nation’s three nuclear-weapons labs hailed the report as powerful vindication, in large measure because it echoed their attacks on the scientific foundations of polygraphy and found them equally weak or nonexistent.

“It’s time to stop it, for everybody,” said Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory physicist Jeff Colvin, president of the Society for Professional Scientists and Engineers, a labor union.

“It doesn’t get any better than this. There’s no wiggle room here,” said Dr. Alan Zelicoff, a physicist and physician at Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, N.M. “We’ve been spending millions of dollars on a test that is not worthless, but worse than worthless because it does more harm than good.”

In 1999, Congress went into a lather over suspected Chinese thefts of U.S. nuclear secrets and instituted polygraph tests for thousands of career nuclear-weapons employees. Scientists denounced the tests as “voodoo” and “junk science” that insulted their dedication to national-security work.

“You’re talking about people who for the most part are very loyal and find it terribly offensive that their loyalty is questioned,” veteran Livermore weapons designer David Dearborn said Tuesday. “Then you have an undependable piece of electronic flimflammery, and someone pops up and says ‘I think you’re being deceptive,’ and your clearance is pulled. … What are we getting as a nation in return? We’re getting political cover at best. Because if that’s the best we can do to catch spies, we’re in trouble. You’re not catching the people who are spying, and yet you are having large numbers of people suffer as they’re treated like criminals.”

“Lie Detectors Called Useless in Spy Hunt: Scientists Blast Security Screenings”

Dan Stober reports for the San Jose Mercury News. Excerpt:

Lie-detector tests are useless in ferreting out spies and they have unfairly tainted innocent employees and job applicants, the nation’s leading researchers concluded in a report issued Tuesday.

Prompted by the controversial case of Wen Ho Lee, who was accused of spying for China, the National Research Council found virtually no scientific evidence that polygraphs work for the type of security screenings given to nuclear weapons designers, FBI agents and CIA officers. No spy has ever been caught by a polygraph, the 318-page report noted, while a rigorous test could falsely implicate up to 16 percent of those tested.

“National security is too important to be left to such a blunt instrument,” said Stephen Fienberg, who heads the panel of the National Academy of Sciences. “The polygraph’s serious limitations in employee security screening underscore the need to look more broadly for effective, alternative methods.”

Thousands of federal job applicants and employees in sensitive positions undergo polygraph tests every year. The CIA and National Security Agency give polygraph tests to all job applicants and employees. The FBI and Pentagon also test extensively, especially since last year’s terrorist attacks, and polygraphs have increased at nuclear power plants.

In addition, large police departments nationwide employ polygraphs to screen applicants and employees.

The political uproar over the 1999 case of Lee, a former scientist at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, led to much-resented polygraphs there, and at Sandia National Laboratory in New Mexico and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. Polygraphs increased at the FBI and CIA after Alrich Ames and Rick Hanssen were found to have spied for Russia and the former Soviet Union for many years.

It was the rebellion against the polygraphs by the nuclear weapons scientists that triggered the study. The U.S. Energy Department, which owns the labs, is required by law to incorporate the findings in a new polygraph policy by the end of the year.

Tuesday, Sens. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., chair of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, and Pete Domenici, R-N.M., called on the department to abolish the tests. The senators, who have heard the complaints of Los Alamos and Sandia scientists, sponsored the legislation creating the study.

The report’s conclusions were music to the ears of polygraph opponents who have long called the tests “junk science.”

The report “unambiguously, irrefutably, undeniably rejected the hypothesis that the polygraph has any value whatsoever when used in a screening mode,” crowed Al Zelicoff, a physicist and physician who does bioterrorism research at the Sandia lab in Albuquerque, N.M.

There is hope among the nuclear scientists that polygraphs will now go away.

“Can Polygraphs Detect Spies? Panel Says No, and Worries About Blemishing the Innocent”

Washington Post staff writer Shankar Vedantam reports. Excerpt:

Polygraph tests are ineffective in catching spies and have probably tarred thousands of innocent government employees and applicants with unwarranted suspicion, a top scientific panel has concluded.

While lie detectors may have some utility in criminal investigations, where subjects can be tested on specific questions about a crime, they tend to be unreliable in countering espionage, where large numbers of people are asked general questions about whether they have done anything wrong, the scientists said in a report.

“Too many loyal employees may be falsely judged as deceptive, or too many major security threats could go undetected,” the scientists said, warning against reliance on the tests.

The study was commissioned by the Department of Energy in the wake of controversy over the case of scientist Wen Ho Lee, who was wrongly accused of passing U.S. secrets to China. Lee was subjected to polygraph testing, and controversy has swirled around how the tests were administered.

Polygraph tests have long been controversial; they are largely rejected by the courts and most countries, the scientists said. Still, investigators use them routinely, in part because of the belief that simply administering the tests make subjects more compliant and amenable to making confessions.

“We stress, though, that no spy has ever been caught using the polygraph,” said Kathryn Laskey, a researcher at George Mason University in Fairfax and a member of the study team assembled by the National Research Council, which is part of the National Academy of Sciences.

For the study, the 17-member panel conducted the most exhaustive review to date of published studies on polygraphs and current government polygraph procedures.

The CIA and FBI now administer polygraph tests to all prospective employees, and both agencies and the national energy labs administer periodic tests to employees with access to secret material.

Spokesmen at the FBI, the CIA and the Department of Energy said they would evaluate the report. Linton F. Brooks, acting director of the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), which oversees the nation’s nuclear stockpile and government labs, said the tests were not used on a stand-alone basis, but as part of a larger investigative fabric.

Sens. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.), chairman of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, and Pete V. Domenici (R-N.M.) yesterday called on the department to abolish the tests. The senators sponsored legislation requiring Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham and the administrator of the NNSA to implement a new polygraph rule based on the new report.

“Lie-Detector Tests Found Too Flawed to Discover Spies”

William J. Broad reports for the New York Times. Excerpt:

In a report to the government, a panel of leading scientists said yesterday that polygraph testing was too flawed to use for security screening. The panel said lie-detector tests did a poor job of identifying spies or other national-security risks and were likely to produce accusations of innocent people.

The 245-page report, by experts convened by the National Research Council, an arm of the National Academy of Sciences, said that the scientific basis for polygraph testing was weak and that much of the research supporting its use lacked scientific rigor.

Recently, worries over possible atomic espionage prompted widespread use of polygraph screening at the nation’s nuclear weapons laboratories, which are run by the Energy Department. That department requested the 19-month study and financed it.

The report is not the first to question the reliability of lie-detector testing, which is known to have limitations that make its admissibility in court, for example, sharply limited. But it is the first by the academy, and private security experts said its findings could erode support for polygraph testing inside the federal government. Defense and intelligence agencies use polygraph testing tens of thousands of times a year as part of the screening of prospective and current employees for espionage.

“National security is too important to be left to such a blunt instrument,” said Stephen E. Fienberg, a professor of statistics and computer science at Carnegie Mellon University and the panel’s leader. “The polygraph’s serious limitations in employee security screening underscore the need to look more broadly for effective, alternative methods.”

The report said lie tests, which measure pulse and breathing rates, sweating and blood pressure, had some usefulness in investigating particular crimes but were far from totally reliable. But in routine security screening, the panel said, they often flag innocent people as lying, while missing actual security risks.

“No spy has ever been caught using the polygraph,” Kathryn B. Laskey, a professor of systems engineering at George Mason University and a panel member, told reporters.

The council is the research arm of the National Academy of Sciences, an organization of eminent scientists chartered by Congress to advise the government on scientific matters. The report is the academy’s first formal assessment of polygraph testing. The panel performed its evaluation by reviewing previous research on lie detector tests and by visiting centers where the tests are performed and developed.

White House officials said the academy report would be carefully studied.

“It’s important to note,” said Gordon D. Johndroe, spokesman for the White House Office of Homeland Security, “that polygraph examinations are one small part of a very comprehensive background investigation” for people in the government’s most sensitive programs.

Steven Aftergood, a security expert at the Federation of American Scientists, a private group in Washington, said the report could be decisive in the long-standing debate over the polygraph’s reliability. “People will still want to use it, but they will no longer be able to say experts disagree” on its usefulness, he said. “They don’t.”