“Faulty Lie Detector”

The St. Petersburg Times calls for dumping the polygraph in this editorial. Excerpt:

In a stark overreaction to the spying allegations against Wen Ho Lee, a scientist at the Los Alamos weapons lab in New Mexico, Congress ordered the Energy Department to begin a massive polygraph screening program for employees at the nation’s nuclear weapons labs. About 16,000 people in jobs with possible access to sensitive material were selected for security evaluations utilizing polygraph tests.

But the results of those tests have not been what Congress intended. Rather than flushing out spies in our midst, they have demoralized staff with false positive results and driven top scientists from our nuclear weapons program. Now, a study by the National Research Council suggests that polygraph tests are practically useless for security screening.

The 245-page report indicates that polygraph tests, which measure physiological changes of subjects as they are questioned, have little actual science backing up their validity. This reliability problem has always dogged the tests, which are not admissible in court except in rare instances. Even so, they continue to be widely used as an investigative technique.

The report’s findings would be little more than an interesting note if lie detector tests weren’t so damaging. In criminal investigations, they can create a rush to judgment. Police may abandon other leads and focus on making the evidence fit a certain suspect who failed a lie detector test, when in fact the results may be a false positive. Polygraph tests used as an employment screening device can harm morale, while offering little in the way of enhanced security.

DOE Polygraph Policy to Be Repealed

Steven Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists’ Secrecy in Government Project reports in today’s Secrecy News electronic newsletter:


The controversial Department of Energy counterintelligence polygraph program that was enacted by Congress three years ago will be repealed and replaced by a new program, according to the Defense Authorization Act of 2002.

The previously mandated polygraph program, which required the polygraph testing of perhaps twenty thousand national laboratory personnel, drew stiff resistance from scientists and others. A newly reconfigured DOE polygraph program will be based on the results of a pending National Academy of Sciences study.

See the new defense authorization provision on polygraph testing here:


Last week, a federal judge rejected government efforts to dismiss a lawsuit that challenges the use of polygraph testing for screening of federal employees. The lawsuits were brought against the FBI, DEA and Secret Service by eleven plaintiffs, represented by attorney Mark S. Zaid, who were denied employment based on polygraph tests. See:


“LAPD Polygraph Test Results Don’t Tell Full Truth”

AntiPolygraph.org’s George Maschke comments in this Los Angeles Daily News op-ed piece. Excerpt:

LOS Angeles has awarded a $615,000 noncompetitive contract to a company to give polygraph tests to Los Angeles Police Department recruits, paying double the going rate for lie-detector experts.

Phyllis Lynes, assistant general manager for the Personnel Department’s Public Safety Bureau, has defended the contract, saying, “The other alternative was not to staff the Police Department, and that’s not an acceptable alternative.”

A better alternative is to scrap the polygraph altogether.

Since February, when polygraph testing began, the LAPD has branded roughly half of the otherwise qualified applicants polygraphed as liars.

I have heard from numerous LAPD applicants who claim they were falsely accused of deception. One writes, “Here I was, thinking I was well on my way to serving LAPD with integrity and honor, being accused of not only being a druggie, but a liar as well.”

Another notes, “I was told that if I tell the truth I have nothing to worry about; boy, was I wrong.”

Those falsely accused of deception have little or no avenue of appeal.

“Big Lies”

The Los Angeles Daily News discusses the city’s recent polygraph contract in this editorial. Excerpt:

City Hall’s budget woes get worse every day. This year’s projected deficit has nearly doubled in just a week.

Maybe that’s because City Hall pays twice the going rate for its services and contracts.

Take lie-detectors — and frankly it would be a good idea if our city leaders were given lie-detector tests with regularity.

Last week, the City Council approved a $615,000 contract with an East Coast security company to provide polygraph examinations for would-be Los Angeles Police Department officers. What the council didn’t ask about — and the bureaucrats didn’t mention — is that the company doesn’t have any polygraph experts.

Nor did anyone question why the city was paying $395 for each test when the firm was going out and hiring local polygraph experts to conduct the tests for the standard $200 fee.

In other words, the city will pay almost double the going rate for lie-detector tests. The deal, of course, was part of a no-bid contract with $62,000 thrown in so the firm’s executives can travel to Los Angeles to make sure the local experts are doing a good job.

Phyllis Lynes, assistant general manager for the city Personnel Department’s Public Safety Bureau, read about the company, U.S. Investigation Services Inc., in a brochure, and that seemed to be the extent of her research. City bureaucrats claim they made a few random phone calls and surfed the Web looking for competitors, but they didn’t seem to look very hard.

City Controller Laura Chick should take this latest example of waste as proof of the need for her tireless vigilance in defense of the taxpayers’ money. If she doesn’t do it, no one will.

When they’re campaigning, city politicians always make promises about managing the public’s funds responsibly. When they take the oath of office, they pledge to serve and protect the public and its concerns.

Maybe it’s the city’s politicians, not its police officers, who need lie-detector tests. Even at City Hall’s inflated rate of $395 a pop, it would be worth the money if it brought a little truth to City Hall.

“Double Charge for Cop Exams”

Beth Barrett of the Los Angeles Daily News reports on the non-competitive contract recently awarded to US Investigation Services to provide polygraph support for the Los Angeles Police Department. Excerpt:

Without seeking bids, Los Angeles hired an East Coast security firm — at double the going rate — to perform lie detector tests on LAPD recruits to speed the hiring of new police officers, the Daily News has learned.

The firm, found through a brochure, has no polygraph examiners of its own and is hiring local lie detector experts who work for about half the fee it is charging the city.

With few questions asked, the City Council approved the $615,000, six-month contract last week, as well as up to $62,000 in travel reimbursements that would have been unnecessary if local examiners were hired directly.

The money for the contract comes from an unexpended fund originally intended to provide each officer who completes the Police Academy with a $2,000 signing bonus, a recruitment incentive city officials said isn’t effective.

The firm, U.S. Investigation Services Inc. of Vienna, Va., is being paid about $395 a polygraph, even though the local rate is about $200.

“I don’t understand how they could use such a stupid system to get an important service,” said Richard Close, president of the Sherman Oaks Homeowners Association. “It seems like a system fraught with potential fraud and one almost guaranteed that you’ll pay a very high price, because you’re not exposing it to competition.”

Edward Gelb, past president of the American Polygraph Association and head of a company that does lie detector work for six local police agencies, called the contract a “sweetheart deal.”

City officials who negotiated the deal defended it as a badly needed stopgap after they were caught unprepared for a surge in recruitment that’s approached all-time highs for the decade. Since the Rampart Division anti-gang unit corruption scandal, those recruits are required to take lie detector tests.

Capt. Paul Enox, commanding officer for the LAPD’s Scientific Investigation Division, said the department wasn’t able to hire enough skilled polygraph examiners or train others to meet the demand immediately. He said discussions with the Sheriff’s Department encountered bureaucratic obstacles.

To respond to the backlog, Enox said he made it “very clear” to the city’s personnel officials they would have to find outside resources to catch up, noting some recruits were being made to wait a couple of months to take the exams.

“The backlog was big and growing bigger, and recruitment is one of the highest priorities for city government,” Enox said. “Personnel was scrambling to find a way to address the backlog quickly and efficiently.”

Phyllis Lynes, assistant general manager for the Personnel Department’s Public Safety Bureau, said she knew about U.S. Investigation Services and had obtained a brochure describing their services.

Lynes said she contacted them, and asked whether they could provide the polygraph service as the number of backlogged LAPD tests was approaching 600.

Lynes said she remembers grilling the company about its prices, but said she couldn’t recall how its officials justified the $395 per exam figure, except that quality control services were included.

Gelb, the past president of the American Polygraph Association, said he was “astonished” that as one of the more prominent experts in the field, he was not contacted.

Since U.S. Investigation Services has been hired, the polygraph backlog has dropped from about 600 to 180, Lynes said.

“The other alternative was not to staff the Police Department, and that’s not an acceptable alternative,” she said.

A better alternative would have been to scrap the LAPD’s polygraph program altogether. The $615,000 spent on pseudoscientific polygraph “testing” is taxpayer money wasted.

“Polygraph Firm to Test L.A. Police Recruits”

Los Angeles Daily News staff writer Harrison Sheppard reports on the Los Angeles City Council’s decision to award a $615,000 contract for polygraph services. This short article is cited in full here:

In an effort to speed up the police recruiting process, the City Council on Tuesday approved a $615,000 contract with a company to conduct polygraph tests on new recruits.

After the Los Angeles Police Department’s Rampart Division scandal, the city began requiring every police recruit to undergo a lie-detector test, but the LAPD does not have enough personnel to conduct the tests, leading to a backlog of 500 to 600 recruits in the application process.

The council approved a six-month contract with U.S. Investigation Services Inc.

The firm, headquartered in Vienna, Va., said it can eliminate the backlog in 60 days and then will continue working to prevent future backlogs. The company is expected to conduct about 1,400 polygraph tests at a cost of $395 each.

The city will also reimburse the contractor for up to $62,000 in travel costs.

“Ultimately, we want to hire more polygraph test-givers ourselves, but right now to catch up with the backlog, we are doing this contract with an outside firm,” said Councilwoman Cindy Miscikowski, chairwoman of the council’s Public Safety Committee.

For discussion of LAPD’s polygraph policy, see the AntiPolygraph.org message board’s California Polygraph Reform Initiative forum.

“Leaking Classified Information and Polygraphs”

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

Leaking classified information and polygraphs

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

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

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

–R. Robert Stevens

“Senate Eases DOE Energy Policy”

Steven Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists’ Secrecy in Government Project reports in today’s Secrecy News electronic newsletter:


Buried in the Defense Authorization Act approved by the Senate this week is language that would repeal the Department of Energy’s controversial polygraph policy and replace it with a more measured polygraph program.

Under the new interim procedures, anyone who does not have routine access to “Top Secret Restricted Data” could be exempted from polygraph testing. In practice, there is very little information that is classified at the TS/RD level.

The legislation directs the Secretary of Energy to develop a new counterintelligence polygraph policy, but wisely refrains from dictating the specific content of that policy.

The text of the new polygraph legislation, which must still be considered in a House-Senate conference, is posted here:


“As we all know, the initial response prompting … the polygraph program … was the situation of security breaches in our nuclear laboratories,” said Senator Jack Reed on September 24. “We hope and believe that is a thing of the past.”

Los Angeles City Council Committee Votes to Hire Contract Polygraph Services

In an article entitled “Panel seeks to speed LAPD hiring,” David Zahniser of the Torrance, Calif. Daily Breeze reports on the 24 September 2001 meeting of the Los Angeles City Council’s Public Safety Committee. Excerpt:

The committee … recommended hiring a private firm to handle the backlog of more than 500 job applicants waiting to take the LAPD’s polygraph exam, one of a barrage of tests given to applicants.

While written exams can be given to a roomful of applicants, lie-detector tests must be administered one at a time. As a result, the LAPD now faces a backlog of 500 to 600 officer candidates awaiting the exam — a factor that is causing some applicants to lose interest in the LAPD.

The Public Safety Committee voted Monday to recommend that a private company be paid up to $615,000 to address that backlog. And it called for four new positions within the LAPD to handle the complicated tests on a permanent basis.

The private company to which the Committee recommended that a contract be awarded seems to be US Investigation Services, Inc. For discussion of the Committee’s actions, and for the text of the meeting agenda, see the AntiPolygraph.org message board thread, “L.A. City Council Mtg. Monday, 24 Sep.”

LAPD Polygraph Backlog at 800

In an article titled “Committee expands LAPD recruitment efforts,” MSNBC.com affiliate NBC4.TV reports on the LAPD’s polygraph woes. Excerpt:

LOS ANGELES, Sept. 24 – The City Council’s Public Safety Committee recommended today that the city fund expanded officer recruitment efforts by the Los Angeles Police Department.

The panel unanimously forwarded to the full council Deputy Chief Michael Bostic’s request to approve the creation of several new positions, all of which he said were needed to staff a pilot recruitment program.

“I think the LAPD can ill afford cost-cutting measures on staff when we’re at the breaking point where we are now,” Bostic said.

Among the positions that need to be filled, Bostic said, are polygraph examiners to administer tests to LAPD applicants as part of their background checks.

“Earlier in the year, we asked for eight polygraph examiners; we got six. So, surprise surprise, we’re 800 backlogged and now we’re trying to play catch up,” he said.