Senate Intelligence Committee Invites Increased Polygraph Screening

As noted by Steven Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists’ Project on Government Secrecy, “the Senate Intelligence Committee’s markup of the 2013 intelligence authorization bill includes 12 provisions that are intended to combat unauthorized disclosures of classified information.” Among these provisions is a requirement that within 120 days of enactment, the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) provide to the Senate and House intelligence committees an assessment of:

“…the practical feasibility of extending the use of the polygraph to additional Executive branch personnel and standardizing the questions used during polygraph examinations regarding disclosure of classified information and contact with the media;”

This is a virtual invitation to the executive branch to expand polygraph screening. It seems likely that in the current political climate, any proposed expansion of polygraph screening that DNI James Clapper might recommend would be approved by Congress. Clapper has already directed that a question about disclosure of classified information to members of the media be incorporated in polygraph screening examinations conducted by US intelligence agencies.

Instead of increasing its reliance on the pseudoscience of polygraphy, Congress should be instructing the DNI to terminate it. As the National Research Council concluded in 2002,“[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.”

POGO on Polygraph Screening

Dana Liebelson and Adam Zagorin of the Project on Government Oversight report on Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper’s recent decision to use polygraphs in an attempt to detect and deter media leaks. co-founder George Maschke is among those interviewed for this article.

Director of National Intelligence Orders Polygraph Question on Media Contacts

On 25 June 2012, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper announced (PDF) that he is “mandating that a question related to unauthorized disclosure of classified information be added to the counterintelligence polygraph used by all intelligence agencies that administer the examination (CIA, DIA, DOE, FBI, NGA, NRO, and NSA).”

Although Clapper’s announcement does not specify what the mandated question will be, his spokesman, Shawn Turner, told Jeremy Herb of The Hill that “officials will be asked during the lie-detector tests whether they have disclosed classified information to members of the media.”

Herb reports that both Senate Intelligence Committee chairwoman Diane Feinstein (D-CA) and House Intelligence Committee chairman Mike Rogers (R-MI) voiced support for Clapper’s announced polygraph expansion.

However, the National Research Council in 2002 concluded 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.”

The polygraph has a dismal track record when it comes to plugging leaks. In a 1982 leak investigation, members of the National Security Council (which is not covered by DNI Clapper’s recent announcement) were instructed to submit to polygraph interrogations in the course of an investigation into who leaked classified information to the New York Times. A Marine lieutenant colonel on the NSC staff, Robert McFarlane, failed the polygraph. Twice. And it nearly destroyed his career. It was only when the Times’ publisher, Arthur O. Sulzberger, himself a former marine, confirmed to President Reagan that McFarlane was not the Times’ source, that McFarlane was exonerated. The leaker was never identified, and the polygraph served only to misdirect investigators.

It should be noted that polygraph accuracy has not improved in the 30 years since that botched leak investigation. However, knowledge of how to fool the lie detector is much more widespread nowadays. See’s free book, The Lie Behind the Lie Detector (1 mb PDF) for details. If anything, polygraph dragnets for leakers are less likely to succeed today than they were during the botched Reagan era investigation that nearly destroyed Colonel McFarlane’s career.

Polygraph Didn’t Find Secret Prisons Source

It appears that CIA officer Mary McCarthy was not the source of Washington Post reporter Dana Priest’s information on the CIA’s secret prisons. In “Dismissed CIA Officer Denies Leak Role,” Post staff writers R. Jeffrey Smith and Dafna Linzer report that she denies it, and the CIA is not alleging it. Excerpt:

A lawyer representing fired CIA officer Mary O. McCarthy said yesterday that his client did not leak any classified information and did not disclose to Washington Post reporter Dana Priest the existence of secret CIA-run prisons in Eastern Europe for suspected terrorists.

The statement by Ty Cobb, a lawyer in the Washington office of Hogan & Hartson who said he was speaking for McCarthy, came on the same day that a senior intelligence official said the agency is not asserting that McCarthy was a key source of Priest’s award-winning articles last year disclosing the agency’s secret prisons.

McCarthy was fired because the CIA concluded that she had undisclosed contacts with journalists, including Priest, in violation of a security agreement. That does not mean she revealed the existence of the prisons to Priest, Cobb said.

Cobb said that McCarthy, who worked in the CIA inspector general’s office, “did not have access to the information she is accused of leaking,” namely the classified information about any secret detention centers in Europe. Having unreported media contacts is not unheard of at the CIA but is a violation of the agency’s rules.

In a statement last Friday, the agency said it had fired one of its officers for having unauthorized conversations with journalists in which the person “knowingly and willfully shared classified intelligence.” Intelligence officials subsequently acknowledged that the official was McCarthy and said that Priest is among the journalists with whom she acknowledged sharing information.

Priest won the Pulitzer Prize this month for a series of articles she wrote last year about the intelligence community, including the revelation of the existence of CIA-run prisons in East European countries. The Post withheld the names of the countries at the Bush administration’s request, and it attributed the information to current and former intelligence officials from three continents.

The articles sparked a wide-ranging CIA investigation that included polygraphing scores of officials who worked in offices privy to information about the secret prisons, including McCarthy and her boss, CIA Inspector General John L. Helgerson. Nowhere in the CIA statement last week was McCarthy accused of leaking information on the prisons, although some news accounts suggested that the CIA had made that claim.

Though McCarthy acknowledged having contact with reporters, a senior intelligence official confirmed yesterday that she is not believed to have played a central role in The Post’s reporting on the secret prisons. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity, citing personnel matters.

Smith and Linzer also note that the polygraphing of a CIA Inspector General is not unprecedented:

Fredrick P. Hitz, who was inspector general at the CIA from 1990 to 1998, said his office was the subject of a leak inquiry after The Post wrote about a classified report he submitted to Congress on the Aldrich H. Ames espionage case. “I was polygraphed several times, as were some of my staff,” Hitz said in an interview. No source for the leak was found and the investigation was terminated.

For discussion, see The Polygraph and the Mary McCarthy Case on the message board.

CIA Inspector General Polygraphed

In “Moves Signal Tighter Secrecy Within C.I.A.,” New York Times reporters Scott Shane and Mark Mazzetti write that CIA Inspector General John L. Helgerson is among the employees polygraphed in the Agency’s ongoing leak hunt. Excerpt:

WASHINGTON, April 23 — The crackdown on leaks at the Central Intelligence Agency that led to the dismissal of a veteran intelligence officer last week included a highly unusual polygraph examination for the agency’s independent watchdog, Inspector General John L. Helgerson, intelligence officials with knowledge of the investigation said Sunday.

The special polygraphs, which have been given to dozens of employees since January, are part of a broader effort by Porter J. Goss, the director of the C.I.A., to re-emphasize a culture of secrecy that has included a marked tightening of the review process for books and articles by former agency employees.

As the inspector general, Mr. Helgerson was the supervisor of Mary O. McCarthy, who was fired Thursday after admitting she had leaked classified information to reporters about secret C.I.A. detention centers and other subjects, agency officials said.

Mr. Goss and the C.I.A.’s deputy director, Vice Adm. Albert M. Calland III, voluntarily submitted to polygraph tests during the leak investigation to show they were willing to experience the same scrutiny they were asking other employees to undergo, agency officials said. Mr. Helgerson likewise submitted to the lie-detector test, they said.

But Mr. Helgerson’s status as the independent inspector general — a post to which he was appointed by the president and from which only the president can remove him — makes his submission to a polygraph even more unusual.

L. Britt Snider, who served as inspector general from 1998 to 2001, said in an interview on Sunday night that he had not been given a polygraph in that position, though he said he was given an initial polygraph when he arrived at the agency in 1997 as special counsel to the director.

“I’ve never heard of it, and it’s certainly unusual,” Mr. Snider said. He called it “awkward” for the inspector general to be, in effect, investigated by the agency he ordinarily investigates.

But Mr. Snider and another former senior intelligence official said that it would not be improper if Mr. Helgerson had volunteered for the polygraph to set an example for others.

Reached by telephone on Sunday, Mr. Helgerson declined to comment and referred a reporter to a C.I.A. spokesman, who said he could not comment on any aspect of the leak investigation.

Further details about the inspector general’s polygraph test could not be determined.

Mr. Goss has repeatedly expressed unhappiness with what he sees as the laxity of C.I.A. employees and retirees in discussing agency matters. He has taken up the cause of tightening information controls across the board, partly in response to calls from the White House, the Congressional intelligence committees and the presidential commission on weapons of mass destruction.

Mr. Helgerson’s office, which investigates accusations of lapses in the ethics or performance of agency employees, has investigated some of the most serious controversies of recent years, including cases involving accusations of detainee abuse.

Since a 1989 change following the Iran-contra scandal, the C.I.A.’s internal watchdog has been confirmed by the Senate and has reported to the Congressional intelligence committees as well as to the C.I.A. director, a shift intended to assure the position’s independence.

Among the subjects handled by Mr. Helgerson’s office was a report completed last year that faulted senior C.I.A. officials for lapses in the failure to prevent the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. But Mr. Goss kept the report classified and did not punish any of those named.

Former officials say the inspector general’s office has also referred more than half a dozen cases of detainee abuse to the Department of Justice, but officials there have taken no action, except for a pending prosecution of one agency contract employee charged with beating an Afghan prisoner who later died.

The “single-issue” polygraphs, which are distinct from the routine polygraphs given to agency employees at least every five years, have been conducted by the C.I.A. Security Center but with close supervision from Mr. Goss’s office, one official said. Like other current and former intelligence officials, he was granted anonymity to discuss classified events at the agency without fear of retribution.

It should be noted that CIA director Porter Goss and deputy director VADM Albert M. Calland III’s “volunteering” to be polygraphed to “show they were willing to experience the same scrutiny they were asking other employees to undergo” was political theater. They both ran zero risk of failing the polygraph. No CIA polygrapher would be so stupid as to flunk the director or deputy director. Those who polygraphed Goss and Calland would have known that it was their own jobs that were on the line.

CIA Officer Admits Media Contacts in Post-Polygraph Interrogation

While there is broad agreement amongst scientists that polygraph “testing” has no scientific basis, and the National Academy of Sciences has recently confirmed that polygraph screening is completely invalid, there is no question that the polygraph can be useful for getting admissions from those who can still be convinced that the polygrapher can see their soul. While such duping is becoming increasingly difficult as knowledge of “the lie behind the lie detector” spreads, it appears to have succeeded in the CIA’s polygraph dragnet aimed at identifying employees who have made unauthorized media contacts.

In an article titled “C.I.A. Fires Senior Officer Over Leaks,” New York Times reporters David Johnston and Scott Shane mention, among other things, the role of the polygraph in the firing of CIA officer Mary O. McCarthy. Excerpt:

WASHINGTON, April 21 — The Central Intelligence Agency has dismissed a senior career officer for disclosing classified information to reporters, including material for Pulitzer Prize-winning articles in The Washington Post about the agency’s secret overseas prisons for terror suspects, intelligence officials said Friday.

The C.I.A. would not identify the officer, but several government officials said it was Mary O. McCarthy, a veteran intelligence analyst who until 2001 was senior director for intelligence programs at the National Security Council, where she served under President Bill Clinton and into the Bush administration.

At the time of her dismissal, Ms. McCarthy was working in the agency’s inspector general’s office, after a stint at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, an organization in Washington that examines global security issues.

The dismissal of Ms. McCarthy provided fresh evidence of the Bush administration’s determined efforts to stanch leaks of classified information. The Justice Department has separately opened preliminary investigations into the disclosure of information to The Post, for its articles about secret prisons, as well as to The New York Times, for articles last fall that disclosed the existence of a program of domestic eavesdropping without warrants supervised by the National Security Agency. Those articles were also recognized this week with a Pulitzer Prize.

Several former veteran C.I.A. officials said the dismissal of an agency employee over a leak was rare and perhaps unprecedented. One official recalled the firing of a small number of agency contractors, including retirees, for leaking several years ago.

The dismissal was announced Thursday at the C.I.A. in an e-mail message sent by Porter J. Goss, the agency’s director, who has made the effort to stop unauthorized disclosure of secrets a priority. News of the dismissal was first reported Friday by MSNBC.

Ms. McCarthy’s departure followed an internal investigation by the C.I.A.’s Security Center, as part of an intensified effort that began in January to scrutinize employees who had access to particularly classified information. She was given a polygraph examination, confronted about answers given to the polygraph examiner and confessed, the government officials said. On Thursday, she was stripped of her security clearance and escorted out of C.I.A. headquarters. Ms. McCarthy did not reply Friday evening to messages left by e-mail and telephone.

In January, current and former government officials said, Mr. Goss ordered polygraphs for intelligence officers who knew about certain “compartmented” programs, including the secret detention centers for terrorist suspects. Polygraphs are routinely given to agency employees at least every five years, but special polygraphs can be ordered when a security breach is suspected.

The results of such exams are regarded as important indicators of deception among some intelligence officials. But they are not admissible as evidence in court — and the C.I.A.’s reliance on the polygraph in Ms. McCarthy’s case could make it more difficult for the government to prosecute her.

And in “CIA Officer Is Fired for Media Leaks,” Washington Post reporter Dafna Linzer mentions that “CIA officials said the career intelligence officer failed more than one polygraph test and acknowledged unauthorized contacts with reporters.”

Polygraph advocates will point to this case as a success for the polygraph. And in terms of obtaining Ms. McCarthy’s admission(s), they may well be correct. However, it remains doubtful whether the polygraph can be credited for having “detected” a leaker. One would have to ask, how many other CIA employees who did not speak with the media failed polygraphs on this topic? And how many who did speak with the media nonetheless passed their polygraphs?

In addition, McCarthy may have been identified prior to the polygraph by other means, such as the NSA’s ongoing illegal domestic surveillance program. On 28 December 2005, independent journalist Wayne Madsen reported:

NSA spied on its own employees, other U.S. intelligence personnel, and their journalist and congressional contacts. WMR has learned that the National Security Agency (NSA), on the orders of the Bush administration, eavesdropped on the private conversations and e-mail of its own employees, employees of other U.S. intelligence agencies — including the CIA and DIA — and their contacts in the media, Congress, and oversight agencies and offices.

If a leaker within the CIA were actually identified through such illegal means, a “failed polygraph” would provide the perfect cover.

To discuss this story, see The Polygraph and the McCarthy Case on the message board.

Greensboro City Council Votes to Polygraph Itself

Greensboro, North Carolina News Record staff writer Eric Swensen reports in a 19 April article titled, “Council Says Yes to Polygraphs” that with a lone dissenting vote, the Greensboro City Council has voted to voluntary subject itself to lie detector testing in an effort to determine who amongst them leaked a police report to the News Record. Excerpt:

GREENSBORO — The City Council voted 8-1 Tuesday night to ask itself to voluntarily take lie-detector tests on whether a council member leaked an investigative report on former police Chief David Wray to the News & Record.

Dianne Bellamy-Small cast the lone no vote. Bellamy-Small said she didn’t appreciate having her integrity questioned and is offended that people may think she was involved in leaking the report.

“It’s divisive,” she said.

If the council is focused on infighting, she said, “we’re not going to get the focus on cleaning up the Greensboro Police Department.”

She declined to comment further after the meeting.

Sandy Carmany, who has been the most outspoken critic of the leak among council members, said her decision to volunteer for a lie-detector test isn’t meant to point fingers at other council members, “but to confirm my own integrity.” Carmany said in March that “we’re 95 percent sure” that a council member leaked the report to the newspaper.

Tom Phillips, who entered the motion to conduct the tests, said the uncertainty over who leaked the report “has really strained the ability of the (city) manager to work with council dealing with sensitive information.”

Yvonne Johnson echoed that notion.

“It’s important that the manager be able to trust the council,” she said.
But Mayor Keith Holliday and other council members said the request for lie-detector tests came from council members, not from City Manager Mitchell Johnson.

Each lie-detector test will cost about $500. Councilman Mike Barber suggested the cost of the tests be taken from council members’ travel budgets; no other council members objected.

Kudos to Greensboro Councilwoman Dianne Bellamy-Small for being a lone voice of reason on a ship of fools. The Greensboro News-Record editorial staff skewers the City Council for its polygraph vote in today’s editorial, aptly titled “Exercise in Incredulity.”’s George Maschke has sent the following e-mail to the entire Greensboro City Council:

The Greensboro News-Record reports that the City Council has voted to subject itself to lie detector testing regarding the leak of a police document.

I’m a co-founder of, a non-profit, public interest website dedicated to exposing and ending waste, fraud, and abuse associated with the use of lie detectors. As you have foolishly decided to subject yourselves to this procedure, you should be aware that there is consensus amongst scientists that polygraph “testing” has no scientific basis:

You should also be aware that polygraphy has an inherent bias against the truthful, and yet the “test” can be easily passed by liars employing simple countermeasures that polygraph examiners cannot detect. You’ll find polygraph procedure and countermeasures explained in’s free e-book, The Lie Behind the Lie Detector, which may be downloaded here:

I would be happy to address any questions you may have in this regard.


George W. Maschke

PS:A copy of this e-mail will be forwarded to the News-Record.

California Judge Suggests Apple Computer Should Have Used Lie Detectors to Find Leaker

Thumbs down to California Court of Appeal Associate Justice Franklin D. Elia, who yesterday suggested that Apple Computer, which is seeking access to e-mail archives that could help identify an employee believed to have leaked trade secrets, should have done due diligence by subjecting its employees to lie detector testing to find the leaker.

Matthew Honan reports in Macworld:

Noting that Apple had neither subjected its employees to a lie detector test, nor had them deposed under oath in order to find the guilty party, Elia also speculated as to the court’s role in the case.

“All you want is the name of the–excuse me–the snitch,” said Elia. “We are not here to be the super personnel committee for your company.”

To begin with, lie detectors don’t work. Moreover, under the federal Employee Polygraph Protection Act, private employers, like Apple Computer, may not compel their employees to submit to such pseudoscientific nonsense. Judge Elia should know better.

Israel: “Vilan Critical of Polygraph for IDF Officers”

The following report from is cited here in full. It makes reference to the compulsory polygraph “testing” of Israeli officers in an attempt to track the source of a media leak about a military disagreement with Prime Minister Ariel Sharon:

( MK (Yahad) Avshalom Vilan, who served in an elite IDF unit, expressed sharp criticism against the decision to compel IDF commanders in Gaza to submit to a polygraph exam.

The move has resulted in the resignation from his post of Brigadier-General Shmuel Zakkai, Commander of Forces in Gaza, who angrily explained that if senior command lacks trust in him and his decision-making ability, he cannot continue to serve in his current command. At present, it remains to be seen if Zakkai will continue in the IDF or will decide to leave the service as a result.

Vilan concurred, adding if the system does not trust its commanders there is a serious problem which cannot be rectified by a polygraph, which he added in inconclusive at best.

“Investigators Seek Lie Detector Tests in Terrorism Case”

Eric Lichtblau reports for the New York Times:

WASHINGTON, Sept. 3 – Justice Department investigators have sought to have senior federal prosecutors take polygraph examinations in an effort to determine who leaked the name of a confidential informant in a Detroit terrorism case that has become a major embarrassment for the department, officials said Friday.

At the same time, leading Congressional Republicans have raised concerns about the leak of the informant’s name and about the department’s handling of the case, which led a federal judge in Detroit this week to throw out the terrorism convictions of two Arab immigrants accused of being part of a cell there.

In a pointed letter sent to the Justice Department last month and obtained this week by The New York Times, Senator Orrin G. Hatch of Utah, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee and regarded as the department’s strongest advocate in Congress, questioned whether officials at the agency “are fully cooperating” in an investigation into the leak, “including submitting to polygraphs.”

Congressional officials said they were concerned that the department, which after an investigation has placed blame for the collapse of the Detroit case largely on a single prosecutor, Richard G. Convertino, appeared to have resisted the idea of requiring polygraph examinations for a small group of officials who had access to the name of the informant.

The informant’s name was published by The Detroit Free Press in January, in an article that gave a detailed account of accusations of ethical misconduct on the part of Mr. Convertino, the lead prosecutor in the case.

Among the accusations, which he has denied, was that he had improperly persuaded a judge to reduce the sentence of the drug dealer who served as the informant and who helped in translating Arab-language tapes seized in the defendants’ apartment.

The informant, an Arab man in his 30’s, said then in an interview with The Times that the disclosure of his cooperation with the Justice Department had caused him to fear for his life, forcing him to sleep in his truck for two nights. He later fled the country and returned to the Middle East as a result of the episode.

Justice Department officials in Washington and Detroit declined to discuss the status of the leak investigation, which is being conducted by the department’s inspector general. Asked whether prosecutors had agreed to take lie-detector tests, a spokeswoman for the United States attorney’s office in Detroit said Friday, “I can’t comment on that.”

In a court filing this week, Mr. Convertino was accused by the Justice Department of withholding from the defense numerous pieces of evidence that could have influenced the outcome of the terrorism case. The court threw out the convictions the next day.

Mr. Convertino, who was removed from the case late last year, has vigorously denied that he knowingly withheld any evidence and maintains that the Justice Department is retaliating against him because he cooperated with a Congressional investigation in an unrelated case. He says that he himself was victimized by the leak, which publicized information from his personnel file as well as the name of the informant.

And his lawyer, William Sullivan, said in an interview on Friday that some of the same prosecutors in Detroit whom he suspects of trying to discredit Mr. Convertino by leaking the name of the informant had taken part in the investigation into how the terrorism prosecution was conducted. He said those officials should have been recused from that inquiry.

The inspector general’s investigation into the disclosure of the confidential information is continuing, and in fact is near conclusion, a department official said.

Such investigations are notoriously difficult and time-consuming to resolve; a criminal investigation into the disclosure of an undercover C.I.A. officer’s identity to the columnist Robert Novak and other journalists is now in its ninth month.

Senator Hatch sent his letter to the Justice Department on Aug. 4, nearly a month before the Detroit terrorism case finally collapsed. In it, he said that he “was proud of the department’s hard work and successful prosecution of the Detroit terrorist cell” but that he was troubled by the deterioration of the case. He said he was also concerned about reports that Mr. Convertino and other members of the prosecution team had faced retaliation by the department as a result of conflicts over the course of the prosecution.

The senator urged that Mr. Convertino, who himself is being investigated by the department’s Office of Professional Responsibility, “be treated fairly,” and he asked to know “what protections are in place for O.P.R. investigators and staff to ensure that investigations are not used to further political bureaucratic and retaliatory measures.”

Mr. Hatch’s letter was unusual both for what it said and for who said it, because he has been an outspoken defender of the department and Attorney General John Ashcroft. The senator’s office declined to discuss his concerns on Friday.

Other lawmakers have also raised concerns. In joint letters to the department in April and May, Representatives F. James Sensenbrenner Jr., the Wisconsin Republican who heads the House Judiciary Committee, and John Conyers Jr. of Michigan, the panel’s ranking Democrat, questioned what sanctions could be applied to a federal employee who disclosed the name of an informant and whether steps had been taken to protect the Detroit informant after his identity was disclosed.

In a June response to Mr. Sensenbrenner and Mr. Conyers, the department did not discuss details concerning the Detroit informant but said that in general, if an informant’s identity is disclosed, “an immediate action would be removal of the informant from any operational or intelligence-gathering roles, followed by temporary or permanent relocation of the informant and his/her family, if applicable.”

While the leak of a confidential informant’s name is indeed embarassing to the Justice Department, so too should its attempted reliance on pseudoscientific polygraph “tests” in an effort to find the leaker.