Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Polygraph screening in the news

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Polygraphs, as is well known and is recognized by the courts, is unreliable. And yet many agencies love to use them, and particularly seem to dote on asking intimate personal questions whose relationship to the job is tenuous as best. McClatchy has a clutch of stories on the subject today, all worth perusing:

Feds expand polygraph screening, often seeking intimate facts begins:

She was one of the brightest students at a leading university when the Central Intelligence Agency offered her a job as a counter-terrorism analyst. But first, the 19-year-old was warned, she had to undergo a polygraph test to determine whether she could be trusted.

Instead of scrutinizing her ability to guard government secrets, polygraphers asked about her reported rape and miscarriage, the woman recalled. Over at least eight hours in three separate sessions, polygraphers repeatedy demanded to know her innermost thoughts, even after she started sobbing in shame.

“At one point, one of the polygraphers said to me, ‘Turn on the light inside so I can see,’ ” said the woman, who asked that her name be withheld. “I was amazed at how creepy and invasive the whole process was.”

Last year, more than 73,000 Americans across the country submitted to polygraph tests to get or keep jobs with the federal government, although such screening is mostly banned in the private sector and widely denounced by scientists. Many of the screenings probably aren’t as harsh as the CIA applicant described, but polygraphers at a growing number of U.S. agencies are asking employees and applicants questions about their personal lives and private thoughts in the name of protecting the country from spies, terrorists or corrupt law enforcement officers. . .

As polygraph screening flourishes, critics say oversight abandoned begins:

For more than three decades, CIA polygraphers collected what they hoped would be damning evidence that Michael Pillsbury should be barred from seeing government secrets.

As the dossier on him grew, the China expert nonetheless advised three Republican presidents, got countless security clearances, was a top defense official under President George W. Bush and did sensitive work for the CIA.

The extent of the allegations against him finally came spilling out two years ago, when Pillsbury discovered that he was accused of making multiple confessions during polygraph tests that he later said he’d never made. When he demanded to refute the accusations, CIA security officials politely demurred. Agency officials informed his attorneys that the constitutional right to due process didn’t apply to polygraph screening.

“Polygraphers have no accountability,” Pillsbury wrote this week in a letter to James Clapper, the director of national intelligence. “This is wrong and needs to be corrected.” . . .

Federal polygraph programs are secret even to researchers begins:

It’s one of the best-kept secrets in the federal government.

Information about polygraph screening is so guarded by the agencies that use it that job applicants who are tested are urged not to tell anyone. The news media are denied basic information, such as how many government employees are screened, because it’s “sensitive” and could jeopardize national security.

Researchers are told they can’t get studies about how it works. Even the National Academies, the organization set up to advise the federal government on scientific matters, faced stiff resistance when it reviewed polygraph testing. As a result, the academies compared the polygraph profession to the “priesthood keeping its secrets in order to keep its power.”

“It’s a siege mentality,” acknowledged Gordon Barland, a retired federal polygraph researcher who supports polygraph screening but also pushed for greater transparency on some of the data. . . .

U.S. polygraphers questioned accuracy of tests on detainees overseas begins:

he U.S. military conducted hundreds of polygraph tests on detainees in Iraq and Afghanistan despite doubts about whether innocent civilians could be accurately separated from accused terrorists, documents obtained by McClatchy show.

The Air Force alone tested more than 1,000 detainees in Iraq to determine whether they were involved in terrorist attacks on U.S. military personnel or whether they should be released. As the screening was under way, polygraphers voiced concerns about the results, in part because they were posing questions through interpreters in a war-torn country.

“I have serious questions as to the accuracy of exams done in this environment,” wrote one polygrapher who was involved in 240 of the tests over two deployments. “I think the decision was made to contribute to the war effort . . . with little regard to the problems associated with doing these.”

The polygraphers’ observations from 2004 to 2008 offer yet another example of the U.S. military’s controversial detainee-interrogation policies overseas in the wake of 9/11. Their experiences also raise broader questions about the growing use of polygraph abroad – often with the encouragement of the U.S. government. . .

These stories show a government out of control. The use of polygraphs should be abandoned. Certainly they did nothing to catch (say) Robert Hanssen or Aldrich Ames.

Written by LeisureGuy

6 December 2012 at 9:22 am

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