from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
Volume 2002, Issue No. 99
October 10, 2002


The polygraph is a flawed instrument that is "intrinsically susceptible to producing erroneous results," according to a new report of a National Academy of Sciences panel.

The report, prepared for the Department of Energy, is likely to lead to the rescinding of polygraph requirements that were adopted in 1999 to address security defects at the DOE national laboratories.

The authors distinguish between the use of the polygraph for generic security screening -- which they find unwarranted -- and its use in investigations of specific incidents -- for which they find experimental support in some circumstances.

Methodologically, polygraph screening is not a scientific procedure that adheres to fixed standards. Thus, "we have seen no indication of a clear and stable agreement on criteria for judging answers to security screening polygraph questions in any agency using them," the National Academy report stated.

Admittedly, polygraph screening "may be useful" for "deterring security violations, increasing the frequency of admissions of such violations, deterring employment applications from potentially poor security risks, and increasing public confidence in national security organizations."

However, the utility of the polygraph for these purposes "derives from beliefs about the procedure's validity, which are distinct from actual validity or accuracy."

By contributing to the exposure of such unfounded beliefs, the new report ironically tends to subvert this type of polygraph utility.

The full text of the new report, "The Polygraph and Lie Detection," is available in a rather inconvenient format here:

The executive summary may also be found on the site here:

Last year, Congress required the Energy Department to prescribe new polygraph regulations that "take into account" the findings of the NAS study within six months of its release. See:

Accordingly, Senators Jeff Bingaman and Pete Domenici called on Energy Secretary Abraham to heed the study's conclusions.

"Given the findings of the Academy's study and the continuing dissatisfaction with DOE's existing polygraph program, we urge you to place high priority on the development of a new, significantly scaled-back program that focuses on the use of the polygraph as an interrogation tool and not for employee screening," the Senators wrote on October 8.

Polygraph screening of current and prospective employees is most widespread within U.S. intelligence agencies, where it is generally a precondition for employment involving access to intelligence information. As such, it serves as a ritual of initiation and can generate a sense of camaraderie.

The polygraph examination also functions to acculturate employees into the values of the intelligence bureaucracy.

So, for example, the Central Intelligence Agency has lately asked examinees questions such as "Do you have any friends in the media?" The preferred answer, it is clear, is No.


A U.S. attack on Iraq could prompt Saddam to use chemical or biological weapons, an action that otherwise has a low probability, according to a new declassified CIA finding.

"Baghdad for now appears to be drawing a line short of conducting terrorist attacks with conventional or CBW against the United States. Should Saddam conclude that a US-led attack could no longer be deterred, he probably would become much less constrained in adopting terrorist actions," according to the CIA.

The new declassifications came in an October 7 letter from DCI George Tenet to Senate Intelligence Committee chair Sen. Bob Graham. See:

In a peculiar statement issued the next day, DCI Tenet insisted that "There is no inconsistency between our view of Saddam's growing threat and the view as expressed by the President in his speech." See:


The Pentagon conducted numerous previously undisclosed tests of highly toxic biological and chemical agents around the country on unwitting military personnel during the 1960s, according to newly declassified data released this week.

Even by the standards of the time, the tests represent an astonishing lapse in scientific and moral judgment. The surprisingly muted reaction to the disclosures so far may be an indication of scandal fatigue or may simply reflect low expectations of government integrity.

The Pentagon experiments were the subject of a hearing before a House Veterans' Affairs subcommittee on October 9. See:

The hearing was followed by a Pentagon briefing, transcribed here:

Supplementary material is available here:


A federal appeals court held that the Bush Administration may continue to impose blanket secrecy on immigration hearings involving persons deemed by the Attorney General to have knowledge of, or connections with, the September 11 terrorist attacks.

The new decision overturned a lower court ruling which held that secrecy should be considered on a case by case basis and that blanket secrecy was impermissible.

The appeals court noted without embarrassment that it found op-ed columnist Michael Kelly's critique of the lower court ruling to be "powerful."

The appeals court ruling may be found here:

The Washington Post critically assessed the decision in an October 9 editorial "Keeping Quiet" which is available here:


National security secrecy that is intended to protect the nation can instead become a threat to the nation when it is employed mindlessly by U.S. intelligence agencies.

That is one of the findings that emerged from the congressional Joint Inquiry's continuing dissection of the events leading up to September 11.

"Poor information systems and the high level of classification prevented FBI field officers from using NSA and CIA data" needed for counterterrorism, the Joint Inquiry staff found.

See staff director Eleanor Hill's October 8 statement on "The Intelligence Community's Response to Past Terrorist Attacks Against the United States from February 1993 to September 2001" here:


In numerous cases in recent years, FBI agents exceeded their legal authority and conducted surveillance activities that were unauthorized under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), according to a newly released FBI memo.

The reported mistakes included the unauthorized videotaping of a meeting, unauthorized searches, and other excesses.

"To minimize the possibility for [future] errors we instituted new procedures that would help ensure both accuracy and oversight," wrote FBI Deputy General Counsel M.E. Bowman to Congressman William D. Delahunt, who requested the information.

Rep. Delahunt's June 14 inquiry is posted here:

Mr. Bowman's August 7 reply, with attached documentation, is posted here:


Secrecy News is written by Steven Aftergood and published by the Federation of American Scientists.

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