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Topic Summary - Displaying 8 post(s).
Posted by: Mark Mallah
Posted on: Nov 13th, 2003 at 10:20pm
  Mark & Quote
For more on the CIA's use of the polygraph, read the following account from David Frum's weblog.  Frum is a former speechwriter for GW Bush (widely credited with coining the phrase "axis of evil"), and a columnist and author.  Here he is, from his November 5, 2003 entry, available at

Monoglot at the CIA
Porter Goss, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, is blasting the CIA for its failure to attract agents with language skills.

It is to laugh and cry. I think of one good friend, a native-born American of unimpeachable loyalty, who for eccentric reasons of his own studied and mastered Turkish--who applied for a CIA job and lost it because he became too stressed when he was hooked up to a polygraph and asked whether he had ever been arrested. He had not been arrested, a fact that was easily verified, but that nobody ever troubled to check. The trouble with the CIA is too many machines and not enough human intelligence--yet when confronted with a volunteer eager to go collect some human intelligence, the CIA turns him down on the say-so of a machine. Perverse, no?

Posted by: George W. Maschke
Posted on: Jul 15th, 2003 at 9:25am
  Mark & QuoteQuote

Is there anything in Warren's assessment that you specifically disagree with? He may have paid little attention to the polygraph during his 30 years at the Agency, but that is plenty of time for one to gain some insight into institutional attitudes toward polygraphy.

Sullivan for one doesn't seem to consider the polygraph to be the "defining vessel of absolute truth," though. In Of Spies and Lies he writes:

Polygraph is more art than science, and unless an admission is obtained, the final determination is frequently what we refer to as a scientific wild-ass guess (SWAG).

Posted by: Saidme
Posted on: Jul 15th, 2003 at 4:16am
  Mark & QuoteQuote
Correction, Mr (Ward) Warren. Smiley
Posted by: Saidme
Posted on: Jul 15th, 2003 at 4:15am
  Mark & QuoteQuote

Although I haven't read the book yet, I certainly intend to.  I'm not sure Mr Ward, by his own admission, is a good candidate to characterize the CIA polygraph program.  He writes:

"For the next 30 years, I paid little attention to the polygraph. Occasionally, I was retested. Sometimes I used the polygraph in my own operations. But, in general, it had little impact on my life or my work." 

Yet he goes on to discuss polygraph as though it was an intimate part of his daily life!  I'm more than a little perplexed.  I guess whatever furthers the cause, hey. Wink 
Posted by: orolan
Posted on: Jul 15th, 2003 at 12:13am
  Mark & QuoteQuote
Looks like both the book and the review are well worth reading. I'll move them to the top of my list. Thanks for the heads-up.
Posted by: George W. Maschke
Posted on: Jul 14th, 2003 at 10:34pm
  Mark & Quote
The CIA journal Studies in Intelligence has published a review of Spies and Lies written by Ward W. Warren:

The following is an interesting excerpt from Mr. Warren's review:

I do want to correct two impressions that Sullivan leaves, however. First, he repeats the standard Agency mantra concerning the polygraph--that it is only one of the weapons in the investigative arsenal of the CIA. Four groups in the Agency dispute this: the polygraphers, who believe that it is the definitive vessel of absolute truth; the case officers, who believe that it is designed only to harass, impede, and frustrate their operations; field managers, who mistrust it; and Headquarters managers, who consider it to be the defining vessel of absolute truth. Deviations from the mantra lead to many of the confrontations that Sullivan describes so accurately in Of Spies and Lies. My own view is that if a case officer needs a polygraph to tell him whether his agent is honest, he is not much of a case officer. Like a lawyer who should never ask questions in court unless he already knows the answers, a case officer should only accept a polygraph for his agent when he knows what the answers will show. To do this, he will have to outwit a variety of imperious Headquarters managers.

Second, the author states: "For polygraph examiners, the holy grail is getting a subject to confess or to admit lying." This may be the holy grail for the examiner, but the real holy grail should be to find the truth. Admittedly, the presence of truth is most apparent when a confession is achieved, but the goal for polygraph examiners in the CIA should still be to add benefit to the mission and the operation. And Sullivan certainly achieved that goal--even when confessions were not obtained.

My "non-reverential" view of the polygraph was shared by another officer who came out of Harlem in 1950 on a basketball scholarship that eventually led to a Marine Corps commission, a law degree, and acceptance into the CIA's case officer training program. That, necessarily, involved a polygraph. With his ghetto background, the officer was probably somewhat more aware of the weaknesses of the flesh than the normal suburban, would-be case officer. He also had a remarkable sense of humor. As was usual at the time (1961), the polygrapher asked the officer if he had ever been involved in anything that might be considered homosexual activity. When the reply came in the affirmative, the operator asked, "How long ago?" expecting the answer to be in childhood, which was then excusable. The case officer candidate, however, looked at his watch and replied airily: "Oh, I don't know. What time is it?" He got in regardless. And I am sure that John Sullivan would have passed him, also.
Posted by: George W. Maschke
Posted on: Jun 8th, 2002 at 10:00am
  Mark & QuoteQuote
According to a United Press International listing of events in Washington, D.C., Mr. Sullivan will be giving a talk about his book on Monday, 10 June:

TIME: 12 noon

EVENT: NATIONAL ARCHIVES presents John F. Sullivan discussing Of Spies and Lies: A CIA Lie Detector Remembers Vietnam. Sullivan was a polygraph examiner, recruiter, and team leader with the CIA from 1968 to 1999. He was one of the CIA's top polygraph examiners during the final 4 years of the war in Vietnam.

DATE: June 10, 2002

LOCATION: National Archives, 700 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Washington, DC,

CONTACT: 202-501-5000


I thoroughly enjoyed reading Mr. Sullivan's book, which focuses more on his memories of the Vietnam War and CIA operations than on polygraphy per se. Anyone with an interest in either polygraphy or intelligence policy might be interested in attending Mr. Sullivan's talk.
Posted by: George W. Maschke
Posted on: Mar 12th, 2002 at 1:50pm
  Mark & QuoteQuote
Retired CIA polygrapher John F. Sullivan has written a book titled Of Spies and Lies: A CIA Lie Detector Remembers Vietnam which is due out this spring. The publisher, University Press of Kansas, has a web page about the new book at: