Polygraph Experience: Clearly Inconsistent Assessments
For many years now, I have dreamed of becoming an analyst for one of the big, 3-letter agencies. To this end, I have applied time and again to all of the agencies. Finally, after several advanced university degrees and considerable work experience, I began to "get the calls." But before I expound upon my experiences with the chair, and the machine - some background information seems appropriate. How did I get there? Why? What could I offer?
I grew up speaking 2 Eastern European languages. By age 21, I was able to speak most European languages at a 3 or above (see ILR for ratings). In college, I majored in more foreign languages and area studies, learning another 4 languages to the 1+ or 2 level. Upon graduation, I took a job overseas, and learned another 2 languages during my 1.5 years stay there. Through more travel and living overseas, I learned more languages. By the time I was 28, I had military experience, spoke 15 foreign languages (not all at 3 or higher, but all at 1 or higher), had lived abroad, and had obtained 2 advanced degrees in scientific disciplines, to complement my foreign language/foreign area studies degree. At 28, I decided to get yet another advanced degree in International Relations. By 31, I had completed this degree as well.
Why all this education one might logically ask? Simple. I wanted to work as an analyst or operations officer for one of the IC members who typically have needs for technically oriented, political scientist type, polyglots. I felt that in lieu of an ivy league education, I needed much more experience to be competitive.
I cannot count the days I imagined working on the front-lines or in the back office, applying my myriad talents to the greater good of national security. The money I made in technology was amazing, but the work was totally unfulfilling. I knew that the money would be low at one of the agencies, but this meant little to me. Then 9/11 happened. I felt as though I was in prime position to help out, and join the war on terror by working for the Intelligence Community. As a patriotic citizen, I felt it my duty to do what I could, using the God-granted skills that I possess to do my part. As a speaker of languages like Russian, Arabic and Persian (Farsi), and as a person who had a strong math, science and foreign policy background I felt that I had a unique skillset, and the agencies would be calling me every week to help them out. Of course, this assessment was totally naïve.
So I pressed on. I applied to the big four: FBI, NSA, CIA and DIA. I never heard from the NSA or FBI, but had positive responses for the DIA and CIA. I had experience with obtaining and maintaining security clearances through various corporate jobs that I had taken along the way, so I had no concerns about this aspect of the process. Since age 18, I always wanted to be in the intelligence community, so I took measures to live a good life and stay out of trouble. Aside from experimental drug use in college, and a few speeding violations, my record was clean. The US gov't agreed. They had already granted me S, TS and TS/SCI clearances, so there was a clear precedent for an easy and problem free investigative and clearance granting process. For that matter, I had even served in the US military, and had an honorable discharge. Again, I was naïve in my assessment of this situation.
Why? My clearances were high-level, however none of them had ever required a lifestyle polygraph. And this would become the ultimate stumbling block for my efforts to assist with US national security. I arrived at my CIA polygraph promptly, and was dressed appropriately for the occasion. I met my polygrapher, and he did the usual "I'm your new friend, let's get acquainted" song and dance. I had already "passed" a CI poly, so the only remaining task to get me the job of my long-term dreams was the lifestyle poly. Before strapping me into the chair, he explained to me the nature of the exam, and what to expect, and then he started with the "stim-test" and the "acquaintance-test." He presented me with the numbers test, told me to lie, then ran the charts. He was very positive at this point ñ proclaimed that I had strong reactions to lying (laying the groundwork for the interrogation that would come soon). He explained to me that I was a highly qualified candidate, and that I obviously had the skills needed for the agency, and that I would be an asset to the team to which I was assigned. He smiled a lot and reassured me that this was just a minor detail, and that the main purpose of the exam was to "establish my credibility."
He then asked me to share with him any concerns that I had about the test. I did ñ I explained that I was nervous and that I really wanted the job, so I was looking forward to finishing this task. Both admissions were mistakes. I should have kept my mouth shut. Since I had nothing in my past to be overly concerned about, I just figured I would press onward, and explained that there was nothing in my past that was derogatory, and that my current TS/SCI is a testament to this fact. So the test began, as all polygraphs do ñ by affixing and attaching the sensors. I immediately noticed the extreme pressure in my left arm from the blood pressure cuff ñ it was unbearable, but as I felt my hand go numb, and saw it turn purple, I said nothing. Prepared myself to answer his questions honestly and accurately. He asked me only 3 relevant questions:
- "Did you intentionally misrepresent yourself on any of the forms you filed?"
- "Have you ever committed a violent crime as I described it at the beginning of the session?"
- "Have you ever been involved in or party to an armed robbery?"
He mixed these questions with probable-lie control questions such as: "Did you ever steal anything from an employer?" and "Is there anything in your background that you are afraid that our investigator might find out?" as well as irrelevant questions like: "Is this the month of January?" "Are we in the United States?" etc.
He ran my charts twice, assuring me that this was SOP, and then left the room for 30 minutes. When he returned, he was extremely bellicose and said "You are not doing well on this exam at all. In fact, it appears that you have committed a violent crime since your eighteenth birthday, because the machine never lies and you had strong reactions to this question both times." Then I knew I was done. Since I have never committed even a minor crime (like shoplifting), much less a serious crime, I was not sure how to proceed. For two hours, he screamed at me "I think you are hiding something from me. I think you have committed a violent crime, and are not reporting it to me."
After I reiterated my experimental drug use, and speeding violations, he said: "No, this is not right. You are deceiving me, because the machine said that you have committed a violent crime, so why don't you just tell me what you did, and we can get on with this test and get you one step closer to the job of your dreams. Remember, nothing leaves this room, and your secrets are safe with me. But in order to proceed with the test, you need to tell me the violent crime that you were either involved in or committed." After 1 hour, I began to get agitated and irritated. I asked to see the empirical evidence, and for an explanation of the charts that "prove" this absolutely inaccurate accusation.
I then attempted to reason with my polygrapher ñ I said: "OK, you have my LOC (Letter of Clearance) in front of you, you therefore are fully aware that I have already obtained a TS/SCI, and that my record is clean. Logically then, you cannot accuse me of such a horrible crime." I said furthermore, "since this is the career I have always wanted, you should be able to logically deduce that I would not commit a crime, simply because I understand the rigorous selection procedures for this agency."
He then got visibly agitated: "You cannot use logic to get out of this exam. You have to confess to me the crime you committed, and you have to do it soon, if you wish to be invited back for another re-examination I think with your computer skills you have robbed a bank or viewed pornography, and that you are lying to me about it. The CIA does not want folks like yourself working for them. You are not suitable for the caliber of employee they seek."
Laughing, I explained that what he had just said made no sense whatsoever, and that he should contact my neighbors right now, and call the other clearance granting agency to verify my veracity in my statements. I should add that my TS/SCI was granted on November 1, 2006 ñ so it is not even 3 months old!!! Frustrated, he left the room for 20 minutes. When he returned, he explained, "I have reviewed your charts with my colleagues, and there is clearly evidence of deception. You have blown the opportunity of a lifetime simply because you will not tell me the truth, and confess to the violent crime that you have committed. I am not going to invite you back for another polygraph, and your chart has been marked DI for Deception Indicated. You will therefore not be able to proceed with the security screening for the CIA. All you had to do was to tell me what it was that you did, and we could have put this behind us, but instead you chose to lie. I hope you realize the seriousness of what you have done here today."
I proceed to go off on the polygrapher. I explained to him the pure folly of polygraphy, and how science has no respect for the art or the practitioners of the art, and that he was lying to me. I then turned toward the two-way mirror and remarked "This is why we have a crisis with Arabic and Farsi speakers in this country. It is because you like many agencies place all of your faith in this ridiculous assessment tool. All I ever wanted to do was help, all I ever wanted to do was to apply my talents to the war on terror, and all I wanted to do was serve my country in a way that seemed most appropriate for my age, experience level and education. Shame on you, and your process."
So despite being completely truthful, and trying to be nice and reason with the polygrapher, I still was not allowed to proceed to the next step. For that matter, I was not even offered a second chance. I failed the test, and I was telling the truth, the whole time about everything!!!
Then I turned toward the polygrapher, and explained to him he had absolutely no right to interrogate me for the length of time he did over what are likely questionable "results" on the charts, and that I would be reporting his behavior and unnecessary badgering to my congressman, and anybody else who would listen. I further told him that I wished nothing but bad luck for him and his pitiful career. He then asked me to leave, in a very loud tone. Throwing off the polygraph gear, and accidentally dumping my bottle of water on his desk, I left. I then called my POC and self-selected myself out of the process, deciding that NO job in the world is worth this aggravation. I will never take a polygraph again, and like so many other posters here, was a highly qualified candidate for this line of work. The polygrapher was out of line, and exam proves nothing, and there is nothing I or anybody who subjects themselves to the test can do, but deal with the outcome.
Please don't read this as a polemic against anything except the polygraph and the polygraph process. It most certainly is not. Instead use this as a cautionary tale that even if you tell the truth 100%, and even if you have the necessary patriotic zeal, you can still be blocked from the job of your dreams by the usage of this antiquated evaluation method. I am still very patriotic, and still want to help - only I am not sure how to do so now. I will likely keep teaching, and hopefully by being an educator, I can do my bit of good for the greater good of US national security.