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Aldrich Ames's CIA Polygraph Examinations
Aug 9th, 2005 at 6:50pm
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In 1995, New York Times reporters Tim Weiner, David Johnston, and Neil A. Lewis co-authored a book titled, Betrayal: The Story of Aldrich Ames, an American Spy. Among other things, they addressed Ames' CIA polygraph screening examinations, which he passed. It is my understanding that at the time Ames was polygraphed, the CIA was still using the relevant/irrelevant "test" as its primary screening technique, but switched to the probable-lie "control" question "test" following his arrest in 1994.

Regarding Ames's first polygraph screening examination after he began spying for the Russians, Weiner et al. write:

Quote:
On May 2, 1986, not long before he was to leave for Rome, Rick Ames faced the biggest crisis yet in his short career as a spy. He had to take a polygraph, a lie-detector test. He was terrified at the prospect. Though employees were supposed to submit to the machine every five years, the CIA's Office of Security had not been able to keep up with the tremendous expansion of the Agency's ranks under Casey, and the testing was running years behind schedule. It had been nearly a decade since Ames had last been strapped to the machine. But he vividly remembered the experience.

When he had learned a few weeks earlier that he was facing the test, he had passed a note to the KGB through Sergei Chuvakhin, urgently asking for advice on how to handle it. There had to be a way, he thought. Some combination of tranquilizers? Clenching your toes when asked your name to even out the stressfulness of your responses? Maybe visualizing an ocean or a clear blue sky?

Ames received a note back shortly before the test. "And my initial response was: This is all they have to tell me?" he recalled. "It said: Get a good night's sleep, and rest, and go into the test rested and relaxed. Be nice to the polygraph examiner, develop a rapport, and be cooperative and try to maintain your calm." Though disappointed at its simplicity, he took the advice all the same. "I did reflect on the fact that the KGB had invested a tremendous amount of time and effort and work in the polygraph, even though they didn't believe in it the way the Agency does," he said. "I also thought: There probably isn't anyone that the KGB wants to help pass a polygraph more than myself."

The test took place in a rented suite with an unmarked door at the Tysons II Corporate Office Centers, in Tyson's Corners, Virginia, a business park west of Washington, where Casey had relocated most of the CIA's Office of Security. The fact that the security unit was housed miles from Langley illustrated its second-tier status at the CIA.

The polygraph examiner was extremely chummy as he strapped Ames into the polygraph. A tube was fastened around Ames's chest to measure his breathing rate. Electrodes attached to his hands would record any sweating of the palms. Cuffs around the biceps would calculate his blood pressure and pulse. All were linked to sensors that would record these indicators of stress with ink lines on a moving cylinder of paper.

Ames knew what the key questions would be. They were always the same: Have you divulged any classified information to any unauthorized person? Have you had any unauthorized contact with foreigners? Have you gone to work for the other side? Have you been pitched--that is, approached--by a foreign intelligence service.

As Ames answered that last question, the needle quivered. The examiner told Ames that his responses indicated deception, and he asked about his reaction. Well, Ames replied, of course, all of us in the Soviet division are sensitive to that question. We know the Soviets are out there, and we worry about that. I myself have pitched the KGB's people in Washington. And the thing is, I spent some time in 1985 with that Soviet defector, Yurchenko, and I think I might be known to the Soviets as a result. And, you know, I'm going to Rome in July, and I have some concerns that I might be pitched there. Thank God, he thought, I'm telling the truth. He had not been approached by the KGB. It was the other way around.

"I was totally relieved," Ames remembered. The dreaded lie detector was a farce. The machine said he had been telling the truth when he had been lying and said he had been lying when he had been telling the truth. And the man controlling it was not much better as a judge of character. The polygraph operator deemed Ames forthcoming in all respects, and he called Ames's responses "bright" and "direct." Thanks to the helpful advice from Moscow, the incompetence of the polygraph operator, and the dubious value of the lie detector, Rick Ames had kept his secret.


And regarding Ames's second CIA polygraph, in 1991, they write at pp. 162-163:

Quote:
"I was extremely worried" about facing the machine again, Ames said. But he did not need to be concerned. Neither the Office of Security nor the Counterintelligence Center shared any of the information they had developed with the polygraphers. Neither the examiner nor his supervisor knew anything about Ames that made him any different from any other longtime CIA employee undergoing a routine reexamination. There was nothing special about the man. They did not even know that the background investigation that had started eighteen months ago had ever existed. That made the test a great deal easier to pass than it might have been.

Still, Ames said, the polygraph was a crapshoot; there were plenty of honest people who could not pass one. And he had become dimly aware, through gossiping with his fellow smokers, that there was some kind of low-level analytical effort within the Counterintelligence Center that was aimed at solving the mystery in the Soviet division. He thought it could not be aimed directly at him, and he was right. Still, just to be safe, he had gone to the trouble of creating false documents, complete with a notary's stamp from the U.S. Embassy in Bogota, stating that his mother-in-law had given him the money for the house on North Randolph Street.

In keeping with the normal practice, the polygraph examiner interviewed Ames before strapping him into the machine. Ames decided that "it seemed like a good time to volunteer" some information about his finances. "I mentioned that my wife got an allowance of sorts from her mother in Colombia," and that this was his nest egg. The examiner nodded and made a note of this freely proffered disclosure before beginning the formal test.

He attached cuffs to Ames's biceps to measure his blood pressure and other receptors to record his heart rate, breathing, and other indicators of stress. He began rattling off the standard list of questions. Was Ames concealing any financial difficulties from the Agency? No. Was he working for a foreign intelligence service? No. Was he concealing any unauthorized contacts with foreigners? No.

The needle on the machine jumped. The examiner asked the last question again and again. The machine kept saying Ames's answers were deceptive. The examiner turned to Ames and, following normal procedures, told him that they had a little problem. "'Come back, and we'll resolve it,'" Ames said the man told him. "'This is not unusual.'"

Four days later, on April 16, 1991, Ames returned. This time there was a different examiner handling the test. Like his predecessor, the tester had no idea that there was anything unusual about his subject. They went through all the same inquiries, including the matter of unreported contacts with foreigners, with one exception. There were no questions that had anything to do with money.

Ames passed with flying colors. The only blot on his record came from a written note from the first polygraph examiner who had handled him four days earlier. "I don't think he is a spy," the note said, "but I am not 100 percent convinced because of the money situation."
  

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Re: Aldrich Ames's CIA Polygraph Examinations
Reply #1 - Aug 15th, 2005 at 6:42pm
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When he had learned a few weeks earlier that he was facing the test, he had passed a note to the KGB through Sergei Chuvakhin, urgently asking for advice on how to handle it. There had to be a way, he thought. Some combination of tranquilizers? Clenching your toes when asked your name to even out the stressfulness of your responses? Maybe visualizing an ocean or a clear blue sky?

Ames received a note back shortly before the test. "And my initial response was: This is all they have to tell me?" he recalled. "It said: Get a good night's sleep, and rest, and go into the test rested and relaxed. Be nice to the polygraph examiner, develop a rapport, and be cooperative and try to maintain your calm." Though disappointed at its simplicity, he took the advice all the same. "I did reflect on the fact that the KGB had invested a tremendous amount of time and effort and work in the polygraph, even though they didn't believe in it the way the Agency does," he said. "I also thought: There probably isn't anyone that the KGB wants to help pass a polygraph more than myself."


I wonder if, in light of this information, polygraph examiners will now be asking, “Are you rested and relaxed?  Are you planning to be cooperative?”  

If the answers to both questions are “yes” does that mean the subject is using countermeasures?

In the past week or so, wasn't Nonombre attempting to "hold Dr. Richardson's feet to the fire" regarding possible countermeasures on the R/I version of the exam?  It would appear that they are simplicity itself: get some rest, relax, and be cooperative.   Cheesy
  

Lorsque vous utilisez un argumentum ad hominem, tout le monde sait que vous êtes intellectuellement faillite.
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Re: Aldrich Ames's CIA Polygraph Examinations
Reply #2 - Aug 16th, 2005 at 1:07am
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Sergeant1107 wrote on Aug 15th, 2005 at 6:42pm:
In the past week or so, wasn't Nonombre attempting to "hold Dr. Richardson's feet to the fire" regarding possible countermeasures on the R/I version of the exam?  It would appear that they are simplicity itself: get some rest, relax, and be cooperative.   Cheesy


Sergeant,

There are several different takes on exactly how Ames "beat" his polygraph exams, but at minimum he certainly beat the "process."  I have no doubt about that.

Nonetheless, my question to Dr. Richardson (that he never answered by the way) was to please school me on exactly what countermeasures he would apply to assure he could and would beat an R/I test every time.

I have yet to get an answer.

Nonombre

  
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George W. Maschke
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Re: Aldrich Ames's CIA Polygraph Examinations
Reply #3 - Apr 11th, 2015 at 4:44am
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16 April 2015 will mark the 30th anniversary of the day CIA spy Aldrich Hazen Ames first betrayed his country by walking into the Soviet Embassy in Washington DC and offering classified information in exchange for money.

For those with interest, now might be a fitting time to watch the 2014 television mini-series, The Assets, which is based on the book Circle of Treason: A CIA Account of Traitor Aldrich Ames and the Men He Betrayed by Sandra Grimes and the late Jeanne Vertefeuille (who did not think highly of polygraph "testing"). These two women were instrumental in identifying Ames as a mole.

The Assets dramatizes the lives of some of the CIA's sources, or "assets" in the Soviet Union who lost their lives because of Ames' betrayal and the ensuing mole hunt. Ames beat the polygraph twice while spying for the Russians, and the Agency's misplaced reliance on this pseudoscientific procedure helped to shield him from scrutiny that should have followed from his unexplained sudden wealth.

The Assets is available on demand via Netflix.
  

George W. Maschke
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