from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
November 30, 2000


"The U.S. is, so far as I know, the only nation which places such extensive reliance on the polygraph.... It has gotten us into a lot of trouble."

That is the verdict of convicted spy Aldrich H. Ames, who is serving a life sentence at Allenwood federal penitentiary in White Deer, Pennsylvania. During his career at the CIA as a spy for the Soviet Union and for Russia, Ames was notoriously successful in evading detection by the counterintelligence polygraph exam.

Ames provided extensive comments on polygraph testing in a November 28 letter to the Federation of American Scientists that he wrote in response to a recent essay on the subject in Science Magazine.

"Like most junk science that just won’t die (graphology, astrology and homeopathy come to mind), because of the usefulness or profit their practitioners enjoy, the polygraph stays with us."

"Its most obvious use is as a coercive aid to interrogators, lying somewhere on the scale between the rubber truncheon and the diploma on the wall behind the interrogator’s desk. It depends upon the overall coerciveness of the setting -- you’ll be fired, you won’t get the job, you’ll be prosecuted, you’ll go to prison -- and the credulous fear the device inspires. This is why the [congressional] Redmond report ventures into the simultaneously ludicrous and sinister reality that citizens’ belief in what is untrue must be fostered and strengthened. Rarely admitted, this proposition is of general application for our national security apparatus," Ames wrote.

"The national security state has many unfair and cruel weapons in its arsenal, but that of junk science is one which can be fought and perhaps defeated...."

The full text of the letter from Ames is posted here:


"There is a war being waged in cyberspace today ­ at least that’s what many in government and the media would have us believe." That is the promising beginning of a new report from the Congressional Research Service on "Cyberwarfare."

The report itself is rather perfunctory, but reflects current thinking on this topic in Congress.

"This report is designed to examine broad cyberwarfare issues and raise underlying questions. The report first summarizes some cases that illustrate real-world concerns many have with respect to cyberwarfare. It then discusses the current U.S. policy and organizational approaches to cyberwarfare. The report also examines foreign perspectives, the issue of cyberterrorism, and some reported instances of cyberwarfare."

The November 15 report is posted here (in PDF format):


As was widely reported this week, the Department of Energy Inspector General found that the three nuclear weapons laboratories had been routinely mailing classified documents to recipients who were not authorized to receive them. Oops! The new Inspector General report is posted here:

Energy Secretary Bill Richardson on November 28 announced a new fellowship program for doctoral students in American history that is intended to promote research on nuclear history.

Secretary Richardson did not address the major obstacle to scholarship on nuclear history, which is the failure to process DOE’s vast classified record holdings for declassification and release.

In an odd choice of words, he said that the forthcoming history "will be a story written for people -- not historians -- and it will help remind everyone of the sacrifices and strides made during this era."

See the DOE press release here:


To subscribe to Secrecy News, send email to with this command in the body of the message:

To unsubscribe, send email to with this command in the body of the message: Secrecy News is archived at: