Statement Of Chairman Orrin G. Hatch,
Senate Judiciary Committee
Hearing On "Issues Surrounding The Use Of Polygraphs"
April 25, 2001
I would like to welcome everyone to this Judiciary Committee hearing on issues surrounding the use of polygraphs as a counter intelligence screening tool. We have a number of distinguished witnesses here today, and on behalf of the Committee, I want to thank you for being here.
Earlier this year, we all became aware of a very disturbing situation at the FBI where one of its agents, Robert Hanssen, was accused of being a Russian spy. The alleged security compromises are vast and, if true, are severely damaging to our national security. In the wake of the Hanssen case, the FBI instituted new, interim procedures to improve its internal security. FBI Director Freeh has appointed William Webster to lead a comprehensive internal security review at the FBI and to recommend more permanent measures to improve internal security. The interim security measures already implemented include the use of polygraphs. It is quite possible that the permanent changes to FBI's internal security regime will include polygraphs in one way or another.
I see this hearing as an important first step in evaluating the changes occurring at the FBI. I expect to hear from Judge Webster in the future, to discuss his ongoing evaluation and recommendations. I would also anticipate that, at the appropriate time, we would hear from Director Freeh concerning the decisions the FBI will make based upon the work of the Webster Commission.
The purpose of today's hearing is to take the initial step of educating the Judiciary Committee on polygraphs, their accuracy and reliability, as well as the policy and potential legal issues that may arise from the use of polygraphs as a screening tool in the counterintelligence context. This should be helpful to members and staff as we evaluate whatever new internal security plan the FBI decides to implement.
There is a wide variety of opinions and research on the use of polygraphs. There are those who believe they are completely unreliable and actually detrimental to security. Others see polygraphs as an important tool in an overall security program. Today, we will begin to look at the science and policy behind the use of polygraphs as a counterintelligence tool.
For myself, I appreciate the complexities of this issue. As a former Chairman of the Labor Committee (or as it is now called the "HELP" Committee), I have some experience with the use of polygraphs in private sector employment settings. Many members and I were concerned with the lack of uniform standards and other abuses that were occurring with employment related polygraphs in the private sector.
In 1988, with the assistance of my friend and then-Chairman of the Labor Committee Senator Kennedy, we passed the Polygraph Protection Act of 1988. The Act banned the practice of making submission to polygraphs a condition of employment in most private sector settings. During the hearings we held on that bill, we heard many horror stories about how private employers were abusing polygraphs and the hardships it caused employees. Significantly, however, the Act exempted federal, state and local government entities.
Different considerations and controls may exist in the government context - particularly with respect to classified information - which require an independent analysis as to whether polygraphs - despite whatever limitations they may have - should remain a tool for use by government agencies. I know many people, including the members of our panel today, have strong and divergent views on that issue.
I am looking forward to hearing the testimony and eventually evaluating the steps taken by the FBI to improve its internal security. Despite differing views on the approach, I know everyone here shares the goal of protecting our country's most sensitive information and maintaining a vigorous and effective counterintelligence program.
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