Holt told Clapper that the alleged abuses reminded him of “tactics employed by our former Soviet enemies” and he called on the director to reconsider conducting widespread polygraph screening.
Currently, six agencies, including the National Reconnaissance Office, are supposed to stick to national security questions, such as whether someone has leaked classified information or has inappropriate relationships with foreigners. These polygraphers are told to avoid delving into other personal matters, such as sexual conduct and psychological issues, unless the person volunteers the information on his or her own.
Nine other agencies that use polygraph screening, however, see it as crucial in rooting out applicants or employees who are hiding crimes or deviant or unstable behavior that should bar them from certain jobs. Those agencies ask questions about prior drug use, undisclosed crimes and lying on the security-clearance application form.
As a result, polygraphers can explore many topics that aren’t directly linked to national security, such as personal finances, sexual history and psychological problems, including minor depression.
The draft policy says polygraph screening questions “shall be relevant to national security matters,” but it doesn’t specify what that would mean. Clapper’s public affairs office said it couldn’t respond to specific questions about the policy because it was being finalized.
Several national security experts who read the draft said other proposed changes include:
– Requiring a federal agency to accept another’s polygraph results. Currently, some job applicants who pass a polygraph at one agency sometimes are required to undergo the test at another.
– Clarifying that agencies should report “relevant” law-enforcement or national security information that’s unearthed during polygraph screening, but it doesn’t spell out what that would entail. In two cases, local law enforcement officials told McClatchy that the federal government didn’t notify them of polygraph confessions to sexual abuse of children. One case involved a former teacher who confessed during a polygraph screening to molesting a 9-year-old student.
– All agencies would have to ask specifically about leaking classified information to the media. Although most intelligence agencies already ask about media leaks, other agencies aren’t as consistent. After a series of high-profile and controversial leaks from the Obama administration, Congress is likely to welcome the proposal, despite objections from the media and others that such efforts have a chilling effect on the reporting of government actions or malfeasance.
“While polygraphs can’t be the only way to identify the leaks of classified information to the media, it appears to be a reasonable question,” said one congressional aide, who asked to remain anonymous because of the sensitivity of the matter.
Meanwhile, federal agencies could still ignore any of the proposed provisions they don’t like by simply passing their own unpublished rules, said Kel McClanahan, a national security lawyer in Washington.
“This isn’t so much an attempt to assert authority as an attempt to appear to assert authority,” McClanahan said.