“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.

“Dealing With Polygraph Testing”

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


Scientists at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory are organizing to defend their legal rights in the face of new Department of Energy polygraph testing requirements.

The Society of Professional Scientists and Engineers (SPSE), an organization of Livermore employees, has developed its own “consent” form that documents the rights of those who are compelled to undergo polygraph testing. The new form and related materials may be found on the SPSE web site here:


Of particular interest, SPSE commissioned a background paper from attorney Andrew Thomas Sinclair entitled “If You are Asked to Take a Polygraph Examination: A Guide for Employees at LLNL” that is posted here:


The continuing controversy over the efficacy and propriety of polygraph testing is rehearsed most recently by Diana Ray in the Washington Times’ Insight Magazine (July 2-9, 2001):


Antipolygraph.org, led by polygraph critic George Maschke, provides the latest news on polygraph testing, pursues the release of polygraph-related documentation under the Freedom of Information Act, and makes a commendable effort to engage polygraph proponents in dialog and debate. See:


On the Dangers of Polygraph Screening

In an article entitled “To Tell The Truth,” US News and World Report writers Kevin Whitelaw and David E. Kaplan put forth informed commentary on the dangers of security vetting by polygraph. Excerpt:

The task [of finding moles in the CIA] fell to [Edward] Curran, who sensed the nation’s premier spy agency was consumed by mistrust. Routine polygraphs became grueling interrogation sessions. The polygraphers treated their colleagues “like criminals,” says Curran. “This might be great in a prison but not with civil servants.”

The crackdown turned up serious security problems. But innocent people were also snagged, raising the question of whether the agency used the decidedly wrong medicine for a cure. As many as 100 people–including some of the nation’s top spies–found their careers paralyzed: Many lost coveted transfers overseas; others were pushed into dead-end jobs; still others quit in frustration or were forced out. “No organization can afford to have that many experienced officers tied up in limbo,” says Frederick Hitz, the CIA inspector general for much of the 1990s. Says a former station chief: “The effect was devastating.”

Today, the dragnet at the CIA offers a cautionary tale as other federal agencies embark on their own sweeping spy hunts. The FBI has launched an agencywide mole hunt, sparked by the February arrest of veteran counterintelligence agent Robert Hanssen.

“If they can’t pass a CIA polygraph, fire them,” former CIA officials recall Rep. Norman Dicks, a member of the House Intelligence Committee, barking at the time.

Everyone knew of the polygraph’s flaws, shortcomings so glaring that the test results are inadmissible in most courts. A tabletop box that monitors pulse, breathing, and skin moisture, the machine measures stress, not truthfulness. Even veteran polygraphers concede there is a 10 percent to 15 percent “false positive” rate. That’s where the machine registers a “significant physiological response” on a truthful answer. “The polygraph is not really a lie detector,” says former CIA director James Woolsey. “You have cases in which truthful people look like they’re lying and where lying people look like they’re truthful.” Many times during the exams, officials say, fears unrelated to counterintelligence or criminal behavior clouded the results. Horror stories about bad polygraph sessions soon raced through the agency.

Retired FBI Counterintelligence Official Calls for More Polygraphs

In an article ironically titled “Americans See Through Blind Eyes,” Toby Westerman of WorldNetDaily reports on Centre for Counterintelligence and Security Studies dean David Major’s call for expanded polygraph screening. Excerpt:

Polygraph examinations – lie detector tests – should be given to all U.S. government personnel having access to secret information in order to prevent a similar spy scandal to that of accused FBI spy, Robert Hanssen, according to a former top counterintelligence officer.

One proposal that received approval from all top-level Reagan officials was to require those having access to sensitive military secrets to submit to a polygraph examination.

Those in sensitive positions “should be able to pass the question – ‘Are you a spy?'” stated Major, who was involved in the Reagan administration’s deliberation on the subject.

If the individual is unable to answer the question without difficulty, “maybe you should have to reevaluate that person,” Major suggested.

The suggestion was made that all government officials take a polygraph examination, since access to secret information, according to Major, is open to nearly all levels of government.

The drive for polygraph tests ended when then-Secretary of State George Shultz stated that he would take the examination – and then resigned in protest.

This last point about former Secretary of State George P. Shultz first saying he would take a polygraph examination and then resigning in protest is dead wrong. Shultz never agreed to be polygraphed and said he would resign if ordered to submit. President Reagan relented, and Shultz kept his job. America’s counterintelligence community would do well to end its own wilful blindness with regard to polygraphy and acknowledge that “the lie behind the lie detector” is no secret.

Senate Hearing on Issues Surrounding the Use of Polygraphs

The Senate Committee on the Judiciary held a hearing today on “Issues Surrounding the Use of Polygraphs.” The five witnesses who were invited to testify are former DoDPI director Michael H. Capps, Professor William G. Iacono of the University of Minnesota, former CIA general counsel Jeffrey H. Smith, attorney Mark S. Zaid, and past American Polygraph Association president Richard W. Keifer. Statements made at this hearing are available on-line at:


AntiPolygraph.org’s Gino Scalabrini and George Maschke were both present at this hearing. Watch AntiPolygraph.org for commentary. Written remarks submitted to the committee were also entered into the record, and we’ll be seeking to obtain copies.

“Experts Disagree About Lie Detector”

Associated Press correspondent Jesse J. Holland reports on the Senate Committee on the Judiciary’s 25 April hearing on “Issues Surrounding the Use of Polygraphs.” Note that the only scientific expert among the witnesses who spoke was Professor William G. Iacono. Excerpt:

WASHINGTON (AP) – The FBI might have started earlier to investigate Robert Hanssen, the agent accused of spying, if the bureau hadn’t resisted subjecting its agents to routine lie detector tests, advocates of the polygraph tests told a Senate panel Wednesday. “It is my opinion that in a security screening polygraph, Robert Hanssen would have reacted with greater than 99 percent certainty,” said Richard Keifer, a past president of the American Polygraph Association.

Opponents of polygraphs say innocent people who are nervous can fail easily, and spies can find out from libraries and the Internet how to manipulate lie-detector test results to their advantages.

“Someone who is clever enough to be a spy should be clever enough to learn these simple techniques to beat a polygraph,” said William Iacono, a psychology professor from the University of Minnesota.

Senate Judiciary Committee to Hold Hearing on “Issues Surrounding the Use of Polygraphs”

On Wednesday, 25 April 2001, the Senate Committee on the Judiciary, chaired by Employee Polygraph Protection Act co-sponsor Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT), will hold an open hearing beginning at 10:00 a.m. in Room 226 of the Senate Dirksen Building. If you have information about which the committee should be made aware, contact the committee at (202) 224-5225.

A notice of hearing is posted on the Committee website at:


“Police to Press for Routine Lie Detector Testing of Officers”

Ha’aretz police correspondent Nicole Krau reports that police in Israel are seeking to conduct regular polygraph screening. Excerpt:

The heads of the Israel Police are planning to ask a ministerial committee for a green light to conduct regular polygraph tests on their officers, as is routine in the case of security officials, Major General Moshe Karadi, the head of the police human resources branch, told Ha’aretz.

Due to budgetary restrictions, police commissioner Shlomo Aharonishky is expected to decide in favor of administering lie detector tests to only a sample of policemen. Following current practice in the Israel Defense Forces, the police commissioner is likely to recommend that two different sorts of tests be performed – one would apply to all men on the force, and the second would be conducted in the case of officers who hold sensitive posts within the service, or have the rank of Major General.

“Freeh to Take Lie-Detector Test”

The Associated Press reports. Excerpt:

WASHINGTON (AP) – FBI Director Louis Freeh and his senior deputies will take lie-detector tests as part of stepped-up security procedures following the arrest of a veteran FBI agent charged with spying for Moscow over a period of 15 years.

“The director always includes himself in whatever policy applies to FBI employees,” John Collingwood, an FBI spokesman, said Friday. “He will exercise the same leadership in regard to the expansion of the polygraph policy.”

Louis J. Freeh needn’t read The Lie Behind the Lie Detector to learn how to protect himself from a false positive outcome. No FBI polygrapher in his right mind is going to accuse the boss of deception. If our national leaders truly believe that holding polygraph séances is the way to root out spies, then an independent National Polygraph Agency — whose agent-polygraphers will be beholden to no one — must be established to exorcise spies from all levels of government — including the United States Congress.

“Nuclear Lab, Polygraphers at Odds”

Kathleen Koch reports for CNN. Excerpt:

WASHINGTON (CNN) — The director of one of the nation’s nuclear weapons labs has told employees they don’t have to cooperate when asked medical questions by government polygraphers, CNN has learned. Scientists at Sandia National Laboratories, with headquarters near Albuquerque, New Mexico, have expressed concern that, before being given lie detector tests, they are required to answer examiners’ questions about what medications they are taking, when, how much and why. The weapons lab scientists claim such questions violate their privacy rights.

In a message sent Monday to employees, obtained by CNN, labs director Paul Robinson said, “You should not feel obliged to provide any private medical information as a part of the polygraph process.” Robinson continued that, if necessary, scientists should “ask to have the session rescheduled.” Energy Department spokesman Jean LaPato said the DOE was aware of the concerns and that agency representatives were meeting this week with Sandia representatives on how to best address them.

“We’re not yet at a point when these decisions can be made,” said LaPato.

Sandia’s chief medical officer, Larry Clevenger, last month recommended the testing be halted until a National Academy of Sciences study on the polygraph test’s validity is complete.