NSA Director Mike Rogers on Polygraph Screening

NSA Director Mike Rogers Speaking on Polygraph Screening

NSA Director Admiral Mike Rogers says that he hates polygraphs but nonetheless considers them “a good tool for us.”

Rogers made the remark during an appearance on Monday, 3 November 2014 at Stanford University in response to a question by professor of political science Scott Sagan, who asked what Rogers has done in terms of background checks, security clearances, and personnel reliability programs to preclude another security breach like Edward Snowden’s.

The first specific measure Rogers mentioned was polygraph screening, replying in relevant part (at 1:09:09 in the webcast):

So, I remind the workforce, we all signed up to a higher level of scrutiny and a higher level of security. We all know that that’s part of the job. We all agree to that. Whether it’s polygraphs, whole lots of other things that we do–I mean, I can’t stand ’em. I’ll be the first to admit I hate ’em, but it is as…but I acknowledge that it’s a good tool for us, and if I’m gonna do this, I go into it with my eyes open even though part of me goes, “Oh man, I’ve got to sit down and get wired to a machine.” ‘Cause we have one standard for all of us. It doesn’t matter if you’re the four-star running the organization, or you’re a junior individual. I’ve got one standard for all of us when it comes to the security framework.

Rogers seemingly ignores the fact that polygraph screening is completely without scientific basis and disregards the National Research Council’s conclusion 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.”

Rogers also seems to suggest that he’s setting an example for his employees: everyone from the highest to the lowest ranking at NSA has to take the polygraph. But it’s not really the same. When the director of the NSA sits for a polygraph “test,” it’s the polygrapher’s job that’s on the line. No director of the NSA need fear failing a polygraph. The same is not true for those further down the food-chain, for whom a false-positive outcome is a serious risk.

Of course, polygraph screening is not a policy instituted by NSA in response to Edward Snowden’s disclosures. NSA has been (mis-)relying on polygraphy for almost its entire history. It may be the case, however, that NSA has increased the frequency of polygraph screenings. In December 2013, Daniel W. Drezner, writing for Foreign Policy magazine, reported following a visit to NSA headquarters:

Snowden has also changed the way the NSA is doing business. Analysts have gone from being polygraphed once every five years to once every quarter.

Update: While DIRNSA Mike Rogers says he goes into polygraphs “with [his] eyes open,” the NSA has produced a video for employees and contractors that attempts to mislead them about key aspects of polygraph screening. And NSA-affiliated personnel who attempt to open their eyes about polygraphy by researching it online may have their web browsing history intercepted and presented to them during their polygraph sessions.

Marisa Taylor on FBI Pre-Employment Polygraph Screening

fbi-polygraphMarisa Taylor reports for McClatchy on the high failure rate of the FBI’s pre-employment polygraph screening program using, among other sources, a 198-page document containing complaints of discrimination associated with the Bureau’s polygraph program. Excerpt:

WASHINGTON — Thousands of job applicants come to FBI offices all across the country every year, eager to work for the top law enforcement agency in the U.S.

But many of them have their hopes dashed, and it’s not because of their work experience or education or criminal records. They’re turned down because they’ve failed their polygraph tests.

The FBI’s policy of barring job candidates who fail their polygraph tests clashes with the view of many scientists that government agencies shouldn’t be relying on polygraph testing to decide whether to hire or fire someone. Experts say polygraph testing isn’t a reliable indicator of whether someone is lying – especially in employment screening.

Further, a little-known technical glitch in one of the leading polygraphs that the bureau and many other government agencies have used could give applicants who fail polygraphs even more reason to assert that they were inaccurately and unfairly labeled liars.

“I was called a lazy, lying, drug dealing junkie by a man who doesn’t know me , my stellar background or my societal contributions,” wrote one black applicant in Baltimore, who said he was told he qualified for a job except for his polygraph test failure. “Just because I am young and black does not automatically denote that I have ever used any illegal drugs.”

Government agencies use polygraph testing not only to weed out job applicants but also to question criminal suspects and to determine whether sex offenders are complying with psychological treatment or probation.

Although all polygraph testing is controversial, many scientists are highly critical of its use in job screening, saying it’s especially prone to inaccuracies because the questions are often more vague than they are in criminal investigations and therefore they’re more likely to provoke reactions from the innocent that might seem like deception.

Adding to the skepticism, polygraphers have documented problems with the measurement of sweat by the LX4000, a polygraph that the FBI and many other federal agencies and police departments across the country have used, McClatchy found. Polygraphers also interpret measurements of respiration and blood pressure for their decisions on whether someone is lying, but many see the sweat measurement as especially indicative of deception. The manufacturer of the LX4000, Lafayette Instrument Co. Inc., describes the problem as rare but it isn’t able to specify what that means. The company also points out that other polygraphs that use the same technology might have the problem as well.

For the rest of the story, see “FBI Turns Away Many Who Fail Lie-Detector Tests.” (Actually, the article might better have been titled “FBI Permanently Bars from Employment All Who Fail Lie-Detector Tests.” There is no appeal process.

Cuban Spy Nicolás Sirgado Passed CIA Polygraph Three Times

Cuban Interior Ministry Officer Nicolas Sirgado (1935-2013)
Cuban Interior Ministry Officer Nicolas Sirgado (1935-2013)

On 17 April 2013, Cuban intelligence officer Nicolás Alberto Sirgado Ros1 died at the age of 77 years according to a short notice published on 19 April by Granma, the official newspaper of the Cuban Communist Party. Cuban website CubaDebate published a lengthier profile of Sirgado, noting that he worked as a double agent for Cuba against the CIA for ten years beginning in 1966. Miami-based website CafeFuerte also profiles Sirgado, adding that “on three occasions, he was subjected to lie detector testing, without his real mission being discovered.”

Sirgado discussed his experience working against the CIA in an interview transcribed in a document titled “CIA: Cuba Accuses” that was published in English in Cuba in 1978. When asked “Did they ever use a lie detector on you?” Sirgado replied:

Yes, they used a lot of security measures. They used the lie detector three times. Sometimes there were lie detector sessions that were more than two and a half hours long.

Clearly, the CIA’s aim in using this method is not so much to find out whether or not you’re lying as to break you down, humiliate you, impose machine over mind.  Whether or not it’s effective, the method really seeks to humiliate and denigrate.  It’s a reflection of this espionage organization, built upon mistrust and of the lack of moral values to support its activities.

Sirgado is not the only Cuban double agent to fool the polygraph. DIA officer Ana Belen Montes passed the polygraph at least once while spying for Cuba. And former CIA officer Robert David Steele writes, “Two of my classmates got wrapped up in Cuba (and appeared on international television) because the Cuban double-agents all managed to pass the polygraph.”

Make-believe science yields make-believe security.

  1. The Granma article provides “Ross” as his maternal family name, but this appears to be a clerical error. []

U.S. Customs and Border Protection Allegedly Targets Reservists/Guardsmen with Polygraphs

In a class action appeal filed with the Merit Systems Protection Board, four military reserve officers allege that U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has engaged in a “continuous” and “wide-ranging pattern of harassment” against members of the U.S. Armed Services and National Guard, including targeting them with pre-employment polygraph screening, in violation of the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (38 U.S.C. § 4301 et seq.). The case is Ferguson, et al. v. Department of Homeland Security, et al., filed 15 February 2013.

One of the appellants, Jason Dutcher, was a lieutenant commander in the U.S. Navy Reserve when in June 2010 he applied for employment with CBP’s Office of Air and Marine. His application was rejected “ostensibly because he failed a polygraph examination.”

With regard to CBP’s pre-employment polygraph polygraph practices, the appeal alleges:

78.    On information and belief, Appellant Dutcher and members of the Applicant Subclass were denied initial employment based on their membership in the United States Armed Services or National Guard.

79.    On information and belief, and thereon alleged, polygraph examinations are or were administered to applicants with military service obligations at an unreasonably higher and inexplicably rate [sic] than to those applicants without military service obligations.

80.    On information and belief, and thereon alleged, applicants with military service obligations fail the polygraph examinations at an unreasonably and inexplicably higher rate than do those applicants without military service obligations.

81.    The Class’ obligations and membership in the uniformed services was and is a motivating factor in all discriminatory, harassing and hostile actions Appellees have taken against the Appellants.

The class that Dutcher seeks to represent includes “all those individuals who applied for employment at DHS, CBP and/or OAM between January 1, 1994 and the present who were not hired due to their military service obligations” (para. 101).

The appellants’ allegations also include:

129. Upon information and belief, Appellees have repeatedly made comments to members of the Applicant Subclass during the application process indicating that the applicant’s affiliation with the military made it difficult for Appellees to hire the applicant because the individual may have future military commitments.

130. Upon information and belief, Appellees have repeatedly refused to hire members of the Applicant Subclass because they may have future military obligations.

131. Upon information and belief, Appellees administer polygraph tests during the application process randomly, arbitrarily and at an unreasonably higher rate to members of the Applicant Subclass than to applicants with no military service affiliation.

132. Upon information and belief, an unreasonably and inexplicably higher percentage of applicants with military service affiliations fail the polygraph tests than do applicants with no military service affiliation.

133. USERRA requires employers to treat all applicants for employment similarly regardless of their military service affiliation and obligations.

134. By repeatedly discriminating against Appellant Dutcher and the Applicant Subclass through their refusal to hire members of the Applicant Subclass, Appellees have violated §4311 of USERRA.

135. Appellant’ Dutcher’s and the Applicant Subclass’ service obligations were a motivating factor in the discriminatory actions Appellees have taken against Appellant and the Applicant Subclass.

The appellants are represented by Brian J. Lawler of  Pilot Law, P.C. in San Diego, California.

Operation Lie Busters

The federal criminal investigation into polygraph countermeasure training reported by AntiPolygraph.org last week is named “Operation Lie Busters.” The name, which was redacted from a U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) document (5.4 mb PDF) released to the Center for Investigative Reporting under the Freedom of Information Act, suggests that polygraph countermeasures are central, and not peripheral to the investigation, in which 10 applicants for employment with CBP “were identified as receiving sophisticated polygraph Countermeasure training in an effort to defeat the polygraph requirement.”

While polygraph countermeasures may be used by deceptive persons to pass a polygraph, truthful persons may also choose to employ them to protect themselves against the high risk of a false positive outcome. CBP, for example, has a pre-employment polygraph failure rate of about 60%, and given polygraphy’s complete lack of scientific underpinnings, it is inevitable that many truthful applicants, like Eric Trevino, are being falsely branded as liars by CBP and other federal agencies and suffering irreparable career harm.

Polygraph countermeasures, such as those explained in AntiPolygraph.org’s free book, The Lie Behind the Lie Detector (1 mb PDF), are simple, easily learned, and effective, and the polygraph community has no coherent methodology for detecting them. Being unable to detect countermeasures, it appears that the U.S. government is attempting to criminalize them.

The CBP polygraph unit (formally titled the “Credibility Assessment Division” clearly prides itself on Operation Lie Busters, having showcased it as the first item in a 28-page “Significant Admissions Summary,” even though no “significant admission” is alleged in connection with the investigation.

CBP Public Affairs declined to answer any questions about this investigation, including whether any of the 10 CBP applicants have been criminally charged, what the underlying crime in the alleged conspiracy is, whether CBP considers it a crime to receive or provide instruction in polygraph countermeasures, how the applicants in question were identified as having received polygraph countermeasure training, who provided the training, and why the name of the operation was redacted and whether it could now be disclosed.

Despite CBP’s refusal to comment, AntiPolygraph.org has learned that the head of CBP’s Credibility Assessment Division, John R. Schwartz, and CBP Special Agent Fred C. Ball, Jr. have been scheduled since at least January 2013 to give a presentation on the operation on Monday, 3 June 2013, as the keynote and opening presentation at the American Association of Police Polygraphists‘ annual seminar, which is scheduled for 2-7 June 2013 at the Omni Charlotte Hotel in Charlotte, North Carolina. The seminar schedule, a copy of which has been provided to AntiPolygraph.org, reveals the name of the investigation to be “Operation Lie Busters”:

AAPP - Operation Lie Busters


If the head of U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s polygraph unit can showboat Operation Lie Busters at a convention organized by a private group such as the American Association of Police Polygraphists, then the public should be entitled to know about this allegedly “precedent setting” investigation, too.

Documents provided to AntiPolygraph.org reveal that the two primary sources of information about polygraph countermeasures that concern the polygraph community are AntiPolygraph.org and former police polygraphist Doug Williams of Norman, Oklahoma, who sells a manual titled “How to Sting the Polygraph” and offers personal training in polygraph countermeasures. AntiPolygraph.org notes that both John Schwartz and Fred Ball are assigned to CBP offices in Houston, Texas, whose jurisdiction extends to Oklahoma City, of which Norman is a suburb.

For discussion of Operation Lie Busters, see “Is It a Crime to Provide or Receive Polygraph Countermeasure Training?” on the AntiPolygraph.org message board.

Customs and Border Protection Polygraph Screening: A Critical Commentary on the Center for Investigative Journalism’s Recent Reporting

On 4 April 2013, the Center for Investigative Reporting published two articles by Andrew Becker on U.S. Customs and Border Patrol’s pre-employment polygraph screening program. The first, which has garnered considerable attention and was featured on Tina Brown’s The Daily Beast, is “During polygraphs, border agency applicants admit to rape, kidnapping.”1 Becker’s reporting is based primarily on an internal report by CBP’s polygraph unit (formally titled the Credibility Assessment Division). This document, first obtained by the Center for Investigative Reporting, is available on AntiPolygraph.org as a word-searchable PDF file. Becker opens the article:

One [CBP applicant] admitted to kidnapping and ransoming hostages in the Ivory Coast. Others said they had molested children or committed rape. And one, as he prepared for survival in a post-apocalyptic world, contemplated assassinating President Barack Obama.

These are among the thousands of applicants who have sought sensitive law enforcement jobs in recent years with the U.S. Border Patrol and its parent agency, Customs and Border Protection.

In many cases, these people made it all the way through the hiring process until one of the last steps – a polygraph exam. Once sitting with a polygraph examiner, they admitted to a host of astonishing crimes, according to documents obtained by the Center for Investigative Reporting.

The records – official summaries of more than 200 polygraph admissions – raise alarms about the thousands of employees Customs and Border Protection has hired over the past six years before it began mandatory polygraph tests for all applicants six months ago. The required polygraphs come at the tail end of a massive hiring surge that began in 2006 and eventually added 17,000 employees, helping to make the agency the largest law enforcement operation in the country.

Continue reading Customs and Border Protection Polygraph Screening: A Critical Commentary on the Center for Investigative Journalism’s Recent Reporting

  1. The Daily Beast ran with the less sensationalist title, “On Polygraph Tests, Would Be Border Patrol Agents Confess to Crimes” []

POGO on Polygraph Screening

Dana Liebelson and Adam Zagorin of the Project on Government Oversight report on Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper’s recent decision to use polygraphs in an attempt to detect and deter media leaks. AntiPolygraph.org co-founder George Maschke is among those interviewed for this article.

Director of National Intelligence Orders Polygraph Question on Media Contacts

On 25 June 2012, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper announced (PDF) that he is “mandating that a question related to unauthorized disclosure of classified information be added to the counterintelligence polygraph used by all intelligence agencies that administer the examination (CIA, DIA, DOE, FBI, NGA, NRO, and NSA).”

Although Clapper’s announcement does not specify what the mandated question will be, his spokesman, Shawn Turner, told Jeremy Herb of The Hill that “officials will be asked during the lie-detector tests whether they have disclosed classified information to members of the media.”

Herb reports that both Senate Intelligence Committee chairwoman Diane Feinstein (D-CA) and House Intelligence Committee chairman Mike Rogers (R-MI) voiced support for Clapper’s announced polygraph expansion.

However, the National Research Council in 2002 concluded 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.”

The polygraph has a dismal track record when it comes to plugging leaks. In a 1982 leak investigation, members of the National Security Council (which is not covered by DNI Clapper’s recent announcement) were instructed to submit to polygraph interrogations in the course of an investigation into who leaked classified information to the New York Times. A Marine lieutenant colonel on the NSC staff, Robert McFarlane, failed the polygraph. Twice. And it nearly destroyed his career. It was only when the Times’ publisher, Arthur O. Sulzberger, himself a former marine, confirmed to President Reagan that McFarlane was not the Times’ source, that McFarlane was exonerated. The leaker was never identified, and the polygraph served only to misdirect investigators.

It should be noted that polygraph accuracy has not improved in the 30 years since that botched leak investigation. However, knowledge of how to fool the lie detector is much more widespread nowadays. See AntiPolygraph.org’s free book, The Lie Behind the Lie Detector (1 mb PDF) for details. If anything, polygraph dragnets for leakers are less likely to succeed today than they were during the botched Reagan era investigation that nearly destroyed Colonel McFarlane’s career.

Secret Service Wants to Polygraph Agents Implicated in Colombia Prostitution Scandal

Norah O’Donnell reports for CBS News that the U.S. Secret Service “wants to polygraph a number of agents and officers involved” in a scandal wherein they allegedly hired prostitutes while in Cartagena, Colombia as part of President Obama’s security detail. It should be noted, however, that the unscientific polygraph is in part responsible for the selection of personnel with such poor judgment: all Secret Service agents and uniformed officers are required to undergo to pre-employment polygraph screening.

While polygraphy has an inherent bias against truthful persons, liars can easily beat the polygraph using simple countermeasures that polygraph operators cannot detect. The Secret Service would do well to terminate its reliance on this unreliable pseudoscience.

Update: ABC News reports that the Secret Service personnel suspected of consorting with prostitutes will be “forced to submit to lie detector tests.” CBS’s earlier reporting suggested that any such “testing” would be voluntary.