National Reconnaissance Office Polygraph Unit Targeted Personal Information

NRO LogoOn 10 July 2012, the McClatchy news service published a series of three investigative articles by reporter Marisa Taylor about polygraph screening practices at the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO), which runs America’s space-based reconnaissance activities. The articles document how NRO polygraph examiners, who are supposed to conduct only counterintelligence-scope polygraph screening examinations (that is, polygraph interrogations that are limited to espionage-related questions) were incentivized (and in at least one instance, explicitly directed) to elicit personal information far beyond the authorized scope.

In effect, NRO made its counterintelligence-scope polygraph program into a full-scope (or so-called “lifestyle”) polygraph program, even though it is not authorized by law or regulation to do so.

Taylor’s well-researched articles may be read on-line here:

In addition, McClatchey has made available on-line a memorandum from then NRO polygrapher Mark S. Phillips to the Department of Defense Inspector General documenting unauthorized practices within the NRO polygraph program. Phillips exhibited honesty and integrity that is all-too-rare among senior personnel in the intelligence community today.

NSA Leaflet: Your Polygraph Examination

Your Polygraph Examination
Detail from NSA Polygraph Leaflet has obtained a copy of an NSA leaflet (1.7 mb PDF) titled, “Your Polygraph Examination: An Important Appointment to Keep.” This leaflet, which has blanks for filling in the time, date, and place of an appointment, merits some discussion.

The leaflet begins with a section on what to do before the polygraph:

Prior to Your Appointment
  • Get a good night’s sleep
  • Follow your usual routine
  • Take your regular medications
  • Don’t skip any meals
  • Come in with an open mind
  • It’s a unique experience each time
  • Allow enough time in your schedule

This much is fairly uncontroversial. But while the NSA urges keeping an “open mind” about the polygraph, we should also heed evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins’ wise counsel: “By all means let’s be open-minded, but not so open-minded that our brains drop out.” The National Academy of Sciences in 2002 found polygraph screening to be completely invalid, concluding that “its 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.” Continue reading NSA Leaflet: Your Polygraph Examination

Representative Darrell Issa Proposes Polygraph Screening for Congress

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA)
Rep. Darrell Issa

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) has proposed polygraph screening for members of Congress who receive CIA briefings. Susan Crabtree reports for The Hill:

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) wants fellow lawmakers who receive classified CIA briefings to submit to polygraph tests.

“We should have a very high standard for those who are briefed by CIA — to make sure the information isn’t compromised and [lawmakers] who are briefed are telling the truth about what they’ve been told,” he said. “Fact-finding and oversight is only as good as the group of people able to do it.”

Issa said he first believed all members of Congress with oversight over the CIA should submit to polygraph tests during former Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham’s (R-Calif.) bribery scandal that ultimately landed him in jail. Issa, the ranking member on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, won a seat on the Intelligence panel after Cunningham resigned his seat in Congress and pleaded guilty to taking $2 million in bribes in a criminal conspiracy involving at least three defense contractors.

Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R-Mich.), the ranking member on Intelligence, quickly shot down the idea of forcing members to submit to polygraph tests, arguing that constitutional separation-of-powers protections would prevent the FBI or the CIA from administering the test to federal lawmakers. Hoesktra, an outspoken defender of the agency, had spent weeks hammering Pelosi over her charges that the CIA lied in its congressional briefings.

“We’re not talking about leaks — that’s a very different issue,” he said. “[The idea of polygraphs] open[s] a whole series of separation-of-powers questions. The FBI cannot be evaluating the people who manage them.”

Issa said he believed that Congress could develop and administer its own polygraphs.

Rep. Issa’s assumption that polygraph screening increases security is deeply flawed. As the National Academy of Sciences has confirmed, polygraphy has no scientific basis. It’s inherently biased against the truthful, yet easily fooled through the use of simple, readily available countermeasures.

Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-Fla.), a member of the Intelligence panel, was even more blunt.

“Cut me some slack,” he said when asked whether he believed members on the Intelligence panel should submit to polygraph tests. “We take an oath to uphold the Constitution when we’re elected.”

But military, intelligence, and law enforcement officers subject to polygraph screening also take an oath to uphold the Constitution when they are hired. That doesn’t immunize them from having their honesty and integrity assessed through the pseudoscience of polygraphy.

If members of Congress are unwilling to subject themselves to polygraph screening, then they should close the giant loophole in the 1988 Employee Polygraph Protection Act that allows federal, state, and local government agencies to use this voodoo science on applicants and employees.

Texas Department of Public Safety Brouhaha Over Polygraph Policy

Mike Ward, staff reporter for the Austin American-Statesman reports that — much to the horror of the state’s Public Safety Commission — the Texas Department of Public Safety has hired applicants who failed lie detector tests. Unfortunately, left out of the report is any mention of the fact that polygraphy has no scientific basis. The proper question is not why are applicants who failed this bogus test being hired, but why is the state of Texas relying on this pseudoscience to screen applicants?

Ward reports:

Some Texas Department of Public Safety troopers have been hired despite failing polygraph tests on their background checks, while others have been hired after admitting to past criminal behavior, agency officials said Thursday.

With legislative pressure already on DPS officials to ensure that state troopers meet the highest standards, officials made a number of disclosures at a meeting Thursday with the Public Safety Commission, which oversees the department.

Some members of the current training academy class of more than 100 failed polygraph tests on background checks. Others who failed polygraphs have been hired in the past.

Some recruits in the past were accepted after they admitted to past criminal behavior during interviews, even if they were never arrested or charged.

“More than a handful” were rejected by other law enforcement agencies before they applied to the DPS.

Others have been promoted from the training academy and put to work despite recommendations from training supervisors that they be dismissed.

“Wow!” said Commissioner Ada Brown of Dallas, after hearing the details at the meeting.

Despite some recruits’ deception on the polygraph tests, “you give him a badge?” she asked Capt. Phillip Ayala, who was in charge of recruiting, and human resources director Paula Logan. “I have a problem with that.”

Continue reading Texas Department of Public Safety Brouhaha Over Polygraph Policy

Cruel Joke: U.S. Exports Polygraphy to Iraq

AFP: An American solider sits strapped to a lie detector during a press conference in Baghdad's secure 'Green Zone'In an article titled, “Iraq Turns to Lie Detectors to Outsmart Al-Qaeda,” Agence France Presse (AFP) reports on the graduation of the first class of U.S. Government-trained Iraqi polygraph operators. But to outsmart Al-Qaeda, doesn’t one need to be smarter than Al-Qaeda? As has documented, Al-Qaeda and Iraqi insurgents — unlike the U.S. and Iraqi governments — understand full well that the lie detector is a pseudoscientific sham. See Al-Qaeda Documentation on Lie Detection and The Myth of the Lie Detector for the proof.

Iraq turns to lie detectors to outsmart Al-Qaeda

BAGHDAD (AFP) — Faced with infiltration of state organs by wily insurgents and Al-Qaeda jihadists, Iraq’s government has turned to a detection method highly favoured by the United States — polygraphs.

The first eight officials of the defence and interior ministries to be trained by US experts in the use of sophisticated lie detection equipment graduated last month after a six-month course.

“It is vital that we ensure that our employees in key services are trustworthy,” General Hamier, of the national police force, said at a small graduation ceremony in Baghdad’s highly-fortified Green Zone.

“Until now we have made employees fill in questionnaires on paper, and then we questioned them. It is very easy to lie. But now (with the new equipment) that will be much more difficult,” said Hamier.

Because polygraphy has no scientific basis to begin with and is vulnerable to simple countermeasures, it is not at all clear that it will be much more difficult for liars to get hired by the Iraqi government. Making matters worse, polygraph screening is inherently biased against the most truthful persons and is likely to screen out the very kind of straight arrows the Iraqi government desperately needs. Continue reading Cruel Joke: U.S. Exports Polygraphy to Iraq

El Paso Police Chief Calls Polygraph a “Piece of Junk”

El Paso Chief of Police Greg Allen
El Paso P.D. Chief Greg Allen

Speaking in unusually blunt terms for a senior law enforcement official, El Paso, Texas chief of police Greg Allen has decried the polygraph as a “piece of junk,” while El Paso Municipal Police Officers Association president Bobby Holguin has pronounced it “garbage.” Adriana M. Chávez reports for the El Paso Times:

EL PASO — The El Paso Police Department has dropped the use of polygraph exams — commonly known as lie detector tests — on police officers during internal investigations because the results were considered useless.

Until several months ago, the exams were used when complaints were filed against officers.

Police Chief Greg Allen, who was appointed police chief in late March, called the exams a “piece of junk” and the president of the police union said they are “garbage.”

In August, the El Paso City Council approved a new contract with the El Paso Municipal Officers Association that made it possible for an officer to request an independent polygraph examiner to administer the test, instead of one employed by the department, if the chief requests a polygraph test.

But the new administration of Chief Allen simply decided to not use them even though they are still an option.

Criminal suspects also have the option of taking a polygraph test, said police spokesman Officer Chris Mears.

The Police Department has three police officers who are certified to administer polygraph tests.

Both Allen and El Paso Municipal Police Officers Association President Robert “Bobby” Holguin said they have issues with the accuracy of polygraph tests.

Allen and Holguin are in good company. The consensus view among scientists is that polygraphy has no scientific basis. Continue reading El Paso Police Chief Calls Polygraph a “Piece of Junk”

DIA to Expand and Outsource Polygraph Screening

Associated Press writer Pamela Hess reports on the Defense Intelligence Agency’s scheme to greatly expand polygraph screening of its personnel. It should be noted that Ana Belen Montes, the most notorious spy ever to infiltrate the DIA, was neither detected nor deterred by polygraph screening:

Pentagon’s intelligence arm steps up lie detecting

By PAMELA HESS – 12 hours ago

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Pentagon’s intelligence arm is adding more polygraph studios and relying on outside contractors for the first time to conduct lie detection tests in an attempt to screen its 5,700 prospective and current employees every year.

The stepped-up effort by the Defense Intelligence Agency is part of a growing emphasis on counterintelligence, detecting and thwarting would-be spies and keeping sensitive information away from America’s enemies.

A polygraph is not foolproof as a screening tool. The test gives a high rate of false positives on innocent people, and guilty subjects can be trained to beat the system, according to expert Charles Honts, a psychology professor at Boise State University.

The National Research Council noted these deficiencies in a 2003 report. The council, an arm of the National Academy of Sciences, found that lie detectors can be useful for ferreting out the truth in specific incidents, but are unreliable for screening prospective national security employees for trustworthiness.

“Its 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 council concluded. “Polygraph testing as currently used has extremely serious limitations in such screening applications, if the intent is both to identify security risks and protect valued employees.”

Continue reading DIA to Expand and Outsource Polygraph Screening