On the Origins of the NSA Polygraph Program

In 1951, the NSA’s forerunner organization, the Armed Forces Security Agency, began “voluntary” polygraph screening of civilian applicants for employment. On 6 December 1953, the National Security Agency (NSA) made pre-employment polygraph screening mandatory for civilian applicants.

Stephen Budiansky

Writer Stephen Budiansky describes the origins of the NSA’s polygraph program at pp. 163-65 of his 2016 history, Code Warriors: NSA’s Codebreakers and the Secret Intelligence War Against the Soviet Union (New York: Vintage Books) (footnotes omitted):

Lieutenant General Ralph Julian Canine, director of the Armed Forces Security Agency which in 1952 became the NSA

To keep up with the thousands of clearances that needed to be processed during the rapid expansion of NSA during the Korean War, [NSA director Ralph] Canine took a fateful misstep that even more deeply confused the illusion of security with genuine security. The polygraph, or so-called lie detector, was one of those quack effusions of American turn-of-the-twentieth-century inventors that might understandably have suckered a gullible public in an earlier era of electrical wonders, but that by 1952 was obviously pure bunkum to anyone with even a modicum of scientific knowledge. J. Edgar Hoover refused to allow the machine to be used in FBI investigations, noting its complete unreliability in detecting truth or falsehood. (Repeated studies since, including a review by the National Academy of Sciences, have affirmed the elementary fact that there is no physiologic response unique to lying and that for all of their pseudoscientific poring over squiggly traces recording pulse, respiration, blood pressure, and skin conductivity, polygraphers did little better than flipping a coin in concluding when a subject had been “deceptive.”)

But the CIA had already become enamored of the polygraph—the agency would also invest embarrassing sums in mediums and clairvoyants who claimed to be able to locate Soviet missile sites by telepathy—and since 1948 had been administering the tests to investigate “major loyalty or security risk matters” in COMINT-cleared personnel. In late 1950, CIA began asking all new job applicants to “volunteer” for a polygraph interview. It was as voluntary as anything else in such a coercive situation: by 1955 only six of the agency’s twenty thousand applicants had declined to submit to the test. The CIA’s arguments for the polygraph were based not on any scientific proof of its validity—there weren’t any—but rather that it was an “extremely valuable aid to any investigation.” That was a roundabout way of saying that people who were wired up to a machine and told by an examiner with a persuasive manner that it had shown they were lying sometimes could be pressured into revealing something they had been concealing.

Canine became equally captivated by the notion that a gadget could solve NSA’s security problems. The immediate problem was that conducting a thorough background investigation took time: it required sending agents out to interview neighbors and associates and investigate financial records and employment histories. By December 1950, 39 percent of AFSA’s [the Armed Forces Security Agency, the NSA forerunner’s] employees were waiting for their clearances, new hires left to cool their heels for months at the agency’s training school, located in a former warehouse at 1436 U Street, NW, in Washington, or perform make-work tasks to fill their time. In January 1951, Canine decided that new employees who passed a polygraph interview would be given an “interim” security clearance that would allow them to start work immediately on classified projects, pending completion of their full background check.

Canine’s faith in the magical device had all the blindness of a true believer. In December 1953 he ordered that all new civilian employees submit to polygraph testing as a mandatory condition for employment at NSA. “The Director has repeatedly emphasized his firm conviction that the polygraph is more reliable and more protective of security than the background investigation,” his deputy for administration wrote in a 1956 memorandum that argued for periodically polygraphing existing civilian employees as well, to probe for “membership in subversive organizations,” “association with known or suspected subversives,” and unauthorized disclosure of classified information. (The military wisely used its authority at this time to bar the administration of the test to any service personnel.)

The trouble, aside from the abuse of privacy and due process inherent in the whole business, was that conscientious but perfectly innocent people tended to show a “deceptive” response in the standard polygraph examination, while pathological liars sailed through. In their zeal to clear the initial backlog of pending clearances, NSA scoured police departments and private detective agencies around the country to hire supposed polygraph experts to administer the tests, which took place in hastily erected soundproof rooms at the U Street building. NSA examiners frequently asked intrusive or embarrassing personal and political questions—”Did you sleep with your husband before you married?” “Are you now or have you ever been in sympathy with leftist ideas?”—and while the process was certainly speedy for those who “passed,” it became an Orwellian nightmare for the 25 percent whose clearances were held up because of their “unresolved” polygraph results.

NSA Chief Cryptologist William Friedman

Some of the more scientifically knowledgeable NSA officials tried in vain to halt the program. [Senior cryptologist] Howard Campaigne warned that it was sure to “get out of hand,” provide a false assurance of security, and “disclose information the Agency does not want to have,” tarnishing the records of capable employees with “minor derogatory data” that had nothing to do with their performance or loyalty. [NSA chief cryptologist] William Friedman‘s disdain for the polygraph was apparent in a critical article he clipped and placed in his private files: an investigative reporter who had interviewed several employees about their experiences with “the NSA Chamber of Horrors” quoted a victim of the process saying, “Halfway through, I felt like someone being tried in a Moscow purge.” The article drily observed that the polygraphing unit was located in a “heavily guarded building between a gas station and an undertaker’s parlor”; perhaps the more apropos geographical fact was that the U Street building had begun its life at the turn of the century as the factory for a famous quack patent medicine of the day.

As subsequent events would make all too clear, the touching faith that a piece of Edwardian pseudoscientific electrical gadgetry could safeguard the nation’s most important secrets would prove farcically mistaken, for almost every one of the real spies to betray NSA in the ensuing years passed a polygraph interview with flying colors, while obvious signs that in retrospect should have set off alarm bells about their behavior were blithely ignored, largely due to such misplaced confidence in hocus-pocus.

Dwight Macdonald

The investigative article that NSA chief cryptologist William F. Friedman clipped was Dwight Macdonald‘s “The Lie-Detector Era,” which was published in two installments in the 8 June 1954 and 22 June 1954 issues of The Reporter. The portion directly pertaining to the NSA polygraph program appeared in the latter installment and is excerpted below:

The NSA Chamber of Horrors

The methods used in the ORO [Operations Research Office] and CIA lie-detection programs, so far as can be established, have evoked little objection from the “subjects.” (Some, of course, may have objected to the whole idea of such tests.) The case is far otherwise with the National Security Agency, whose polygraphists have in a relatively short time aroused more distrust and hatred of their trade than all their colleagues put together.

The NSA, known until recently as the Armed Forces Security Agency, is a highly secretive outfit—”the most silent of the intelligence agencies.” It is believed to have somewhere between four and eight thousand employees, engage, it has been said, in breaking foreign codes.

The M.A. Winter Building at 1436 U Street NW in Washington, DC. The four-story brick building, erected in 1908-09, originally housed the quack patent medicine business of Mahlon Adolphus Winter. It later served as an NSA training center and was the polygraph unit’s early home.

(Although NSA carries secretiveness so far that it warns its employees not even to speak its awesome name outside the premises, the exact locations of the latter—4000 Arlington Hall, 3801 Nebraska Avenue, and 1436 “U” Street, N.W.—as well as the names of all its key employees may be found quite easily in the Pentagon’s telephone directory.)

The NSA lie-detection program was begun early in 1951 by hiring, at salaries of $6,400 a year, six examiners, none of whom, it is said, had more training than a six weeks’ course at the Keeler school in Chicago, which had fallen into disrepute after the death of its founder in 1949. These alleged examiners proceeded to test every NSA employee, and they or their successors have tested every new employee taken on since then. Their methods have been, to put it mildly, appalling.

“If they think they are getting information, they are mistaken,” a former employee has observed. “Maybe they’re testing for emotional stability.” Another theory is that the tests are a kind of hazing, designed not to find out anything about security risks but to intimidate the newcomers and break them to harness. A third theory—since the tests make no sense in terms of their ostensible purpose, such theories are necessary—is that the tests are really nothing but fishing expeditions, especially during the “discussion period” before the machine is started, to see what dirt can be turned up on the subjects and their friends.

Two case histories may give an idea of what has been going on at NSA. The names are fictitious because, although neither Jane Doe nor Richard Roe is still in government service, both were warned, like all who took the NSA tests, never to mention the fact that they had done so. One was even threatened with the Espionage Acton the absurd ground that the very act of undergoing the test was “classified” information.

Jane Doe, daughter of a Pennsylvania Republican, got a job with NSA in the spring of 1952 after her graduation from a Midwestern women’s college. That fall, while she was still waiting for her security clearance, she and some twenty other “unclear persons” were called to a meeting at which an Army captain asked them to agree to take lie-detector tests in order to speed up their clearances. It was entirely voluntary, he explained, adding, however, that he really couldn’t say when or if those who refused to take the tests would get their clearances. The group “volunteered” unanimously to take the tests.

A few days later, Miss Doe was shown into a small bare-walled room and seated in front of a desk behind which were a polygraph and a beefy individual whom she classified as an ex-cop from his aggressive manner and his recessive grammar.

His opening remarks were to the point: “If you’re lying, we’re going to find you out.” (“The examiner by his friendly attitude undertakes to reassure the suspect and put him at his ease,” writes Clarence D. Lee in The Instrumental Detection of Deception. But of course Captain Lee was describing the examination of criminals, not college girls.) The examiner handed Miss Doe a mimeographed list of questions which included some “neutral” ones like “Is your name Jane Doe?” and “Did you eat breakfast today?” mixed in with some “crucial” ones like “Have you ever associated with Communists?,” Are you an alcoholic?,” “Are you a dope addict?,” “Are you a homosexual?,” and “Are you in any way subject to blackmail?” He explained that she must answer Yes or No to each question.

At this point Miss Doe began to get a little annoyed. After a “dry run” through the questions and an inconclusive fencing match as to how to tell who is a Communist and who isn’t, the examiner wrapped the blood-pressure gadget around her arm, hooked the pneumograph around her chest, and attached the galvanic electrode to her hand. The machine was started, the pens began to trace their lines on the graph paper, and the examiner began to ask the questions again. The whole test took about ten minutes, she thinks, or rather would have if she had not had a bad case of hay fever that day, so that every time she sneezed a cataclysm appeared on the graph and the process had to be begun all over again. By the time the test was over, she felt that she had won the slight consolation of having irritated the examiner almost as much as he had irritated her. “Looking back on it,” Miss Doe has said, “it’s not the results of the test I object to—I must have passed because I got a top secret clearance—but the humiliation of being treated as a suspected liar and criminal.”

The Ordeal of Richard Roe

Richard Roe took his test in the fall of 1951. Like Miss Doe, he had been working for several months at NSA but had not yet been cleared. Also like her, he is a college graduate—a political science major—and was interrogated by an examiner who may or may not have gone to high school. (The work at NSA demands people of high intellectual qualifications, a fact hopelessly in collision with the personnel chief’s yearnings for innocents unexposed to “radical” ideas; the polygraph staff meets that officer’s standards, but this very fact makes it difficult for them to communicate with the people they are supposed to test.) “I was willing, even eager, to take the test because I believed in its scientific reliability,” says Richard Roe. “But halfway through, I felt like someone being tried in a Moscow purge.”

The third-degree atmosphere was established the minute he entered the room. “My examiner looked and acted like a desk sergeant. He fixed me with a suspicious stare, didn’t shake hands, smile, or even introduce himself.” (“An examiner…must be an intelligence person with a reasonably good educational background, preferably college training. He should have…general ability to ‘get along’ with people and to be well liked…”—Lie Detection and Criminal Interrogation, by Inbau and Reid.)

One of the questions on the list the examiner presented to Mr. Roe was, “Have you ever been sympathetic to Communism?” It caused a good deal of grief to both of them. Mr. Roe explained, or rather tried to—”there was a total lack of empathy”—that he had studied Marxism in college and consequently found it difficult to answer this with a simple Yes or No. If by “Communism” the examiner meant Marx’s doctrines, then he could only say he was sympathetic to some and unsympathetic to others. If the term was to be taken in its Russian context, then he felt obliged to say that he had once felt sympathetic to the Mensheviks but had never been sympathetic to the Bolsheviks. All of this passed over the inquisitor’s head with a heavy, soughing sound like wind in the branches of a rain-soaked tree. “I got the impression that he considered anyone who had studied Marx to be ipso facto a security risk and also that he personally wanted me to fail.”

The results were inconclusive, and Mr. Roe, a rather high-strung type, had to take the test three more times, each time with ambiguous results. After each test, his security officer tried to persuade him to resign quietly, thus avoiding the possible stigma of being fired. The security officer also seemed anxious to save the security division a lot of trouble and possibly to add a scalp to be displayed to inquiring McCarthys later on. Mr. Roe was finally dropped, much to everyone’s relief, including his own.

Peeping Tom And His Polygraph

Other veterans of the polygraph wars at NSA tell stories similar to Miss Doe’s and Mr. Roe’s. The examiners seem to have violated just about every rule of proper polygraph technique. The questions were often extremely vague—”Have you ever done anything you were ashamed of?” “Are you now or have you ever been in sympathy with leftist ideas?” (“The preparation of test questions is an extremely important aspect of the examination. The question must be unambiguous, unequivocal and thoroughly understandable to the subject.”—Inbau and Reid, op. cit.)

When a psychology major in college who is working on his doctorate in history got the one about “leftist ideas,” he asked to have the question reformulated. “But the examiner refused—he couldn’t see why if I was ‘innocent’ I found it hard to answer. We just weren’t en rapport at all.” Another NSA subject—or victim—has reported that at one point his examiner shouted at him, “Goddammit, you’re lying! I know you’re lying, the machine tells me so!” (“The cross-examiner must remember at all times that he is not seeking to browbeat, trip or confuse his witness, as is a cross-examining attorney in court…. Such conflict reactions only make the blood pressure record harder to read.”—William Moulton Marston, op. cit.)

Look Out for the EPQ!

Although all the manuals urge the examiner to try to reduce rather than increase emotional tension, so that significant reactions are not masked by irrelevant ones, the NSA gang relied heavily on what is known unfavorably in the trade as the EPQ (Embarrassing Personal Question) technique. EPQs are generally directed to the more intimate aspects of the subject’s sex life. Women are apt to resent being asked, by a strange man, questions like (to unmarried girls) “Have you ever slept with a man?”—at least one is reported to have walked out at this point—and (to married women) “Did you sleep with your husband before you were married?” Reaction to EPQs, Inbau and Reid have written, “is not significant for any practical useful purpose. Moreover, it can be misleading…. The factors of surprise, anticipation, embarrassment, etc., which constitute the stimulating effect of a ‘personal embarrassing’ question, are totally different and unrelated to those involved about a question about the offense (e.g. burglary) under investigation. For control purposes the examiner might just as well set off a firecracker….”

The folklore of NSA is full of stories about these tests: the office belle, an innocent young thing who was asked if she liked girls and got into trouble when she said of course she did; the married woman who got one examiner fired because after he had asked her “Have you ever cheated on your husband?” he told her she was lying when she said No and later called her up to ask her for a date; and the leering assumption on the part of the examiners that anyone who had spent much time abroad, especially in Paris, was a Don Juan, a pervert, or both.

These stories may well be apocryphal; the point is that they are told—and believed—throughout the agency. Horror tales about the polygraph department at 1436 “U” Street (a heavily guarded building between a gas station and an undertaker’s parlor) are a staple of conversation. There are rumors every now and then that all employees are going to be retested annually, but, although this was done at Oak Ridge and is done at CIA and ORO, it has never been tried at NSA. It is generally felt that an attempt to rerun the old employees would be likely to provoke a mass exodus. Most of the employees resent bitterly the fact that they were bamboozled into taking a test, represented as a routine scientific process, that turned out to be a third degree.

Resentment over the tests ha become so articulate within a few months of their inception—probably nothing has caused so much loose talk among NSA personnel as the tests that were supposed to tighten up security there—that in the fall of 1951 three leading professionals (Russell Chatham, John Reid, and George Haney) met in Chicago to discuss the problem. “It was decided that Mr. Chatham would go to Washington and express their displeasure and concern at the manner in which these tests were being handled,” one of them has since written. “It was our information that the men conducting some of these examinations had little or no experience…. also that the polygraph tests were being used conclusively in determining whether or not an applicant would be employed. Mr. Chatham called on interested officers and pointed out those things which were felt to be a reflection on the polygraph field…. It was his feeling when he left that the situation would be corrected or stopped. Evidently such was not the case, as the practice was continued and perhaps many people have been unnecessarily harmed as a result.”

The foregoing was written early in 1952. Whether or to what extent NSA has mended its polygraph manners since then is as murky as most other aspects of the Most Silent Agency. Some reports say that the EPQ flourishes there as always. Others, including Mr. Chatham, believe the situation has at least been cleaned up. NSA itself, answering questions put to it on behalf of this magazine by a defense department security officer, who says he himself has never been able to get any further inside NSA than the reception room, states that its examiners are now “required…to conduct themselves in an objective and professional manner,” that they are given lie tests themselves by independent firms before being hired and are periodically retested (embittered NSA émigrés claim this is a desperate attempt to reduce the incidence of blackmailing and Peeping Tom questioning), and concludes, “Changes have been made in personnel, method and machinery, based on latest developments in the field”—a reassuring but somewhat vague reply.

In 2022, some seventy years after the NSA first began polygraph screening of applicants, its misplaced reliance on this thoroughly discredited, fraudulent pseudoscience remains stronger than ever. The NSA polygraph program has expanded to include post-hire periodic polygraph screening of employees as well as the polygraph “testing” of military personnel. The NSA polygraph program has yet to catch a spy.

Light ‘Em Up Podcast Interviews AntiPolygraph.org Co-Founder George Maschke

Phillip L. Rizzo
(Facebook profile)

In the 29th episode of his true crime Light ‘Em Up podcast, host Phillip L. Rizzo speaks with AntiPolygraph.org co-founder George Maschke. Topics discussed include Maschke’s personal experience with the polygraph, the scientific shortcomings of polygraphy, polygraph policy, and countermeasures.

George W. Maschke

The 56-minute edited interview may be listened to on Pandora. The episode is also available on Spotify and via Apple Podcasts.

Previously, Rizzo interviewed polygraph operators Holly Niotti-Soltesz (Episode 27) of Canfield, Ohio and Gil Witte (Episode 28) of San Diego, California.

Former NSA Polygraph Division Chief Says Polygraphs Should Not Be the Deciding Factor in Visa Determinations for Afghan Interpreters

Thomas P. Mauriello

Thomas P. Mauriello, who once headed the NSA’s Polygraph Division, tells Newsy national security reporter Sasha Ingber that while he thinks the U.S. government should use polygraphs, they alone shouldn’t be the determining factor in decision-making. Mauriello’s remarks came in the context of a video report titled, “Ex-Polygraph Chief: Polygraphs Need Not Deny Afghan Interpreters Visas.” The following is a transcript excerpt:

Are Afghan interpreters who risked their lives to help U.S. forces now being consigned to death because of a flawed test?

“They just told me, ‘you failed the polygraph test,'” Afghan interpreter Omid Mahmoodi said.

Many tell Newsy they’ve been denied Special Immigrant Visas after failing the required polygraph.

“The use of the polygraph has been very helpful, but it’s unfair many times” Tom Mauriello, Former Chief of Polygraph at the Department of Defense said.

This all comes as the U.S. troop withdrawal in Afghanistan is almost complete and the Taliban is gaining ground.

All the reason, Mauriello says, a polygraph shouldn’t make-or-break an interpreter’s chances of coming to the U.S.

“Should the government be using it? Yes,” Mauriello said. “But they should be using it as a tool, among other things, so if they’re not successful on a polygraph test, but they’ve done an extensive background investigation and there’s no reason to have any concerns or problem, they should weigh those two things and then decide whether a person should have access or be approved for whatever they’re being evaluated for.”

Newsy additionally sought comment from the federal polygraph school, the National Center for Credibility Assessment, which did not respond to its calls or emails.

George W. Maschke

Ingber also spoke with AntiPolygraph.org co-founder George Maschke about the policy of denying visas to Afghans who served with U.S. forces based on polygraph results:

“It is, in fact, a cop-invented pseudoscience,” former Intelligence Officer George Maschke said. “The claim that polygraph has no scientific basis is supported by the National Academy of Sciences, which conducted an exhaustive review of the scientific evidence on polygraphs and in its 2002 report ‘The Polygraph and Lie Detection’ expressly recommended against polygraph screening by federal agencies.”

Polygraphs aren’t admissible evidence in most courtrooms. The major exception is New Mexico. So why are they being used here?

“I feel it’s unconscionable that the United states government is denying evacuation to Afghans who served honorably with our forces simply because they failed a polygraph test,” Maschke continued. “And I think it would be appropriate for President Biden to take executive action to reverse that policy immediately.”

The entire video report may be viewed below:

Former DoD Polygraph Chief Casts Doubt on Policy of Denying Visas to Afghan Interpreters Based on Polygraph Results

Christian Bryant and Sasha Ingber

In a report published online on Tuesday, 27 July 2021, Newsy In the Loop presenter Christian Bryant asked national security reporter Sasha Ingber about the plight of Afghan Special Immigrant Visa applicants who have been rejected because they failed a polygraph:

Bryant: You know, one of the things that we’ve talked about is the fact that, you know, we’re going to see some arrivals at Fort Lee, but there are some people who’ve applied and already been denied because of—because they failed a polygraph. What can you tell us about the Afghan interpreters who have already failed this polygraph test. I mean, what can you tell us about that hurdle for some of these interpreters and their families?

Ingber: Well, I spoke with the former chief of polygraph at the Defense Department, and it was a fascinating conversation because he seemed to cast some doubt on the, the weight and gravity of the polygraph as being the way to determine whether or not an Afghan should come to the country. If you don’t get through the polygraph test, then your visa application is denied. And he says that it should be one piece in a mosaic, essentially, that helps to determine whether or not you should be allowed to come here, that a security check, looking at your background, should also weigh heavily into that decision, that cultural clashes, and even who your polygrapher is, can affect how you do on that test, Christian.

While Ingber did not state the name of the former DoD polygraph chief with whom she spoke, we commend him for his candor and hope that he will continue to speak out about this urgent policy matter.

The entire In the Loop report, which begins with discussion of the evacuation of some Afghans to Fort Lee, Virginia, may be viewed here (14 MB MP4 file).

The lives of Afghans who served honorably with U.S. forces but were denied visas simply because they failed a polygraph “test” are in imminent danger with the United States completing its withdrawal from Afghanistan by the end of August 2021 and the Taliban gaining control over increasingly large parts of the country.

Please write to President Biden and your members of Congress and urge them to reverse the policy of denying visas based on polygraph results. See Special Immigrant Visas Should Not Be Denied Based on Polygraph Results on the Action Alerts forum of the AntiPolygraph.org message board for links and suggested wordings.

CNN on Plight of Afghan Interpreters Terminated for Failing Polygraphs

Abdul Rashid Shirzad: Terminated for failing a polygraph “test” and denied Special Immigrant Visa

In a report presented by foreign correspondent Anna Coren, CNN chronicles the plight of Afghan linguists who served with United States forces but have been denied Special Immigrant Visas. Both interpreters showcased in the video report were fired because they failed pseudoscientific polygraph “tests.”

The following is an excerpt from the written article accompanying the video report:

Abdul Rashid Shirzad…served for five years as a linguist working alongside America’s military elite, translating for US Special Forces.

He showed CNN photographs of his time on missions in the Kejran Valley in Uruzgan province working with the US Navy’s SEAL Team 10. But according to Shirzad, his service has now amounted to a death sentence. The US government rejected his Special Immigrant Visa, and he said that’s made him a target for the Taliban.

“If they catch me they’re going to kill me, kill my kids and my wife too. It’s payback time for them you know,” he said.

The father of three said his contract with the US military was terminated in 2014 after he also failed a polygraph test. He had applied for his visa the year before.

But Shirzad’s letters of recommendation from SEAL commanders, seen by CNN, reflect a translator who went above and beyond duty. They describe him as a “valuable and necessary asset” who “braved enemy fire” and “undoubtedly saved the lives of Americans and Afghans alike.”

Shirzad said he was excited to work with the Americans, and became a lead liaison between US and Afghan Special Forces. One recommendation letter for the visa, from a US commander, described how Shirzad took part in 63 “high-risk direct action combat missions” and was “vital” to the success of his team’s operations. It detailed how he helped the recovery of a team member who was caught in a blast and left with life threatening injuries.

Shirzad said he has no idea what he did wrong and never received an explanation for his termination. His visa rejection letter from the US Embassy stated “lack of faithful and valuable service.”

Sohail Pardis with U.S. Army colonel
(Source: Afghans Left Behind Association, @AllieLeft on Twitter)

The situation for the second interpreter showcased, Sohail Pardis, is more grim. Pardis worked as an interpreter for U.S. military contractor Mission Essential Personnel from 17 May 2011 until 18 August 2012 when, as CNN reports, he was terminated after failing a polygraph “test.” Pardis was subsequently denied a Special Immigrant Visa.

Mission Essential Personnel letter regarding Sohail Pardis’ employment
(Source: Afghans Left Behind Association, @AllieLeft on Twitter)

According to family members, on 12 May 2021, the Taliban stopped Pardis at a checkpoint, dragged him out of his car, and beheaded him. CNN showed a blurred copy of the following photograph, which we believe readers should see unedited:

Sohail Pardis’ corpse
(Source: Afghans Left Behind Association, @AllieLeft on Twitter)

CNN correspondent Anna Coren spoke with Pardis’ friend and fellow Special Immigrant Visa reject Abdulhaq Ayoubi and visited Pardis’ gravesite. The video report may be viewed here.

Numerous other Afghan interpreters who served honorably with U.S. forces have been denied Special Immigrant Visas because of failed polygraph “tests.” (See our article from last week, Afghan Interpreters Denied Special Immigrant Visas Based on Polygraph Results.)

It is unconscionable that Special Immigrant Visas are being denied based on polygraph outcomes. In 2002, the National Academy of Sciences completed a thorough review of the scientific evidence on polygraphs and advised 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.”

Please write to President Biden and your members of Congress and urge them to reverse this policy. See Special Immigrant Visas Should Not Be Denied Based on Polygraph Results on the Action Alerts forum of the AntiPolygraph.org message board for links and suggested wordings.

SDPD Adds Questions About Hate Crimes and Biases to Pre-Employment Polygraph Process, Acknowledges 50% Failure Rate

Left to right: Captain Rudy Tai, Assistant Chief Keith Lucas, Lieutenant Steve Waldheim

At a meeting of the San Diego City Council’s Public Safety and Livable Neighborhoods Committee held on 16 June 2021, Captain Rudy Tai of the San Diego Police Department (SDPD) mentioned that the pre-employment polygraph screening process now includes questioning about hate crimes and racial bias. As part of a “Recruitment and Retention Update” Tai told the committee:

As far as our polygraph update, what we notice is we meet with our polygraphers—our polygraphers are in-house—we meet with them once a quarter, just to make sure that we’re all on the same page. As we see issues coming up nationwide, take for example we wanted to make sure we were capturing questions in the polygraph that have to do with hate incidents, hate crimes, any biases a person may have, any associations they may have—on social media—make sure we capture that within the polygraph process.

San Diego Councilman Raul Campillo

In response, Councilmember Raul Campillo asked:

I do have a question about the one slide put—about the steps that go through—the polygraph test. I’m just curious what questions are asked on the polygraph test.

SDPD Lieutenant Steve Waldheim responded without actually disclosing precisely what questions are asked:

So, regarding the polygraph, they ask a plethora of questions. So, they actually break it down into four different categories, and they break it down into drugs, serious crimes, again what we added there was pertaining to any uh racial uh anything to that, that uh basically any bias, things like that, so they ask just about anything and everything on the polygraph. So they cover a lot. Usually it takes at least two hours to go over with a polygrapher, um, and they ask just about everything. And they reiterate, again, with our background detectives, we meet with them before, and we have pre-polygraph interview with the background detective. They go over all the questions, again, and they are getting asked on the pre-investigative questionnaire and the personal history statement. So we ask just about everything. And then they confirm that on the polygraph with them hooked up on the machine.

Councilmember Campillo responded:

Okay. Understood. I’m glad to hear that issues of the bias, it, whether they’re racial, social, gender, of all sorts, I, I, I’m glad to hear that. It’s a concern of mine, and we’ve be—know we want to continue to, to find and prevent folks who do have those sorts of biases from being able to be part of law enforcement just because of how much—how important the role is in criminal justice. I was gonna ask if—when we have a police officer transfer from a different department, from a different agency, maybe I should say, into SDPD, do they go through that same polygraph test as well?

To which Lt. Waldheim replied:

Yes sir, they do. They all go through the same polygraph. They all go through the same background investigation.

On 20 June 2021, AntiPolygraph.org co-founder George Maschke wrote to Councilmember Raul Campillo regarding the inadequacy of Lieutenant Steve Walheim’s reply and asked, among other things, whether he would support polygraph screening of applicants for employment with the San Diego city attorney’s office (his former employer):

Dear Councilmember Campillo,

I write for AntiPolygraph.org, a non-profit, public interest website dedicated to polygraph policy reform. I listened with interest to the discussion of polygraph policy at last week’s meeting of the Public Safety and Livable Neighborhoods Committee and am preparing to publish an article that will quote your question about that.

At that meeting, you expressed satisfaction with Lt. Steve Waldheim’s reply that the police department’s polygraph screening process includes questions about racial bias. However, Lt. Waldheim actually dodged your question with generalities. You had asked him what questions are asked on the polygraph test. He didn’t actually tell you what questions are asked.

AntiPolygraph.org published the precise questions asked on the SDPD pre-employment polygraph examination two years ago:


It appears that the question, “Have you ever committed any serious crime?” remains unchanged, with the exception that its scope, which is discussed with the subject during the pre-test phase, has been expanded to include hate crimes (which it previously did not). The following SDPD graphic shows the areas that were previously covered by this question:


A question not raised at last week’s meeting is whether SDPD should be relying on polygraph screening at all. In 2002, the National Academy of Sciences completed a thorough review of the scientific evidence on polygraphs and found polygraph screening to be completely invalid and advised against its use by federal agencies.

You should also be aware that polygraphy is vulnerable to simple, effective countermeasures that anyone can learn and that polygraph operators cannot detect. You’ll find such countermeasures explained in Ch. 4 of our free book, The Lie Behind the Lie Detector.

In view of polygraphy’s scientific shortcomings, do you support the SDPD’s reliance on it to screen applicants? If so, why?

And if you do support the SDPD’s use of polygraphs on applicants, would you also support a polygraph screening requirement for those seeking employment with the city attorney’s office? If not, why not?

I will be happy to address any questions you may have regarding the foregoing.


George W. Maschke, Ph.D.
Tel/SMS: 1-202-810-2105 (Please use Signal Private Messenger or WhatsApp)
Wire: @ap_org
E-mail/iMessage/FaceTime: antipolygraph.org@protonmail.com
Twitter: @ap_org

Councilmember Campillo did not resond to our inquiry.

San Diego Councilman Stephen Whitburn

At the same meeting, Council President Pro Tem Stephen Whitburn asked about attrition in the hiring process, in response to which Lt. Waldheim stated:

…a little over 50% fail the written exam, then 15% will fail the physical aspect, then when it comes to the PIQ, the pre-investigative questionnaire, we lose about half of them at that step, because then they’ll be disqualified for some reason or another… Then our polygraph examination, we lose about 50% on that aspect. However, even though we lose fifty percent, the majority of the failures actually have new disclosures, which then tells us that the polygraph test is doing its job, catching people in a lie.

The 50% pre-employment polygraph failure rate mentioned by Waldheim is not unusual among governmental agencies with a pre-employment polygraph screening requirement. Given that polygraphy has no scientific basis, it is inevitable that many honest applicants are being falsely branded as liars and wrongly disqualified from employment.

Waldheim’s claim that the majority of those who fail make “new disclosures” should not be uncritically accepted. Polygraph operators are typically rated on the basis of their confession rates after a failed “test.” They are thus incentivized both to seek admissions and to amplify their significance.

Waldheim’s use of the weasel words “new disclosures” suggests that not all such disclosures are necessarily admissions to having lied on the polygraph.

New York Metropolitan Transit Authority Police Department Has Polygraph Contract With Daniel Ribacoff’s Fraud-Tainted Firm

In a 22 April 2021 YouTube interview with retired NYPD detective Ron Licciardi, polygraph operator Daniel Ribacoff, who is best known for his appearances on the lowbrow daytime television talk program, the Steve Wilkos Show, disclosed that he has the contract for administering pre-employment polygraph examinations to New York Metropolitan Transit Authority Police Department applicants, stating:

We happen to have the contract for the MTA police, the Metropolitan Transit Authority Police, so we do the polygraphs for pre-employment, where we search for what we call undetected crimes.

Daniel Ribacoff (right) speaking with retired NYPD detective Ron Licciardi on 22 April 2021

As previously reported by AntiPolygraph.org, Ribacoff’s company, International Investigative Group, is the defendant in current civil litigation credibly alleging billing fraud in the millions of dollars.

On 17 June 2021, AntiPolygraph.org submitted the following inquiry to Metropolitan Transit Authority media relations:

Is the MTA aware that the contractor who does pre-employment polygraph screening for the MTA Police Department (International Investigative Group) is the defendant in a civil lawsuit credibly alleging billing fraud in the millions of dollars? AntiPolygraph.org reported yesterday on the latest developments in this litigation:


We’re planning to report on the MTA having selected the fraud-tainted International Investigative Group (IIG) to screen police applicants and would like to know 1) when the MTA awarded this company its first contract to screen applicants, 2) when the current contract period ends, 3) whether MTA intends to cancel the current contract before it ends, 4) whether MTA intends to renew its contract with IIG, and 5) how many applicants have been polygraphed by IIG?

Any additional comment MTA may have on its dealings with IIG is also welcome.

MTA media relations neither responded to nor acknowledged this inquiry, which was submitted directly via their website.

Facebook post by Lisa Ribacoff dated 14 May 2021 mentioning polygraph screening of MTA applicants

A pre-employment polygraph examination conducted for the MTAPD in late 2020 by Daniel Ribacoff’s daughter, Lisa Ribacoff (a member of the American Polygraph Association’s board of directors), is at issue in a racial discrimination complaint currently pending before the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Racial Discrimination Alleged in New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority Police Polygraph Screening

An applicant for employment with the New York State Metropolitan Transportation Authority Police Department has filed a federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaint in connection with a pre-employment polygraph screening “test” administered by that department. Anthony M. DeStefano reports for Newsday. Excerpt:

An NYPD officer from Nassau County trying to get a job with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority police is accusing the agency of racial and disability discrimination in a government filing.

Jonathan Kyle Carter, 29, of Uniondale, alleges in a complaint that a conditional job offer he received from the MTA to join its police force in late 2020 was rescinded after he took a polygraph test.

Carter, a five-year NYPD veteran, claimed in his filing with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission that the MTA used polygraph tests to “suppress the hiring of African American (Black) police officer candidates. “

“This racially motivated invidious discrimination is done to facilitate a covert policy and procedure by MTA that denies black candidates equal opportunity, among other reasons, in favor of white applicants with family already employed by the MTA, that is nepotism, at the expense of the constitutional rights of black candidates,” Carter alleged in his filing.

His attorney, Peter Crusco of Farmingdale, said the EEOC will investigate the case and either decide to mediate the matter or give Carter the right to sue the MTA for discrimination.

A spokesman for the MTA said in a statement that as a matter of policy the agency doesn’t comment on personnel matters or “matters of pending litigation or that could become litigation.”

EEOC official said under federal law they can’t confirm or deny whether any complaint is filed.

In the filing, Carter said that he completed several parts of the MTA police application process, including an interview on Jan. 13, 2020. He said he was given a conditional offer of employment for a police officer position on Nov. 3, 2020. The employment was conditioned on a medical exam and the polygraph test, he said.

In an interview with Newsday, Carter said that he wanted to switch to the MTA police because it offered a better work schedule and better quality of life. Carter, who works for the city’s Transit Police, has 43 arrests with the NYPD, records show.

Carter said that during the polygraph exam he mentioned to the examiner that he had been diagnosed with “White Coat Syndrome,” a condition in which he gets nervous in any kind of clinical situation.

“My heart and my blood pressure goes up, so usually when I take any kind of medical exam I usually fail the initial one,” said Carter.

The polygraph examiner then became hostile when Carter mentioned White Coat Syndrome, telling him it wasn’t a real medical condition, Carter’s filing said. 

On Dec.11, 2020, after the polygraph test, Carter said he received notification from an MTA employment manager that the agency was rescinding its offer because of the results of the polygraph test. 

Based on the polygraph result, “the MTA had determined that you do not meet the requirements of the MTA police officer position, ” the letter from the agency stated, according to the EEOC complaint.

Polygraph screening provides government agencies perfect cover for unlawful discrimination in hiring. A suppressed study by the federal polygraph school showed innocent blacks failing the polygraph at a significantly higher rate than innocent whites.

Kyriakos Kotsoglou on Polygraphs in the British Legal System

Kyriakos N. Kotsoglou (Twitter profile)

In episode 102 of the legal podcast Excited Utterance, Vanderbilt University law professor Edward K. Cheng (@edwardkcheng) interviews Northumbria University senior lecturer in law Kyriakos N. Kotsoglou (@Kyri_Kotsoglou) about the use of polygraphs in the United Kingdom, with an emphasis on Kotsoglou’s new article, “Zombie Forensics: the use of the polygraph and the integrity of the criminal justice system in England and Wales,” International Journal of Evidence and Proof, 2021 (1): 16-35.

Edward K. Cheng (Twitter profile)

Kotsoglou addresses the systemic problems associated with a justice system embracing such a pseudoscientific technique as polygraphy. His critique is of relevance for policymakers everywhere.

Texas DPS Polygraph School Graduation Ceremony Showcases Law Enforcement’s Faith in the Pseudoscience of Polygraphy

On Friday, 12 March 2021, the Texas Department of Public Safety Polygraph School graduated its 29th class. In the midst of the most deadly pandemic to hit the United States in a century, and in defiance of current U.S. Center for Disease Control guidance and the city of Austin’s and Travis County’s mask mandates, participants did not wear masks and did not observe social distancing. They did, however, shake hands and touch their faces.

No masks, no social distancing, hand-shaking, and face touching at Texas DPS Polygraph School’s Class 29 graduation ceremony

Texas DPS Director Col. Steven C. McCraw, a retired FBI agent who once headed the Bureau’s Inspection Division, gave the graduation address, portions of which AntiPolygraph.org has transcribed. In remarks that are often ungrammatical, McCraw expresses an evidently sincere belief in the pseudoscience of polygraphy, condescension for those who oppose it, and at the same time a recognition that polygraphy is all about interrogation and obtaining confessions. He expresses no concern for potential harm to innocent persons:

Texas Department of Public Safety Commander Steven C. McCraw

I do believe that this is such a important part, discipline, law enforcement discipline, without question. I’ve seen the benefit of it and in a world where crime is transitory—I know the sheriff and I were talking a little bit about it—you know it’s, wherever you’re at, whether it’s North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Oklahoma, certainly Louisiana or Texas, I mean what happens somewhere happens somewhere else. And we recognize that we’re working pretty much the same criminal organizations, the same criminals, and this, this thing, as long as there’s an unending demand for sex with children, we’re, we’re plagued with this depravity of mankind when we talk about what’s going on.

And, and at the end of the day, your job is to get the truth, and of course, we’re, we’re very proud about the school, and pleased that we’re able to produce it, but it’s only as good as the people you put into it, plain and simple. I mean, you are sitting here, there’s a good reason. You’ve exhibited throughout your career not just integrity, but good judgment, and interview, interview skills. I mean you have, already have the tools to get the confessions. You’ve demonstrated that. So you, whether you have a tool or not, but having the science behind it and the tool to help is so vitally important.

From the department’s standpoint, I guess from our standpoint, and I can tell you an example, if nothing else, pre-employment polygraphs. It’s amazing what people will walk into a door wanting to be a state trooper. I mean, we’ve got pedophiles, okay, obviously, we have, we have people who are planning armed robberies of a, an armored vehicle, we’ve had individuals that were thinking about fragging their leadership in Afghanistan. So there’s some, there’s criminals out there applying, and if not for, because the background looked good, everything looked good, if not for those pre-employment, you know, interviews, during confessions that many times those confessions happen even before the interview, before their polygraph is given, because of the quality of our people that are providing that uh, that pre-polygraph interview that they’re conducting, going over the particular facts. And it’s amazing, you know, how we’ve been saved.

While law enforcement applicants sometimes make disqualifying admissions, polygraph screening also results in many honest, well-qualified applicants being wrongly branded as liars and blacklisted. There is no evidence that law enforcement agencies that polygraph applicants have a more honest workforce than those that don’t. Notably, state and local law enforcement agencies in Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey and Oregon are prohibited by law from polygraphing applicants and employees.

McCraw continues:

So there’s people that don’t really like the polygraph in the legislature, in some other parts of the judicial system, but they don’t understand it, or haven’t seen it, and don’t recognize that, how productive it is.

McCraw’s supposition that those who “don’t really like the polygraph” don’t understand it is ill-founded. Those who understand polygraphy the best tend to oppose it. For example, the National Academy of Sciences conducted a thorough review of the scientific evidence on the polygraph and likened polygraphy to superstitious lie detection rituals in primitive societies.

As the late Dr. Stephen Fienberg, who led the National Academy of Sciences’ polygraph review committee observed, “Polygraph testing has been the gold standard, but it’s obviously fool’s gold.”

McCraw goes on:

At the end of the day, no one goes to jail on a polygraph. There’s got to be corroborating evidence. But there’s so many times where it’s a he said, she said, and you don’t know. And I can say even from a disciplinary standpoint as a director, when you’re looking at somebody that, you know, has, has compromised their integrity, but they’re consistent they had not, and you know, you don’t want to lose a good employee, or employee that appears to be a good employee, that’s worked so hard, you invested in, and you know, you don’t wanna, just based upon, you know, circumstantial evidence remove somebody, but at the end of the day, the polygraph is the great separator.

I mean that then, was it last week when someone I swore was telling me the truth. I moved finally, I thought that somebody that’s telling me something, here’s, here is a candidate we’re firing and it’s just unfair, uh, because clearly, he didn’t do it. Guess what? He lied, okay? And I wouldn’t have been able to know that unless there was a polygraph given in that regard.

Tactical polygraphs. Whoever came up with a tact—who’s idea was that anyway? Matt, did you have something to do with that? Yeah, somebody conspired. That’s a cool name, right? Not a strategic polygraph, but a tactical polygraph, okay? It implies that you’re, you know, proactive, you’re out there, you’re in the field, and you’re getting your hands dirty, you’re where it’s at. And that’s exactly what it’s about.

A so-called “tactical polygraph” is a polygraph “test” administered to a suspect promptly after arrest in an attempt to obtain admissions to crimes beyond those for which the suspect has been arrested. The suspect’s “failing” may be a pre-scripted part of the interrogation plan.

Texas DPS polygraph operator Matthew “Matt” Mull

The “Matt” to whom McCraw called out is Texas Department of Public Safety Captain Matthew Mull, a polygraph operator and advocate of this coercive interrogation technique.

You know, we don’t do our, our sex trafficking operations without, without a polygrapher on site. I’ve been even lobbied by ICE HSI on more than one occasion to increase the number of polygraphers that we have, you know in the Rio Grande valley because of how productive it has been. Of course, it’s productive. And if, at the end of the day, you know it’s not only in terms of finding evidence to support, you know, putting them where they need to be, but it’s also identifying victims, other victims in that regard. And you are in a position to be able to do that.

You know there’s, not now, when you hit the day, first day running, you’re going to be in a position to do something that other people won’t be able to do. I mean, you’ve already got that skill to interview on top of that, you’ve got this, then you have the opportunity, because they’re being funneled into your presence, and you have an opportunity to make a difference. And sometimes, you know, patience is important, I know. You know, I don’t have it. But I know you have it, because sometimes you have to listen and empathize—for hours—with someone that you’re disgusted by.

I’m always, always reminded of someone that worked for me in, in my FBI days and we had the Tohono O’odham reservation in Arizona, and there was such pervasive child molestation on the, on the “res,” that, you know, how do you get the confessions? What do you, if someone does one, they do fifteen. How do you able to gonna elicit that infor—, you know how do you, and it’s about empathizing, and she was able to do that again and again and again, and followed up with a polygraph that always, you know, produced results in a way that we’re sparing the children from having to testify, which is brutal when you do so.

So there’s so many good things that you’re going to be doing, you know, whether it’s murderers, [unclear], whatever it is, you know, that cross your career, and, you know, and you’ll also, again, you know, in another discipline, ’cause people are understand that, hey, law enforcement is data based, scientific based, we don’t, we don’t, it’s not voodoo, okay, it’s about science, it’s about things that work.

Col. McCraw’s assertion that law enforcement is “scientific based” does not hold true when it comes to its reliance on polygraphy—a thoroughly discredited pseudoscience. “Voodoo science” is not an inapt characterization of polygraphic lie detection.

McCraw concludes:

It’s about, you know, evidence-based strategies. It’s in policing it is, is in fact a profession, and a very important, critical profession. There’s nothing more important that government does is protect its people, and you’re a key part of that with what discipline that you have that fits into it. And we’ve got an obligation to use all the tools that we can, and you’re, you’re a very important tool…

Law enforcement has no obligation to use tools such as the polygraph that are known to be scientifically baseless. McCraw’s remarks help to illustrate how deeply entrenched belief in the century-old, cop-invented pseudoscience of polygraphy is in American law enforcement.

From left to right: Texas DPS Polygraph School director Captain Bobby McCloskey, Tyler, TX PD Sergeant Kevin Fite, and Texas DPS Director Col. Steven C. McCraw

Video of the Texas DPS Polygraph School Class 29 graduation ceremony is available on the Texas DPS YouTube channel here: