The Dec. 6 article, Feds poking at intimate details in polygraphs, presented a misleading depiction of how the federal government uses the polygraph for personnel security.
The thesis of the articles is that the government is expanding its use of polygraph in a rapid uncontrolled manner, the tests are abusive, and the results are often inaccurate. The unstated, but clear, premise is that government officials responsible for the top secret security clearance process, as well as the congressional oversight committees, are determined to employ a personnel screening method that isn’t only ineffective, but traumatizes a large segment of the personnel in the intelligence community and some law enforcement agencies.
The successful performance of our nation’s intelligence and security services requires a workforce of superior education, motivation, and integrity. The suggestion that government officials would deliberately conduct business in a manner that would hinder the development and preservation of such a workforce is absurd.
To support the claim that many are traumatized by the polygraph exams the articles cite a handful of individuals who claim to have been questioned in an inappropriate manner. Minimal evidence is provided to support those claims of abuse. The fact is that for many years a number of federal agencies have surveyed the attitudes of the individuals they test. Those surveys consistently demonstrate that the vast majority of those who had been tested believe the exams to be fair and professionally administered.
The articles also claim that polygraph examiners torment the examinees by delving in personal issues that are irrelevant to the security clearance process. It’s suggested that examiners have great leeway in selecting topics for the exam. In fact, the issues addressed in federal screening exams are carefully selected by high level officials who manage the government’s security programs, not by the polygraph examiners. Political and/or religious affiliations or beliefs are completely outside the bounds of examinations and sexual activity is never addressed unless it’s criminal in nature.
Allegedly a very significant and poorly managed expansion of federal polygraph testing occurred in the decade since the Sept. 11 terrorists’ attacks. Yet no data is offered to support that premise. The APA informed McClatchy that it hadn’t experienced a significant increase in membership by federal examiners since 2001. How McClatchy concluded that such a dramatic expansion occurred is never explained.
Suggesting that federal polygraph testing is devoid of accuracy intimates that thousands of truthful individuals are labeled as deceptive. The APA provided McClatchy one of several methods federal officials might use to accommodate for errors without harming the career prospects of those examinees, but it wasn’t mentioned. The APA is disappointed that a national news organization published such incomplete, poorly researched articles on an issue that directly impacts the security of the United States.
Robert Peters, vice president, government, American Polygraph Association, Chattanooga, TN