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28 February 2001 "Spies vs. Lies." This Christian Science Monitor editorial advocates increased reliance on polygraph screening by the FBI. Excerpt:

We will find spies and we will prosecute them," said President Bush at his first press conference last week. But catching a spy red-handed, as the FBI apparently did with agent Robert Hanssen this month, is like trying to dazzle a master magician with his own magic trick. Something extraordinary is called for.

The FBI itself failed to detect Mr. Hanssen's alleged dealings with the Russians for 15 years. Was that the agency's fault or a result of the fact that he was a 27-year veteran specializing in counterintelligence?

Up to now, the FBI has been reluctant to regularly use one tool in its bag of tricks - lie detectors - to catch employees who breach national security.

The agency has generally put an individual's right to privacy and a need to maintain a climate of trust above the government's need to know.

Lax use of these polygraph machines at the FBI has been cited as one possible reason why agent Hanssen was allegedly able to remain undetected for so long. The FBI gives such tests to all applicants as a matter of course, but does not do routine testing of agents, in sharp contrast with the CIA.

You can help set the editors at the Christian Science Monitor straight about polygraph "testing" by e-mailing them a letter at Be sure to include your name, hometown, and state so that your letter may be considered for publication.

27 February 2001 "Fire Freeh." In this Washington Post op-ed piece, former Washington Post and Wall Street Journal writer Ronald Kessler says that FBI Director Louis Freeh should be fired for not having required routine polygraph "testing" for FBI counterintelligence personnel. Mr. Kessler obviously doesn't know about "the lie behind the lie detector." Excerpt:

Back in 1994, just after the arrest of CIA officer Aldrich Ames for espionage, bureau officials developed a plan to screen FBI agents by using polygraph tests. The idea was not radical. CIA officers and National Security Agency employees had long been subject to routine polygraph exams. More recently, the FBI urged the Energy Department to require polygraph tests at Los Alamos National Laboratory.

Mesmerized by their own legend of incorruptibility, many FBI agents objected. But most acknowledged that the FBI's position as the agency in charge of catching spies shouldn't exempt it from scrutiny. In the end, Freeh took no action on the polygraph proposal, leaving the FBI in the curious position of advocating polygraphs at other agencies but not for itself.

Asked about this, John Collingwood, the FBI's assistant director for public and congressional affairs, said that while Freeh was aware of the discussions, he never received a formal proposal from bureau officials to institute polygraph screening, because there was no consensus among them on the issue.

To be sure, polygraphs had not been effective in detecting Ames's spying. But the CIA had misread its own polygraph results. When FBI polygraph examiners later looked at the CIA's charts, they concluded that Ames, when asked about spy activities, clearly had shown signs of deception.

The FBI is perfectly happy to polygraph criminal suspects, if they consent. Because of Freeh, the bureau also now polygraphs applicants to the FBI. It polygraphs counterintelligence agents assigned to especially sensitive cases like the Ames investigation. While polygraphs are not infallible, they clearly serve as a deterrent.

Polygraph testing has zero diagnosticity, and any would-be spy who spends an afternoon doing research can easily learn how to produce a "truthful" chart. Some deterrent, Mr. Kessler.

23 February 2001 "Truth and Consequences." This editorial in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel takes a sober look at calls for more polygraph "testing" in the FBI. Excerpt:

The government's latest spy scandal is putting enormous pressure on the FBI to make greater use of polygraph tests. The reason is the disclosure that accused spy Robert Philip Hanssen had never been given a lie-detector test during the 15 years he allegedly sold U.S. secrets to the Soviet Union and Russia.

The FBI may have been guilty of negligence - or worse - in its failure to dig out what it believes was a mole in its midst. That important question will be investigated by someone who can be safely entrusted with the job: William Webster, a former director of both the FBI and the CIA.

But there is no question about the failings of lie-detector tests, and the FBI would be taking on an enormous risk if it began to use them more frequently than it does.

The bureau now uses such examinations to screen prospective agents, but it does not administer them to employees unless they are suspected of wrongdoing or are assigned to certain jobs. There are good reasons for this reluctance.

For one thing, polygraph test results are unreliable. Aldrich Ames, the infamous CIA counterintelligence official who spied for Moscow for nine years before his arrest in 1994, passed two lie-detector tests.

For another, they deprive the FBI (and the country) of talented people. Polygraph exams can doom the careers of patriotic, effective agents by disclosing damaging but irrelevant personal information about their backgrounds. What's more, prospective FBI agents who don't want to surrender their privacy so drastically might be unwilling to join the bureau in the first place.

If heavily used, lie-detector tests also can produce a false sense of security; they can lead to the neglect of other security measures that require more effort and time, such as background checks. A turncoat like Ames who passes a polygraph test might evade the kind of scrutiny that would expose his treachery.

22 February 2001"FBI to Increase Polygraph Testing." ABC News report. Excerpt:

Learning Lessons

Attorney General John Ashcroft promised Wednesday to search for answers as to why Hanssen's alleged spying went undetected. Ashcroft appointed former CIA and FBI Director William Webster to review FBI security procedures and recommend changes that could prevent future incidents.

After the Ames spy case. the CIA overhauled its counterintelligence procedures and began administering polygraph tests more often. But while the CIA was improving its security, the FBI took almost no action, one former FBI agent said.

Former FBI agent Ed Curran, who helped the CIA with the overhaul, said recommendations to broaden the FBI's own polygraph program languished for more than three years.

"We spent the last few years trying to convince them [there was] a very significant threat," Curran said adding that "there was a significant resistance in the FBI to polygraph [testing]."

Questions Never Asked

The FBI continued with its policy to give background tests to all FBI personnel every five years, but those checks only included a basic financial review and did not include the polygraph tests.

"A polygraph exam, if it's very, very specific in its questioning, is [an] independent review," Curran said. "You're either going to pass this thing or you're going to fail it, and if you fail it, you need to explain what the problems are."

Ed Curran seems to have a child-like faith in the pseudoscience of polygraphy. Mr. Curran, if you're reading this, please see what the Bureau's top scientific expert has to say about polygraph screening. Ed Curran also helped launch a polygraph jihad in the CIA in the aftermath of the Aldrich Hazen Ames espionage scandal: he apparently learned nothing from the fact that the polygraph failed to catch Ames. Twice. (For a review of the failure of polygraphy in the Ames case, see Chapter 2 of The Lie Behind the Lie Detector.)

22 February 2001 "FBI to Start Polygraph Tests Following Spy Probe." reports that the FBI has decided to proceed with a program of randomly polygraphing all of its employees.

As a symbolic gesture, officials said the first employee tested will likely be Director Louis Freeh, followed by the deputy director and other assistant directors.

Officials admitted there is a cultural stigma to overcome at the bureau. "When CIA employees hear polygraph, they think 'normal course of doing business'," one FBI official said. "But when our guys hear polygraph they think of it as a tool used against criminals."

This knee-jerk reaction by the FBI will do more harm than good. Spies are likely to employ simple-to-learn countermeasures to "pass" the "tests," while many innocent employees will have their careers ruined by erroneous results. Despite the extensive polygraph screening program referred to in the article, CIA has been infiltrated many more times than the FBI in recent years. Aldrich Ames was polygraphed twice during time period where he was committing espionage, and passed both times. Instead, suspiscion was directed away from him and onto an innocent employee who had difficulty getting through routine polygraph examinations during his tenure at the CIA. The FBI leadership has legitimate reasons to tighten security in the wake of the troubling allegations of the Hanssen case. Unfortunately, implementing a polygraph dragnet is nothing more than an ineffective and self-delusory palliative for the problem.

22 February 2001 "FBI Polygraph Policy at Issue in Spy Case." Los Angeles Times staff writers Eric Lichtblau and Eric Anderson report. Excerpt:

WASHINGTON--Former FBI and CIA chief William H. Webster said Wednesday that he plans to examine whether the FBI--long reluctant to require periodic polygraph testing of its agents--should use polygraphs more aggressively to ferret out possible spies.

Webster, who will assess the fallout from one of the biggest cases of suspected espionage in recent U.S. history, made the comments in an interview as new details began to emerge in the investigation of FBI agent Robert Philip Hanssen, arrested as a suspected spy for Russia.

While security breaches have prompted other agencies such as the CIA and the Energy Department to adopt widespread use of polygraph exams, the FBI "has wanted to steer away from the heavy bureaucracy" of such testing, Webster said.

"There's an attitude: 'If we picked [employees] carefully and trust each other, why do we have to do this?' But I think that's got to be examined now," Webster said.

He cautioned, however, that the allegations against Hanssen depict such a careful and "wily" spy that there were few "red flags."

22 February 2001 "F.B.I. Never Polygraphed Agent Charged With Spying." David Johnston writes in the New York Times:

WASHINGTON, Feb. 21 -- Robert Philip Hanssen was never polygraphed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation to determine whether he might be a security risk during the 15 years when, it is charged, he spied for the Soviet Union and then Russia, law enforcement officials said today.

Mr. Hanssen, who worked at the heart of the bureau's most secret counterespionage operations, was not under suspicion until late last year, when American intelligence obtained what officials have said was the entire Russian case file on his activities as a secret agent.

The officials said that the failure to polygraph Mr. Hanssen, disclosed after an F.B.I. review, would revive long-debated proposals at the agency to require much wider use of polygraphs to screen counterintelligence agents like Mr. Hanssen.

22 February 2001 "FBI Faulted for Ignoring Warnings." Washington Post staff writers David A. Vise and Dan Eggen discuss FBI security in the wake of the Hanssen spy scandal:
Congressional panels, inspectors general, interagency task forces, blue-ribbon commissions and other repeatedly warned the FBI that it needed more frequent lie detector tests like those now used by the CIA...

Vise and Eggen also note:

Freeh and other bureau officials have specifically opposed the widespread use of polygraph tests because they believe the tests are inaccurate.

If that's what Louis Freeh really believes, then then he should scrap FBI's pre-employment polygraph screening program, which he introduced.

22 February 2001 Spy case reveals FBI failings. Washington Times reporter Bill Gertz discusses the use of polygraph screening by the FBI and other agencies. Mr. Gertz seems to equate polygraphs with security, opening his article, "The arrest of Robert P. Hanssen on charges he spied for Moscow has exposed weaknesses in FBI internal security, including document-handling procedures and a policy of not requiring regular polygraph tests for its agents." But Gertz does note, "A Bush administration security official said FBI agents disdained the use of polygraphs for checking the reliability of agents because they regarded them as too unreliable and 'beatable' by good liars."

21 February 2001In an article entitled "Invisible on the Inside," Walter Pincus and Vernon Loeb of the Washington Post report that the FBI may consider expanding its polygraph program to include random "testing" of personnel in the wake of the Robert P. Hanssen espionage case, and reveal that a plan has been on the shelf for three years:

Nonetheless, Freeh acknowledged at his press conference that Webster's review is all but certain to find flaws in FBI procedures for ferreting out spies. One area likely to be scrutinized, according to present and former officials, is the bureau's unwillingness to give polygraph or "lie detector" tests to employees on a periodic basis.

While polygraphing of recruits began in 1993, the FBI -- unlike the CIA and National Security Agency -- has no agency-wide program for ongoing testing of its officers.

One former top FBI counterintelligence official said the bureau has shied away from polygraphing agents because, he said, "We consider it an inexact science." Now, he added, "They will have to look at it again."

Edward J. Curran, who as a former top FBI counterintelligence expert went to the CIA to tighten security after the Ames case, was sharply critical yesterday of the bureau's policy. "There has been a program for regular polygraphing of FBI agents waiting to be approved for three years," he said.

20 February 2001 Senator Shelby calls for more lie detector "testing" at FBI. In a knee-jerk reacton to the Hanssen case, the chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence has called for increased use of polygraph screening at the FBI. In an article titled "Russian Spy Case Worries Congress," Carol Skorneck of the Associated Press writes:

WASHINGTON (AP) - The arrest of a veteran FBI agent on charges of spying for Moscow shows the bureau must beef up security and regularly give lie-detector tests to all counterintelligence agents, the Senate Intelligence Committee chairman said Tuesday.

The case of Robert Philip Hanssen, 56, could represent "a very, very, very serious case of espionage," Republican Sen. Richard Shelby said in a telephone interview from his home state of Alabama.

"I think it sends a message that the FBI is going to have to be more vigilant in dealing with its own agents that are assigned to the areas of counterintelligence," said Shelby, who said he was briefed about the case a week to 10 days ago. "I don't know offhand if the FBI agents are routinely polygraphed or not, but if they're dealing with counterintelligence, they ought to be."

16 February 2001 DOE Polygraph Program Put on Hold. In an article entitled "Lab Security Measures Shelved Pending Study," Washington Post staff writer Walter Pincus suggests that expanded polygraph screening has been suspended pending a review. Excerpt:

In his last days in office, former energy secretary Bill Richardson temporarily suspended a series of measures that had been taken over the past two years to tighten security at the nation's nuclear weapons laboratories.

Richardson discontinued some of the measures, which included giving polygraph or "lie detector" tests to more than 10,000 employees, pending a high-level review to determine whether they have done more harm than good.

He had instituted many of the security measures under pressure from Congress after allegations of Chinese espionage at the lab. But laboratory managers and scientists have complained in recent months that the crackdown was making it difficult for them to do their jobs and for the labs to recruit first-rate researchers.

"I'm not just concerned with security," Richardson said in a telephone interview. "I was concerned with the morale of the labs."

In addition to widespread polygraphing of Energy Department employees, the measures included tighter computer security, limited access to classified materials and controls over foreign visitors.

4 February 2001 Polygraph unreliability underscored in Oregon murder case. In an article entitled, "Key witness now prime suspect," staff writer Michelle Roberts of The Oregonian reports that Mr. Humberto Castro Soler, who testified that he watched Mr. James Bryant shoot a Salem woman and her boyfriend over a 1999 drug deal gone bad, is now the prime suspect in those murders. Mr. Soler had "passed" a polygraph "test" administered by a Portland police officer, while Mr. Bryant had "failed." The following excerpt underscores the unreliability of polygraph chart readings and the dangers of placing any confidence in them:

Polygraph questions

Police have made no secret about why they relied on Soler.

He passed a polygraph test administered by Portland Police Detective Sgt. Glenda Leutwyler, a respected polygrapher who handles dozens of cases every year for the district attorney's office.

Although polygraph results aren't admissible in court, they are often used as investigative tools.

Without the test, no detective worth his badge would have hinged a high-profile murder case on the word of a man like Soler, who has spent most of his adult life in prison for a string of armed robberies and drug charges.

Soler was not offered a plea agreement until he passed Leutwyler's polygraph Oct. 24, 1999. Police thought they'd solved their case, their confidence underscored when Clark, who insisted Soler was the shooter, failed Leutwyler's exam Oct. 29, 1999.

But in recent months, three polygraph experts have challenged those results.

David Raskin, an Alaska-based polygraph expert Bryant's lawyers hired in October, examined Soler's test and deemed it inconclusive.

Raskin criticized Leutwyler's results, saying that detectives were eager to believe Soler and "made great efforts to reassure (Soler) that they wanted and expected him to pass."

Raskin also found different results for Clark's polygraph test, saying it was inconclusive about whether she saw Soler shoot Pawloski, but truthful about seeing Soler shoot Schneider.

Leutwyler defended her results and discredits Raskin as a hired gun for the defense whom Bryant's attorneys "had to go all the way to Alaska to find."

At the request of Clark's attorneys, Stan Abrams, a local polygraph expert, also analyzed Leutwyler's charts. Using his own scoring method, Abrams found Clark's polygraph inconclusive.

When Abrams scored the results using Leutwyler's method, he arrived at the same results she did. Both methods are accepted by the American Polygraph Association.

Ken Simmons, a former Oregon State Police polygrapher who now runs his own business, also deemed the results inconclusive.

"My results were tending in the same direction as Leutwyler's . . . but I didn't think (Soler and Clark's) reactions were high enough to reach a conclusion," Simmons said.

He also underscored why polygraph tests are not admissible in court and perhaps should not be used as a primary foundation for a major criminal case.

"The fact is that with polygraphs, even if they're done well, there's always a chance for error," he said.

Jenny Cooke, who represents Bryant, and other defense attorneys involved in the case accuse prosecutors of standing by Leutwyler's results "at all costs."

"I think the prosecutor's office won't charge Soler because they're terrified that this case is going to blow (Leutwyler's) credibility all to hell," Cooke said. "And what does that say about all the other cases they've used her for?"

Multnomah County Chief Deputy Norman Frink said he couldn't comment on an ongoing investigation, but "People can assume we're not fools."

2 February 2001 Shawnee County, KS Approves Funds for Polygraph. In an article entitled, "Sheriff's department to get polygraph equipment," Alicia Henrikson of the Topeka Capital-Journal writes:

County commissioners approved the purchase of a polygraph instrument and polygraph training for a sheriff's deputy on Thursday in a 3-0 vote at the county commission meeting. The cost for the instrument, training and a laptop computer is $17,900.

Undersheriff Dan Breci said that the main reason why the sheriff's office wanted a polygraph is because the office wants to use it in its hiring process.

"We want to make sure we are hiring the best," Breci said.

Because of "control" question "test" polygraphy's built-in bias against truthful persons, the Shawnee County Sheriff's Department will likely be weeding out its most honest applicants (unless they've read The Lie Behind the Lie Detector).

30 January 2001 Shawnee County, Kansas Sheriff's Office Asks for Polygraph. In an article entitled, "Sheriff's office asks county for polygraph," Alicia Henrikson of the Topeka Capital-Journal writes:

The Shawnee County Sheriff's Department has never had anyone trained to operate a polygraph instrument.

The department has never had such a need because it doesn't have a polygraph.

That may be about to change. The sheriff's department is asking the county commission to approve the purchase of a polygraph instrument and training for an officer to use the machine. The $19,700 cost will cover the polygraph, training and a laptop computer.

"The perception in law enforcement circles is that polygraphs are more reliable than voice stress analyzers," Undersheriff Dan Breci said. "Large departments usually have polygraphs and people trained to use polygraph instruments."

Shawnee County officials need to understand that while both voice stress analyzers and polygraphs may be good props for an interrogation, neither of these techniques have been shown by competent scientific research to operate at better than chance levels of accuracy. See George Maschke's action alert for details on how you can help set Shawnee County officials straight on lie detectors.

29 January 2001 Mention of "polygraph" prompts mistrial. Patrick E. Gauen of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch writes on the case of Rodney Woidtke, who was being retried for murder in Bellevue, Illinois:

Polygraph, or lie-detector, tests are not admissible in Illinois courts, and case law suggests that mere mention of the word can be considered poison to a jury's fairness.

26 January 2001"Domenici Wants Review Committee to Weigh Polygraph Benefits to DOE Lab Security" (6kb PDF). In a press release occasioned by the commencement of the National Academy of Sciences polygraph review, Senator Pete Domenici (R-NM) expresses his concerns about the Department of Energy's use of polygraphs:

"I hope the work of this committee, backed by the NAS, will give us an objective analysis of polygraphs, and help determine the necessity for widespread polygraph testing," [Sen. Domenici] said. "My understanding is that lab workers do not object to intrusive tests that have scientific basis. For example, the drug tests required of some lab employees are not contentious because they are scientifically credible. Polygraphs need to meet the same litmus test before they enjoy such acceptance."

18 January 2001 Birmingham, Alabama Police Captain Suspended for Refusing Polygraph. In an article entitled "Captain Suspended Over Missing Computers," Carol Robinson of the Birmingham News writes:

A Birmingham police captain has been suspended for nearly nine weeks for refusing to take a lie detector test in connection with missing departmental computers.

Capt. Ellison Beggs, the highest-ranking officer suspended in recent memory, will be off without pay for 45 working days beginning Feb. 12, according to Chief Mike Coppage's disciplinary notice filed Wednesday with the Jefferson County Personnel Board.

In many parts of the United States, public employees accused of wrongdoing can be ordered to submit to pseudoscientific lie detector "testing" and punished for merely refusing to submit. By eliminating the governmental exemptions to the 1988 Employee Polygraph Protection Act, we can put an end to such abuse.

18 January 2001 New Director at the Department of Defense Polygraph Institute. According to the DoDPI website, William F. Norris has replaced Michael H. Capps as director.

9 January 2001 Today on the Jenny Jones television talk show: "Those Guests Thought They Were The Best, But They Couldn't Pass The Test."

A look at some of the year's most entertaining lie detector tests. Meet one man who wants his girlfriend to take a lie detector test to prove she isn't having an affair with another woman. Also, meet women who swear their body parts are "au naturel."

See George Maschke's bulletin board message "Set Jenny Jones Straight on Lie Detector 'Tests'" for more on this show's promotion of pseudoscience, and how to send a message to Jenny Jones.

8 January 2001 Steven Aftergood reports in today's edition of the electronic newsletter Secrecy News:


The National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences is undertaking a new review of the validity and reliability of the polygraph, or "lie detector."

The 18 month review, which was proposed by Sen. Jeff Bingaman and funded by the Department of Energy, will examine the controversial use of polygraph testing for personnel security screening. And it "will include what is known about the effect of medications, sleep deprivation, and illnesses on the physiological responses measured."

The first meeting of the study panel has been scheduled for January 26-27 at the National Academy building in Washington, DC. Most of the meeting will be open to the public.

Further information, including the names of the proposed panel members, may be found here:

See George Maschke's bulletin board message "National Academy of Sciences Polygraph Study" for links to proposed panel members' home pages.

3 January 2001 Today on the Jenny Jones television talk show: "If you went astray, I'll find out today."

Meet a man who suspects his girlfriend is cheating on him with another woman, but his girlfriend denies it. Also, meet a guest who wants to know if her best friend is sleeping with her man. Jenny makes these cheating guests take lie detector tests.

This show may provide some insight into popular belief in lie detector "tests." Home Page > Polygraph News