Tuesday, January 02, 2007


Polygraphs and Their Effect on College Recruiting at LANL

[The following is from an undergrad, who wishes to remain anonymous. Brad Holian sent it on to yours truly, -Pat.]


I was happy to read about your stand against mandatory polygraph examination at LANL. It resonated very personally with me.

I'm a physics undergrad student at [a prestigious California school], but this upcoming summer, I was considering interning at the CIA. I applied in June on a whim, and got a conditional offer of employment in about August after a phone interview and a bunch of paperwork. In October, they flew me up to Washington to do all their screening for clearance, most of which seemed to revolve around the lengthy polygraph examinations. I was greatly opposed to needing to do that, as I've long considered them to be pseudoscientific hoopla.

When it came time for me to have my examination, it began with a long discussion with the examiner. He asked me what I knew about the polygraph, and I explained what I knew about it's operation...how in monitored breathing rate, skin conductance...etc. I then expressed my belief that there was little to no evidence for a strong correlation between their tests and truthfulness. I also noted that it couldn't be used in a court of law, and that I thought it was strange it was used in screening by the CIA. He reassured me that he'd had a lot of training and all sorts of professional certifications, and that there was hard science backing the whole thing.

After he ran the test a couple times, he said that I wasn't passing all of the questions. He asked me which questions stood out in my mind. I said, "have no clue; one of the controls made me feel kind of funny." He immediately became suspicious, and pressed me as to where I'd learned the term "control," as if it were unequivocal proof I was a spy trained to crack his magic machine. He pressed me as to whether I'd researched the polygraph in preparation for the test. I said I'd certainly read about how it worked in the past, and reiterated my skepticism in its methods. He warned that he doesn't even bother to waste his time with people who refuse to be cooperative.

At this point, I'd become very frustrated. He tested me once more, and then interrogated me for about an hour. There was nothing more I felt I needed to reveal to him. I told him that it was all just a psychological tactic, and they might as well use "good cop, bad cop" as they were both conceived for the same thing. He soon afterwards said we were finished. As a result, they asked me to retake the polygraph a second time. At this point, I'd already been interrogated for four hours, and was barely willing to go along with it. I had come to find the technique insulting.

The second examiner, whom had obviously been informed of my performance the previous day, noted my background in physics, said stuff to the effect of I'm sure your a pretty sharp guy and all that sort of banter. He gave me a pep talk on why I should have trust in their technique, how it had been perfected for decades, and mentioned they were doing me a favor by giving me a second chance. The second time went no better, and I left exhausted and dreadfully unhappy.

A couple weeks ago I got a letter from them informing me that my offer of employment had been rescinded, I would assume because of how I acted at the polygraph. I wasn't terribly unhappy, as I'd already decided I'd rather do physics this summer than work for them, and I'd already begun looking for other summer programs. I can understand how irritating it must be to be forced to do this to do science.

Thanks and I wish you luck.
-Anonymous Undergrad

Rule #1 of polygraphing. The interrogators want you to be very scared of them. If you remember nothing else about the poly, remember this. It's part of how this whole scheme seems to works. When you calmly inform them you've looked into it and think it's all a bunch of hooey, they'll feel insulted and may very well target you as an "uncooperative subject" no matter how closely you subsequently follow all of their directions.

In addition to wanting you to be scared shit-less when you walk through the door, they usually imply to you during the test that you're somehow "doing it wrong". They do this to put you on edge so that they can get what they believe to be a better body reading. One frequent ploy is to inform you (rather sternly) that your breathing is somehow either too fast or too slow. It doesn't really matter which one it is. They'll make it up. It's all part of a ploy to make you feel nervous -- that you're somehow screwing up the test and thus, bad things will happen to you.

Best advice I can give anyone who goes through all this Black Magic mumbo-jumbo is to: (1) tell them you know almost nothing about it, but it's all very interesting, and you've seen how they use it to catch many bad guys on shows like CSI (i.e., fake interest), (2) don't ever fall prey to their attempts to make you nervous and think you are somehow "blowing it", (3) remember, you don't have to explain away anything on the charts -- that's their impossible task.

Polygraphing is worse than worthless for wide-scale screening. The honest practitioners will tell you this. They bad ones won't. It's particularly useless when used to screen highly intelligent people like scientist. It does have some validity in criminal cases when the interrogator constructs the questions very carefully and has secret knowledge of some evidence that would normally result in no reaction with someone who was not at the crime scene.

There are some decent practitioners of the craft, but they tend to work on criminal cases. Most of your common grade military-trained polygraphers used in wide-scale government screening are very sensitive to criticism, and they'll virulently attack anyone who questions the validity of their craft. They seem to hold a delusional belief that they can somehow see into the soul of an individual. Note that they won't just be looking at the transducer readings, either. Your polygrapher (and possibly others individuals watching via camera) will be closely observing your body language during the whole testing procedure.

If required to take the test, go in with no fear, knowing that a machine that works as a "lie detector" does not currently exist. It's unfortunately that many decent, upright individuals who could have done great thing in the service or their country are stopped by a group of practitioners who are "trained" in a mostly fraudulent craft. Every rigorous scientific study has shown that use of the polygraph for wide-scale screening is a complete waste of money. The time and money blown on the polygraph testing could have been employed to do a much more rigorous background check (i.e., looking closely at finances, interviewing more friends, checking more carefully for drug, alcohol, or sex addictions, etc).
This story seems to indicate that polygraphy artificially selects against the socially astute and for the gullible. People who know when they are being played are effectively filtered out of the CIA employment pipeline. Considering that one of the jobs of the CIA is to determine whether the Iraqi dissidents talking to them really have valid information or are just advancing a sectarian grudge, this doesn't seem to have served the national interest very well at all.
Over 15,000 hits now. This blog is starting to get some serious traction! And the quality of many of the posts is going up. Keep up the good work, my good dog. Well done.
The Polygraph is nothing more than carnival side show prop, being used to scare the crap out of the unsuspecting. Research the polygraph and find all the sites with information on countermeasures and read all the free stuff out there. Wikihow has a great online book, as does Antipolygraph.org. Both being outstanding places to debunk this piece of garbage and its usage.
Sounds like the polygraph has served as an efficient gate-keeper to help fill our US intelligence agencies with a bland work force of colorless 'pod-people' who have great difficulty thinking outside of the box. I sense a cause-and-effect between this situation and the events of 911. Perhaps it time to re-think the important qualities necessary in a person whose is tasked with being able to out-think an evil adversary.

Do foreign intelligence agencies also base their hiring decisions on the flimsy evidence of the "lie detector"? Wouldn't scaring potential employees with electric cattle prods work just as well, or maybe even better? How do the Brits handle their vetting process?
As a polygraph examiner, it's been my experience that those people who are most against the use of the polygraph are the very people who are hiding something illegal in their background. I think the polygraph needs more widespread use, not less. If every child in high school was polygraphed, think of all the problems we would alleviate in our society. And remember, no one has yet to prove that the polygraph doesn't work.
Hey, Mr. "Polygraph Examinator"! I smell a rat here. I think you're having us all on. I bet you think that EVERYONE has something illegal to hide! ... Is that why you signed your name "Anonymous"? What have YOU got to hide?

-Pat (Nothing to Hide, except fur)
Hey Mr Polygrapher,

Get a clue, you need 3 things to happen in your polygraph session to be successful.

1. Subject must have Fear & Anxiety. This is overcome with knowlege and lack of fear.

2. Subject must believe that the polygraph can detect deception. Which it can't. Reading and becoming polygraph educated ends this nonsense. Also knowing that your pre-test / sideshow song and dance is just that, A load of garbage. Designed to get the right mental attitude and increase the anxiety level. Your accuracy rates of course are self quoted. No where is there any real tests proving your pseudo-science. None at least your willing to publish to real scientific rigor.

3. There must be consequences for refusal or failure. Real scientists and engineers have no fear of your machine. As we have no problems getting other jobs.

Again get a clue, educated and trained people will not tolerate being tested for any reason. Unless they are spineless cretins without the thoughts capable to see the charade.
If undergrads object to the polygraph, wonder how they feel about random drug testing, on strike your out?
DOE obviously doesn't think it needs bright young people or bright old people for that matter.
Dear 01/03 at 11:53 PM,

What about the Ouija Board? No one has ever proven that it doesn't work. You have it all backwards. You can't prove a negative.

Before ruining people's lives and careers, the technology should be proven beyond a shadow of a doubt.

Polygraphs are bunk. No major US spy has been caught via polygraphs. Get educated.
I'm a little confused. Isn't it the government that states what the requirements are for having a security clearance? It is not a right but a privilege to have a security clearance. Like a driver's license. If Uncle Sam says do A this week, we should do A. If next week they come up with something else, we do something else. I have had a polygraph exam with DOE and it was pretty straight forward. No one tried to intimidate me or put the fear of God in me. They explained how this thing works, what they were going to do and what I needed to do. An hour and a half later I was on my way. I work with other people that have had the same experience. Of course you are going to have those that do not get through the first time. They go back on a different date. Just for the record, polygraph has caught spies and others that were doing damage to the U.S. government.
So, "1/09/2007 6:15 AM": You're not just "a little confused." You're delusional. There have been no spies caught by random polygraph tests.

Moreover, the distinction, for morons like yourself, between forensic-based polygraphs (not 'lie-detector' tests), where the investigator knows something about a CRIME scene that only the criminal him/herself would know, and a blind-ass fishing expedition, is so great that you should take the electrodes and ... Nah, you're probably a little numb in that area.
To: Anonymous : 1/09/2007 6:15 AM

Your post only proves that your a non thinking lemming who will follow the rest of the lemmings over the cliff. The polygraph is invalid in all circumstances and is nothing more than a imtimidation tool used to keep the masses in line. It has never caught a spy. Please post your information if you have any. I doubt you do. And real spies do not worry about polygraphs because they know how to beat it or they know what a piece of garbage the polygraph really is, and really have no fear of it. Security wants you to be worried period. Lets see how much work gets done at LANL when all the senior scientists quit and move on. Then how many truly gifted grads want to come here and work. All will be gone in a blink of an eye. RIP LANL !!!
Read what Aldrich Ames (spy in the CIA who passed many polygraphs) has to say about this issue:


You will find it quite interesting.

Drug testing on the other hand is accurate, so I see no reason to connect drug testing with polygraphing. They are completely different issues.
On Novermber 15, 1996 an FBI Special Agent named Michael Longergan signed an affidavit in application for multiple search warrants of suspected double agent Harold James Nicholson. Mr. Nicholson was a former Chief of Station and at the time a Branch Chief in the Counterterrorism Center, Directorate of Operations, CIA Headquarters in Langley, VA.

Below is an excerpt from that affidavit:

10. On or about October 16, 1995, and October 20, 1995, NICHOLSON underwent polygraph examinations administered by CIA polygraphers as part of his routine security update. A computerized review the examination results indicated a .97 (out of 1.0) probability of deception on two questions: (1) Are you hiding involvement with a Foreign Intelligence Service? and (2) Have you had unauthorized contact with a Foreign Intelligence Service? During one of the examinations, a CIA polygrapher deemed NICHOLSON's response "inconclusive" to the following question: "Are you concealing contact with any Foreign Nationals?"

11. On or about December 4, 1995, NICHOLSON underwent a third polygraph examination administered by a CIA polygrapher. A computerized review of the examination revealed an .88 probability of deception on the following questions: (1) Since 1990, have you had contact with a Foreign Intelligence Service that you are trying to hide from the CIA? and (2) Are you trying to hide any contact with a Foreign Intelligence Service since 1990? The CIA examiner noted that NICHOLSON appeared to be trying to manipulate the test by taking deep breaths on the control questions, which stopped after a verbal warning.

The use of polygraph was the proximate cause of the subsequent investigation which revealed in the affidavit:

2. As more fully described below, HAROLD JAMES NICHOLSON, an American citizen and employee of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), has been acting clandestinely, corruptly and illegally as an agent of the Russian Federation foreign intelligence service, Sluzhba Vneshney Razvedki Rossii, commonly referred to within the U.S. intelligence community as SVRR. The SVRR is the direct successor to the Committee for State Security of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (hereafter USSR), known as the KGB. By his actions, NICHOLSON has committed violations of 18 U.S.C. ยง 794(a) and (c), that is, with reason to believe that it would be used to the injury of the United States and the advantage of a foreign nation, he has unlawfully and knowingly conspired to communicate, transmit and deliver to representatives of a foreign government, specifically the Russian Federation, information relating to the national defense of the United States. The investigation reveals that the Russian Federation has paid NICHOLSON over $100,000 since June, 1994 for his unlawful acts.

In 1997 Nicholson was convicted and sentenced to 23 years in prison.

While the polygraph may be inaccurate in many cases, and certainly no scientific basis can be made for its accuracy, the statement that "it has never caught a spy" is false. A more accurate statement may be that a polygraph alone has never convicted a spy. Just a bit of clarification.
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