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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In 2002, some two years before Ma and Aragoncillo beat the polygraph, the National Academy of Sciences advised that “[polygraph testing’s] accuracy in distinguishing actual or potential security violators from innocent test takers is insufficient to justify reliance on its use in employee security screening in federal agencies.”

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

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. Breman.

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 Law Enforcement Pre-Employment Test (LEPET)

NCCA LEPET Administration Guide

AntiPolygraph.org has obtained a copy of the National Center for Credibility Assessment’s documentation of the polygraph screening technique “used by federal law enforcement agencies during the pre-employment process.”

The 23-page document, dated 3 March 2016, provides instructions for administration of the so-called “Law Enforcement Pre-Employment Test” (LEPET), to which applicants for employment with such agencies as the FBI, DEA, ATF, and U.S. Secret Service are subjected.

In 2004, AntiPolygraph.org published an earlier version of this document, dated January 2002, which remains available. The LEPET manual has changed little since this earlier version.

When we first published this document, then recently retired FBI supervisory special agent, scientist, and polygraph expert Drew Campbell Richardson observed regarding it:

This is more or less THE SCRIPT for what you will see and what you will hear. You will see the order, even the very language and characterizations of the foolishness that we have come to know as polygraph screening. This document is sufficiently important that it requires your careful attention and then your careful attention again.

The LEPET manual will remain of great interest to anyone seeking employment with a federal law enforcement agency with a polygraph screening requirement.

FBI Suspends Senior Analyst’s Security Clearance Over Alleged Polygraph Countermeasures

fbi-polygraphHuffington Post reporter Jessica Schulberg tells the story of a senior FBI intelligence analyst who lost his security clearance and his job over a polygraph operator’s accusation that he employed polygraph countermeasures. Excerpt:

WASHINGTON — Logan tried to stay calm as he boarded the subway to take the one-mile trip from his office at FBI headquarters to Patriots Plaza. He could have walked, but he didn’t want to risk getting sweaty or disheveled before his polygraph examination.

There was nothing to worry about, Logan told himself. During his 11 years as an FBI intelligence analyst, he had already passed two polygraphs — one when he was hired in 2003 and another in 2008. The bureau administers polygraphs to potential hires and then reinvestigates its employees every five years throughout their employment.

But as he headed to Patriots Plaza that morning in September 2014, Logan (whose name has been changed to protect his identity) couldn’t stop thinking about his polygraph results from the year before. His anxiety had taken over, and the test caught physiological reactions in response to national security questions. The examiner accused him of lying and attempting to cheat the polygraph. Logan denied both charges. The FBI scheduled a retest.

This time would be different. It had to be different, or he could lose his security clearance and his job.

But the 2014 retest got off to a bad start. Logan felt a panic attack set in as soon as the exam began. He focused on steadying his breathing and restoring his calm.

Logan’s attempts to quiet his nerves backfired. The polygrapher accused him of using a “countermeasure” ? a poorly defined term for deliberately altering one’s physiological state (by, say, sticking a thumbtack in one’s shoe) in order to hide lying on a polygraph. Logan denied the charge, but after several hours under pressure, he amended a written statement to include self-incriminating phrases he alleges were fed to him by the polygrapher. That statement was later used against him when the FBI revoked his security clearance, effectively putting him out of work. Logan appealed.

After nearly two years without pay, he is still trying to regain his clearance.

Read the rest of this important story here. In September 2105 the late Dr. Drew C. Richardson, a retired FBI scientist and polygraph critic, posted to AntiPolygraph.org the text of a declaration that he provided in support of the FBI employee in question.

Federal Judge Throws Out FBI Post-Polygraph Confession Over Concerns About Voluntariness

United_States_Courthouse_Albuquerque_New_Mexico
United States Courthouse, Albuquerque, New Mexico

On 9 June 2016, Chief United States District Judge for the District of New Mexico M. Christina Armijo signed an 8-page order suppressing inculpatory statements made to an FBI polygraph examiner by the suspect in a child molestation investigation. The post-polygraph statements made by Jamaico Tennison to FBI Special Agent and polygraph examiner Jennifer Sullivan constituted the key evidence against Tennison, who was criminally charged.

Armijo, a George W. Bush appointee, had serious concerns about the voluntariness of Tennison’s statements, noting “Sullivan’s interrogation of Defendant on June 11, 2014 was tainted by the denial of Defendant’s request for appointed counsel.” Armijo also expressed serious concerns about the polygraph “test” (at pp. 6-7):

The polygraph exam

The Court and the parties spent a considerable amount of time and effort addressing the validity of the results of the polygraph examination conducted by SA Sullivan on June 11, 2014. SA Sullivan conducted a polygraph examination that was valid under the FBI’s in-house protocols. Although SA Sullivan is an experienced polygrapher, she demonstrated little understanding of, or interest in, the underlying theory. The FBI employs a three-point scoring system, knowing that it enhances sensitivity at the expense of specificity. SA Sullivan uses this standard FBI format because it is what she is authorized to use. She believes that her polygraphs are 100% accurate. In fact, from the testimony adduced at trial, due to the high sensitivity and low specificity of the FBI format, an innocent person has about a one-in-three chance of being classified as non-deceptive. The likelihood that innocent subjects will be subjected to post-test interrogation is heightened by SA Sullivan’s practice of interrogating any subject whose scores are inconclusive, not merely those subjects whose charts are scored as deceptive. Moreover, the Court does not find the single study of the two comparison-two relevant questions format cited by the United States…as conclusive of the validity of the two comparison-two relevant questions format. Based upon the testimony adduced at hearing, the Court is left with the impression that as used by SA Sullivan in Defendant’s case, the polygraph examination was employed to ratchet up the emotional pressure in anticipation of the inevitable interrogation of Defendant.

The equipment used by Agent Sullivan was capable of making an audio recording. Pursuant to FBI policy, Agent Sullivan did not record the pre-test or the polygraph examination proper, and for reasons of her own, did not record the post-test interrogation. Under the circumstances of this case, the absence of a recording of the interrogation, which would have permitted the Court to hear the actual words and the tones of voice of the participants, constitutes a failure of proof as to whether SA Sullivan conducted her interrogation within Fifth Amendment bounds. See United States v. Bundy, 966 F. Supp. 2d 1180, 1186 (D.N.M. 2013).

The Court further concludes that the taint of the initial confession was not sufficiently dissipated before the final interrogation, which began a few minutes after the unrecorded post-test interrogation. Accordingly, the statements made by Defendant during the final recorded interrogation were the fruit of the involuntary unrecorded confession. See Lopez, 437 F.3d at 1066.

FBI Polygraph Operator Jennifer Sullivan
FBI Polygraph Operator Jennifer Sullivan (Waterloo, Iowa Courier photo)

Selected filings from U.S. v. Tennison (Case 1:15-cr-00212-MCA in the District Court for the District of New Mexico), including hearing transcripts, are available on AntiPolygraph.org’s Polygraph Litigation page. This case will be of particular interest to defendants in criminal cases seeking to suppress uncounseled statements made to polygraph operators.

Marisa Taylor on FBI Pre-Employment Polygraph Screening

fbi-polygraphMarisa Taylor reports for McClatchy on the high failure rate of the FBI’s pre-employment polygraph screening program using, among other sources, a 198-page document containing complaints of discrimination associated with the Bureau’s polygraph program. Excerpt:

WASHINGTON — Thousands of job applicants come to FBI offices all across the country every year, eager to work for the top law enforcement agency in the U.S.

But many of them have their hopes dashed, and it’s not because of their work experience or education or criminal records. They’re turned down because they’ve failed their polygraph tests.

The FBI’s policy of barring job candidates who fail their polygraph tests clashes with the view of many scientists that government agencies shouldn’t be relying on polygraph testing to decide whether to hire or fire someone. Experts say polygraph testing isn’t a reliable indicator of whether someone is lying – especially in employment screening.

Further, a little-known technical glitch in one of the leading polygraphs that the bureau and many other government agencies have used could give applicants who fail polygraphs even more reason to assert that they were inaccurately and unfairly labeled liars.

“I was called a lazy, lying, drug dealing junkie by a man who doesn’t know me , my stellar background or my societal contributions,” wrote one black applicant in Baltimore, who said he was told he qualified for a job except for his polygraph test failure. “Just because I am young and black does not automatically denote that I have ever used any illegal drugs.”

Government agencies use polygraph testing not only to weed out job applicants but also to question criminal suspects and to determine whether sex offenders are complying with psychological treatment or probation.

Although all polygraph testing is controversial, many scientists are highly critical of its use in job screening, saying it’s especially prone to inaccuracies because the questions are often more vague than they are in criminal investigations and therefore they’re more likely to provoke reactions from the innocent that might seem like deception.

Adding to the skepticism, polygraphers have documented problems with the measurement of sweat by the LX4000, a polygraph that the FBI and many other federal agencies and police departments across the country have used, McClatchy found. Polygraphers also interpret measurements of respiration and blood pressure for their decisions on whether someone is lying, but many see the sweat measurement as especially indicative of deception. The manufacturer of the LX4000, Lafayette Instrument Co. Inc., describes the problem as rare but it isn’t able to specify what that means. The company also points out that other polygraphs that use the same technology might have the problem as well.

For the rest of the story, see “FBI Turns Away Many Who Fail Lie-Detector Tests.” (Actually, the article might better have been titled “FBI Permanently Bars from Employment All Who Fail Lie-Detector Tests.” There is no appeal process.

The Inconvenient Issue of Alleged Anthrax Killer Bruce Ivins’ Polygraph Results

On Tuesday, 15 February 2011, the National Research Council made public its Review of the Scientific Approaches Used During the FBI’s Investigation of the Anthrax Letters, seriously undermining the Bureau’s case against U.S. Army researcher Bruce Ivins, whom the FBI maintains was the sole perpetrator of the anthrax mailings.

Polygraphy was not among the scientific approaches reviewed by the National Research Council–appropriately so, as it has no scientific basis. Nonetheless, the FBI did rely extensively on polygraphy in its investigation of the anthrax mailings, and Ivins passed a 2002 polygraph examination regarding the anthrax attacks. The FBI avers that Ivins passed the polygraph by using countermeasures.

Jeff Stein of the Washington Post addresses Ivins’ polygraph results in a new SpyTalk column titled, “Ivins Case’s Inconvenient Issue: His Polygraph.”

For prior commentary on Ivins’ polygraph examination, see “DOJ Rationalizes Away Polygraph’s Failure to Catch Alleged Anthrax Killer Bruce Ivins” and Scott Horton’s interview of AntiPolygraph.org co-founder George Maschke. For insightful commentary on the latest (non-polygraph related) developments in the Ivins case, see Salon.com columnist Glenn Greenwald’s article, “Serious Doubts Cast on FBI’s Anthrax Case Against Bruce Ivins.”

John Dullahan, DIA Analyst Fired After Failing Polygraph, Profiled in Washington Post

Washington Post staff writer Peter Finn reports in an above-the-fold front page article on the case of retired army lieutenant colonel and Defense Intelligence Agency analyst John Dullahan, whose security clearance was suspended in February 2009 after he failed three polygraph “tests.” Then DIA director LTG Michael D. Maples fired Dullahan in March 2009 (his last month as director).

DIA refuses to state its reasons for terminating LTC Dullahan, averring that “the interests of the nation do not permit disclosure to the employee of specific information about the reasons for his removal from federal service,” and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has not responded to an appeal Dullahan submitted some 18 months ago.

Continue reading John Dullahan, DIA Analyst Fired After Failing Polygraph, Profiled in Washington Post

Scott Horton Interviews George Maschke Regarding Bruce Ivins’s Polygraph Examination

On Wednesday, 24 February 2010, Scott Horton of Antiwar Radio interviewed AntiPolygraph.org co-founder George Maschke about the polygraph examination of Dr. Bruce Ivins, the DoD microbiologist the FBI asserts was the sole perpetrator of the 2001 anthrax mailings. Ivins passed a polygraph screening test in 2002. The interview is now available on-line here.