Former NSA Polygraph Division Chief Says Polygraphs Should Not Be the Deciding Factor in Visa Determinations for Afghan Interpreters

Thomas P. Mauriello

Thomas P. Mauriello, who once headed the NSA’s Polygraph Division, tells Newsy national security reporter Sasha Ingber that while he thinks the U.S. government should use polygraphs, they alone shouldn’t be the determining factor in decision-making. Mauriello’s remarks came in the context of a video report titled, “Ex-Polygraph Chief: Polygraphs Need Not Deny Afghan Interpreters Visas.” The following is a transcript excerpt:

Are Afghan interpreters who risked their lives to help U.S. forces now being consigned to death because of a flawed test?

“They just told me, ‘you failed the polygraph test,'” Afghan interpreter Omid Mahmoodi said.

Many tell Newsy they’ve been denied Special Immigrant Visas after failing the required polygraph.

“The use of the polygraph has been very helpful, but it’s unfair many times” Tom Mauriello, Former Chief of Polygraph at the Department of Defense said.

This all comes as the U.S. troop withdrawal in Afghanistan is almost complete and the Taliban is gaining ground.

All the reason, Mauriello says, a polygraph shouldn’t make-or-break an interpreter’s chances of coming to the U.S.

“Should the government be using it? Yes,” Mauriello said. “But they should be using it as a tool, among other things, so if they’re not successful on a polygraph test, but they’ve done an extensive background investigation and there’s no reason to have any concerns or problem, they should weigh those two things and then decide whether a person should have access or be approved for whatever they’re being evaluated for.”

Newsy additionally sought comment from the federal polygraph school, the National Center for Credibility Assessment, which did not respond to its calls or emails.

George W. Maschke

Ingber also spoke with AntiPolygraph.org co-founder George Maschke about the policy of denying visas to Afghans who served with U.S. forces based on polygraph results:

“It is, in fact, a cop-invented pseudoscience,” former Intelligence Officer George Maschke said. “The claim that polygraph has no scientific basis is supported by the National Academy of Sciences, which conducted an exhaustive review of the scientific evidence on polygraphs and in its 2002 report ‘The Polygraph and Lie Detection’ expressly recommended against polygraph screening by federal agencies.”

Polygraphs aren’t admissible evidence in most courtrooms. The major exception is New Mexico. So why are they being used here?

“I feel it’s unconscionable that the United states government is denying evacuation to Afghans who served honorably with our forces simply because they failed a polygraph test,” Maschke continued. “And I think it would be appropriate for President Biden to take executive action to reverse that policy immediately.”

The entire video report may be viewed below:

Former DoD Polygraph Chief Casts Doubt on Policy of Denying Visas to Afghan Interpreters Based on Polygraph Results

Christian Bryant and Sasha Ingber

In a report published online on Tuesday, 27 July 2021, Newsy In the Loop presenter Christian Bryant asked national security reporter Sasha Ingber about the plight of Afghan Special Immigrant Visa applicants who have been rejected because they failed a polygraph:

Bryant: You know, one of the things that we’ve talked about is the fact that, you know, we’re going to see some arrivals at Fort Lee, but there are some people who’ve applied and already been denied because of—because they failed a polygraph. What can you tell us about the Afghan interpreters who have already failed this polygraph test. I mean, what can you tell us about that hurdle for some of these interpreters and their families?

Ingber: Well, I spoke with the former chief of polygraph at the Defense Department, and it was a fascinating conversation because he seemed to cast some doubt on the, the weight and gravity of the polygraph as being the way to determine whether or not an Afghan should come to the country. If you don’t get through the polygraph test, then your visa application is denied. And he says that it should be one piece in a mosaic, essentially, that helps to determine whether or not you should be allowed to come here, that a security check, looking at your background, should also weigh heavily into that decision, that cultural clashes, and even who your polygrapher is, can affect how you do on that test, Christian.

While Ingber did not state the name of the former DoD polygraph chief with whom she spoke, we commend him for his candor and hope that he will continue to speak out about this urgent policy matter.

The entire In the Loop report, which begins with discussion of the evacuation of some Afghans to Fort Lee, Virginia, may be viewed here (14 MB MP4 file).

The lives of Afghans who served honorably with U.S. forces but were denied visas simply because they failed a polygraph “test” are in imminent danger with the United States completing its withdrawal from Afghanistan by the end of August 2021 and the Taliban gaining control over increasingly large parts of the country.

Please write to President Biden and your members of Congress and urge them to reverse the policy of denying visas based on polygraph results. See Special Immigrant Visas Should Not Be Denied Based on Polygraph Results on the Action Alerts forum of the AntiPolygraph.org message board for links and suggested wordings.

CNN on Plight of Afghan Interpreters Terminated for Failing Polygraphs

Abdul Rashid Shirzad: Terminated for failing a polygraph “test” and denied Special Immigrant Visa

In a report presented by foreign correspondent Anna Coren, CNN chronicles the plight of Afghan linguists who served with United States forces but have been denied Special Immigrant Visas. Both interpreters showcased in the video report were fired because they failed pseudoscientific polygraph “tests.”

The following is an excerpt from the written article accompanying the video report:

Abdul Rashid Shirzad…served for five years as a linguist working alongside America’s military elite, translating for US Special Forces.

He showed CNN photographs of his time on missions in the Kejran Valley in Uruzgan province working with the US Navy’s SEAL Team 10. But according to Shirzad, his service has now amounted to a death sentence. The US government rejected his Special Immigrant Visa, and he said that’s made him a target for the Taliban.

“If they catch me they’re going to kill me, kill my kids and my wife too. It’s payback time for them you know,” he said.

The father of three said his contract with the US military was terminated in 2014 after he also failed a polygraph test. He had applied for his visa the year before.

But Shirzad’s letters of recommendation from SEAL commanders, seen by CNN, reflect a translator who went above and beyond duty. They describe him as a “valuable and necessary asset” who “braved enemy fire” and “undoubtedly saved the lives of Americans and Afghans alike.”

Shirzad said he was excited to work with the Americans, and became a lead liaison between US and Afghan Special Forces. One recommendation letter for the visa, from a US commander, described how Shirzad took part in 63 “high-risk direct action combat missions” and was “vital” to the success of his team’s operations. It detailed how he helped the recovery of a team member who was caught in a blast and left with life threatening injuries.

Shirzad said he has no idea what he did wrong and never received an explanation for his termination. His visa rejection letter from the US Embassy stated “lack of faithful and valuable service.”

Sohail Pardis with U.S. Army colonel
(Source: Afghans Left Behind Association, @AllieLeft on Twitter)

The situation for the second interpreter showcased, Sohail Pardis, is more grim. Pardis worked as an interpreter for U.S. military contractor Mission Essential Personnel from 17 May 2011 until 18 August 2012 when, as CNN reports, he was terminated after failing a polygraph “test.” Pardis was subsequently denied a Special Immigrant Visa.

Mission Essential Personnel letter regarding Sohail Pardis’ employment
(Source: Afghans Left Behind Association, @AllieLeft on Twitter)

According to family members, on 12 May 2021, the Taliban stopped Pardis at a checkpoint, dragged him out of his car, and beheaded him. CNN showed a blurred copy of the following photograph, which we believe readers should see unedited:

Sohail Pardis’ corpse
(Source: Afghans Left Behind Association, @AllieLeft on Twitter)

CNN correspondent Anna Coren spoke with Pardis’ friend and fellow Special Immigrant Visa reject Abdulhaq Ayoubi and visited Pardis’ gravesite. The video report may be viewed here.

Numerous other Afghan interpreters who served honorably with U.S. forces have been denied Special Immigrant Visas because of failed polygraph “tests.” (See our article from last week, Afghan Interpreters Denied Special Immigrant Visas Based on Polygraph Results.)

It is unconscionable that Special Immigrant Visas are being denied based on polygraph outcomes. In 2002, the National Academy of Sciences completed a thorough review of the scientific evidence on polygraphs and advised 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.”

Please write to President Biden and your members of Congress and urge them to reverse this policy. See Special Immigrant Visas Should Not Be Denied Based on Polygraph Results on the Action Alerts forum of the AntiPolygraph.org message board for links and suggested wordings.