“Senators Propose Limited Polygraph Policy”

Roger Snodgrass of the Los Alamos Monitor reports. Excerpt:

New Mexico’s senators teamed up on Monday to strike another blow to a controversial polygraph testing program in the nation’s weapons laboratories.

Senate Bill 1261 [sic, correct 1276], cosponsored by Sen. Pete Domenici, R-NM, and Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-NM, would narrow the focus of Department of Energy polygraph tests to those who would most realistically pose an individual threat to American security secrets.

The statements of both senators on introducing the legislation were critical of the recent history of lie-detector escalation, which was imposed on the national laboratories in 1999 and expanded last year. The bill is intended to grant more flexibility to the Energy Secretary and the administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), directly in charge of the labs, to put in place a less restrictive polygraph policy.

NNSA Administrator Gen. John Gordon also has acknowledged the connection between polygraph testing and low morale in the weapons laboratories’ workforce.

“We have yet to convince the current workforce of the validity of the polygraph test as a screening tool,” Gordon testified to a House Armed Services Committee Hearing in April.

LANL employees have voiced their concerns since the first polygraph crackdown was imposed. The “Ask the Director” feature on the lab’s web page has produced four special editions answering questions about the polygraph policy.

In answer to one question, LANL Director John Browne wrote, “I have been very concerned about the significant increase in required polygraph testing among DOE contractors that was mandated by Congressional law last year.”

“I have been consistent in arguing that screening polygraphs do not add much value to security, unless you believe that they serve as a deterrent to people contemplating espionage,” he added, noting there are many examples to suggest that the deterrence value is low.

“Having stated this opinion,” he said, “we are required by our contract to follow the laws of the land.”

Browne’s answers were in response to employees who, among other complaints, pointed out inconsistencies in LANL’s official policies that define polygraph testing as voluntary, and yet treat a refusal to submit to a mandatory polygraph by leave without pay and termination with loss of severance pay.

“New Bill Would Limit DOE Polygraphs”

Steven Aftergood of the American Federation of Scientists’ Secrecy in Government Project writes in today’s edition of Secrecy News:


A bill introduced in the Senate yesterday by Sen. Pete Domenici and Sen. Jeff Bingaman would reduce the number of Department of Energy (DOE) employees and contractors who are subject to polygraph testing, thereby reversing congressional action taken last year.

“The effect of past legislation was to require polygraphs for very broad categories of workers in DOE and in our DOE weapons labs and plants,” said Senator Domenici. “But the categories specified are really much too broad, some don’t even refer to security-related issues.”

Senator Domenici noted further that “Polygraphs are simply not viewed as scientifically credible by Laboratory staff.”

Senator Bingaman echoed that observation: “I’ve heard directly from many laboratory employees who question the viability of polygraphs and who have raised legitimate questions about its accuracy, reliability, and usefulness.”

“It has become clear that the [existing] provision has had a chilling effect on current and potential employees at the laboratories in a way that could risk the future health of the workforce at the laboratories,” Senator Bingaman said.

The new bill would reduce the number of DOE employees and contractors subject to the polygraph, limiting testing to those who have access to “the most sensitive” nuclear weapons secrets.

Senator Bingaman stressed that the proposed legislation is an “interim” measure and that further changes to DOE polygraph policy would be expected after a National Academy of Sciences study is completed next year.

See the July 31 floor statements of Senators Domenici and Bingaman introducing their new bill (S. 1276) here:


“N.M. Senators Seek to Rein in Polygraph Testing by DOE”

Maria Cranor reports for the Albuquerque Tribune. Excerpt:

U.S. Sens. Pete Domenici and Jeff Bingaman have introduced legislation to reform current Department of Energy polygraphing practices at the agency’s national laboratories.

Domenici was a vocal opponent of Congress’ decision to expand polygraph testing in the DOE’s nuclear weapons labs last year. The expanded program, introduced to strengthen security at the labs, will require administering the tests to 5,000 or more DOE employees. In the aftermath of that decision, critics inside and outside the labs have increasingly questioned the scientific validity of the tests.

“Morale within the DOE nuclear laboratories and plants is declining, in part because of the implementation of the polygraph policy,” Domenici, an Albuquerque Republican, said. “These tests are simply not viewed as scientifically credible by many lab employees.”

The bill authorizes the DOE and the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) to develop an interim polygraph program which would remain in effect until the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) completes its analysis of the scientific validity of polygraphing. The NAS study, initiated last year at the request of the Clinton administration, is scheduled for completion in June 2002.

Robert S. Mueller III on FBI Polygraph Policy

At the first day of his confirmation hearing before the U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary, FBI Director designate Robert S. Mueller III voiced his support for continued polygraph screening of senior FBI officials:

Sen. Hatch: …We understand that the FBI is now requiring polygraphs for managers handling national security matters. Are you willing to continue that uh, that approach?

Mueller: Yes.

Sen Hatch: And would you be willing to take a polygraph yourself if that, if that were the case?

Mueller: Yes. Indeed, I uh, it is my belief you don’t — this may be my training from the Marine Corps — but you don’t ask people to do that which you’re unwilling to do yourself. I have already taken that polygraph.

Sen. Hatch: The only reason I ask that question is I thought you had, and I just think it’s…

Mueller: [laughter]

Sen. Hatch: important. In particular…how did you do?

[general laughter]

Mueller: I’m sitting here; that’s all I’ve got to say!

Sen. Hatch: I’m sorry, we just hope you had a good examiner, that’s all….

To discuss Mr. Mueller’s testimony, see the AntiPolygraph.org message board thread, Robert S. Mueller III on FBI Polygraph Policy.

“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.

Oklahoma Police Applicant Files Polygraph-Related Suit

Martin Mull of the Edmond Sun reports in an article titled “Moore officer says she [sic] being truthful.” Excerpt:

A Moore police officer said she does not understand how she could have failed a polygraph test about no prior drug use during an interview process in Edmond.

That was the reason Etta Maytubby said she was given for not being hired by the Edmond Police Department in 1999. However, as a former college basketball player, Maytubby said she had to submit to random drug tests and never failed one.

Maytubby filed a lawsuit July 16 against Edmond Police Chief Dennis Cochran alleging that the city of Edmond “has a municipal custom and practice of racial discrimination,” according to court documents.

Maytubby, who is black, alleged in the suit that the police chief and other unknown officers who made up an interview committee to hire police officers, denied her employment because of her race and her female gender.

Maytubby said the main issue she recalls that police said prevented her from being hired was failing questioning about drug use on a polygraph test administered to applicants.

“I played four years of college basketball at (the University of Oklahoma) when we were part of the Big 8 (conference). We were required to have random drug testing when I played,” Maytubby told The Sun this morning.

She said she underwent at least two random drug tests during her years at OU, and did not fail any drug testing.

“I grew up playing basketball and went on to play in college. College athletes are treated very well, so I never experienced any type of discrimination playing ball. So when this happened, it was very shocking to me,” Maytubby said.

Maytubby said when she was notified she would not be hired because she failed the drug questioning on the polygraph, she called Cochran and volunteered to do whatever was necessary to show she did not use illegal drugs, including hair follicle testing that she said clearly proves whether a person has used illegal drugs in the past.

“But he said, ‘No, I don’t want to take the chance, just let it go,'” Maytubby said.

Maytubby, 28, spent one year playing professional basketball for the Richmond Rage of the American Basketball Association, before coming back to Oklahoma to pursue a career in law enforcement. She has been a patrol officer with the Moore Police Department for 18 months.

Polygraph “tests,” which are subject to polygrapher manipulation of outcomes and which may be scored subjectively, provide a perfect cover for racial discrimination in hiring.

Washington Post Endorses Polygraph Screening

Today’s Washington Post editorial, “Mr. Hanssen’s Plea” carries with it an implicit endorsement of polygraph screening. Excerpt (emphasis added):

Fixing…vulnerabilities [in FBI security procedures] is the task ahead. No system can ensure perfect security. There will be smart and unscrupulous would-be spies at an organization the size of the bureau who find cracks to slip through. But the bureau’s resistance to the sort of security measures imposed on other agencies with sensitive missions made it too easy for Mr. Hanssen. It seems crazy that Mr. Hanssen could rise through the ranks of the bureau’s most sensitive sections without ever taking a polygraph exam. Mr. Hanssen spent lavishly on a stripper with whom he was friendly, while also carrying large amounts of debt and doing renovations on his house — all without setting off alarm bells. How could he and the few hundred other FBI officials doing this most sensitive sort of work not have been subject to more rigorous scrutiny?

The FBI is now requiring polygraph exams for roughly 500 such officials. This is a start. A number of continuing reviews will undoubtedly make other recommendations for tightening security further. The key will be actually to implement the reasonable suggestions that emerge. Such sensible proposals for reform have been floated before but always incompletely implemented. The price of such negligence is too high.

The editors of the Washington Post need to realize that expanded reliance on pseudoscientific polygraph “tests” — with their inherent bias against the truthful and susceptibility to easily-learned countermeasures — is an extremely poor start to fixing vulnerabilities in FBI security procedures. Indeed, it is counterproductive. You can help set the Washington Post editorial board straight on polygraphs by sending a letter to the editor at letters@washpost.com. (Letters to the Washington Post must include your home address and home and business telephone numbers.)

“CIA Takes Crack at Glass Ceiling for Spies”

In a Reuters article about the status of women in the CIA, Tabassum Zakaria touches upon CIA polygraph policy, including alleged bias against women, and notes that a woman heads the CIA polygraph unit. Excerpt:

Lawyers who handle lawsuits by female spies say while steps have been taken toward equality, there is still some distance to go. One such lawyer, Janine Brookner, a former CIA station chief who sued the agency and won a $400,000 settlement and a lifelong annuity, said the glass ceiling remains intact.

Single female spies working overseas are questioned more extensively about their sexual relationships during required periodic lie detector tests, Brookner said, “because there’s always the suspicion they’re sleeping with a foreigner.”

She said women are seen as more vulnerable to compromise due to a sexual encounter than are men.

CIA spokesman Bill Harlow disagreed. “The woman who heads up our polygraph division I’m sure would not put up with any unfair treatment of women,” he said.

“DOE Needs to Stand Up to Congress on Lie Tests”

This Albuquerque Tribune editorial minces no words in its criticism of the Department of Energy’s polygraph screening program. Excerpt:

“Deception” is a nasty, nine-letter word that preoccupies U.S. counterintelligence agents. Appropriately, they worry about the potential for moles and leaks of nuclear weapons secrets from the nation’s classified bulwarks, including Sandia and Los Alamos national laboratories in New Mexico.

Unfortunately, the word also is at the heart of the Department of Energy’s misguided efforts to use polygraph examinations as a routine tool for plugging theoretical holes in the nation’s nuclear secrets dike.

The evidence suggests that the lie detector screening cure – intended to expose spies and lies – is worse than the affliction. In fact, it’s the big lie.

“DOE Drops Medical Questions” (Sort Of)

Albuquerque Journal staff writer John Fleck reports. Excerpt:

The Department of Energy has halted a controversial policy of asking medical questions of nuclear weapons scientists as part of its spy-hunting polygraph tests.

Instead of asking medically related questions, the department’s new policy now places the burden on workers being polygraphed, requiring them to reveal before taking the test any “medical or psychological condition” that might affect the test’s outcome, according to a memorandum from the department’s chief of counterintelligence.

The new policy did not satisfy the polygraph’s leading critic, who called it worse than the one it replaced.

That is because there is no way for employees, or their physicians, to find out what medications or medical conditions might influence a polygraph’s outcome, said Sandia National Laboratories scientist Al Zelicoff.

That leaves employees in an untenable position, with no way to tell what medical or psychological information they ought to reveal to the polygraphers.