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Melissa Boyle Mahle on CIA Polygraph Policy
Jul 24th, 2005 at 12:04pm
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Retired CIA officer Melissa Boyle Mahle addresses, among other things, the Agency's polygraph policy in her book, Denial and Deception: An Insider's View of the CIA from Iran-Contra to 9/11 (New York: Nation Books, 2004). Mahle provides valuable information and cogent criticism regarding the Agency's reliance on the polygraph, and the following relevant excerpts are provided here for discussion purposes:

pp. 143-146:

Quote:
According to security procedures in place prior to 1994, all Agency officers require reinvestigation every five years in order to maintain a top-secret security clearance. Before 1994, this was honored more in the breach than in the observance. Office of Security had insufficient resources, and the backlog of reinvestigation was such that some officers went as many as fifteen years between polygraphs. Starting in 1995, the Agency provided more resources to Security, and the office was instructed to work through the backlog quickly. Having been censored [sic] and embarrassed by the [convicted spy Aldrich] Ames treachery, Security was determined to rout out any remaining moles. The whole Agency was "boxed" [polygraphed] for good measure.

The value of the polygraph is controversial inside and outside the Agency. In principle, Agency officers support the continued use of the polygraph as a personnel vetting procedure. They feel that no employee of the Agency should be exempt from the polygraph, an issue that came up when [William H.] Webster and [R. James] Woolsey refused to undergo the exam as part of their screening to become DCI.* Many Agency officers are also critical of the FBI and Defense Intelligence Agency selective polygraph policy of its personnel. That said, many Agency officers question the reliability of the polygraph. This distrust comes from their own personal experiences with the polygraph and the knowledge that the polygraph has yet to catch a spy. There is an old saying in the Directorate of Operations among operations officers: If you don't like a case, for whatever reason, but do not have a good reason to terminate it, polygraph the agent. The test can be engineered to ensure that the agent fails.

CIA Security and Counterintelligence staffs have used the polygraph to support preconceived notions. If there are no preexisting suspicions and the subject passes the test, then the subject will be cleared. If a subject passes a polygraph and there are preexisting concerns, then the test must not be accurate. If a subject fails a polygraph, and there are no preexisting concerns, then the subject is likely to be cleared if upon reexamination there is nothing else in the case history that indicates a security problem. If there is the least bit of an indication of problems, such as a poor performance report or workplace issues, the test must be working and there isa problem. The case will be referred to the FBI, which will decide whether or not to investigate. If the case involves a clearance for a potential new-hire and the results are not absolutely clear and negative, the clearance will not be granted.

Polygraph sessions are structured with an interview between the subject and the examiner in the polygraph room before the subject is hooked up to the polygraph machine. The subject has the opportunity to raise any concerns before the start of the test. Once the test begins, the examiner establishes levels for normal physiological responses. As the examiner asks security and counterintelligence questions, the examiner looks for significant fluctuations from the "normal" level. If a normal level cannot be established, there is no basis for a comparison. If there are significant responses, the CIA normally provides three testing sessions to resolve the issues. If the issues are not resolved after three sessions, the subject is considered to have failed the polygraph. For a routine polygraph, the atmosphere is designed to be stressful but nonconfrontational.

Officers will never forget their first post-Ames polygraph. One of the findings of a post-Ames polygraph study was that Ames was able to pass two polygraph exams after he started spying for the Russians, because the polygraph examiners failed to establish the required psychological atmosphere of fear and intimidation. Polygraph examiners overcompensated, making examinations hostile polygraphs, intimidating, threatening, and accusing loyal officers of all kinds of misdeeds and crimes. Gone was the collegial relationship between examiner and examinee where "concerns" were discussed, with the examiner saying, "Gee, you are showing discomfort on that question...can you tell me why?" The post-Ames approach was, "You are lying. I know you are lying. The machine shows you are lying. Admit your guilt now or your career is over." One colleague of mine was so traumatized by the experience that she became completely incapable of undergoing future tests.

One senior Directorate of Operations officer who was serving overseas as a chief of station was recalled on a pretext of Headquarters consultations. As he came down in the elevator in a Tysons Corner hotel, he was met in the lobby by CIA security officers, who escorted him back upstairs for hostile interrogation and polygraphs, during which he was accused of being a mole. The interrogations lasted several days, and the officer was not permitted to return to his assignment. Even though he passed the polygraph, he was stuck in career limbo, walking the halls without an assignment, because Security would not clear him. Security turned a great field officer into a cynical and bitter individual. Although he went on to serve overseas years later, his career was negatively impacted because he was no longer on the track for promotion into the Senior Intelligence Service.

As part of the post-Ames reforms, the Agency was required to send to the FBI all cases of CIA employees who fail the polygraph. There were approximately four hundred cases of Agency officers who "failed" in the several years after the Ames reforms. These officers went into career limbo while the CIA and FBI tried to work out a method of dealing with them. At first, the FBI asserted all cases had to be investigated—a process that could take years. Meanwhile, the officers were either placed on administrative leave with their security clearances revoked, or they were allowed to remain in the workforce, but they were not allowed to take assignments overseas. Some maintained their access to classified information but were placed in "less sensitive" positions, per the recommendation of the Ames inspector general report.

It was a mess, and officers were angry about arbitrary and unjust treatment. A handful of CIA employees sought legal counsel. But suing the Agency is extremely difficult, because the DCI can invoke national security protections and have the case thrown out, regardless of its legal merits. Eventually, a compromise was worked out, whereby a failed polygraph was not the sole criterion for the FBI decision to open an investigation. The FBI would decide whether or not to investigate the cases, but the CIA is required to refer all cases of failed polygraphs, regardless of exculpatory information.

Given the bad blood between the FBI and CIA institutionally, CIA officers could not expect gentle treatment if thrown to the FBI for investigation. Indeed, there was an element of overzealousness—or some might say vindictiveness—to the FBI's unrelenting hunt for CIA wrongdoing. Tensions could not help spilling over into all areas where the CIA and the FBI had to work together, including the investigation into the World Trade Center bombing.

---------------------------

*Webster agreed to take a reinvestigation polygraph shortly after becoming DCI. Woolsey agreed to do so after the arrest of Ames and the press exposure on Ames's polygraph results.


pp. 311-312:

Quote:
The Directorate of Operations actively recruits ethnic minorities with native foreign language capabilities, only to lose them in the psychological screening process, or the security clearance process. I can't tell you how many minority applicants—Arab Americans, Chinese Americans, Korean Americans, Indian Americans, and others—whom I lost to security or suitability, because the number is classified; however, it was not an insignificant number. The problem was best illustrated by a panoramic view of the swearing-in of the first class to enter on duty to the Directorate of Operations after September 11; it was a sea of white faces.

Security clearance is perhaps the largest hurdle to obtaining employment with the CIA. In 2001, for every three applicants sent to Security for clearances, only one emerged cleared. The vast majority were rejected on the basis of the polygraph. According to information provided to the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence in 1979, approximately 75 percent of applicants denied security clearances by the CIA or National Security Agency resulted from the polygraph.3 The clearance rate is a very difficult statistic to comprehend, because it suggests that two out of three Americans are engaged in a level of immoral, criminal, or counterintelligence behavior that exceeds the acceptable levels of the U.S. Government national security requirements. While there is no doubt that the CIA has been damaged by hiring individuals who later defected, the security disqualification rate is outside the bounds of reasonable assessment.

A large part of the problem rests with overdependence on the polygraph, which has been discredited by the scientific community as inaccurate and unreliable. A conclusive 245-page report prepared by experts convened by the National Research Council, an arm of the National Academy of Sciences, stated that the scientific basis for polygraph testing was weak and that much of the research supporting its use lacked scientific rigor. The report found that polygraph testing was too flawed to use for security screening, that it did a poor job of identifying spies or other national security risks and was likely to produce accusations against innocent people.4

The Agency claims to weigh polygraph results with the results of background investigations before making a security determination. The Agency also claims that it does not take personnel action on the sole basis of the polygraph. The Agency claims this is because polygraphs are not admissible in court, except in very limited situations, and the CIA would theoretically be open to legal action if personnel action was taken solely as a result of a failed polygraph examination. The claims are just that: if the Agency was forced to open its records, the statistics would prove otherwise.

Another problem is that there is no incentive to take risks, no matter how small. There is no such thing as the benefit of the doubt when it comes to clearances. Worse still, polygraph examiners are paid bonuses for catching people who lie when completing their SF-86 forms or during the polygraph. In order to recruit the number of people with specialized qualifications that the Agency requires, the security clearance system needs to be modified.

[Former Director of Central Intelligence George] Tenet has been  frustrated by the Agency's inability to hire and clear minority candidates, notably Arab Americans. Upon learning that there were no candidates in the pipeline for the first post-September 11 Career Service Trainee class, he went ballistic and dressed down his human resources team. He requested that Arab American candidates be brought on board without completing the standard security clearance process—notably the polygraph—in order to meet the "needs of the service." Security and counterintelligence staffs were apoplectic. While the needs are valid, so are the concerns, highlighting the quandary of the CIA. The screening system needs to be refined, not thrown out completely.

There is no new technology on the horizon that is ready for deployment that detects lies accurately. Meanwhile, the Agency considers the loss of personnel due to false positives as an acceptable cost of doing business, as the CIA is determined to never permit another Ames to burrow into the organization and destroy sources and methods again. Perhaps the costs are acceptable to the Agency, but they are not acceptable for the men and women who have been falsely labeled disloyal and security threats and have been denied the opportunity to serve their country. Once the CIA has denied or revoked a security clearance, it is virtually impossible to obtain a security clearance from another federal government agency, since federal government agencies routinely violate the privacy act and share the information.

---------------------------

3.Mark S. Zaid, "Testimony before the Senate Committee on the Judiciary," April 25, 2001.
4. William J. Broad, "Lie-Detector Tests Found Too Flawed to Discover Spies," New York Times, October 9, 2002.
« Last Edit: Jul 27th, 2005 at 1:02pm by George W. Maschke »  

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Re: Melissa Boyle Mahle on CIA Polygraph Policy
Reply #1 - Jul 26th, 2005 at 3:02am
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Dear George,

No doubt about it, the government not only relies on the pre-screening and current employment polygraph exams, it is expanding it.

Supply and demand.  Supply and demand.

Regardless of the validity or lack of validity of polygraph exams, the future holds this for the United States Federal Goverment:  highly gifted scientific workers in the United States are becoming rare.  Recent surveys and papers by the Chemical Engineering Society of America are demonstrating that other countries are now surpassing us in Doctorial Engineering Degrees of all types.

The United States Government is not going to be able to treat such highly educated and sought employees with its current hiring practices and expect them to be subjected to such practices as the polygraph examination.

Time will tell. Mark my words, there will be Congressional hearings by 2012 about our lack of qualified applicants for the needs of technology in government.  It is not pretty.

Regards.
  
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Re: Melissa Boyle Mahle on CIA Polygraph Policy
Reply #2 - Jul 27th, 2005 at 3:27pm
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George,

Mellisa states that  approximately 75 percent of applicants are denied clearances by the CIA because of the polygraph. But she is quoating a study from back in 1979. Is it still the case now?

Opp
  
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Re: Melissa Boyle Mahle on CIA Polygraph Policy
Reply #3 - Jul 27th, 2005 at 3:55pm
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Quote:
George,

Mellisa states that  approximately 75 percent of applicants are denied clearances by the CIA because of the polygraph. But she is quoating a study from back in 1979. Is it still the case now?

Opp


Actually, what she writes in her book is that in 1979, 75% of CIA and NSA security clearance denials were based on polygraph results, not that nearly 75% of CIA applicants are/were rejected on the basis of polygraph results, as Gabriel Schoenfeld reported in a March 2005 Commentary magazine article titled, "What Became of the CIA?"

What Mahle writes is that in 2001, some two-thirds of CIA applicants for whom security clearances were requested did not receive them, and that the "vast majority were rejected on the basis of the polygraph."
« Last Edit: Apr 7th, 2013 at 6:50am by George W. Maschke »  

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Re: Melissa Boyle Mahle on CIA Polygraph Policy
Reply #4 - Jul 27th, 2005 at 4:32pm
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George,

Thank you for the clarification.

Opp
  
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Re: Melissa Boyle Mahle on CIA Polygraph Policy
Reply #5 - Sep 24th, 2005 at 5:26am
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George - what is your personal history with the polygraph?  I assume you failed it, correct?
  
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Re: Melissa Boyle Mahle on CIA Polygraph Policy
Reply #6 - Sep 24th, 2005 at 9:17am
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Eastwood wrote on Sep 24th, 2005 at 5:26am:
George - what is your personal history with the polygraph?  I assume you failed it, correct?


http://antipolygraph.org/statements/statement-003.shtml
  

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Re: Melissa Boyle Mahle on CIA Polygraph Policy
Reply #7 - Oct 12th, 2005 at 9:24am
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Eastwood:

Why don't you just read George's statement.  He failed an FBI polygraph when he was not lying, failed an LAPD polygraph when he was not lying and could not take the Army test only because he had already started telling people on the Internet about how to beat the polygraph and they didn't have the balls to test him.  He had to do this because he kept failing these tests but not lying and wanted to teach people how to really beat it.  If you could read I would not have to tell you this you idiot.   Can you ever learn to accept the truth?
  
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Re: Melissa Boyle Mahle on CIA Polygraph Policy
Reply #8 - Nov 10th, 2005 at 8:10am
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eastwood,

  in reading all of your posts, past and present, it seems that you have swallowed lots of bitter pills in your life.  lighten up okay?   so you're PRO-POLYGRAPH, this is AntiPolygraph, get it? Roll Eyes
  
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Re: Melissa Boyle Mahle on CIA Polygraph Policy
Reply #9 - Apr 17th, 2006 at 3:13am
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Quote:
...some two-thirds of CIA applicants for whom security clearances were requested did not receive them, and that the "vast majority were rejected on the basis of the polygraph."


Mr. Maschke,

Am I to understand that two thirds of the applicants to CIA were disqualified due to nothing more than the squiggly lines on a computer screen?

Two thirds?

You mean to say that not one single one of these people SAID anything during or after the polygraph process that might have POSSIBLY led to their disqualification?

Hmmm, seems like half a story to me... Roll Eyes

Regards,

Nonombre
  
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Re: Melissa Boyle Mahle on CIA Polygraph Policy
Reply #10 - Apr 17th, 2006 at 6:44am
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nonombre wrote on Apr 17th, 2006 at 3:13am:
Mr. Maschke,

Am I to understand that two thirds of the applicants to CIA were disqualified due to nothing more than the squiggly lines on a computer screen?

Two thirds?

You mean to say that not one single one of these people SAID anything during or after the polygraph process that might have POSSIBLY led to their disqualification?

Hmmm, seems like half a story to me... Roll Eyes

Regards,

Nonombre



things like this just add fuel to my fire.  i can't WAIT to get in the room with one of you guys (or girls).  i only wish it was you in the room Nonombre  Grin
  
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Re: Melissa Boyle Mahle on CIA Polygraph Policy
Reply #11 - Apr 18th, 2006 at 12:55am
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Tarlain wrote on Apr 17th, 2006 at 6:44am:
things like this just add fuel to my fire.  i can't WAIT to get in the room with one of you guys (or girls).  i only wish it was you in the room Nonombre  Grin


In the words of Detective Harry Callahan:

Go ahead punk, make my day...
  
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Re: Melissa Boyle Mahle on CIA Polygraph Policy
Reply #12 - Apr 18th, 2006 at 1:06am
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You called me a "punk".  Grin  I already feel like I am back in highschool...maybe you could dump my books next?
  
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Re: Melissa Boyle Mahle on CIA Polygraph Policy
Reply #13 - Apr 18th, 2006 at 7:57am
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nonombre wrote on Apr 17th, 2006 at 3:13am:
Mr. Maschke,

Am I to understand that two thirds of the applicants to CIA were disqualified due to nothing more than the squiggly lines on a computer screen?

Two thirds?


No. What Mahle is saying (see the excerpt from pp. 311-12 of her book, above) is that in 2001, two-thirds of the CIA applicants for whom security clearances were requested were denied, and that the vast majority of these rejections were based on polygraph results. This means that some number less than two-thirds were rejected based on polygraph results. If we suppose that by "vast majority" Mahle refers to a figure of, say, 75% (which was the 1979 figure), then the percentage of applicants rejected on the basis of polygraph results would have been:

.6667 x .75 x 100 = 50%

Quote:
You mean to say that not one single one of these people SAID anything during or after the polygraph process that might have POSSIBLY led to their disqualification?


No. I did not mean to say that, nor did I. No doubt, some of the applicants rejected based on their polygraph results made disqualifying admissions. To the best of my knowledge, that percentage has not been publicly documented. But given what we know about polygraphy's complete lack of validity as a diagnostic test for deception, it's clear that many truthful, qualified applicants are being falsely branded as liars by the Agency's Polygraph Division and wrongly disqualified. I agree with Mahle that "the security disqualification rate is outside the bounds of reasonable assessment."

Quote:
Hmmm, seems like half a story to me... Roll Eyes

Regards,

Nonombre


If you or anyone else reading this can provide additional documentation regarding the CIA's polygraph program, please contact AntiPolygraph.org. Anonymous submissions are welcome.
  

George W. Maschke
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Re: Melissa Boyle Mahle on CIA Polygraph Policy
Reply #14 - Apr 18th, 2006 at 8:23am
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It is unclear to me whether or not drop-outs from the clearance process are included in these numbers.
  
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