Polygraph Statement of Special Agent Scott Nichols
Note (12 November 2021): This statement was originally published under the pseudonym "Special Agent Smith."
Special Agent Nichols applied to the FBI before 1994, when pre-employment polygraph testing was not used. He successfully completed the selection process, attended the FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia, and went to work as a field agent in a large field office. He worked as a FBI agent for a number of years before leaving the FBI to pursue other career opportunities. A few years later, he decided he wanted to return to work with the FBI. He applied for re-instatement as an agent and received a conditional offer of employment - an appointment letter. The offer to return to work as a special agent was contingent upon his successful completion of the same pre-employment polygraph first time applicants take.
He failed his pre-employment polygraph. Unlike most unsuccessful applicants, he received a retest opportunity. He failed his retest.
Special Agent Nichols related to us that through discussions with FBI officials he learned that the FBI is aware that innocent applicants are being removed from the application process. However, because some applicants do confess to behavior not previously disclosed, as referenced in Assistant Director Kerr's letter to Senator Grassley, the FBI is not willing to give up the pre-employment polygraph. It's not cost effective for them. These innocent, qualified applicants who are turned away are coined "acceptable collateral damage:"
"Since that time I have talked to several officials at the FBI. When I presented one of them with the argument that I had no opportunity to prove I was truthful he said my second polygraph was that opportunity. When I complained to another FBI official that the polygraph was simply a screening device to weed out applicants even though the FBI knew a percentage of these people were truthful, he agreed with me. This FBI official asked why the FBI should spend a lot of time and money verifying polygraph results when there were thousands of people waiting to be hired."
"Telling the FBI they are wrong is like telling a mother she has an ugly baby."
- Anonymous former Special Agent
Comments by Agent Nichols:
As a current Federal Criminal Investigator with 14 years experience (over five years with the FBI) I am lending my support to this issue for the benefit of those fine young applicants (such as the author of this WebSite) who are being unfairly eliminated as Special Agent candidates. I have many friends still in the F.B.I. who also question the way the polygraph is used in the applicant process.
The polygraph is unreliable as a means to establish facts for a very simple reason: polygraphs can not read minds. I describe the polygraph as a very sensitive dumb machine. The polygraph is very good at measuring physiological reactions (respiration, heart rate, perspiration), but is incapable of measuring the reason for these reactions.
EXAMPLES - The following examples are somewhat exaggerated but the point is clear:
Imagine you are in the tense situation of an FBI pre-employment polygraph. You know if the machine shows a reading outside of certain parameters you will be disqualified. Your emotions are magnified because joining the FBI is something you have wanted to do since you were young.
1) Your father was an alcoholic and the polygrapher asks you a question regarding alcohol abuse. Would it be possible you could react beyond that limits of what is considered "truthful"?
2) You have never used drugs and are truly afraid of them (or your father is a police officer as happened to one applicant). The polygrapher asks you a question about drug abuse. Is it possible you could react beyond the limits of what is considered "truthful?"
3) You have a highly developed sense of the right and wrong. You have never even thought of doing anything "wrong" and are considered a "goody-two-shoes." The fact that the polygrapher is asking questions about drugs, alcohol, foreign counter intelligence, etc. (sometimes in an accusatory manner if you have a low quality polygrapher) makes you uncomfortable. Is it possible you could react beyond the limits of what is considered "truthful"?
Each of one of us could probably think of questions that if asked by a polygrapher in the above situation could cause a reaction beyond the limits of what is considered "truthful".
If in any of the above scenarios you showed "deception," the FBI eliminates you from the applicant process and you have no chance to prove your truthfulness. In my case (and with others like me)
I could have had approximately 20 current and former Special Agents attest not to my truthfulness, but to my integrity. However, in the eyes of the FBI it would have been immaterial.
The solution to this problem is very simple. Special Agent applicants can continue to take polygraph exams but should not be eliminated solely for what is interpreted as "deceptive" results. The polygraph should be used in the applicant process as in criminal investigations, as a tool; not as a means to establish facts.
If an applicant shows "deception" in a certain area then that area should be concentrated on in the background investigation. Yes, it may cost the FBI more time and money but a thorough background check worked as well as the current system. It will also stop the automatic elimination of those people who show "deception" but are telling the truth.
I admit this is a passionate issue for me having dedicated my career to putting "liars" in jail only to be called one myself. I cannot fully express in words the disappointments, anger and frustration I (and others like me) experienced during this process. It is too late for me to be reinstated as a Special Agent. However, I urge those of you who have had a similar experience to contact the author of this WebSite.
If you have never taken the FBI pre-employment polygraph, and never plan to, but have an interest in this issue, please contact the people listed on the previous Web page under "Who to Contact." [See AntiPolygraph.org's Get Involved page.]
On behalf of those people who have, and continue to be, unfairly eliminated as Special Agent applicants, we appreciate your support.
aka "acceptable collateral damage"
Special Agent Nichols' Letters
Excerpts from Letter One
In his initial letter to the FBI Agent in charge of the field office he applied through he wrote,
"On XXXX I took the pre-employment polygraph examination. This was to be the last step before I was assigned a new entry training class. As you can see by the enclosed letter my conditional letter of appointment was rescinded because I showed "deception". As a Federal law enforcement officer with eleven years of experience, I am both embarrassed and frustrated by the results. I told the truth."
Having been an agent for a number of years, Special Agent Nichols, had seen polygraphs and knew of their reputation:
"Having never taken a polygraph before, but having enough experience to know it is an inexact science, I was somewhat apprehensive. I am also very anxious to return to the FBI."
Excerpts from Letter Two
Once the results of Special Agent Nichols' second polygraph were known he wrote a letter to Director Freeh. The following are excerpts from that letter:
"I am writing this letter to ask you to intervene in an unfair process which may prevent my reinstatement as a Special Agent...
On XXXX I took my second pre-employment polygraph exam. I have not received the official results but was informed that it will probably be rated "deceptive". This was to have been the last step before my reinstatement as a Special Agent. I previously had the privilege of serving as a Special Agent from XXXX through XXXX. Now, as a result of no more than a couple of "blips" on a machine, I have been labeled a "liar" by the FBI and found ineligible for re-employment. This decision was made without any regard to my 12 years of hard work and faithful service as a federal investigator.
I told the truth during the polygraph exam. How can I prove it? How can I prove I did not lie? In many ways this situation is worse than being accused of a crime. If I were accused of a crime I would at least have a chance to face my accuser, present evidence and be judged by a jury of my peers. This is not the case with a polygraph. The machine is the accuser, the judge and the jury...
There should be a better way to determine the suitability of Special Agents for reinstatement. Surely you can see the injustice of relying so completely on the results of the polygraph examination - especially given its well-documented imperfections. It is a machine that measures stress, but not the reason for the stress. Would it not be more just (and make more sense) to use the polygraph as a tool to identify areas to concentrate on during the background investigation?
Both the FBI and its applicants would benefit from using the polygraph examination as it is used in investigations - as a tool: rather than (as it is used now) an instrument to establish facts."
Excerpts From Letter Three
Receiving no response from the Director Freeh or the FBI, Special Agent Nichols wrote to the new Assistant Director Donald Kerr. The same Donald Kerr Senator Grassley questioned:
I am a former Special Agent with the FBI who served in XXXX from XXXX to XXXX. This letter is an appeal for reasonableness and fairness regarding the FBI's use of the polygraph exam in the Special Agent applicant process. It is hard for me not to sound self-serving but I appeal to you on behalf of the many Special Agent applicants (I was seeking reinstatement) who have been eliminated as a candidate because of a "deceptive" polygraph despite telling the truth. I am merely an example of what is, in my opinion, a misuse of the polygraph by the FBI. There are probably hundreds of stories just like mine...
I can not fully express in words what it feels like to be called a "liar" by the organization that I believe, like no other in the U.S. Government, stands for truth, justice and fairness. It is especially disappointing that there is no mechanism to prove truthfulness (for example; a very through background check could prove truthfulness.) I would greatly appreciate a chance to sit down and meet with you in person to discuss the inherent inequity of the FBI's present polygraph policy. I have, with great difficulty, resigned myself that I will not be reinstated as a Special Agent. However, for the sake of those young applicants who find themselves in the same situation as me, I must continue to question the FBI's use of the polygraph exam in the applicant process.
Excerpts From Letter Four
Receiving no response from Assistant Director Kerr, Special Agent Nichols wrote director Freeh one last time:
"Sir, as experienced criminal investigators we both understand the necessity of examining all the evidence of a particular crime/issue. I suspect that with regards to the use of the polygraph exam in the applicant process, you are only getting one particular view. If allowed to do so I believe I can present a compelling argument against such undue reliance on an instrument of not only well documented shortcomings, but one whose reliability has been questioned by a recent decision of the Supreme Court.
On behalf of the fine young men and women whose lives are being profoundly affected by this policy, please allow me fifteen to twenty minutes of your time to address this issue."