from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
Volume 2003, Issue No. 16
February 20, 2003


Despite escalating criticism concerning the validity of polygraph testing, the Defense Department may seek to increase reliance on the polygraph as a security and counterintelligence tool, according to a new report to Congress.

In 1991, Congress authorized the Pentagon to conduct no more than 5,000 counterintelligence-scope polygraph (CSP) tests annually (not including tests on intelligence agency personnel, which are performed under the authority of the Director of Central Intelligence).

But "since that time, the Department has identified additional vulnerabilities and threats to classified information that did not exist over a decade ago," according to the new report.

In particular, "the broad based use of information technology systems, coupled with the development of information sharing capabilities over the internet and through other electronic media, require the updating of DoD information assurance policies and practices to keep pace with this emerging threat."

"These enhanced security requirements may require a CSP polygraph examination for access to DoD information systems."

Accordingly, "an increase in the CSP ceiling ... may be requested from Congress," the report stated.

The Defense Department's "Annual Polygraph Report to Congress, Fiscal Year 2002," contains recent program statistics, anecdotal summaries of cases in which polygraph testing aided investigators, and descriptions of current polygraph research initiatives. The report is available here:

The new DoD report attempts to deflect an extremely critical evaluation of polygraph testing that was published by the National Research Council (NRC) of the National Academy of Sciences in October 2002.

"It is important to note that the NRC report... concluded that the polygraph technique is the best tool currently available to detect deception and assess credibility," the Pentagon said. But this is quite disingenuous.

What the NRC report actually said, critic George Maschke of pointed out, is that "[s]ome potential alternatives to the polygraph show promise, but none has yet been shown to outperform the polygraph" (p. 8-4). As for the polygraph itself, "[t]here is essentially no evidence on the incremental validity of polygraph testing, that is, its ability to add predictive value to that which can be achieved by other methods" (p. 8-2).

While the majority of persons who undergo polygraph testing do so without incident, it is a career-ender for some and a deeply disconcerting experience for quite a few others. And at least some polygraph examiners apparently engage in occasional free-lance interrogation of their own.

One recent applicant for employment at the CIA told Secrecy News that his polygraph examination included the question "Do you have friends in the media?"


"As scholars have become more and more frustrated by the fact that they cannot gain access to classified records, they have become more and more militant," says Roger Meade, an archivist at Los Alamos National Laboratory in a new paper.

As a custodian of classified records, Dr. Meade provides the rarely publicized perspective of a "gatekeeper" on disputes over declassification and public access to government information, especially historical records on nuclear weapons programs.

Sometimes, he complains, "people such as myself are simply asked to make declassification decisions personally -- in essence asking us to break the law -- by simply giving out classified records and information. When this fails, personal threats are made."

"I am routinely threatened with lawsuits. A few years ago, a group of historians petitioned the Laboratory Director to have me fired -- as has more than one television producer. I have been called a Communist -- and a fascist. One person has even threatened to burn down my house."

"What, then, is the prognosis of achieving a satisfactory relationship between historians and Los Alamos? The prognosis is grim," he writes.

"While we are sympathetic to the desires and needs of historical scholarship -- many of us are trained as historians and work as advocates for historical scholarship -- we cannot act arbitrarily, nor can we break the law. Scholars face no such impediments and perhaps never ask the question of 'what public interest is served if the secrets of atomic bombs are published?'"

Dr. Meade's paper, entitled "History and Los Alamos -- Will There Ever Be a Satisfactory Relationship?" was presented at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science on February 15. The text is available here by courtesy of the author:

A radically contrasting point of view on the role and legitimacy of nuclear secrecy is proposed by Howard Morland, the protagonist of the 1979 Progressive lawsuit over publication of "The H-Bomb Secret," and a nuclear abolitionist.

"Nuclear bomb secrets are a hoax, and... public understanding of nuclear arsenals is a necessary step in the quest for nuclear disarmament," according to Morland, who concedes that "This idea was and remains a hard sell."

See "The Holocaust Bomb: a Question of Time," by Howard Morland, updated and expanded in 2003, here:


The development and emergence of satellite reconnaissance in the 1950s and 1960s, truly something new under the sun, is chronicled in a new history by New York Times reporter and editor Philip Taubman.

It is a remarkable story of technological audacity and innovation that features a brilliant, idiosyncratic cast of characters. The outlines of the story, and a great many of the details, have previously been told as historical declassification has proceeded over the past several years. But Taubman adds a new dimension through his interviews with many of the principals.

"Secret Empire: Eisenhower, the CIA, and the Hidden Story of America's Space Espionage" by Philip Taubman is to be published by Simon & Schuster on March 12. For more information see:


One simply cannot be too careful when it comes to protecting classified information, an article in Jiefangjun Bao, the newspaper of China's People's Liberation Army, reminded readers recently.

"'In guarding classified information, be cautious and cautious yet again.' This is the highest standard and requirement for classified work laid down by comrade Mao Zedong."

"In their daily lives of work and study, many comrades are grave in their talk about classified work, but careless in their actions. Often, when they are not careful, they breach rules relating to classified work, creating the problem of leaked classified information."

The article describes common infractions of good security policy, and offers tips for improvement.

See "In Protecting Classified Information, Are You Capable of Being Cautious and Cautious Yet Again?" by Meng Yan and Yin Xinjian, published in Jiefangjun Bao (Beijing), January 28:


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

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