NRO Threatens Polygraph Examiners Who Raise Concerns

In a new article about malfeasance at the National Reconnaissance Office, McClatchy correspondent Marisa Taylor reports on the NRO’s reaction to her recent reporting based on interviews with whistleblowers from the intelligence agency’s polygraph unit. Excerpt:

After McClatchy published stories raising questions about the National Reconnaissance Office’s polygraph program in July based on whistleblower allegations, top agency officials told polygraphers in a meeting that the accusations McClatchy detailed were unfounded and based on incidents that were taken out of context, said one person familiar with the meeting. One official vowed to “take action” against polygraphers named and unnamed who’d cooperated with the reporter, said the source, who asked not to be named. The statement was taken as a threat that polygraphers who raise similar concerns about the agency’s practices – even to the inspector general – would be punished or criminally prosecuted as leakers. At the same meeting, polygraphers then were asked whether they had any problems with the way the program was being run. “You could hear crickets,” the source told McClatchy.

The inspector general recently agreed to investigate the National Reconnaissance Office’s polygraph program, but “people are going to be reluctant to talk with NRO’s inspector general now,” said the source, who was afraid to be identified for fear of being seen as cooperating with the media. Among some employees, the agency’s inspector general office is perceived as overly aligned with the CIA and out to protect the CIA’s interests rather than root out government misconduct. In an unusual relationship, the CIA shares responsibility with the Defense Department in overseeing the National Reconnaissance Office, which is staffed by CIA and Air Force employees.

In addition, McClatchy has published a letter dated August 13, 2012 from Senator Chuck Grassley to NRO Inspector General Lanie D’Allesandro asking that her investigation address allegations of polygraph violations, allegations of unreported criminal conduct, and retaliation for whistleblowing.

Sen. Grassley Calls for DoD IG Inspection of NRO Polygraph Program

Sen. Charles E. Grassley

In a follow-up to her excellent investigative series on polygraph practices within the National Reconnaissance Office, McClatchy reporter Marisa Taylor writes that Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA) thinks that the DoD inspector general should investigate whether NRO is in compliance with DoD polygraph regulations:

WASHINGTON — Pentagon officials are scrambling to look into allegations of abusive polygraph techniques by a spy agency but so far they aren’t heeding calls for a more in-depth investigation.

Pentagon officials met Thursday with the National Reconnaissance Office after a McClatchy investigation found that the spy agency was pressuring its polygraphers to obtain intimate details of the private lives of thousands of job applicants and employees, possibly in violation of the law and Pentagon regulations.

McClatchy found that the National Reconnaissance Office is so intent on extracting confessions of personal or illicit behavior that officials have admonished polygraphers who refused to go after them and rewarded those who did, sometimes with bonuses.

The agency, which oversees the nation’s spy satellites, collects the information for employee security clearances, but it isn’t supposed to be pursuing the more personal information, instead asking directly only about spying, terrorism and the unauthorized disclosure of classified information.

Even though it’s aggressively collecting the private disclosures, when people confess to serious crimes such as child molestation they aren’t always arrested or prosecuted, McClatchy’s investigation revealed.

The articles prompted one prominent congressman to call this week for an investigation of the agency’s polygraph program. Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, said he thought that the Pentagon’s inspector general should look at whether the National Reconnaissance Office was in compliance with Defense Department polygraph rules. The Pentagon oversees the agency’s polygraph program even though the agency is a unique mix of CIA and Air Force employees.

“The polygraphers should have clear rules and regulations about the topics they can and should cover in their work,” Grassley said.

He added that he wanted the inspector general to review how the agency handled confessions to crimes and “make sure those rules are adequate and clearly communicated to employees.”

It should be noted, however, that the DoD inspector general was made aware of the problems with the NRO’s polygraph practices in November 2011. If the DoD IG has not yet conducted an investigation, can it be trusted to do so now? Isn’t more direct Congressional oversight called for at this point?

Taylor goes on to discuss the DoD e-mails received by, citing Mark Zaid, who represents former NRO polygrapher Mark Phillips. Zaid opines:

“The email traffic conveys the distinct impression that senior officials within the polygraph community do not understand the nature of the specific allegations against NRO’s practices,” he said. “To some extent that is not surprising, given no one with oversight authority in the intelligence community has yet to speak with my client.”

A message thread for discussion of the NRO polygraph matter is available on the message board. Registration is not required, and anonymous posts are welcome.


National Reconnaissance Office Polygraph Unit Targeted Personal Information

NRO LogoOn 10 July 2012, the McClatchy news service published a series of three investigative articles by reporter Marisa Taylor about polygraph screening practices at the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), which runs America’s space-based reconnaissance activities. The articles document how NRO polygraph examiners, who are supposed to conduct only counterintelligence-scope polygraph screening examinations (that is, polygraph interrogations that are limited to espionage-related questions) were incentivized (and in at least one instance, explicitly directed) to elicit personal information far beyond the authorized scope.

In effect, NRO made its counterintelligence-scope polygraph program into a full-scope (or so-called “lifestyle”) polygraph program, even though it is not authorized by law or regulation to do so.

Taylor’s well-researched articles may be read on-line here:

In addition, McClatchey has made available on-line a memorandum from then NRO polygrapher Mark S. Phillips to the Department of Defense Inspector General documenting unauthorized practices within the NRO polygraph program. Phillips exhibited honesty and integrity that is all-too-rare among senior personnel in the intelligence community today.