Polygraphs Reportedly Ordered in Los Alamos Probe

In an article titled, “Entering unknown territory,” Los Alamos Monitor assistant editor Roger Snodgrass confirms that some employees at Los Alamos National Laboratory have been ordered to undergo polygraph “testing” as the Deparment of Energy investigates the disappearance of two removable data storage devices. Excerpt:

According to sources, the investigation of lost computer recording data has narrowed suspects in the weapons physics department to 11 people. There were reports that some people were sobbing and others were sick to their stomach at the news that they would be subjected to a polygraph test and that some would likely be fired.

Yet Another Polygraph Dragnet at Los Alamos?

An Associated Press report published by ABCNews.com under the title, “UC Halts Los Alamos’ Classified Work” mentions the possibility of a polygraph hunt for potential security violators as Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) attempts to locate two data storage devices containing classified information. Excerpt:

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. July 16, 2004 — All classified work at Los Alamos National Laboratory has come to a halt while officials conduct a wall-to-wall inventory of sensitive data.

The unprecedented stand-down began at noon Thursday, and the inventory of CDs, floppy disks and other data storage devices is expected to be completed within days, lab spokesman Kevin Roark said.

The stand-down comes after the lab reported last week that two items containing classified information turned up missing. The items were identified only as removable data storage devices.

It is the latest in a series of embarrassments that have prompted federal officials to put the Los Alamos management contract held by the University of California up for bid for the first time in the 61-year history of the lab.

The Energy Department has announced that Deputy Energy Secretary Kyle McSlarrow and Linton Brooks, head of the National Nuclear Security Administration, will personally oversee the probe into the latest security lapse.

Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham said he told McSlarrow earlier this week to use “all available mechanisms” to find the missing items, including polygraphs.

And in an article titled, “Lost nuke disks sting lab,” Oakland Tribune staff writer Ian Hoffman reports that House Energy and Commerce Committee chairman Joe Barton is demanding that some 200 LANL employees be polygraphed. Excerpt:

SAN FRANCISCO — For the third time in five years, Los Alamos National Laboratory is shutting down all classified work and hunkering down for investigations and political lashings over the loss of two disks of nuclear-weapons related secrets.

Berated Thursday by University of California regents for the latest security failing, even senior university executives were in no mood to defend the birthplace of the bomb.

“I don’t like the culture at Los Alamos,” said UC Vice President for Lab Management Robert Foley. “I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I don’t like the culture.”

As if replaying the lab’s painful sagas of 1999 and 2002, two members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee — Chairman Joe Barton, R-Texas, and Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Colo. — arrive at Los Alamos on Monday to investigate, accompanied by Deputy Energy Secretary Kyle McSlarrow and National Nuclear Security Administration chief Linton Brooks.

Barton on Tuesday demanded lie-detector tests for 200 lab employees and stiffer security measures on classified material safes.

It will be recalled that the Department of Energy conducted a polygraph dragnet of Nuclear Emergency Search Team (NEST) members at LANL’s X Division back in the spring of 2000 in an attempt to determine who was responsible for the disappearance of two classified hard drives (which were later discovered behind a copier in a room that had been searched by the FBI). The polygraph failed to solve the mystery.

“Leaking Classified Information and Polygraphs”

In a letter to the Los Alamos National Laboratory’s “Readers Forum,” R. Roberts Stevens points out congressional hypocrisy with regard to polygraph “testing.” Stevens’ short letter is cited in full here:

Leaking classified information and polygraphs

I read a news report on CNN describing President Bush’s anger over recent leaks of classified information. The report said the president was “furious that sensitive intelligence material that was shared with Congress was being repeated to the news media.” In response to these congressional leaks, the president created a new policy of restricting such information to just the four major congressional leaders and key chairmen. His policy was met with approval by several ranking congressmen, such as Tom Daschle (senate majority leader, D-S.D.), who said, “It’s unfortunate, but there’s no choice. Some people just can’t resist talking.”

The same Congress that wants to implement a program of polygraph testing at our Laboratory shows no corresponding concern for the flow of classified information that comes out of their own ranks.

I believe that polygraph testing has some potential value, although it also has some potential dangers. However, having the polygraph policy mandated by a Congress that doesn’t have the backbone to “take their own medicine” is not a good way to convince people that the benefits outweigh the costs.

–R. Robert Stevens

“Senators Propose Limited Polygraph Policy”

Roger Snodgrass of the Los Alamos Monitor reports. Excerpt:

New Mexico’s senators teamed up on Monday to strike another blow to a controversial polygraph testing program in the nation’s weapons laboratories.

Senate Bill 1261 [sic, correct 1276], cosponsored by Sen. Pete Domenici, R-NM, and Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-NM, would narrow the focus of Department of Energy polygraph tests to those who would most realistically pose an individual threat to American security secrets.

The statements of both senators on introducing the legislation were critical of the recent history of lie-detector escalation, which was imposed on the national laboratories in 1999 and expanded last year. The bill is intended to grant more flexibility to the Energy Secretary and the administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), directly in charge of the labs, to put in place a less restrictive polygraph policy.

NNSA Administrator Gen. John Gordon also has acknowledged the connection between polygraph testing and low morale in the weapons laboratories’ workforce.

“We have yet to convince the current workforce of the validity of the polygraph test as a screening tool,” Gordon testified to a House Armed Services Committee Hearing in April.

LANL employees have voiced their concerns since the first polygraph crackdown was imposed. The “Ask the Director” feature on the lab’s web page has produced four special editions answering questions about the polygraph policy.

In answer to one question, LANL Director John Browne wrote, “I have been very concerned about the significant increase in required polygraph testing among DOE contractors that was mandated by Congressional law last year.”

“I have been consistent in arguing that screening polygraphs do not add much value to security, unless you believe that they serve as a deterrent to people contemplating espionage,” he added, noting there are many examples to suggest that the deterrence value is low.

“Having stated this opinion,” he said, “we are required by our contract to follow the laws of the land.”

Browne’s answers were in response to employees who, among other complaints, pointed out inconsistencies in LANL’s official policies that define polygraph testing as voluntary, and yet treat a refusal to submit to a mandatory polygraph by leave without pay and termination with loss of severance pay.

“Polygraph Techniques Should Be Subject to Scientific Peer Review”

In this letter to the editor of the Los Alamos Monitor, Rick Nabel elaborates on Professor William G. Iacono’s recent remarks at a colloquium at Los Alamos National Laboratory. Excerpt:

[Professor Iacono]…told me that he considers polygraphy to be the most boring thing he works on. Like many of us here at Los Alamos, he is first and foremost a researcher. Debunking polygraphy is largely a hobby he pursues as a public service. We were very fortunate to have him speak at Los Alamos since he tries to limit his appearances on this topic. And how does Professor Iocono get rewarded for speaking out about polygraphs? He has received letters comparing him to Adolph Hitler and the purveyors of the holocaust. He has had death threats. Apparently there is a well entrenched polygraph community in this country that doesn’t want to have their techniques critically reviewed in public. Perhaps the most disturbing result of this lack of review was the part of Professor Iacono’s talk, where he showed us how some of the studies, which profess to show that polygraphs are accurate, cook their data. It is not surprising that the polygraph techniques that are being used by the FBI and the DOE have not been published in any of the standard scientific journals of psychophysiology. In short, the DOE is giving exams that have not been subjected to the peer review process to determine their scientific validity. While employees of the FBI and CIA might find that acceptable, that is certainly not the case for employees at a scientific institution like Los Alamos National Laboratory. We subject our work to peer review all of the time. We shouldn’t expect anything less of the purveyors of polygraph exams.

“Speaker Rates Polygraphs as Unreliable”

Los Alamos Monitor assistant editor Roger Snodrass reports on a recent talk by Professor William G. Iacono at Los Alamos National Laboratory. Excerpt:

Conventional “lie-detecting” is an outdated and dubious practice that is inherently biased against innocent people. That is the conclusion of William Iacono, a psychology professor from the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, who spoke Thursday at a Physics and Theoretical Division Colloquium at Los Alamos National Laboratory. Polygraph testing has been an increasingly prescribed antidote to recent security lapses and espionage fears at the laboratory and in the national defense complex in general.

Iacono, according to the lab’s announcement, “is widely regarded as one of the world’s foremost clinical psychophysiologists,” and “as a national expert on polygraphic interrogation and lie detection.”

His talk, he said, would answer the question, “If you’ve got nothing to hide, you’ve got nothing to worry about, right?” — a question from the cover of a vintage magazine from the 1940s with an artist’s rendering of a polygraph examination of that era. The fading respectability of the procedure was reinforced by Iacono with the information that the “lie-detector” was invented in 1924 by William Moulton Marston, and that Marston, who wrote under the pen name of “Charles Moulton,” was also the creator of the Wonder Woman comic strip. Wonder Woman, recalled Iacono, had a magic lasso that caused those encircled by its coils to tell the truth.

“The Fallout at Los Alamos”

Dave Marash reports for ABC Nightline on the security crackdown at Los Alamos National Laboratory, including the new DOE polygraph screening program. Excerpt:

JOHN BROWN, DIRECTOR, LOS ALAMOS NATIONAL LAB The–the polygraph issue is a real challenge for a scientific culture like ours.

DAVE MARASH (VO) Los Alamos lab director John Brown doesn’t hide his discomfort with the polygraph plague. He’s proud of his record of resistance to it.

JOHN BROWN It’s been reduced by limiting the numbers to selected people who have access to the most sensitive information that this laboratory possesses. The numbers are small at this laboratory right now. It’s less than about 200 people.

DAVE MARASH Just days after our interview with Dr. Brown Congress mandated wider use of the polygraph, putting hundreds more employees at Los Alamos lab, and potentially thousands more within the Department of Energy, on the list for regular, periodic polygraph examinations.

2,000+ Polygraphs Likely at Los Alamos

Jennifer McKee of the Albuquerque Tribune writes in part:

More than 2,000 Los Alamos National Laboratory employees may have to take lie-detector tests as part of an anti-spying program included in the Defense Authorization Bill signed into law this week.

The program, which expands polygraph tests to as many 20,000 employees throughout the Department of Energy, has sparked criticism from many, including President Clinton, who called the program “unrealistic” and “impractical.”