Too Hot of a Potato: A Citizen Soldier's Encounter With the Polygraph

George W. Maschke
2 February 2004

On Monday, 15 May 1995, FBI polygrapher Jack Trimarco met me for the first time in his life and within three hours concluded that I am a spy, drug dealer, and drug abuser.

The FBI rejected my application to become an FBI special agent and entered my polygraph examiner's false accusations of deception into my permanent FBI Headquarters file. The FBI's accusations have had life-changing consequences for me, and I am telling my story to help hasten the day that our government ends its misplaced reliance on the pseudoscience of polygraphy, a practice it has with good reason prohibited the private sector from employing.

Promotion to SP4
Promotion to the rank of specialist four

I had held a security clearance since 1983, when I enlisted as a private in the US Army as an interrogator. After taking my fingerprints and running a National Agency Check (NAC), the Army granted me a secret clearance. After completing the interrogation course at the US Army Intelligence Center (USAIC), Fort Huachuca, Arizona, and Arabic language training at the Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center (DLIFLC) at the Presidio of Monterey, California, I served for more than two years as a strategic debriefer with a Military Intelligence unit overseas.

I debriefed human intelligence sources (militarese for "people") in the Arabic language during this period and prepared Intelligence Information Reports (IIRs) based on my debriefings. The Army twice awarded me the Army Commendation Medal (ARCOM) for my intelligence work. I rose through the ranks from private (E-1) to sergeant (E-5).

Newly commissioned as a second lieutenant,
with my late father

While overseas, I took night courses at the University of Maryland, and in 1987, the Army awarded me a two-year ROTC scholarship to finish my bachelor's degree. I majored in Middle Eastern studies and learned Persian (Farsi) to complement my Arabic. In 1989, I completed my bachelor's degree, received a commission as a second lieutenant in the Army Reserve, and was assigned to the Military Intelligence branch.

After a Special Background Investigation (SBI), the Army granted me a top secret security clearance with access to Sensitive Compartmented Information (SCI), a category of top secret information deemed particularly sensitive.

In 1990, I returned to Fort Huachuca to attend the six-month Military Intelligence Officer Basic Course (MIOBC). While I was in training there, Iraq invaded Kuwait. Shortly thereafter, the command took a survey seeking soldiers who spoke Arabic, Persian (Farsi), or French. I duly reported that I had working fluency in all three languages. I expected that I'd be called to active duty upon graduation from the course. But none of the reserve officers in my class were called up at that time, and in the fall of 1990, I began graduate studies.

It was not until January 1991, after having called the Army Reserve personnel center several times to volunteer, that I received a call from a lieutenant colonel. He spoke of a highly sensitive mission, and instructed me to report to the FBI's Los Angeles Field Office (LAFO) in the Federal Building at 11000 Wilshire Boulevard. An FBI employee guided me to a room furnished with a gray table, a steel chair, and a telephone. Then I was left alone.

The phone rang. The voice at the other end spoke in Arabic. We conversed for about half an hour. I had passed the test. I took a leave of absence from the university and about a week later, I was at the Office of the Chief of the Army Reserve (OCAR) at the Pentagon. Instead of joining our forces in the Persian Gulf region, as I had hoped and expected, I learned that I was to spend the war in Washington, DC, attached to the FBI's Washington Metropolitan Field Office (WMFO).

FBI Plaque
"2ND LT. George W. Maschke
United States Army
Presented with deep appreciation for
service in providing invaluable Arabic
translation assistance to the FBI during
Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm"

I spent the duration of the war working in a secure area with no windows at the Bureau's Buzzard Point office tower, located across the street from an often foul-smelling sewage treatment plant. I cannot go into the details of what I did there, but it was of a counterintelligence nature and highly classified. I am proud of the work I did there, and I admired the dedication of the men and women of the FBI who were working to prevent terrorism on the home front.

After Iraq capitulated, I spent another month and a half at the Los Angeles Field Office doing similar work. The director of the FBI at the time, William S. Sessions, sent me a letter of appreciation for my work (view PDF), as did my senior FBI supervisor, Supervisory Special Agent (SSA) Bruce Canaga (view PDF).

After my release from active duty, I returned to the university, where I continued my studies. Then, on 26 February 1993, terrorists bombed the World Trade Center in lower Manhattan, killing John DiGiovanni, Robert Kirkpatrick, Stephen Knapp, William Macko, Wilfredo Mercado, and Monica Smith, an expectant mother. Many more were injured.

Some five months later, I received a call from OCAR. An NCO there remembered me from the Gulf War, and had found my phone number from a telephone directory. She asked me to volunteer for "a mission in New York." I agreed, and after a brief stop at OCAR's new office in Rosslyn, Virginia and in-processing at the Pentagon, I proceeded to the FBI's New York Field Office.

The matter at hand was indeed the World Trade Center bombing (TRADEBOMB) case. The Army had sent me and two other Arabic linguists to help the FBI in the translation of a bomb manual seized from a suspect in the case. My fellow soldiers and I finished translating the book in about a month -- one-third of the time that the supervisory special agent in charge of the counterintelligence section to which we were assigned had anticipated.

About the time we had finished translating the bomb manual, two prosecutors from the US Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York, which was prosecuting the case, came to the FBI's offices and asked for help translating some Arabic documents. My Army colleagues and I gladly volunteered.

The FBI's own people had been reluctant to work in the hot, stuffy offices of the US Attorney's Office where the original documentary evidence from the case was stored. And the original documents had been chemically treated to reveal fingerprints. They were purplish and foul smelling. Cotton gloves were required to handle them. The FBI employees preferred to work with copies of the documents in the Bureau's roomy air-conditioned offices. But that was less efficient than working with the actual evidence, which was often much easier to read.

My fellow soldiers and I spent the next three months at the US Attorney's Office cataloging, assessing, and translating documents that the FBI had failed to properly exploit for intelligence value. Most of what we translated was submitted in court as evidence in the TRADEBOMB case and is a matter of public record, and that is why I can discuss these details. I performed additional duties that I cannot discuss.

FBI Director Louis Freeh sent me a letter of appreciation for my work (view PDF), as did then Secretary of Defense Bill Perry (view PDF) and then Army Chief-of-Staff General Gordon R. Sullivan (view PDF).

The work I did in support of the TRADEBOMB case was the most important and satisfying work I had done in my life. I felt had made a difference.

While in New York, I was again highly impressed by the devotion to duty and hard work of some of the men and women assigned to the TRADEBOMB case, though I also saw problems with the way the FBI managed its intelligence assets and had ideas on how to improve operations. My two tours of duty with the FBI so impressed me that I decided to become a special agent in the FBI. I wanted to make fighting terrorism my life's work.

After being released from active duty in the TRADEBOMB case, I returned to the university. Having completed my master's degree before leaving for New York, I continued to work toward a doctorate. In the Army Reserve, I was assigned through the Individual Mobilization Augmentee (IMA) program to Special Operations Command South (SOCSO), then headquartered in Panama. For seventeen days per year, I worked in the J-2 (intelligence) section.

In late 1994, expecting to have the courses necessary for my doctorate completed by the spring of 1995, I applied to become a Special Agent in the FBI. I took and passed a battery of general exams, and then tested in several languages, including Arabic and Persian (Farsi).

On 10 May 1995, SSA Sue C. of the Los Angeles Field Office called me. She wanted me to start work in two weeks as a contract linguist pending agent hire. I agreed to begin working 20 hours per week at LAFO. She told me she'd schedule a polygraph exam for me.

The following day, SSA Mike Hilliard, the chief of recruiting at Los Angeles, called me to schedule a face-to-face meeting at the FBI's San Francisco office on June 9th. The Bureau would pay for my flight and hotel.

On 15 May 1995, I went to the Los Angeles Field Office for the polygraph exam that SSA Sue C. had requested for me. Special Agent (SA) Jack Trimarco greeted me at the receptionist's desk and escorted me to a room inside.

He began by telling me that the Bureau had done extensive checking of my background and knew that I was a person of strong moral character. I was surprised by that remark, because I had only completed my Special Agent Qualifications Questionnaire (Form FD-843) and Application for Employment (Form FD-140) listing references -- the starting point for a background investigation -- the day before. I carried them by hand to the FBI's offices on the day of the polygraph exam. The FBI had not had adequate time to investigate my background, and SA Trimarco had barely managed to squeeze me into his schedule a couple days earlier. I knew he had to be lying, but I kept this to myself.

We then discussed my background and why I wanted to become an FBI agent. I told him the same things I've described to you thus far, but in greater detail.

Then, he asked me what I knew about the polygraph. I told him that I had once served as a translator during a polygraph examination. The Army polygrapher I was assisting had briefly explained to me how the polygraph works. I knew that the polygraph measured the subject's breathing, blood pressure, pulse, and perspiration rates (the latter as indicated by skin conductivity). I also knew that the polygrapher asked a number of "control" questions in order to compare the results with the physiological responses measured while the subject answered the "relevant" questions.

SA Trimarco told me that there was a new polygraph testing method, and that control questions weren't used anymore. I was later to learn that he was lying to me about this, too.

He asked what the results of that polygraph exam at which I translated had been. The polygrapher had found the test inconclusive and asked for my gut feeling as an interrogator. I had sensed no deception on the part of the person being polygraphed.

SA Trimarco then assured me about the accuracy of the polygraph. He said it was 98% accurate. He told me that one in three FBI Special Agent candidates are rejected because they lie during the pre-employment polygraph exam. That seemed like a very high fraction to me. How could so many people with something to hide want to be FBI agents? I didn't ask.

He claimed that he was one of the Bureau's best polygraphers, and told me a story in support of that claim. I doubted his story, though, because if it were true, he would have been divulging classified information to someone (me) who clearly did not have a need to know. I will not repeat his story here, on the off chance that it was not a lie and that my revealing it would constitute a breach of security (and possibly put a man's life at risk).

We then went over all the questions that he was going to ask me during the polygraph exam. The questions ranged from whether I had ever stolen anything, lied to a family member, or driven while under the influence of alcohol to whether I had ever sold or used illegal drugs, whether I had been careless in the handling of classified information, whether I had divulged classified information to any unauthorized persons, and whether I had had contacts with foreign intelligence services.

I had to answer "yes" to some of these questions. At the age of seven or eight, I had indeed shoplifted a Hostess cupcake from the local supermarket. My mother had made me go to the store manager, apologize, and pay for my stolen goods. (And I paid for it once we got home, too!)

And I had indeed had limited contact with foreign intelligence services when I was on active military duty overseas. But that was all in the course of my duties, and it was with allied forces. All aboveboard.

I had never sold or used an illegal drug. And I had never driven while under the influence of alcohol.

We went over each "yes" answer that I gave, and SA Trimarco accordingly modified his questions, "Other than what we discussed, have you ever stolen anything? Other than what we discussed, have you had contacts with foreign intelligence services?"

We continued this process until I could honestly answer "no" to all the questions. SA Trimarco then hooked me up to the machine and asked me the questions we had reviewed. About midway through, he complained that my breathing was slowing down and was too slow. As I tried to breath faster to please him, he asked the remaining questions. I think he repeated some questions.

When he was done, he informed me that I had shown signs of deception on the questions about unauthorized release of classified information and contacts with foreign intelligence agencies. I was shocked. How could he tell me I'm lying when I'm telling the truth?!

He showed me the charts and pointed to a region where he claimed I had shown deception, but I couldn't make head or tail of it.

We went through all the questions again. When we were finished, SA Trimarco told me he was certain that I was being deceptive in denying having released classified information to unauthorized persons and in denying having had unauthorized contacts with foreign intelligence agencies. In so many words, he was accusing me of being a spy.

I told him he was absolutely mistaken, that I've never violated the trust my government has placed in me, and that I wanted to be re-tested. He told me that the records of my exam would be sent to Washington for an expedited review and that I might be contacted for a second test, but that it was unlikely.

I left the Bureau's offices where I had proudly served just four years earlier in a state of shock such as I have never experienced before or since. I felt dizzy and numb all over. I fully appreciate now the meaning of the word "dumbfounded." How could SA Trimarco think that I'm a spy when I answered all his questions truthfully?

When I got home, I called SSA Mike Hilliard, the chief of recruiting at LAFO, to protest my innocence. The man who had been warm and cordial just four days earlier was now cold and hostile. He claimed that "other" derogatory information about me had come to light. I told him that if he really thought I was a spy, that the Bureau had damned well better launch a criminal investigation against me. SSA Hilliard curtly replied that the Bureau just might do that. And that was the end of our conversation.

Three weeks had gone by, and I had heard nothing from the FBI. I wanted to re-take the polygraph exam to prove my innocence. I sent the following letter to FBI Director Louis Freeh:

                                            Monday, 5 June 1995

Dear Sir:

I am an applicant for a Special Agent's position with the FBI.  On
15 May 1995 I had a pre-employment polygraph interview at the Los
Angeles Field Office.  The polygrapher concluded that I was
attempting to deceive him.  He was absolutely mistaken.  I
answered every question truthfully.  I made no attempt to deceive
him either by lying or by omission of detail.  On the contrary, I
provided him with additional information not asked for in Form
FD-140, but that I thought would be important for a background
investigator to know.  I ask of you that my application not be
rejected on the basis of the polygrapher's mistaken finding and
that I be given the opportunity to clear my name.

I am a 12-year veteran of the US Army, having served in both an
active and reserve capacity.  I have served as an interrogator,
strategic debriefer, and tactical intelligence officer---and have
continuously held a security clearance since 1983.  Throughout my
career, I have made devotion to duty and integrity the standards
by which I live and work.

My military service has extended me the pleasure of working
closely with the FBI.  During the Gulf War, I was mobilized and
tasked to the Washington Metropolitan Field Office, where I
supported the Bureau's counterintelligence/counterterrorist
operations.  After the World Trade Center bombing, I was recalled
to active military duty and tasked to support the New York Field
Office's investigation of the bombing.  (You sent me a letter of
appreciation after the bombers were convicted.)

In both cases, I worked closely with investigating Special Agents.
This experience leads me to pursue a career as a Special Agent in
the FBI.  On both occasions, I knew that I was doing something
truly important for our nation's security.  I am convinced that my
intelligence experience and language skills (I speak Arabic,
Farsi, and French well) can best be put to use in the FBI.  Based
on my experience, I believe that I can and will do well as a
Special Agent.  I have a strong desire to serve.

Please give me the opportunity to clear my name.  Since May 15th,
when your polygrapher told me I had "shown deception," I
have been at first completely dumbfounded, then agitated and
confused.  The polygrapher's demeanor and that of the chief of
recruitment in Los Angeles changed instantly from warm and cordial
to curt and suspicious.  I am eager for the opportunity to restore
my reputation, and to prove that your previous confidence in me
was not misplaced.


                       George W. Maschke
                       1LT, Military Intelligence


Letter from FBI Director Louis J. Freeh, dated 21 March 1994
Letter from FBI Director William S. Sessions, dated 14 November 1991

FBI Director Louis Freeh never replied. Nor did anyone from the FBI contact me. I could not imagine how the Bureau could not want to re-examine me after their ace polygrapher had determined that I was lying when I denied having disclosed classified information to unauthorized persons and having had contact with foreign intelligence agencies.

I had recently worked in the heart of the Bureau's counterterrorist and counterintelligence operations in Washington, DC, Los Angeles, and New York. Had I really been a spy, I could have compromised numerous highly sensitive investigations and put the lives of FBI personnel in danger. And to top it all off, my father, who had died of cancer two months before my polygraph exam, had been a respected scientist with a Q clearance and had worked on classified projects in New Mexico. If the son of such a scientist had indeed been in cahoots with a foreign intelligence agency, I would have thought that the FBI would want to know. But no one called me.

I began to get a little paranoid. I wondered if my phone was being monitored. I wondered if I was the subject of a counterintelligence investigation. I still don't know, but I doubt that the FBI ever investigated me after falsely accusing me and rejecting my application. The easiest way to investigate further would have been to ask me to take another polygraph exam. I would have gladly done so.

While the FBI did not contact me, it contacted others. At about the same time I had applied to be an FBI agent, I had also volunteered my time to the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD). Detectives Bill F. and John R. of the department's Anti-Terrorist Division (ATD) had asked me to look at some Arabic documents. I was glad to help, and they eventually asked if I'd be willing to become a technical reservist in the LAPD. (Technical reservists are volunteers who have a special skill. They don't attend the police academy and they don't carry a gun.) I agreed to become a technical reservist, and by the time I had taken my polygraph exam with the FBI, I had already gone through the LAPD's screening process and my LAPD identification card had just been made up. Detective F. was holding it for me.

But after my polygraph exam with the FBI, the LAPD asked me to come to their headquarters at Parker Center in downtown Los Angeles to take a polygraph exam. I gladly consented. This was my opportunity to clear my name. My suspicion that the FBI had contacted the LAPD was confirmed by the questions that Ervin L. Youngblood, the LAPD polygrapher, asked me. His questions mirrored those that SA Jack Trimarco had asked.

In the course of the exam, Mr. Youngblood angrily accused me of employing "countermeasures." I forcefully (and truthfully) denied it. At the time, I did not even understand what polygraph "countermeasures" are. His angry outburst provoked a similarly angry reaction from me. I told him that if he really thought I was lying and employing "countermeasures," that he was a lousy polygrapher. In my anger, I gave him a few other suggestions that I won't repeat here. I had volunteered my time to my local police department and had answered all his questions truthfully. I did not appreciate this sort of treatment. At least SA Trimarco had not raised his voice when he accused me in so many words of being a spy.

I told Det. F. all about the unpleasantness with Mr. Youngblood. He did not seem very concerned about the polygraph. As he escorted me to the elevator to leave the building, he remarked in passing, "You just pucker up your asshole." At the time, I did not understand what he meant.

After having been labelled a spy by one polygrapher and accused of employing "countermeasures" by another, I realized I needed to learn more about polygraphy.

I read the first edition of Professor David Thoreson Lykken's A Tremor in the Blood: Uses and Abuses of the Lie Detector. A second edition has since been published by Plenum Press. It is must reading for anyone who has been falsely accused based on the polygraph -- and for anyone involved in setting government employment policy.

I learned from Professor Lykken's book that the exam that SA Trimarco of the FBI administered was a standard "probable-lie control question test" and that SA Trimarco had flat out lied when he told me that he was using a "new procedure" with no "control" questions.

I also learned that my own understanding of the term "control question" was different from that of the polygrapher who had explained the polygraph to me years before I sat for SA Trimarco's polygraph exam. To an interrogator like myself, a "control question" is "one to which you already know the answer." You ask it to check if the person you're interrogating is being honest.

But in the polygrapher's parlance, a control question is one that is not pertinent to what the polygrapher really wants to get at, but which he hopes and expects will provoke a deceptive response.

The polygrapher wants the subject to lie so that he can compare the subject's physical responses measured while answering the "control" questions to responses measured while answering the "relevant" questions (in my case, the ones about espionage that really counted). If the responses to the "relevant" questions are stronger than those to the "control" questions, the subject must be lying. Or so the theory goes. If it seems overly simplistic to you, you're right. As Professor Lykken notes, "...the theory and methods of polygraphic lie detection are not rocket science, indeed, they are not science at all."

The question I was asked about drunk driving was a control question. SA Trimarco mistakenly (and I think arrogantly) assumed that I (as a soldier, I suppose) must have driven while under the influence of alcohol. He lectured me on the evils of drunk driving, and how nobody who ever drove while drunk could ever be an FBI agent. It was a determining criterion in hiring. (Curiously, he did not lecture me on the evils of espionage before hooking me up to his machine.)

Having assumed that I must have driven while intoxicated at some point in my life, the polygrapher tried to make me think that if I conceded having done so, the FBI would never hire me. He wanted me to lie.

But I answered the question about drunk driving honestly and wasn't in the least bit worried about it. I have never driven while drunk.

I find it ironic that the FBI would hire people who have driven under the influence of alcohol and then lie about it to an FBI polygrapher. Is that the kind of person you want carrying a gun and enforcing the law? That's the kind of person the FBI's pre-employment polygraph examination is designed to pass.

By the way, now that you understand the true function of the "control" questions (you're not supposed to know), you are no longer a suitable candidate for a polygraph test, even by polygraphy's own simplistic theory. But that doesn't mean that if your job requires polygraph screening, you'll be exempted if you admit your knowledge. When I asked the president of the American Polygraph Association how polygraphers are to handle those who admit to knowing the truth about the "control" questions, he declined to provide a responsive answer. But clearly, if the polygraph community were to begin routinely granting waivers to those who admit such knowledge, the news would quickly spread, and the whole polygraph house of cards would soon collapse.

I also learned about polygraph countermeasures -- means by which anyone can pass the polygraph, whether or not one is telling the truth with regard to the relevant questions. Such techniques include contracting the anal sphincter muscle when answering the "control" questions. That's what Det. Bill F. had meant with the cryptic remark, "You just pucker up your asshole."

Aldrich Ames, the CIA agent whose treachery cost the lives of US intelligence assets abroad, had easily "passed" his counterintelligence polygraph exams. He was only one of many spies who beat the polygraph. Those publicly known to have done so include Karel Frantisek Köcher (aka Karl Koecher), Larry Wu-tai Chin, and Ana Belen Montes.

Det. Bill F. of the LAPD eventually called me and told me that he had been asked to ask me for my resignation, based solely on the polygraph. On 15 January 1996, I sent the following letter to then LAPD Chief Willie Williams by certified mail:

                                               15 January 1996

Dear Chief Williams,

In late 1994, I began the process of becoming a Technical
Reservist in the Los Angeles Police Department's Anti-Terrorist
Division. Detectives Bill F. and John R. led me through
the process.

I had placed my language (Arabic and Persian) and intelligence
analysis skills (I am an Army reserve intelligence officer and
trained interrogator) at your disposal. On at least two occasions,
I have come in to Parker Center to examine Arabic-language
documents. Dets. F. and R. suggested that I would be of
more use to the Department if I were to volunteer and become a
Technical Reservist, and I readily agreed.

I filled out the required forms, was fingerprinted, and had a
background investigation including an interview with an
investigator. All went well.

Finally, I had a polygraph interview at Parker Center. A senior
polygrapher rudely and angrily accused me of employing
"countermeasures" to thwart the polygrapher.
(Specifically, I was accused of breathing unnaturally slowly).
This is simply not true. I made no effort to alter my breathing
during the polygraph examination. I answered all questions
candidly and without mental reservation or purpose of evasion.

Some weeks after my polygraph examination, Det. F. informed me
that a meeting had been held and it had been decided that I would
be retained as a Technical Reservist, despite the polygrapher's

But on Wednesday, 10 January 1996, Det. F. called me and told
me that he had been asked to call me and ask for my resignation.
He explained that a meeting had been held, and that it had been
decided that if an exception to the polygraph policy were made in
my case, then it would have to be made for everyone.

Chief Williams, I do not wish to resign my position as a Technical
Reservist with the Los Angeles Police Department. To do so would,
in my opinion, amount to an admission of some sort of guilt or

I have done nothing wrong.

If I do not enjoy your full support and confidence, then by all
means do not hesitate to dismiss me. But please send me a letter
of dismissal, stating the policy reasons behind my dismissal.


                         George W. Maschke

I want to make clear that all personnel of the Anti-Terrorist
Division, especially Det. Bill F., have accorded me the
highest degree of respect and professional courtesy.

Chief Williams never replied.

After having asked for and not received my resignation, the LAPD decided that I had never "actually" become a technical reservist (my ID card was still in Det. F.'s possession), and that my resignation or dismissal was not really necessary, after all.

Meanwhile, I had still heard nothing from the FBI. On 16 January, I sent another letter to FBI Director Louis Freeh:

                                         Tuesday, 16 January 1996

Dear Mr. Freeh,

I am an applicant for a Special Agent's position in the FBI. On 15
May 1995, I had a pre-employment polygraph interview at the Los
Angeles Field Office.

The polygrapher, SA Jack Trimarco, told me that I was being
deceptive, and that the recordings would be sent to Washington for
an "expedited" review, after which I would be contacted
and possibly re-polygraphed.

In June of last year, I wrote you a letter asking that I be given
the opportunity to clear myself of the polygrapher's accusations.
I have not received a response from you, and fear that my original
letter did not reach you. Thus I am writing again, and enclosing a
copy of my original correspondence.

Eight months have elapsed since my polygraph interview, and I have
yet to hear from anyone in the FBI regarding the status of my
application. I have received no response to a letter I wrote to
the chief of recruitment at the Los Angeles Field Office, SSA
Michael Hilliard.

I wish to reaffirm to you my sincere desire to serve my country as
a FBI Special Agent. I did not deceive the polygrapher or anyone
else in the FBI. I am eager for the opportunity to remove any
doubts about my integrity.


                          George W. Maschke
                          1LT, Military Intelligence

Letter to you dated 5 June 1995
Letter of Appreciation from you dated 21 March 1994
Letter of Appreciation from FBI Director William S. Sessions dated 14
November 1991
Letter to SSA Michael Hilliard dated 7 December 1995

Again, Director Freeh never replied.

But in March, Deputy Assistant Director James A. Oppy wrote me apologizing for the delay in responding and stating:

Although your desire to become affiliated with this Bureau is appreciated, we are unable to further process your application based on the results of your polygraph examination. As you are aware, all applicants for FBI employment must successfully pass a pre-employment polygraph examination. The results of your examination were not within acceptable parameters.

This was the FBI's polite way of telling me to go to hell. All my honorable service to my country counted for nothing, and I would not be granted any opportunity to clear my name. Because a man with a machine who had just met me the same day concluded that I am some sort of spy. No appeal.

Several years later, I later requested all FBI files about me, including polygraph charts, under the Privacy Act. My FBI HQ file was released to me on 24 July 2001. I learned that although SA Trimarco had only asked me about counterintelligence issues during his post-test interrogation, he had in fact deemed me to have been deceptive with regard to all of the relevant questions:

Series I

  1. Has anyone directed you to seek employment with the FBI? Answer - No.
  2. Other than what you told me, have you ever been in contact with anyone from a non-U.S. Intelligence Service? Answer - No.
  3. Have you ever provided classified information to any unauthorized individuals? Answer - No.

Series II

  1. Have you ever sold any illegal drugs? Answer - No.
  2. Have you ever used any illegal drugs? Answer - No.
  3. Have you deliberately withheld any important information from your application? Answer - No.

SA Trimarco concluded, "It is the opinion of this examiner that the applicant was deceptive when responding to the listed relevant questions in Series I and Series II."

I was eager to see my polygraph charts, but in releasing my FBI HQ file, John H. Kelso, Jr., Section Chief of the Freedom of Information-Privacy Acts Section, Office of Public and Congressional Affairs, averred, "At this time, we ware [sic] unable to locate your polygraph chart. We are making every effort to locate this material. When it is located, it will be processed and released to you." But at the time of writing (Feb. 2004), I have still not received the polygraph chart that the FBI used as the basis for branding me as a liar. I would like to believe that the FBI truly is making "every effort" to find my polygraph charts. But after more than two years of waiting, it is hard to believe that the Bureau is making any good faith effort.

About the time I applied for employment with the FBI, my top secret clearance with the Army was due for a periodic review. My clearance had been administratively downgraded to secret pending review, a standard procedure, as five years had elapsed since my clearance was granted.

I was interviewed by an investigator from the Defense Investigative Service (DIS, since re-organized and renamed the Defense Security Service), but for some five years, no determination on my top secret clearance was made by the Central Clearance Facility (CCF) at Fort Meade, Maryland.

On a winter field exercise
On a winter
field exercise

After my FBI polygraph exam, I continued to serve in the Army Reserve in capacities that did not require access to top secret information and was promoted to captain. I left Special Operations Command South to join a reserve linguist company in the Los Angeles area. I served as company training officer, represented my unit at military intelligence functions, and earned and kept the trust and respect of my fellow soldiers, including all whom I told about my experience with the FBI.

In the fall of 1997, I moved overseas to work for an international organization, and was assigned to the Army's Individual Ready Reserve (IRR). Being in the IRR means that you're basically just a name on a piece of paper, someone the Army can mobilize in time of need.

In January 1999, I had another background interview, this time with an Army counterintelligence (CI) agent. I learned that the reason that it had taken so long to update my top secret clearance was that the FBI had reported derogatory information about me to the Army based on the pre-employment polygraph exam. I answered all of the CI agent's questions truthfully and in detail.

Under the Privacy Act, I later received a copy of the CI agent's report. He concluded:

Subject responded favorably regarding questions posed about his conduct (including use of alcohol or drugs), employment, school attendance, activities, associates, and personal finances. The questioning developed no criminal conduct, nor any mental problems or treatment; and the responses raised no questions of judgment or reliability. Subject's comments indicated he is loyal to the US; and he reported for himself, family, and associates no involvement in or advocacy of force to overthrow the US Government or the use of force or violence to deny others their constitutional/legal rights. Subject denied any personal knowledge of the unauthorized disclosures of classified information, the illegal transfer of US technology, or the involvement with any hostile intelligence activity directed against the US. Subject provided information about his family, activities, associates, and personal life, none of which disclosed any adverse or questionable areas indicative of his susceptibility to coercion, pressure, or blackmail to act against the US.

Subject was completely cooperative, responded to all questions, without hesitation, and expressed no reservations about the holding of a security clearance.

In August 1999, I learned that my security clearance had been upgraded to interim top secret, and I enrolled in the correspondence portion of the U.S. Army's Reserve Component Military Intelligence Officer Advanced Course (MIOAC). Because the residency phase of this course (at Ft. Huachuca) requires a top secret clearance and must be completed in a timely manner following the correspondence phase, I had delayed starting the advanced course.

Meanwhile, I had begun to speak publicly on polygraph matters. I took to heart the words of General George Washington, who wrote that "when we assumed the soldier, we did not lay aside the citizen." Through the website, I had discovered that many others have been (and continue to be) being falsely branded as liars by the polygraph. I felt compelled to publicly share my polygraph experience, and in July 1999 I wrote an initial version of this statement under the pseudonym "Captain Jones" for posting on I also began researching polygraphy in earnest, and in December 1999, wrote an article titled, "The Lying Game: National Security and the Test for Espionage and Sabotage" that was first published on the website of the Federation of American Scientists and is now available on

On 18 September 2000, Gino Scalabrini and I co-founded and published The Lie Behind the Lie Detector, a free e-book with chapters on polygraph validity, policy, procedure, and countermeasures. We included information on countermeasures not to help liars beat the system, but to provide the truthful with a means of protecting themselves against the random error associated with an invalid test.

Some three months later, on 13 December 2000, the Army's Central Clearance Facility moved to revoke my security clearance. Through a Privacy Act request, I learned that Paul J. Travers, the CCF adjudicator who made the decision to revoke my security clearance, had written in a memorandum dated 11 November 2000, "...subject failed his FBI applicant polygraph regarding the issues of foreign contacts, unauthorized disclosure of classified information and drug use." He went on to speculate, "Could subject be the operative in an international spy ring or a courier for a drug cartel?"

Travers was uncertain whether to revoke or grant my clearance, noting, "This is one of those cases that due to the fact subject is in the inactive reserves, we have information gaps." But rather than filling such supposed "information gaps" with facts by conducting further investigation to determine whether I was a spy or narcotrafficer, Travers instead suggested...another polygraph! Indeed, a handwritten marginal note on Travers' typed memo confirms, "Check w/Linda; go w/polygraph."

CCF then contacted the 902nd Military Intelligence Group's polygraph section. On 22 November 2000, a polygrapher from the 902nd MI Group who used the code number 612 in lieu of his/her real name (spooky, huh?) wrote in a memorandum of conversation:

Met with POC to determine whether a CI-polygraph could be administered to Subject. Per POC, Subject is a very vocal anti-poly person, including having a web site, using the name Captain Jones. He also regularly uses Chat Rooms to express his views and tells all how to defeat a poly. While the CI issues are pertinent for a poly, POC is uncertain whether his boss would want to try and poly subject. Will call later with the web site and the answer on poly.

With 616, found one web site. Do not know if it is the only one. Printed same.

A printout of the original version of this statement (then written under the pseudonym "Captain Jones") was attached to this memo. I had wittingly included enough specific detail that I could be identified as the author if anyone in government really wanted to find out. Apparently someone in the 902nd MI Group polygraph section did and had.

Five days later, on 27 November 2000, polygraph operator 612 of the 902nd MI Poly Section wrote a follow-up memo stating:

Per POC's boss, they will not do the poly on subject. It is too hot of a potato and they feel a no-win scenario because of the potential to find it on the Internet and subject's vehement attitude towards polys.

Discuss with 600 on 28 Nov 00.

While the 902nd MI's polygraph section opined that "the issues are pertinent for a poly" but that polygraphing me would be "too hot of a potato," the Defense Security Service's polygraph division (S32) had a completely opposite view. In a memorandum to "Janet" dated 30 October 2000, acting chief Brock W. Butterfield had written:

Per your request, I have reviewed this case to determine if sufficient information was developed upon which to construct a polygraph examination. It does not appear that specific allegations have been provided by the other government agency (OGA) [that is, the FBI] upon which to recommend the conduct of a DSS polygraph examination. Subject's failure of the OGA polygraph examination was in the area of pre-employment screening. DSS conducts specific issue polygraph examinations to resolve adjudicatively significant issues that have been corroborated. That does not appear to be the case with this Subject. Based on what has been presented, it seems unlikely that we will receive any specific allegations. Thus, a DSS polygraph examination appears inappropriate.

With DSS thinking a polygraph inappropriate and the 902nd MI Group thinking it was indeed appropriate, but that I was "too hot of a potato," Paul Travers of CCF, who had been prepared to decide whether to grant or revoke my security clearance based on the outcome a polygraph test, finally decided to revoke it.

Unable to complete the Military Intelligence Officer Advanced Course, the residency phase of which requires a top secret clearance, I was ineligible for promotion from captain to major. After I had been twice passed over for promotion, the U.S. Army Reserve notified me that I would be mandatorily (but honorably) discharged as of 1 February 2004.

The FBI's false accusation against me has cost me a career in the FBI, my position as a volunteer Technical Reservist in the Los Angeles Police Department, and ultimately cut short my career as a U.S. Army Reserve officer.

Had I not chosen to exercise my First Amendment right to speak publicly on polygraph matters, I might today be serving with U.S. forces in the war on terror: the 902nd MI Group's polygraphers would not have judged me to be "too hot of a potato," and I might well have passed their polygraph and kept my security clearance.

But I have few regrets about having spoken out. In April 2001, I had the honor of speaking before the National Academy of Sciences' Committee to Review the Scientific Evidence on the Polygraph, and I find it gratifying that their final report, The Polygraph and Lie Detection, confirms's argument that polygraph screening has no scientific basis and that a misplaced reliance on it poses a danger to national security objectives. (It is deplorable that the U.S. Government has willfully ignored the conclusions of this report.) I've also spoken with numerous reporters, including Scott Pelley of CBS 60 Minutes II, who interviewed me and others for the story "Final Exam." In addition, my involvement in the antipolygraph effort has introduced me to some of the most conscientious people I know, people whom I am honored to count as friends. I like to think that by working to expose polygraph "testing" for the pseudoscientific quackery that it is, I am perhaps making as significant a contribution to my country as I might have made had I been allowed to continue in government service.

I am not a spy. I have not betrayed the trust that my government placed in me. But I feel that my government has betrayed my trust -- and that of every citizen whose honesty and integrity it pretends to assess through the junk science of polygraph screening.

For discussion, see the message board thread, Too Hot of a Potato.