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As promised - my NSA polygraph experiences (Read 58422 times)
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As promised - my NSA polygraph experiences
Jan 10th, 2009 at 8:03am
Mark & Quote Quote 
I just got back from my poly yesterday, and wanted to write all this down while it was still fresh in my mind...

I was flown in on Wednesday evening and put up in a fairly nice hotel near the FANX (Friendship Annex) building at BWI. No big secrets here - in fact, there's a giant sign that says "FANX >", and it's the only building with fences and razor wire on the street  Wink.

The PBT

Thursday morning came, and I was a bit nervous. Got there promptly at 7:00. It looked like for the people who drove, they were searching their cars with K-9 units... glad I didn't have to go through that. They tell you to get there really early, but it's not so bad - the waiting lobby at FANX has a large plasma TV with the news on, plus a lot of magazines ranging from "Diversity Today", "Men's Health", and even "Country Living". I chose a National Geographic - no idea if they're going to analyze this, but I figure there's no harm in reading the most intellectual choice on the rack.

There's about 13 of us there for the first time. They take us into a computer lab and talk for a bit about what the psych test is about, then they let us have at the 250+ questionnaire. I got questions like:
"I sometimes think people can read my mind"
"I sometimes see in black and white"
"Drugs help me cope with stress at work"
"I feel as though I may kill myself soon"
With available answers of "Never true", "Sometimes true", "Mainly true", and "Always true". You should answer these as accurately as possible. The system is measuring how many character flaws you "admit" to, and the first score on the printout is how accurate it believes you are. I have no idea what this score is based on, so don't over analyze it and just answer!
Keep in mind that the PBT is shared with the polygraphers! The psych doctor who evaluated me after the test did mention this, but I wanted to make sure people realized that this test is NOT aggregated - they can tell what you answered on every single question! You'd better not go in claiming that you've never had problems with alcohol, and then indicate on your test that you "sometimes" go overboard with alcohol.
After the test is done, you then have to fill in a questionnaire that kind of summarizes the security questionnaire - drug use, alcohol use, military service et al. The last page is a "fill in the blank" response, with phrases starting off like:
"I feel that most men _______"
"I wish my father__________"
"I frequently feel __________"
I believe there were about 16 of these.

After all the testing, you spend an hour with the psych doctor. He basically talks about every single response on the questionnaire ( Shocked why even bother writing this stuff if they just ask you AGAIN?!), and then will discuss anything they find "interesting" on the 250+ PBT. The system will 'flag' any unusual response. I had two questions that I was asked about. NOTE: They also asked about any downloading/copyright infringement. I admitted to downloading music a few times in high school, and was asked if I sold it. After indicating I hadn't, that was the end of their interest on that topic. This is also where they asked some sexual questions like if I'm into bestiality, child porn, group orgies etc. Not fun, but not nearly as bad as I was expecting. These were not asked at all in the polygraph.

After all the questioning, the doctor showed me a chart of my results. It said that I had a high "accuracy" rate (meaning it felt I answered very truthfully), and then about 8-10 character ratings. Actually, this test was incredibly accurate. He described how I probably reacted in social/work/personal settings, and was spot-on all of them.

The Polygraph

Let me preface this by saying that, from what I read on here, some parts of the poly were called exactly right, and some seemed way off. Your mileage may vary with this... but it was one of the most stressful situations of my life.

My polygrapher was maybe two years older than me (late 20's), and about three inches shorter. He was very cordial with me - not too chummy, but not detached, either. I signed a document that said the polygraph was voluntary, I still retained my constitutional rights, and was not being held against my will. After this, he proceeded to explain that the polygraph measured my body's "flight or fight" response to his questioning - I was pretty impressed with this guy's representation of the device actually, because he never really painted the polygraph as something that detected lies. He was always very careful to indicate that it measured responses, and that they were looking for sudden changes in my response. He showed me all the instruments, and then went over the "days of the week" directed-lie test, instructing me to say no when he asked if today was Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday etc. I was to say "no" for every single one of these. I was attached to the polygraph, and did the test. He showed the printout to me with the day I had 'lied' about, and said that my bodily responses clearly indicated when I was uncomfortable with an answer, and that I clearly felt that telling the truth was important.

He unhooked me from the polygraph, and then talked about the security questions. He said he would ask me a number of "easy response" questions like "Is your name X", "Were you born in 1986", "Did you grow up in XXXXX", "Is your father's name X", "Is this now the year 2010", and "Is this the month of December". He actually asked all these several times to make sure I would 'get it'. He then went into the "important questions", which for my first phase was:
"Are you engaged in espionage against the US?"
"Are you secretly involved with foreign nationals?"
"Have you engaged in acts of terrorism against the US?"
"Have you ever mis-handled US-classified information?"

He proceeded to meticulously explain the meaning of every single one of these questions for the next half-hour, defining things like 'terrorism', 'sabotage', 'secret', 'classified', 'foreign nationals'... just about everything, in fact. He then asked me to summarize what I felt the definitions were after this. He asked me the questions about three times, just to make sure I was clear, and then asked them again with the "unimportant questions" thrown in. I was beginning to feel like they thought I was an idiot!

After all the 'dry run' questioning, I was hooked back up to the polygraph, and he moved my chair to face the wall. He pumped up my pressure collar, warned me that the test was beginning and not to move, and then asked me the questions the first time. After asking about 7 or 9 questions, he deflated the collar, told me I could move, and then wrote some things on my printout. We repeated this two more times - with him asking me before the third time to define what all the questions meant AGAIN. Sheeesh!

By this point, I was feeling great. The test was going fast (except all the stupid repetition), I was passing with flying colors, and my heart wasn't beating so fast that I felt like I was going to pass out. He then went over the second phase questions, which were:
"Have you ever committed a serious crime"
"In the last 7 years, have you used an illegal drug"
"Have you witheld/lied about anything on your security forms"

He was very careful to define serious crime as being "rape, murder, molestation, child exploitation, larceny, any tickets over $250, or anything you could be fired for. I'm not looking for file sharing, downloading stuff off the internet, underage drinking, cheating in college, or things like that." He then defined the illegal drug question as "Use, distribution, inhalation - ANYTHING of substances like marijuana, crack, cocaine, LSD, PCP, methaphetamines, sniffing glue" and on and on.

At this point, I was really quite pleased. I looked at my watch, and was going to get out a full two-and-a-quarter hours earlier than they had scheduled me to. He started the test, asked the questions, and scored the computer printout, and then did it a second time.

This is when things got ugly.

He said "One of the questions is really bothering you, X, and I think you know which one it is." I blinked twice and was trying to think - actually, NONE of the questions bothered me, and I was feeling much better than I had when I came in! I told him that I had no clue. He showed me both tests he had just taken, pointed to two spikes on both of them, and said "You're having trouble with the drug question. Something is bothering you about it. X, you need to tell me what's on your mind." I told him nothing was, and that I was really shocked because I had been feeling so good. He said "Well, something is obviously bothering you about your response to this question, and you need to tell me what it is, because at this point, you've failed the polygraph. We can't go any further. If you want me to go to bat for you with my superiors {gesturing out the door}, we need to work through this. You need to let me have it all. I have to be able to explain this to the folks in the security office. I'm on your team here, and you've got to help me help you." In case you hadn't recognized this, this is almost verbatim from the "Lie Behind the Lie Detector" PDF on this site. At this point, I wanted to puke. Out of all the questions on the second phase, the drug one was the one I was LEAST concerned about. I haven't so much as taken aspirin when I really didn't need it, let alone sniff glue or smoke pot. I reaffirmed my answer, and he started to get irate with me. This is when the true interrogation began. For the next hour and a half, I was strapped to this chair and he was asking if I had maybe swallowed some accidentally, or maybe it was because I was blocking it out because I was ashamed, or maybe I had found religion, become saved, and felt like the drug use was in my "old" life. He said "We know everyone has used drugs. We KNOW that. We just need to know that you can be honest and completely forthright with us about it." I poured my soul out. I let him know about the small eraser I stole when I was nine from the Scholastic book fair, that I felt like the Old Testament was boring and I hated to read it, that I had downloaded a couple of songs in high school, and that I had resented my dad for years for making me move in the middle of 9th grade halfway across the country. He kept pressing me for more, yelling a couple of times, and leaving twice. I was pretty much on the verge of tears for 10-15 minutes or so, and I'm not the crying type.

After all this, he told me "X, I appreciate your honesty. I know what you've done here was hard today. Let's keep going". He asked me the second set of questions two more times, and then - completely cordial again, of course - told me "Great! We're done with everything today. We've collected a good amount of data, which will make it easier during our analysis." He indicated that at this time, I should discontinue any illegal drug use from this point forward (umm... were you even HERE for the last two hours, buddy?), and that if I obtained a clearance, the NSA reserved the right to deny me travel outside of the US and limit my association with foreign nationals. He shook my hand, escorted me back to the waiting area, and that was that - like none of it had even happened.

My total time in there? Four hours and eight minutes.

Some things I noticed:
* The 'spike' on the directed-lie days-of-the-week test and the spike on the supposed "drug question" looked COMPLETELY different. Not even remotely similar. Also, the "days of the week" test had the point at which he had asked the questions clearly labeled, whereas the second charts he showed when I was accused of doing drugs had no such markings. In retrospect, this spike could've been when he asked if I had really been born in the year 1986 for all I know.

* He was clicking things and typing on his computer keyboard - quite a bit, actually - during the test, even when I was answering (not just between questions). I have absolutely no way of knowing what he was doing there, and wondered if he had the ability to "enhance" certain results to make me nervous.

* Filesharing came up twice in two branches. Both times, they eagerly asked me if I had sold the few songs I downloaded, and when I answered no, they became totally disinterested on the topic.

Anyway, after describing this to the HR rep and a few other NSA employees afterward, they told me it sounded like I had passed. I have no idea what could've led them to believe that, as I felt absolutely awful!

The title of this post was edited to make it clear from the outset that the narrative concerns the NSA. In addition, a hyperlink regarding the NSA's Friendship Annex building and a hyperlink to The Lie Behind the Lie Detector have been added. -- AntiPolygraph.org Administrator
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« Last Edit: Jan 10th, 2009 at 3:43pm by Administrator »  
 
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Re: As promised - my NSA polygraph experiences
Reply #1 - Jan 10th, 2009 at 11:49am
Mark & Quote Quote 
This whole thing sounds extremely similar to my poly at the CIA a few years ago.  When my tester pulled out the "you're having trouble with this question" bit, I reacted differently than you.  Instead of being on the verge of tears, I approached the verge of punching the guy out.  (I didn't, obviously.)  I had to come back for a second poly, which was a much calmer event administered by a woman.

If I could do it all over again, I would know going into it that it's all just a mind game.  As long as you don't let them beat you at the mind game, you win.  They don't really care about the question you're "having trouble with".  They want to see how you react under pressure, when you're confronted.  If you explode, or break down.. you're weak and can't be trusted.

My $.02
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Re: As promised - my NSA polygraph experiences
Reply #2 - Jan 10th, 2009 at 12:50pm
Mark & Quote Quote 
I believe they ask you the same question several times (and in different ways) to see if your answer changes from instance to instance. I believe this is reflected in your accuracy score. This is a common feature of psychology tests, where the same question is asked in a different way a couple of times.
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Re: As promised - my NSA polygraph experiences
Reply #3 - Jan 10th, 2009 at 5:22pm
Mark & Quote Quote 
Quote:
I poured my soul out. I let him know about the small eraser I stole when I was nine from the Scholastic book fair, that I felt like the Old Testament was boring and I hated to read it, that I had downloaded a couple of songs in high school, and that I had resented my dad for years for making me move in the middle of 9th grade halfway across the country. He kept pressing me for more, yelling a couple of times, and leaving twice. I was pretty much on the verge of tears for 10-15 minutes or so, and I'm not the crying type.


This is what they want you to do.  The key is not to admit to anything even remotely self-incriminating. Note how they start making a big deal about minor stuff at this point. It is important to focus on the original test question (have you used drugs?  Slept with the enemy?...etc.), and ignore everything else.  You hadn't done anything even close to what the questions were purportedly asking for.

Quote:
* The 'spike' on the directed-lie days-of-the-week test and the spike on the supposed "drug question" looked COMPLETELY different. Not even remotely similar. Also, the "days of the week" test had the point at which he had asked the questions clearly labeled, whereas the second charts he showed when I was accused of doing drugs had no such markings. In retrospect, this spike could've been when he asked if I had really been born in the year 1986 for all I know.


This is another ridiculour part of the polygraph.  A "directed lie" is not really a lie!!   He freaking told you to answer "no" about the day in the week.  SO WHERE IS THE DECEPTION IN THAT?  It would be funny if the national security wasn't at stake!

Plse do us a favor and let us know if you passed, once you find out.  It will be very useful to us.

Bona Suerte!

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"There is no direct and unequivocal connection between lying and these physiological states of arousal...(referring to polygraph)."

Dr. Phil Zimbardo, Phd, Standford University
 
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Re: As promised - my NSA polygraph experiences
Reply #4 - Jan 10th, 2009 at 5:54pm
Mark & Quote Quote 
Surebet: The NSA will not appreciate your having posted here, and they have programs that can analyze your writing style and determine who you are. So don't expect to get the job.
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Re: As promised - my NSA polygraph experiences
Reply #5 - Jan 10th, 2009 at 6:05pm
Mark & Quote Quote 
The first part of the test is the Personality Assessment Inventory (PAI) as a clinical psychologist I have given that one many times.
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Re: As promised - my NSA polygraph experiences
Reply #6 - Jan 10th, 2009 at 7:07pm
Mark & Quote Quote 
Quote:
Surebet: The NSA will not appreciate your having posted here, and they have programs that can analyze your writing style and determine who you are. So don't expect to get the job.


Bet those work as well as their polygraphs.   Roll Eyes

The best response to an interrogator who thinks he's nailed you for something is "The best part of this whole exercise is that one of us knows for sure whether or not I'm telling the truth here.  And it isn't you."
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Re: As promised - my NSA polygraph experiences
Reply #7 - Jan 10th, 2009 at 7:21pm
Mark & Quote Quote 
Detailing the date, time and location your polygraph and the day and time of day your flight arrived wasn't a particularly swift thing to do, either.

Of course, they could take the lazy way out and dump all 13 of you in the round file and still have plenty of poly fodder first thing Monday morning.


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Re: As promised - my NSA polygraph experiences
Reply #8 - Jan 10th, 2009 at 7:44pm
Mark & Quote Quote 
No, no, no!

The polygraph operators there encourage their victims to post here.

Why would they care?  They have nothing to hide.  The test is 98% positive.  When I took it my NSA retest polygraph at Camp Smith Hawaii in July of 2000 (whoops!), Mr. Lingenfelter even drew out a nifty pie chart illustrating this fact.  I was very impressed and spilled my guts on the spot!  It's nice to have people available to help you.

Now, if you chose not the let them help you through the process, then that is YOURproblem.  You probably work for Al Qaeda and molest small animals anyway!

So welcome to the "pity party"!  What makes you feel so entitled to a government job anyway?   Just take your little "spanking" you sniveling little PRIMA DONA, have a good cry and GET ON WITH YOUR LIFE!

Sorry, thought I'd give you the standard Polygrapher reply.

TC

P.S.  Spread the truth about the polygraph to anyone you know who might end up having to go through it.  The KEY, is getting people informed BEFORE they take it!
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"There is no direct and unequivocal connection between lying and these physiological states of arousal...(referring to polygraph)."

Dr. Phil Zimbardo, Phd, Standford University
 
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Re: As promised - my NSA polygraph experiences
Reply #9 - Jan 10th, 2009 at 10:01pm
Mark & Quote Quote 
The description sounds quite like what I experienced. I gave up during my second polygraph 3.5 hours into it. After the first one I felt like complete crap. I was nervous going into the second one but felt a little more confident because I had a better idea of what to expect. So when they get into the "you didn't respond well to question X" part of it that was to no surprise.

I made me throw in the towel was after the person administering the test stepped to "talk with superiors." I just thought: I'll have to do this every couple of years to maintain employment at the NSA. Do I  really want to do that? Do I really want a bottle of Mallox in my desk drawer for the rest of my life? And the answer was no. So I gave up.

The other thing is most people DO NOT understand a polygraph. They think there is total truth to it. 100% accuracy. What I learned from the experience is that a polygraph is a way to interrogate perfectly innocent persons. I was a teenager at the time I took it so I thought it was somewhat silly to assume I was running some network of people attempting to overflow the US government. I suppose I understand why they do it. But it's not a perfect system. And people like Aldrich Ames and Robert Hannson slipped through and caused quite a bit of damage to the US intelligence community and between the two of them basically eliminated quite a few double agents in the Soviet Union. But again a lot of people I tell: ya I have had a polygraph and I don't think I did well. And their response is usually haughty either because they are overconfident and believe they could "beat" the polygraph in which case they are mistaken because it's really about interrogation and less about truth (in my opinion). And the other case is people who COMPLETELY believe in the polygraph (because they saw it used in some TV show) and think you are some type of domestic terrorist.

Anyway. Good Luck. I would recommend trudging on no matter how many polygraphs you have to go in for.
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Re: As promised - my NSA polygraph experiences
Reply #10 - Jan 11th, 2009 at 11:51am
Mark & Quote Quote 
I know the POLY.. test is a joke. But the job of detecting moles is serious business. If the NSA bothers to track me down and if they talk to my previous bosses they would know that I would be a good test giver. I have this gift maybe from god that allows me to get under the skin and cause people to go off the deep end even if I don't want too.  I love poker and toying with people when playing the game. Check me out NSA I would do a damn good job.

Jack Frost  Cheesy
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Re: As promised - my NSA polygraph experiences
Reply #11 - Jan 18th, 2009 at 1:32am
Mark & Quote Quote 
I do agree with you that having no experience with these type's of test's can hurt people's chances. However, I would not publish this type of data on a public forum.  If these individual's are interesting in gathering this data, there are many other forums and mean's to get the information. Cool
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Re: As promised - my NSA polygraph experiences
Reply #12 - Jan 20th, 2009 at 7:37pm
Mark & Quote Quote 
Quote:
there are many other forums and mean's to get the information.


Many other forums??  Like where?  How many?  As good a quality as this website??

This is an excellent post, placed in exactly the right place, with exactly the right kind solid info that could save someone's career.

Bravo!
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Re: As promised - my NSA polygraph experiences
Reply #13 - Jan 31st, 2009 at 9:53am
Mark & Quote Quote 
So did you get accepted, Surebet?
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Re: As promised - my NSA polygraph experiences
Reply #14 - Feb 10th, 2009 at 3:46pm
Mark & Quote Quote 
You have to understand going in that it's basically an interrogation and the poly is only part of that process. It's the interviewer's job to push, poke, and prod you and that may involve the good old bad cop/good cop routine and other basic techniques. It sounds like you were a bit unprepared in that regard. Some agencies ask that you not start researching the polygraph technology before going in etc but everything I just described is basic common sense, in my opinion.

Also, I agree with some of the other comments, very poor OPSEC shown in this post, both in revealing a bit too much about the agency you polyed at and details that could link you  i.e.  I ARRIVED AT FANX1 THURSDAY MORNING AT 7 AM,  revealing you did your PBT first then your poly, I FLEW IN WEDS NIGHT etc etc. and also revealing you were born in 1986 when discussing control questions and so on. You give enough information where someone could probably narrow it down  to a list of 5 to 8 candidates if not fewer based on what you've posted here alone and from there a committed intelligence and investigative agency could probably easily identify you. 

Your naiveté and carelessness is astounding and based simply on what I've seen here I hope you don't get the job because you don't seem responsible enough to handle sensitive information.
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