from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
Volume 2004, Issue No. 28
March 11, 2004


As a technology for counterintelligence security screening, the polygraph has been a spectacular failure. It is hard to recall the last time that polygraph screening uncovered an actual spy, and easy to think of spies who had no difficulty escaping its clutches.

But U.S. government polygraph policy continues to penalize innocent individuals, and those who presume to challenge that policy.

Alan P. Zelicoff, a distinguished physician and expert on biological weapons arms control, was driven to resign his position as Senior Scientist at Sandia National Laboratories last year as a consequence of his outspoken criticism of polygraph testing.

For his diverse technical contributions, Zelicoff had been awarded Sandia's Meritorious Achievement Award on several occasions as recently as 2002.

But after publishing an op-ed in the Washington Post last year criticizing the Lab's polygraph policy, he was suspended and accused of "insubordination."

Zelicoff was banned from working on a counterterrorism software tool he had invented to facilitate rapid reporting of disease outbreaks. When he continued to speak out on the polygraph, he was suspended a second time. Finally, he quit.

The polygraph won, but the Lab, and the nation that turns to it for scientific expertise, lost.

"As the only senior [Sandia] scientist who had also practiced medicine, I knew that continuation of polygraphs was going to be a disaster for individuals at Sandia and elsewhere in the DOE complex," Dr. Zelicoff wrote recently. "And indeed it was."

See his account of the episode in "The Polygraph Vs. National Security," March 11, here:

Convicted spy Aldrich Ames offered an impudent but rather perceptive commentary on the polygraph in this 2000 letter he wrote to FAS from Allenwood federal penitentiary, where he is incarcerated:

In recent years, CIA polygraph examiners have added a new question to their standard exam, which is also asked in some official background investigations: Do you have friends in the media?


"I have done a lot of things since I've been here in three years with respect to the special operations capabilities of the country," said Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld in a March 4 interview with Reuters.

"Special operations forces" are small units with specialized capabilities that operate clandestinely in hostile or politically sensitive environments in order to achieve military, diplomatic, or other objectives.

"We've increased their budget, we've increased their numbers, we've added conventional forces to take over some of their responsibilities that they might otherwise have been engaged in," Secretary Rumsfeld said.

"We have changed their authorities so that now the Special Operations Command is not only a command that is in support of other commands, but that on occasion will be a command that will be supported by other commands. We have connected the United States Marine Corps to the special operators for the first time in any significant way."

"And we have given encouragement to them."

"The Defense Department has worked closely with the CIA, going both ways on any number of occasions over any number of years in any number of situations.... [In other words,] we've taken them for cooperative arrangements, they've taken some of our people sometimes. They may be doing something where it requires some competence that we have distinctively, so we've worked very cooperatively with them," Secretary Rumsfeld said.

Military doctrine governing interagency (and multinational) special operations has been newly revised and presented in "Doctrine for Joint Special Operations," Joint Publication 3-05, Joint Chiefs of Staff, December 17, 2003:


The Atocha Railway Station in Madrid, Spain was one of the targets of a series of terrorist explosions that killed at least 190 people and wounded over a thousand today.

A high-resolution satellite image taken of the site in August 2003 was released today by Space Imaging, Inc., to support news coverage of the attack. See:


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

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