Home Page > Reading Room
The following document is a follow-up memorandum to Dr. Donald M. Kerr, the FBI Assistant Director for the Laboratory Division, from FBI Supervisory Special Agent Dr. Drew C. Richardson, the FBI's leading scientific expert on polygraphy. In September 1997, Dr. Richardson testified before the U.S. Senate that polygraph screening is "completely without any theoretical foundation and has absolutely no validity."

David Tenenbaum had unsuccessfully sought release of this memorandum in a lawsuit stemming from unsubstantiated government accusations that he was an Israeli spy: polygraph abuse figures prominently in his case. While the FBI inexplicably withheld this relevant document from Mr. Tenenbaum's counsel, the James Madison Project has obtained it under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

With Dr. Richardson's written warnings to FBI officials now a matter of public record, senior FBI officials cannot claim that they were unaware of the problems of polygraph screening.

In this memorandum, Dr. Richardson provides a harsh assessment of polygraph validity and utility. After pointing out that there is virtual unanimity in the relevant scientific community that polygraph screening has no diagnostic value, Dr. Richardson poignantly observes that

"a technique which has no diagnostic value would require such a universal bluff and disinformation campaign as to be impractical, if not comical, to continue over a period of time...."




Precedence:  ROUTINE                             Date:  10/25/1999

To:  Laboratory                   Attn:  Dr. Kerr

From:  Laboratory
          Administrative Section
          Contact: Drew C. Richardson, Ext. 2375

Approved By: Richardson Drew C:dcr

Case ID #:  66F-HQ-A1265133  (Pending)


Synopsis:  To provide requested and other material for the 
Laboratory Division's (LD) Executive Management as it relates to 
the FBI's polygraph program.

Reference:  Memo from Dr. Richardson to Dr. Kerr, dated 9/13/99 
and EC from Mr. Bogner to Dr. Kerr, dated 9/22/99

Enclosures:  1) Memo from Dr. Richardson to Dr. Kerr, dated 
9/13/99 (not previously serialized and provided for benefit of 
those receiving this EC), (2) Journal of Applied Psychology 
article entitled "The Validity of the Lie Detector: Two Surveys 
of Scientific Opinion," (3) Journal of Applied Psychology article 
entitled "Validity of the Control Question Polygraph Test:  The 
Problem of Sampling Bias(4) Forensic Reports article entitled 
"The Emperors's [sic] New Clothes: Application of Polygraph Tests in 
the American Workplace,",(5) Report entitled "Report of Peer 
Review of Johns Hopkins University/Applied Physics Laboratory," 
(6) Communications from Dr. Alan P. Zelicoff, Senior Scientist, 
Sandia National Laboratories to Dr. Andrew Ryan, Chief of 
Research, DOD Polygraph Institute dated 10/9/99.


                       Preliminary Issues

          Per referenced memo prepared by Mr. Bogner, I was asked 
to provide additional materials related to my background, the 
sources of the opinions I expressed in earlier referenced memo, 
and for an elaboration on some issues I raised.

          My terminal academic degree is a Ph.D. degree in 
physiology obtained through study at the George Washington 
Medical Center.  My dissertation emphasis was in cardiovascular 

To: Laboratory From: Laboratory Re: , 10/25/1999 physiology and centered around various non-invasive technologies used to measure Autonomic Nervous System (ANS) changes associated with a "lie detection" task. I also completed the course work requirements for a Ph.D. degree in pharmacology and was awarded for having maintained the highest academic average of any graduate student while in said program. During the approximately two year period a decade ago that I was formally associated with the Bureau's polygraph research program, I prepared oral and written communications related to various cardiovascular indices used in "lie detection" tasks, pharmacological countermeasures, neurophysiological indices that might be used in a concealed information task and methods (and mathematical models) of polygraphic data transformation. During that time I was a featured speaker at both Federal Polygraph Symposiums that occurred and a speaker at an invited panel presentation at the annual international meeting of the Society for Psychophysiological Research (SPR). Furthermore I was given a letter of accommodation [sic] by the Director for my commentary on the particulars of pharmacological countermeasures related to a specific criminal case which ultimately led to a conviction in a major espionage case. I am also a graduate of the basic examiner course taught at the Department of Defense Polygraph Institute. The aforementioned having been said, I maintain that aside from the general maturity associated with biomedical graduate study, the most serious analytical and relevant evaluative skills that I possess come from my twenty year involvement in the serious sciences of chemistry, toxicology, and pharmacology. During that time, I served as a research scientist in the Organic Chemistry Department of Burroughs Wellcome Company, a pharmaceutical company located in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina, and as an examiner in the Chemistry- Toxicology unit of the FBI Laboratory (in excess of 2000 cases worked resulting in approximately 100 expert testimonies). It is largely through these experiences that I developed an appreciation for serious science and the ability to recognize what is science and what is not. It is the concepts of experimental design, validity, scientific control, and methods of statistical analysis, etc. demanded by the aforementioned scientific disciplines which allows me to evaluate that put forth within the realm of "polygraph research." I have presented the aforementioned background material in response to a request for same as contained in referenced EC, but I would maintain that any particular emphasis being put on this material is to miss the point and to trivialize the issue. Of considerably more value than my opinions or supporting background for such opinions is where does truth lie with a given issue and the relevant collective opinion(s) of qualified experts as expressed in the peer reviewed scientific literature. Because 2
To: Laboratory From: Laboratory Re: , 10/25/1999 of the paramount importance of this, I will return to this theme after addressing a few more preliminary issues. I was asked if the opinions and assertions that I have expressed regarding polygraph practice are derived from the scientific literature or from the accounts of polygraph examinees. The scientific research and opinion survey literature would indicate that there are serious shortcomings arising from the use of polygraph as a diagnostic tool. The manifestation of the error suggested by scientific theory can only be adequately explored through an analysis which includes the accounts of examinee experiences. My answer, therefore, is that both are sources of potentially meaningful information, and that neither should be ignored. Other issues such as allegations of bias, falsely-claimed confessions/admissions or unethical conduct on the part of polygraph examiners can only be evaluated by interviewing the participating parties to include the complainants (polygraph examinees). I was asked about the validity of other aspects of the applicant process, i.e., background, panel interview, psychological testing, etc. I have no particular knowledge or expertise concerning these phases of an applicant investigation. My interest, concern, and expertise lies in the use of the polygraph as a diagnostic tool. I would suggest that polygraphic validity is independent of the relative strengths and weaknesses of the other phases of the applicant process and that as presently constituted none of the other phases will overcome the serious consequences of a false positive polygraph result in any given applicant investigation. The consequences of such error contained in polygraph results, however, might be ameliorated by background investigation (not presently done). Scientific and other Relevant Community Opinion The two academic bodies which probably most represent physical and mental health in the minds of the lay public are the American Medical Association and the American Psychological Association. Both groups have adopted formal positions strictly opposing the use of polygraph examinations for screening purposes. Perhaps of more concern and import is a recently published survey representing the opinion of the relevant scientific community. The article (enclosure 2) entitled "The Validity of the Lie Detector: Two surveys of Scientific Opinion" is a survey of the members of the Society for Psychophysiological Research (SPR) and the Fellows of the American Psychological Association's Division I (General Psychology). If polygraphy is to have a parent academic discipline, it would be psychophysiology, and it would be represented at the highest 3
To: Laboratory From: Laboratory Re: , 10/25/1999 level in these two bodies. By a large majority these scientists held the following positions: (1) The usefulness of the control question test (CQT, polygraphic mainstay in Bureau examinations) is questionable, (2) that it (CQT) is not based on principles which are "scientifically sound," (3) that it should not be admitted as evidence in court, (4) that proponent estimates of polygraph accuracy are grossly overstated, and (5) that mock- crime derived estimates of polygraph accuracy are unreasonable estimates of real-life polygraph accuracy, etc.etc. This scientific community opinion data has not been lost on the legal system. In the last several years (based on oral reports from well known expert witnesses), it is estimated that proponents have tried to introduce polygraph evidence into U.S. Federal District Court testimony approximately fifty (50) times. Exact figures will be provided when obtained. These proponents were unsuccessful all but one time, this result corresponding with the overwhelming opposition to such introduction by the relevant scientific community. Issues Relating to Polygraph Validity and Scientific Control Although an elaborate treatment of the subject is beyond the scope of this EC, polygraph validity determinations are characterized by (1) environment (mock crimes vs. analysis of field charts) and criteria for establishing ground truth, i.e., determined a priori in laboratory studies and confessions with field studies; (2) the polygraphic format under consideration, e.g., CQT with probable lie controls, CQT with directed lie controls, etc., and (3) polygraph application, e.g., criminal specific tests, applicant screening exams, etc. With regard to the latter characteristic, "application," although often confused and misused by polygraph operational personnel, a polygraph validity study done in a specific criminal setting has no bearing on the validity of polygraph screening. I will return shortly to differences between the two. Both laboratory "mock-crime" studies and confession- based field studies suffer from certain inherent problems. The laboratory or analog studies are characterized by a lack of external validity, i.e, volunteer subjects are not representative of criminal suspects, have different motivation and concerns, and generally take the exams under different circumstances than their real life counterparts. Field studies which use confessions following a polygraph exam as a criteria for determining ground truth must of necessity overestimate the accuracy of a CQT exam. By [a] priori ground rules the results of an innocent subject who is found to be deceptive and who does not confess will be excluded from such a study. The default result is that the accuracy of the polygraph exam for determining the lack of deception by innocent examinees will be overstated. Although a plethora of so 4
To: Laboratory From: Laboratory Re: , 10/25/1999 called polygraph accuracy studies have been reported in polygraph trade journals and other non peer reviewed literature, and although a substantial number with the aforementioned flaws have been reported in the peer reviewed literature, probably the only one validity study concerning criminal-specific studies which would meet the muster of external validity and a reasonable basis for determining ground truth is one (enclosure 3) whose results were published in the Journal of Applied Psychology entitled "Validity of the Control Question Polygraph Test: The Problem of Sampling Bias". In this field study, confessions were not based on someone having failed a polygraph exam, allowing the physiological charts of polygraph exams to be blindly rescored. The results of this rescoring were that 45% of the innocent suspects were erroneously classified as deceptive by the CQT. This outcome would suggest a high false positive rate may be the outcome of a CQT-based polygraph examination. With regard to the accuracy of polygraph screening, only one study has been performed which uses the expected base rate for the criminal activity being screened for. In this case, the screening related to counterintelligence issues, the exam format was the CSP exam used by the Department of Defense, and the results of this study (enclosure 4) were published in Forensic Reports and entitled "The Emperor's New Clothes: Application of Polygraph Tests in the American Workplace." The study found that the CSP exam correctly classified only two percent of the guilty subjects and was characterized as "being a nearly worthless screening device." Furthermore the author concluded that "Given that polygraph tests used for screening are likely to be inaccurate with guilty subjects to begin with, the existence of effective countermeasures virtually assures that a well-prepared and determined opponent could achieve nearly a 100% penetration of the national security polygraph screen.["] It should be pointed out that the author of the last mentioned article is one of the few serious academic supporters (to include his mentor Dr. David Raskin and a handful of Dr. Raskin's students from the University of Utah) of criminal specific testing. Even this group joins the rest of academia in almost universally characterizing polygraph screening as worthless as a diagnostic tool. If this be the case, then one is left wondering if the test has no diagnostic benefit, why are we willing to accept the possible diagnostic cost of false positive results and damage to national security due to a complete lack of any ability to detect espionage and related activities. Issues Relating to Polygraph Utility and Deterrence Even if polygraph screening has no diagnostic value, what about issues of deterrence and utility. With regard to 5
To: Laboratory From: Laboratory Re: , 10/25/1999 deterrence, I would suggest that (1) a technique which has no diagnostic value would require such a universal bluff and disinformation campaign as to be impractical, if not comical, to continue over a period of time, (2) examples of major espionage figures, i.e., Aldrich Ames, etc. who committed their acts in the midst of ongoing polygraph programs does not speak highly of polygraph deterrence, and (3) If one were to examine CIA penetrations vs. FBI penetrations during the twenty year period preceding the Bureau's present applicant screening program (a time in which the CIA did polygraph screening and the FBI did not), one would find a far greater number of agency penetrations than Bureau penetrations. This result is of course not consistent with any great deterrent effect stemming from a polygraph program. With regard to utility, I was asked about the high number of deceptive polygraph results which were followed by admissions or confessions of some sort. Because a confession is sought from an examinee following a deceptive polygraph examination, it is not surprising that there would be a higher correlation between confessions and this phase vs other phases of the applicant investigation where no confession is elicited. I believe the following issues need to be addressed regarding notions of polygraph utility: (1) If one is willing to believe that confessions validate the preceding polygraph results, is one willing to accept that those polygraph results which are not followed by a confession are erroneous, i.e., false positive results? (2) If one accepts these confessions to be accurate and true, is there any evidence that a skilled interviewer/interrogator in the absence of a polygraph exam would not have obtained the same results? and (3) Are the confessions necessarily true? A small number of examinees have come to me alleging that in addition to erroneous polygraph results, polygraph examiners have falsely claimed admissions/confessions to have been made by these individuals. These examinees claim to have discovered this circumstance through the serendipity of discovery process (FOIPA, Personnel Division response letters, etc) not initially focused on what they discovered to their horror. Obviously, I do not know where truth lies with this issue, but I do believe if in fact it did occur with these individuals, it may have occurred with many others, i.e., most examinees would have no reason to expect such a thing had occurred and would not initiate the lengthy discover[y] process which would reveal it. At one time (perhaps still), Bureau examiners were evaluated (critical elemant of annual performance evaluation) with regard to the number of confessions/admissions they obtained following deceptive polygraph results. Although I would hope and expect that the vast majority of examiners are people of integrity who would not be tempted by such motivation, it is obvious that a less than scrupulous examiner could easily 6
To: Laboratory From: Laboratory Re: , 10/25/1999 fabricate or stretch the truth about an admission with the high probability of never being exposed. I don't know what percentage of claimed admissions/confessions are supported by signed sworn statements, but obviously this would have bearing in determining whether such a problem could exist. For all of the aforementioned reasons, I find it questionable at best as to whether polygraph utility justifies the almost certain lack of any validity associated with polygraph screening. Other Issues Although not directly related to issues regarding polygraph screening, because they seem to be foundational to the present polygraph program, I have provided materials (enclosures 5 and 6) which relate to the research capabilities and insight of the Department of Defense Polygraph Institute and to the merits of the hardware and software scoring algorithm for the computerized polygraph system currently used by Bureau examiners. The articles are authored by preeminent scientists and are highly critical of both aforementioned topics. These materials are self-explanatory and are provided for the information of those receiving this EC. 7
To: Laboratory From: Laboratory Re: , 10/25/1999 LEAD (s): LABORATORY AT WASHINGTON, DC SSA RICHARDSON will continue to provide materials(s) upon request or as he becomes aware of additional relevant information. ** 1 - Dr. Kerr 1 - Mr. Bogner 1 - Mr. Devincentis 1 - Dr. Richardson 8

Transcription and HTML by Home Page > Reading Room