War Plans Leak Investigation to Include Polygraphs?

Lenny Savino reports for the Tampa Tribune in an article titled, “Probe of War Plan Leak Widens.” Excerpt:

MacDILL AIR FORCE BASE – The investigation into a leak to The New York Times of an Iraqi invasion plan drafted by U.S. Central Command here is far larger than originally believed and is being conducted like an espionage probe, officials said Wednesday.

OSI originally said it had 15 agents pursuing the war plan leak. But Maj. Mike Richmond, an OSI spokesman, said that number has grown to 30.

Shari Wagner, a retired OSI investigator based at MacDill in the 1990s, said when she was assigned to similar cases that had no suspect, the agency used a series of “investigative steps” to zero in on suspects.

The steps are a process of elimination through which people with access to the information in question would be interviewed several times, Wagner said.

“Let’s say you’ve got 32 people in an office,” Wagner said. “You interview each one and ask them preselected questions, generic questions like, `What do you think would happen to the individual that committed this crime?’ ”

The interviews are designed in part to produce vital information about such things as how a given crime might have been committed, Wagner said.

For example, asking someone how classified material might have been removed from a secure area might supply agents with real scenarios that in turn could be used to find a culprit.

“They’ll know more about their workplace where the crime was committed than you’ll ever know,” Wagner said. “Their procedures may be different than in other offices. It’s the human factor.”

After each round of interviews, investigators grade each interviewee’s responses for “guilt indicators.”

Polygraphs Could Be Given

When the number of suspects is reduced to two or three, Wagner said, each might be asked to take a polygraph before a final interview. Psychological profiles might be prepared on suspects as well, Richmond said.

Richmond acknowledged that polygraphs are a “tool available to us that we will use when and where it is appropriate, and only with the consent of the person being interviewed.”

Some current and former federal agents say voluntary polygraphs are intimidating and have never identified a U.S. spy or leak.

“I think the fact that the polygraph is voluntary is a little disingenuous,” said Mark Mullah [sic, correct: Mallah], a former FBI agent in New York. “If you don’t volunteer, there are adverse consequences.”

Mullah learned that taking the test could have adverse consequences, too.

In 1994, after CIA agent Aldrich Ames was arrested for spying for the Soviets, the FBI decided to give polygraphs to its own agents to see if any had been compromised.

Mullah was told he failed his test – that he had lied about having had contact with Israel, he said. Mullah insisted he was telling the truth.

There was a two-year investigation, during which Mullah was reassigned. Finally he was cleared. Disgusted with his ordeal, he resigned to practice law in California.

During his nine years in the FBI, Mullah said he witnessed two leak investigations. They have a chilling effect, he said.

“My supervisor at the time said this is why it’s better not to know too much,” Mullah said. “Then you get snared into these investigations.”

“FBI Describes Polygraph Failure Rate as ‘Surprisingly Low'”

Lenny Savino of the Knight Ridder Washington bureau reports. Excerpt:

WASHINGTON – “Less than 25” top FBI officials and other personnel in sensitive positions failed to pass polygraph exams initiated in the wake of the Robert Hanssen spy case, according to senior bureau officials.

Failure to pass could mean either that the findings were inconclusive or that polygraph subjects “showed deception,” officials told Knight Ridder Newspapers on Friday, speaking on condition that they not be named. They would not say how many of the polygraph exams indicated FBI personnel might be lying.

More than 500 FBI personnel took the tests, ordered in March by former FBI director Louis Freeh after criticism from Congress that most veteran agents had never taken a polygraph exam.

There’s no way to tell what a normal failure rate would be for the FBI, but a senior official characterized the preliminary failure rate as “surprisingly low.”

The questions asked dealt with “counterintelligence issues” such as unreported contacts with foreign nationals, and not with lifestyle issues such as unreported marijuana smoking.

Mueller is expected to endorse more reliance on polygraphs, required only in recent years of new recruits only.

Former FBI director William Webster, who is conducting a review of agency counterespionage procedures that allowed Hanssen to spy undetected, is also expected to recommend more polygraph exams.

The current round of tests focused on officials and support staff exposed to “extremely sensitive information or sources,” according to Freeh’s memorandum ordering the polygraphs, plus all personnel leaving for long term overseas assignments or returning from them.

“We realize it’s probably a necessary step in security given what happened with Hanssen,” said Nancy Savage, president of the FBI Agents Association, of increased use of polygraph exams at the bureau. She cautioned that they should not be “the sole indicator of trustworthiness.”

That can happen, said Mark Mallah, a former FBI agent accused in 1995 of being an Israeli agent largely on the basis of a failed polygraph exam and cleared two years later.

“In the FBI’s misguided zeal to corroborate polygraph charts and convict me,” Mallah wrote Mueller and the Judiciary Committee last week, “they flouted due process, demonstrated an incompetence borne of arrogance, distorted my statements[,] and fabricated evidence.”

For discussion of this article, see the AntiPolygraph.org message board thread, On the FBI Polygraph Failure Rate.

“FBI Polygraphs May Trap Spies — or Careers”

Washington Post staff writer Dan Eggen reports on FBI polygraph policy. Excerpt:

It seemed like a routine polygraph screening. Mark Mallah and his colleagues, members of an FBI counterintelligence unit in New York, were hooked up to lie detector machines and quizzed about drug use, contacts with foreigners and other subjects deemed vital to their roles in protecting national security.

The test turned out to be anything but ordinary for Mallah. The 10-year FBI agent said he was accused of being deceptive on the lie detector examination, prompting a suspension from his job and a full-scale investigation that included 24-hour surveillance and interrogations of family and friends.

When he was finally cleared and reinstated 19 months later, Mallah said, he quit.

“I didn’t have any desire to work for an organization that would do that to me,” said Mallah, who left the FBI in 1996 and now practices law in San Francisco. “They never produced any evidence or came forward with anything, but the polygraph still undermined my career. . . . I was effectively ruined.”

In the wake of charges that veteran agent Robert P. Hanssen had spied for Moscow since 1985, the FBI is embroiled in a debate over how far to expand its use of polygraph tests of employees with access to sensitive information.

Some analysts and lawmakers argue that more aggressive use of the devices might have stopped Hanssen — who was never required to take a lie detector test during his 25 years with the bureau — much earlier, possibly limiting the damage he allegedly caused. But skeptics say that allegations such as Mallah’s underscore the danger in relying too heavily on polygraph devices, which are not considered reliable enough to be used in court.