POLYGRAPH HELL AT THE NATIONAL LABORATORIES
In its mad pursuit of a misconceived ideal of “security,” Congress has quietly imposed broad new polygraph testing requirements on Energy Department employees and contractors.
Subtle changes adopted in the conference on the defense authorization bill will require polygraph tests on an additional 5000 persons in the nuclear weapons labs, Senator Pete Domenici noted in a press release yesterday. That is an increase from the current level of around 800 persons subject to polygraph testing.
“I am dismayed that the conferees took it upon themselves to adopt additional provisions on polygraphs,” Sen. Domenici said. “I find it astounding, especially in light of the findings in the Baker-Hamilton Report, that the conferees included these provisions.”
“The Baker-Hamilton Report clearly indicated that we should avoid further ‘Made in Washington’ rules that frustrate scientific pursuits and only serve to demoralize laboratory personnel. I believe these provisions will only make a bad situation worse,” Sen. Domenici said. “Security will be a moot point if our national laboratories fail to achieve scientific advances worth protecting.”
The Domenici press release is posted here:
The Baker-Hamilton Report is posted here:
By expanding the definition of who is a “covered person,” the new polygraph provision will impose testing requirements on an additional 5000 people, based on an informal estimate that NNSA chief Gen. John Gordon provided to Senator Domenici last week, a Domenici aide said.
The new provision, section 3135 of the defense authorization act, is posted here:
It amends last year’s polygraph legislation, posted here:
Steven Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists’ Project on Government Secrecy reports in today’s edition of the electronic newsletter Secrecy News that House-Senate conferees have approved legislation that severely limits the Secretary of Energy’s authority to grant polygraph waivers. The following is an excerpt (emphasis added):
DEFENSE AUTHORIZATION BILL BOOSTS SECRECY
The House-Senate conference completed its compromise version of the Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2001 on Friday. The bill, which is an astonishing mess from many points of view, includes several provisions that will tend to diminish publish access to government information and drive security policy farther away from a defensible middle ground.
The new bill (H.R. 5408) creates two new statutory exemptions from the Freedom of Information Act. One will exempt certain unclassified foreign government information from disclosure (sec. 1073). Another will expand the exemption for certain unclassified maps and imagery (sec. 1074).
The bill places a severe new limitation on Pentagon spending for all declassification activities (sec. 1075). In place of last year’s limit of $51 million, the new maximum for the coming year will be $30 million. Needless to say, no limitation is imposed on classification-related spending, which reached a total of $5 billion in FY 1999, according to the latest report of the Information Security Oversight Office.
In a step that is positively subversive in its implications, the conferees adopted a provision that allows the Secretary of Energy to grant a waiver from polygraph testing for employees in certain circumstances, but that “would prohibit the Secretary from using the need to maintain the scientific viability of a DOE laboratory as a criteria [sic]” for such exemptions (sec. 3135). In other words, the scientific viability of the DOE labs is now — by law — a lower priority than the DOE polygraph program.
In a rare bit of good news, the conferees did not adopt a controversial provision that would have exempted the “operational files” of the Defense Intelligence Agency from disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act.
The new bill was adopted in conference on October 6 and is expected to be approved in House and Senate floor votes this week. Excerpts from the bill concerning secrecy and security policy are posted here:
Lincoln Wright of the Canberra Times reports that ASIO officers “will be the first to undergo a new trial of lie-detector tests after the Howard Government endorsed a report recommending tougher rules to fix leaks of national security secrets.”
Australia should learn from America’s mistakes, not repeat them.