DOJ Rationalizes Away Polygraph’s Failure to Catch Alleged Anthrax Killer Bruce Ivins

Bruce E. Ivins
Bruce E. Ivins

On Friday, 19 February 2010, the U.S. Department of Justice announced the conclusion of its investigation into the 2001 anthrax attacks. The DOJ maintains that  Dr. Bruce Edwards Ivans, who in 2002 passed a polygraph test regarding the anthrax attacks, was the sole perpetrator.

In an investigative summary (640 kb PDF), the DOJ characterizes Ivins’ passing of the polygraph as part of an effort to “stay ahead of the investigation,” alleging (at p. 84, fn. 51) that he used countermeasures to fool the polygraph:

In some sense, Dr. Ivins’s efforts to stay ahead of the investigation began much earlier. When he took a polygraph in connection with the investigation in 2002, the examiner determined that he passed. However, as the investigation began to hone in on Dr. Ivins and investigators learned that he had been prescribed a number of psychotropic medications at the time of the 2002 polygraph, investigators resubmitted his results to examiners at FBI Headquarters and the Department of Defense Polygraph Institute for a reassessment of the results in light of that new information. Both examiners who independently reassessed the results determined that Dr. Ivins exhibited “classic” signs of the use of countermeasures to pass a polygraph. At the time the polygraph was initially examined in 2002, not all examiners were trained to spot countermeasures, making the first analysis both understandable under the circumstances, and irrelevant to the subsequent conclusion that he used countermeasures.

Although the summary doesn’t state what “classic” signs of countermeasures Ivins allegedly displayed, Michael Isikoff of Newsweek reported in 2008 that the FBI “concluded he’d used ‘countermeasures’ such as controlled breathing to fool the examiners.”

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Former Aide to Colin Powell Accused of Espionage, Fired Based on Polygraph Results

DIA sealA recently filed federal lawsuit documents how a veteran intelligence officer with the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) was accused of espionage and summarily fired after failing a series of polygraph “tests” (a procedure roundly rejected by scientists as being without scientific basis). The following is an excerpt from the statement of complaint (160 kb PDF) filed on 7 January 2010 by attorney Mark S. Zaid in behalf of Lieutenant Colonel John Dullahan, United States Army (retired) against the DIA and others:

19. Dullahan retired from the Army in 1992 as a Lieutenant Colonel after more than two decades of distinguished military service, including airborne and Ranger training, with the 82ndAirborne Division, and combat in Vietnam as an artillery forward observer. During his career, Dullahan learned German, French, and Arabic, became both a European and Middle Eastern Foreign Area Officer, and served in various capacities for the U.S. government in Europe and the Middle East.

20. In September 1997, Dullahan returned to DIA as a civilian employee. In the course of his work for DIA, he successfully completed a polygraph examination during which no issues surfaced.

21. In early 2008 two FBI agents asked Dullahan if he would participate in a special program, subject to approval by then-Director of DIA LTG Michael Maples. In or around February 2008, Dullahan willingly participated in an FBI polygraph as a condition of his participation in the special program.

22. During the polygraph examination, the FBI examiner alleged that Dullahan’s participation in Ranger, Airborne training, and combat duty (as well as his enjoyment of hang-gliding) demonstrated “risk-taking” behavior which made him more likely to seek contact with a foreign intelligence service. The polygraph examiner accused Dullahan of meeting “Soviet handlers” when he had visited — twenty years earlier — East Germany in the early 1980s, during his U.N. assignment in Syria, and on his numerous official trips to Europe while on the Joint Staff, including trips with General Powell.

23. The polygraph examiner also alleged Dullahan had adopted the Communist beliefs of his liaison counterparts merely by associating with them. The polygraph examiner’s supervisor likewise accused Dullahan of spying for the Soviets. After the exam was complete, FBI officials informed Dullahan he had “failed” the polygraph and was “in big trouble.” At no time did Dullahan make any unfavorable admissions during the course of the polygraph examination that would justify such conclusions. Upon information and belief, the only “evidence” that allegedly existed to support the FBI’s apparent conclusions was, if anything, the technical results of the polygraph examination.

24. Both Dullahan and his wife, who was then and still remains at the time of filing a senior DIA employee, immediately reported the alleged FBI polygraph results to their respective DIA chains of command. Dullahan further requested that DIA conduct an extensive background investigation to clear his name.

25. Shortly thereafter, two FBI officials, Alexis LNU and Carlos LNU, showed Dullahan an outdated 1985 report that contained adverse accusations about his activities and informed him that they understood his probable anxiety about the incident, had no concerns with his foreign contacts, and that a second polygraph would likely resolve the issue. They opined the alleged FBI polygraph failure was unlikely to present an obstacle to Dullahan’s participation in the special program.

26. In or around February 2008, the FBI administered a second polygraph examination to Dullahan and again claimed that he “failed”. At no time before, during or after the examination did Dullahan make any admissions that could be construed as adverse to his interests.

27. Dullahan then sent separate letters to DIA Director LTG Maples and the FBI protesting what he believed was an unfair process and that the polygraph results were inaccurate. He reiterated his willingness to participate in the special program as the FBI had requested. No written responses were ever received.

28. Shortly thereafter, FBI Special Agents Alexis LNU and Carlos LNU again interviewed Dullahan. During this second meeting, the two Special Agents asked Dullahan why he had not previously reported an unspecified foreign intelligence service “offer.” Apparently, Dullahan had mistakenly typed in one of the letters referenced above the sentence “I went to the home of the Soviet offer [sic].” The word “offer” should have been “officer” and the error was being misinterpreted as if he had gone to a Soviet home and received some form of recruitment “pitch” or “offer”. Special Agents Alexis LNU and Carlos LNU now accused Dullahan of trying to conceal and/or lie about this nonexistent foreign intelligence overture. In fact, Dullahan had received no such pitch or overture but his explanation, however, appeared to fall on deaf ears.

29. On October 1, 2008, Dullahan wrote another letter to the FBI. In it, he once again protested what he believed was an unfair process and that the polygraph results were inaccurate. He again reiterated his willingness to participate in the special program as the FBI had requested. Dullahan requested a personal meeting with the deciding authority and offered to re-take another polygraph examination. No written response was ever received.

30. In November 2008, Dullahan applied for another DIA position on the Joint Intelligence Task Force Combating Terrorism. A DIA counterintelligence official informed him that the two “failed” FBI polygraphs would have to be resolved before Dullahan could receive another position within DIA.

31. On or about December 18, 2008, Scott C. and Cassie LNU, two DIA counterintelligence officers, interviewed Dullahan. They initially appeared satisfied with Dullahan’s explanations and stated that resolving the issue was likely to be a relatively simple matter of administrative action. Furthermore, they also noted that Dullahan was not the first DIA person to experience difficulties with the FBI’s polygraph examinations. They stated that the alleged FBI polygraph failures were unlikely to present a further obstacle to Dullahan’s career and expressed their belief that a DIA polygraph, which was reputedly “fairer,” was likely to clear the matter up. Dullahan willingly agreed to undertake whatever examination DIA deemed necessary to resolve the issue.

32. On February 3, 2009, Dullahan underwent a third polygraph but this time performed by a DIA polygraph examiner. The polygraph examiner informed Dullahan he detected deception. No details were provided to Dullahan to explain the polygraph results, and absolutely no adverse admissions were made by him during the course of the examination.

33. On February 17, 2009, Dullahan was placed on administrative leave and his clearance was suspended without explanation. Upon information and belief, DIA took this action based solely, or at least predominantly, as a result of the technical results of the polygraph examinations.

34. On March 17, 2009, DIA Director LTG Maples personally issued two letters stating that Dullahan’s employment with DIA was terminated and his SCI access was permanently revoked. No substantive or detailed reason was given for Dullahan’s termination or clearance revocation.

It should be noted that both the FBI and DIA have willfully ignored the 2002 finding of the National Academy of Sciences 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.” In fact, both agencies have substantially increased their reliance on polygraphy over the past decade. In 2008, the Associated Press reported that the DIA was implementing a major increase in its polygraph program, despite the polygraph’s failure to catch the DIA’s most notorious double agent and the success of Iraqi fabricators in fooling the DIA’s polygraph operators. will follow the case of LTC Dullahan closely and provide updates as further information becomes available.

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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