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Statement of Jeffrey H. Smith
before the
Senate Judiciary Committee

April 25, 2001

Mr. Chairman, it is a pleasure to appear before the Committee this morning, and I commend you for convening a hearing on this extremely important subject.

The arrest of Robert Hanssen proved, once again, that no organization of this government is immune from espionage or treachery. Seven years ago, the arrest of Aldrich Ames sent a shock wave through the CIA. The recent arrest of Hanssen has done the same to the Bureau. Despite the pressure we all feel to respond quickly in order to prevent future counterintelligence breaches, it is important for us to learn the right lessons from both the Ames and Hanssen cases. In this regard, I commend you, Mr. Chairman, Senator Specter and the other members of this Committee for the leadership you are showing with respect to counterintelligence matters and for your desire to explore the complex policy and technical issues related to the use of the polygraph for counterintelligence purposes.

I was privileged to serve as Chairman of the Joint Security Commission created by then-Secretary of Defense Les Aspen and Director of Central Intelligence Jim Woolsey in 1993 and 1994 to look at the security procedures of the government. Our final report made many recommendations, including several focused on counterintelligence and the polygraph. When Ames was arrested, Director Woolsey asked me to chair a special panel that looked at what went wrong in the Ames case. For that purpose, former Secretary of Defense Harold Brown and former National Security Adviser General Brent Scowcroft joined our Commission. Our review, as well as others in the Executive Branch and Congress, led to a number of important changes. I believe these efforts have produced marked improvement in counterintelligence. Probably the most important change was vastly better cooperation between the FBI and CIA. But the Hanssen case shows how far we still have to go.

Our intelligence agencies are our first line of defense– our early warning system. Their most important job, at the end of the day, is to ensure there are no more Pearl Harbors. They must also provide unvarnished analysis to the President, Congress and other policymakers. It is imperative that their analysis be unaffected by policy considerations. On occasion, they are also required to carry out dangerous covert actions to achieve a national objective.

In all roles– collection, analysis, and operations– the integrity of the individual officer is the single most important quality he or she must possess. Officers must maintain that integrity in a world of secrecy and deception. Secrecy and deception are integral aspects of intelligence and counterintelligence activities. It is absolutely imperative for intelligence officers, whether they be at the CIA, in the military services, or at the FBI, to maintain their ethical and moral bearings so that they can be scrupulously honest when dealing with their colleagues, conducting their analysis, and engaging in operations. In all professions integrity is important, but in few professions is integrity more critical than in the fields of intelligence and law enforcement. When an officer fails to maintain his or her integrity or loses his or her bearings, the consequences can be disastrous– as happened with Aldrich Ames and Robert Hanssen.

Counterintelligence must identify officers who fail to maintain integrity or who have lost their bearings before they cause disastrous consequences. Counterintelligence is very hard work in any society – and it is especially hard work in a democratic society. We are an open society and correctly pride ourselves on being a trusting people. We have a healthy suspicion of authority, and we are leery of secrecy and uncomfortable with deception.

The need for integrity points to a related, and I believe, critical point. We live in the Digital Age, in which information technology is diffusing into all areas of our public and private lives. Yet technology, by itself, cannot deliver security. At the end of the day, counterintelligence is all about people.

As you have observed, Mr. Chairman, we cannot consider the use of the polygraph without an appreciation of the larger context of how we are organized to conduct counterintelligence and recruit people to do counterintelligence.

Mr. Chairman, I fear that the United States has not adequately recruited, promoted, and rewarded the very best counterintelligence officers. Too often, counterintelligence and security officers are not widely admired within their organizations. I wonder, for example, how many graduate students in Russian studies at our top universities are approached by the CIA and FBI. In contrast, the British counterintelligence agency, MI5, recruits heavily at Britain’s best universities. We should be doing the same. Our intelligence agencies are hampered by the low government salaries and, in some instances, by the academic community’s general skepticism toward the intelligence community stemming from our country’s experience in the 1960s and 1970s. But counterintelligence is inherently fascinating and, in my view, the CIA, the FBI, and the military services should be seeking to recruit counterintelligence officers at the very best universities in the country.

Even when our intelligence agencies succeed in recruiting the best and the brightest, many of them do not pursue a position in counterintelligence. The CIA has been successful in recruiting some of our top graduate students of Russian affairs to become analysts of Russia, but it is much harder to persuade them to become counterintelligence or security officers.

We pay a grave price for this. In my experience, counterintelligence work is some of the most important work available in government. We need government leadership at the highest levels to strengthen our counterintelligence services.

As this Committee knows, Director Freeh and Director Tenet have recently announced a number of significant changes in the counterintelligence organization and policies of our government. Those changes, known as “CI-21,” for “Counterintelligence in the 21st Century,” are a dramatic improvement and should be of great benefit. But the key remains people.

Having described the counterintelligence landscape, let me now turn to the specific issue before us today: the polygraph.

At the outset, let me say that the polygraph is only one tool available to American counterintelligence. It must be considered along with all the other measures we take to protect ourselves and our secrets. Many elements contribute to a strong and effective counterintelligence program, beginning – as I have discussed – with the quality of our personnel and extending through a determined effort to penetrate the intelligence services of our adversaries.

The polygraph is a simple instrument measuring certain physiological responses following a set of questions asked by an examiner. The basic theory is that when a person knowingly lies, he or she will have a measurable physiological response – for example, a change in breathing, heart rate and galvanic skin reaction.

However, the polygraph is not perfect. Honest people have “failed” polygraph examinations while dishonest people have “passed” them. The polygraph is intrusive and may be abused. If misused, the polygraph can cause morale to deteriorate and ruin the careers of innocent people. Perhaps most importantly, it can lead to overconfidence – as it did at the CIA before the arrest of Ames.

A well-administered polygraph program must contain several important safeguards:

First, the examiner must be a trained and experienced investigator with long-term career opportunities at his or her employing agency.

Second, the agency must have procedures that will vigorously protect the rights and dignity of all employees.

Third, no adverse personnel action should be taken solely on the basis of the results of a polygraph examination.

The FBI is now under pressure to make greater use of the polygraph. If it chooses to use the polygraph, it must do so wisely. The polygraph is only one tool in an effective counterintelligence program. Many in the CIA felt that there could never be a spy at the Agency, in large part because the officers were routinely polygraphed, even before the Ames incident. Unfortunately, they were wrong.

No amount of technology can substitute for strong management that is alert to individuals who are behaving in a way that suggests the need for investigation. With respect to Ames, his alcoholism and poor performance should have been a red flag for management to pay close attention. The CIA has now instituted management practices to pick up on such signals.

Many of the reforms made in the wake of the Ames case improved counterintelligence efforts. Chief among these was greater cooperation between the CIA and FBI– and a recognition that the CIA was not immune to having a spy in its midst.

Other changes, however, had a dark side. According to reports in the Washington Post, the FBI and CIA reviewed the polygraph records of a large number of CIA employees and identified many who seemed to have problems. Under procedures required by a law adopted in 1994, those cases were referred to the FBI, which subsequently opened criminal investigations. In some cases, the CIA identified and dealt with serious problems. Other cases revealed nothing more than a “significant physiological response” to a polygraph question. Many of these cases languished for long periods at the FBI before finally being returned to the CIA, where the officer could at last resume his or her career. More recently, the CIA has implemented procedures to protect careers while investigations proceed. This is an example of the kind of sophisticated policy that is needed to balance the rights of individuals against the need to protect national security.

In deciding whether to expand the use of the polygraph, we should also note that the number of people with knowledge of sensitive counterintelligence investigations goes far beyond the CIA and FBI. Justice Department lawyers, officials at other agencies, military officers, and White House/National Security Council staff often have access to highly classified information. As this Committee knows, certain Members of Congress and the senior staff of the intelligence oversight committees are, by law, kept “fully and currently informed” of sensitive matters as well. Are we prepared to polygraph these persons as well?

If we had never begun to use the polygraph, a strong case could be made that we should now not start. But we already are using it, and it has proven to be a very valuable tool. It has directly led to valuable information in many investigations – in cases involving both applicants for employment and current employees. It is also a significant deterrent.

But much work still lies ahead. Agencies must constantly struggle to find the right balance between the rights of individual citizens and the needs of national security. Further research must be done to improve the instrument and techniques employed. For example, I am encouraged by research into computerized polygraphs that would eliminate much of the subjective aspect of “interpreting” the results.

The polygraph is an effective tool in the effort to preserve our security, but it has a cost. Our goal must be to make that cost – in terms of innocent lives harmed – zero. To achieve that goal, we should make sure that our management practices and personnel policies are geared toward attaining the highest level of counterintelligence.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I look forward to answering any questions that you and the Committee may have.

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