U.S. Customs and Border Protection Polygraph “Test for Espionage, Sabotage, and Corruption” Exposed

In 2017, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, unable to fill available positions because of the agency’s roughly 70% pre-employment polygraph failure rate (1 MB PDF), began a “pilot program” whereby instead of using the probable-lie Law Enforcement Pre-Employment Test (1 MB PDF) technique used by other federal law enforcement agencies, CBP applicants would instead be subjected to a new directed-lie technique based on the Test for Espionage and Sabotage, which is used by the Departments of Defense and Energy for security screening.

CBP’s new polygraph screening technique is called the “Test for Espionage, Sabotage, and Corruption” or “TES-C.” AntiPolygraph.org has obtained, and is publishing, CBP documentation regarding this procedure, including the precise questions asked, and their order.

Those who face CBP pre-employment polygraph screening can familiarize themselves with this information to prepare and help protect themselves against a false positive outcome, which is common in this scientifically baseless procedure.

The TES-C consists of two main question series, “Sub-test A” and “Sub-test B.” These are XML files (originally with the LXQ file extension associated with the Lafayette Instrument Company’s LX Polygraph Software; AntiPolygraph.org has substituted the XML extension to make the files readable in web browsers).

The questions, in order, with types, on Sub-test A are:

X Start of Chart Please remain still, the test is about to begin.

I1 Irrelevant/Neutral Are the lights on in this room?

I2 Irrelevant/Neutral Are you now sitting down?

SRQ Sacrifice Relevant Concerning/Regarding the security issues we discussed, do you intend to answer each question truthfully?

1C1 Control/Comparison Did you ever commit a minor traffic violation?

1R1 Relevant Have you been involved in terrorism against the US?

1R2 Relevant Have you deliberately compromised any classified information?

1C2 Control/Comparison Did you ever take any (government/company) supplies for your personal use?

2R1 Relevant Have you been involved in terrorism against the US?

2R2 Relevant Have you deliberately compromised any classified information?

2C1 Control/Comparison Did you ever commit a minor traffic violation?

3R1 Relevant Have you been involved in terrorism against the US?

3R2 Relevant Have you deliberately compromised any classified information?

2C2 Did you ever take any (government/company) supplies for your personal use?

XX End of Chart This part of the test is now over, please remain still.

The questions, in order, with types, on Sub-test B are:

X Start of Chart Please remain still, the test is about to begin.

I1 Irrelevant Are the lights on in this room?

I2 Irrelevant Are you now sitting down?

SRQ Sacrifice Relevant Concerning / Regarding the security issues we discussed, do you intend to answer each question truthfully?

1C1 Control/Comparison Did you ever say anything in anger that you later regretted?

1R3 Relevant Have you been involved in any serious criminal activity?

1R4 Relevant Have you deliberately hidden any foreign contact from CBP?

1C2 Control/Comparison Did you ever say anything derogatory about another person behind their back?

2R3 Relevant Have you been involved in any serious criminal activity?

2R4 Relevant Have you deliberately hidden any foreign contact from CBP?

2C1 Control/Comparison Did you ever say anything in anger that you later regretted?

3R3 Relevant Have you been involved in any serious criminal activity?

3R4 Relevant Have you deliberately hidden any foreign contact from CBP?

2C2 Control/Comparison Did you ever say anything derogatory about another person behind their back?

XX End of Chart This part of the test is now over, please remain still.

The scope of the relevant questions is outlined in a Suitability Scoping Guide (28 kb PDF). A PowerPoint presentation titled “CBP Route Maps” also shows the scope of the relevant questions, revealing, among other things, that the question about “serious criminal activity” includes a wide array of crimes ranging from, among other things, “viewing, downloading, searching, distributing, selling, [or] producing” child pornography, drug possession or use in the past three years, and drug transactions anytime.

A CBP Polygraph TES-C Pre-Test Outline lays out in detail the script to be followed by the polygraph operator administering the TES-C. Applicants are required to sign a CBP Applicant Release of Liability form (92 kb PDF) agreeing “not to sue CBP, the Department of Homeland Security (“DHS”), and CBP’s and DHS’s employees, officers, and agents, their heirs, successors, or assigns (the “Released Parties”), and agree to hold the Released Parties harmless of and from any and all actions or omissions, rights or causes of actions, suits, damages, judgments, claims, and demands whatsoever, present or future, in law or in equity, whether known or unknown, which arise out of, result from, occur during, or are connected in any manner with my polygraph examination….”

What other pre-employment test requires such bureacratic CYA?

The pre-test outline also reflects CBP’s fear of polygraph countermeasures, which CBP and other federal agencies have no reliable means of detecting. Step 5 of the pre-test outline instructs the polygraph operator as follows:

5. Countermeasure Statement

  • Tell me what you know about Polygraph.
  • Have you conducted any research on Polygraph?
  • If the examinee answers “No”, let the examinee know that most information on the Internet is opinion based and often incorrect and misleading.
  • Tell the examinee that they should NOT do anything to alter their polygraph examination.
  • If the examinee says “Yes”, they have conducted polygraph research, ask them what information did they learn and where did they get the information.
  • Again, tell the examinee that “most information on the Internet is incorrect and misleading.”

Inform the examinee that they should NOT do anything to alter their polygraph examination.

Polygraph operators want their examinees to be ignorant about polygraphy. They are not nearly so much concerned about examinees getting “incorrect and misleading” information about polygraphy as they are about them getting factual and correct information about polygraphy and polygraph countermeasures. The polygraph operator will likely arbitrarily accuse any examinee who states that he or she has visited AntiPolygraph.org, or otherwise researched polygraphy, with having employed polygraph countermeasures.

Those facing CBP pre-employment polygraph screening will want to read the entire TES-C Pre-Test Outline and additional TES-C documentation available at the AntiPolygraph.org Reading Room. They will also want to read our free book, The Lie Behind the Lie Detector (1 MB PDF) to learn how to protect themselves against the high risk of a false positive outcome associated with this pseudoscientific procedure.