May 16, 2007

DOE Polygraph Program

[Originally posted 4/30/2007, this post has been moved up to the top again at the request of a reader.]

To/MS: LANL Employees
From/MS: Roger L. Hagengruber, MS A105
Phone/Fax: 606-2263/606-2264
Symbol: DIR-CCSO: 07-010
Date: April 30, 2007

Subject: DOE Polygraph Program

For some years, DOE has been planning to implement a polygraph
policy as part of its counter-intelligence (CI) program.
Recently, LANL was notified of the official commencement of
random counter-intelligence scope polygraph examinations for
personnel in certain “high risk” categories. These exams will
cover employees across the NNSA facilities including LANL. In the
past week, we have received a list of names of individuals at the
lab that will be contacted soon to set up the schedule for their
polygraph. This memorandum is intended to announce the new
program and to provide you with some explanation of the

The letter of notification that we received is reproduced in part

“Effective October 30, 2006, the Department of Energy issued
10CFR 709 Counterintelligence Evaluation Regulations.
Subparagraph 709.3 explains the provisions covering Random CI
Evaluations, including the requirement to complete a counter
intelligence scope polygraph examination. The Counter
Intelligence Evaluations Division (CIED) is responsible for
administering this program.

This regulation may be accessed on the DOE Homepage under the
National Security, Intelligence and Counterterrorism tab. [View it here.]”

In our discussions with DOE, it became apparent that LANL had
essentially no choice in shaping the policy implementation for
the lab. Per direction from DOE/CI, LANL provided names and other
data for all people in the categories that they specified. Some
of this information was conveyed to DOE/CI via NNSA or IN. This
included all personnel at the laboratory with the following
accesses or clearances:
1. NNSA Special Access Programs (an access requiring a Q)
2. SCI (a clearance)
3. Classified computer system administrators (a position
within LANL)
4. Sigma 14 and 15 (an access within RD)
5. All LANL Counter Intelligence personnel (a position
within LANL)
6. All personnel within the Human Reliability Program at
LANL (HRP) (an additional personnel vetting process at LANL)

(Some of these categories have already required that a security
agreement be signed that included an acknowledgement that the
signer could be subject to a polygraph examination.)

All people in the above categories will be subject to random as
well as investigatory polygraph examination. If informed to
present themselves for a polygraph, they are to understand that
participation is mandatory. Should they fail to pass the test,
they will be removed from the pertinent category list and will
not be allowed to participate in any of the other categories. If
they choose to object now to the implied participation in the
polygraph program, they will immediately become ineligible for
any of the accesses or programs listed. They will be informed
that failure to participate in the polygraph program by itself
will not affect their basic security clearance.

The total number of names submitted by LANL numbers over 5000
(for Sandia some 3800). We expect the random sampling rate to be
a few percent at most per year since the capacity for exams is
limited, which means that the likelihood of being called in any
year is very small. The LANL/CI organization will notify
individuals when we are given a list of people that will be
contacted directly by DOE/CI. The Chief Security Office and CI
will schedule sessions to explain the polygraph program and to
help people prepare.


Anonymous said...

more of Bush administration's bullshit police-state thinking. Polygraph tests are unreliable and worthless and have been proved so over the decades... and the point is to find all the spies and terrorists they missed in the exhaustive clearance processing?

What is the content of the questioning and how are the results interpreted?

And how come the lab isn't publishing results from the million dollar pee tests?

Anonymous said...

At best, all this is make-work for urine analyzers and polygraph operators. At worst, it will be one of the reasons potential good employees will use when deciding not to accept a position at a DOE lab. At least there is some scientific basis for urinalysis, none for the polygraph. Why work in a scientific organization whose overseers are blind to scientific evidence?

Anonymous said...

Make no doubt about it. If you're a senior weapons designer, work with HRP, or are involved in any SCI projects... your job at the lab now hangs on the whims of the interrogator who sits behind that polygraph machine. Fail to pass the test or even be labeled as 'inconclusive' and you career is suddenly over.

This is not the promise that DOE made to us when they first brought in the polygraph back around 2000. Then, they told us not to worry. They would NEVER use the polygraph as the sole basis to pull a clearance. At best, it would be used to indicate that further background investigations might be required. Only additional hard evidence, they said, would cause a loss of clearance. No more. DOE lied. As of today, the equation is:

* Fail to pass the polygraph == Loss of clearance

* Loss of clearance == Loss of projects and programs

* Loss of projects and programs == Loss of job.

Note how the memo says they already have the names of people the want to wired up. DOE knew they were going to do this, but kept it quiet from everyone so they could suddenly spring it on staff as a fait accompli. Nice touch, don't you think?

And these are the same people who told us during the RFP's pension negotiations: "Trust us, we're the DOE. We won't let you new pension go down the tubes". Right.

Calvin said...

Anonymous said...

Just assume you'll be losing your job and plan accordingly.

Brad Lee Holian said...

My advice is, if you are called for a polygraph exam, employ the Pedicini Requirement:

Only accede to their demand for a polygraph exam on the condition that you are allowed to have two witnesses of your choosing during the procedure, one of which is permitted to make a video of the whole process. Also, demand an immediate Xerox copy of both the polygraph tracings and the examiner's report before leaving the examination room. This will ensure that there is a video timeline corresponding to the output of the machine, and that the examiner cannot change his/her mind about your "performance."

If these demands are unacceptable to the polygraphers, then refuse to take it. It worked for Pedicini; it should work for anyone.

Anonymous said...

"It worked." Does that mean there was no polygraph or that the process was recorded by a witness?

Brad Lee Holian said...

The aggravated examiner's bluff was called. Pedicini's polygraph was cancelled (just after the missing hard drives incident in 2000).

Brad Lee Holian said...

Remember: Polygraphs are not science, so when Pedicini insisted on a scientific approach, the bullies had to withdraw back into their caves.

Eric said...

For my information, I would appreciate some feedback on the following hypothetical story line and someone who would finish the story.

1. Random polygraph tests are implemented as listed.
2. Testing continues at LANL, for political reasons, until at least two TSMs on weapons projects fail the test.
3. These TSMs lose their jobs.
4. Real spies follow the Aldrich Ames school of polygraphs and are not caught.
5. The TSMs sue the lab.
6. Testing is increased.
7. More people fail.
8. Some of the people who fail are critical for ensuring the safety fo the stockpile.
9. The stockpile is no longer guaranteed to be safe and viable.
10. The falsely indicted win their law suits.

Please comment and please finish the story.


Anonymous said...

From all I have ever heard a true psychotic easily passes a polygraph because she or he BELIEVES the answers given are true. For example, the psychotic and delusional Bush would probably pass one if asked about his fascist policies in Iraq, based on the obvious lies he still believes in.

Anonymous said...

Once upon a time, I believed that we were compensated for the incredible intrusion into our lives to maintain our Q clearances. Now it is clear that we will be paid no more than the lowliest NNSA puke - and still will have to put up with the constant intrusions into our private lives.

The strategy now is to hire the top twenty percent, pay them median salaries, and insult them at every turn. If you object, the butt-crack cowboy psychologist will diagnose you with "anti-authority disorder" and pull your badge.

It truly is The Revenge of the C Students!

Anonymous said...

No more poppy seeds on my buttered rolls anymore. Strictly booze by the gallon from now on. What's one more alcoholic in Los Alamos?

Anonymous said...

This new policy is yet another tool that may be used to continue the "dismantling" of LANL, any positive results amongst the Technical folkes may be used by our enemeies to their benefit...To continue to discredit the lab, and cut more and more's obvious that we are being taken apart bit by bit, it will not be too long before they accomplish their goal......LANL will only be a mire "Support Lab" in the new Weapons Complex....again all by design.....

Anonymous said...

5/1/07 6:52 PM
Be carefull! All "substance abuse" is now suspect. Notice how they now run together "Clean_and_Sober" and "Drugs_and_Alcohol"? It doesn't matter that one's legal and the others are not, unless you can prove that you're gay, female, or black, you're toast, honkie!

Or you could get an all-expense paid visit to visit an aids-infected cowboy from HSR-2 to defend your drinking habits.

Better you should meet him at Ten Thousand Waves and show that you're one of the boys - that's the way to keep your clearance.

Anonymous said...

6:52 PM - being a female does not save you at LANL. You still put on investigatory leave and fired just like any white male. Remember Mustang lady? What about the postdoc involved Aqua Regia incident? What about Mary Hockadae? The list goes on... all females and all got screwed and their careers destroyed - they were injustly put on investigatory leave or fired.

Anonymous said...

Brad, I can assure you that anyone who attempts to use the Pedicini Requirement, including Pedicini himself, will be instantly stripped of their clearances and possibly fired at this point in time.

DOE, NNSA and LANS are actively looking for reasons to dump any problematic staff, and the polygraph offers them one more means for doing it.

Oh, and that bit about using a random sample... don't believe it for a minute. Those above know exactly who they want to have wired up to their "truth machines". The polygraph offers a perfect means of revenge against those who rock the DOE's boat just a little bit too hard. There is no way in which you will be allowed argue against the results. Heck, staff probably won't even be told the results. They'll just have their badges suddenly pulled with no further explanation.

Anonymous said...

Polygraphs are unreliable, etc. But that’s not the point. What LANL does (or did, at least) is so important that security lapses are intolerable to the nation. This ‘we are being persecuted’ attitude just compounds the situation.

Is LANL’s work important or not. If it is important, then leaks are unacceptable. If it is not important, then why does LANL exist?

Leaks have to stop. Lapses have to stop. Or LANL should not exist. That is what the rest of the nation is saying.

I am surprised that so many people are unable to understand that LANL’s existence hangs in the balance.

Anonymous said...

"Leaks have to stop. Lapses have to stop. Or LANL should not exist." (10:47 pm)

That's typical black-white thinking -- a favorite tool of the police state propagandist.

Leaks have existed. They existed back in the 1940's and 50's. They will exist in the decades ahead. Based on your black-white thinking LANL should have been shut down almost as soon as the front gates opened due to men like Karl Fuchs. Thank G-d it did not and it was able to help save us from the scourge of fascism.

I'm tired of this juvenile black-white stupidity. It's all too typical of the type of fundamentalist thought that has infected most of America these days. Yes, there will continue to be leaks at LANL, just as there will continue to be leaks at NSA, CIA and even within the Whitehouse itself! Live with it. Shit happens sometimes, whether we like it our not. Would you have us shut down the Whitehouse and end our democracy because of the leaks of both Cheney and Rove?

The key question is... does LANL have something to offer this country even if occasional security lapses occur? I think it does. I'm guessing you do not. And I'm shocked that so many people these days have surrendered to the sophistry of black-white thinking. Perhaps it is a sign of our times, but I find it all very sad and extremely destructive. Defective black-white thinking such as this allows pseudo-science methods like "lie detectors" to flourish in the public mind as a suitable response to perceive problems at our national labs.

As a scientist, I've just about had it with all this lunacy. Perhaps it truly is time for most of the senior scientific staff to retire from our national labs and find greener pastures. We can leave future work at the the labs to those who have brought us such wonderful new contraptions as "lie detectors" and "cold fusion" engines.

Anonymous said...

Nice way to Godwin the thread. Subtle, classy.

Yes, accidents are inevitable, but many LANL staff bizarrely over-react the other way. There is an attitude that since leaks are inevitable, let’s not try to do anything.

In my experience, there is tremendous laxity. If you have not seen it, then you have not been paying attention. Whether you agree with this assessment or not, it is the perception of many people across the nation and in Congress.

If LANL wants some say in how security is implemented, then it has to be secure.

Do I think LANL has a lot to offer: Yes.
Do I think LANL has a lot to offer, if the price is occasional accidents: Yes.
Do I think LANL has a lot to offer, if it is unable to maintain secrets because of its willfully cavalier attitude: No.

My opinion is irrelevant, as is yours. Which opinion do you think is common among policymakers in DC?

And if you don’t care enough to maintain this institution and all it has to offer, maybe you should leave. People acting on the beliefs that you express have brought on polygraphs, or at least disarmed LANL’s ability to resist them. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Poster 12:22AM.

I do not know who you are but I do not think you work at LANL. I have been at LANL for many many years and I have visited many other labs. I have never seen a single person at LANL having a "willfully cavalier about attitude" about security as you say. You need to get your facts staight about what has happened at LANL and how we actually compare to the other laboratores. Polygraph
testing is absolute nonsense and will make the lab far less secure and much more vulnarable.

Anonymous said...

Do you think Jesus could have passed a polygraph test?

Anonymous said...

A dozen years in the trenches at LANL. I stand by my assessment. We can’t debate security facts in this forum, which I am well aware sounds like a cop-out. Instead I’ll use the safety incidents of the aqua regia postdoc from earlier in this thread, and the girl who got lasered in the eye, as being symptomatic of the problem. In both cases, the defense was the same as you just offered: we scientists (and I am one, too) know best, and accidents are the price of progress.

The problem now is that this defense is not working anymore. If I am wrong, and this defense will work, that’s great. I would love to go back to the days when scientists were running the show. You think those days will return; I do not. You are so focused on the scientific merits of polygraphs that you are ignoring the sociological facts that are driving polygraphs. You won’t beat polygraph policy based on polygraphs being pseudo-science. You beat polygraph policy based on having political capital. LANL has no political capital right now. So rather than whining about something that cannot be won, how about some ideas on how to regain the capital needed to control our fate.

(And Ames and Hansen and lost laptops at DOE/NNSA/CIA/FBI are not relevant. LANL is famous, so we get more scrutiny. Other national labs are not famous, so people outside of the weapons complex don't really know they exist. Do you teach your kids this “other people do it” excuse?)

Anonymous said...

What's next, phrenology? If we're going to go with one form of pseudoscience and make people take polygraphs, then we might as well break out the measuring tapes and start measuring their skulls at the same time. Hell, let's get someone in during the polygraph session to read some tea leaves and see if they back up the findings of the polygraph operator.

This isn't a LANL problem - notice that this policy applies DOE wide at all NNSA facilities. This is an NNSA problem due to the morons who control that place. More to the point, this is the result of politicians who don't care how defensible their actions are, as long as they can point at something and say that they "did something about the problem". Arguing that they are the root of the problem seems to be going nowhere so far...

Anonymous said...

Godwin and slippery slope. Let’s see how well those arguments go over. Maybe you should be promoted to the government relations office. My experience is that telling someone they are either a fascist or stupid is counterproductive, but perhaps Congressman Stupak or Secretary Bodman will find those arguments compelling.

Phrenology is different than polygraphs in one crucial respect. Polygraphs are widely believed to work. So what if they don’t. Do you think you’ll win that fight? The problem is that LANL is, correctly or not, (1) perceived to have a security problem and (2) perceived not to care. We can argue whether these perceptions are correct (I think they are, you think they are not), but that is irrelevant.

These perceptions are there and are probably not fixable at the moment, given the powerless state of LANL and its allies. So rather than waiting for solutions to be imposed, LANL should proactively fix systems to nip future problems in the bud. There is little that can be done about directives that are handed down in the next couple of years.

The world for LANL has changed. Live with it, or (figuratively speaking) die with it. I don’t say that flippantly. I mean that it is incumbent upon everyone to learn the new landscape and adapt so that this community can thrive or at least not wither.

Anonymous said...

Was the Mustang lady really not guilty of doing anything wrong anything at all?

Anonymous said...

Anonymous 5/2/07 5:45 AM wrote:

"Was the Mustang lady really not guilty of doing anything wrong anything at all?"

If she was not totally innocent, then why did UC pay her $375K to settle her lawsuit?

The options are:
1. She was innocent.
2. She was guilty and UC is incompetent.

Anonymous said...

"As a scientist, I've just about had it with all this lunacy. Perhaps it truly is time for most of the senior scientific staff to retire from our national labs and find greener pastures."

Many have, but they are still here double dipping and whining.

I must say that I strongly agree with the poster most of you are attacking. Perception is reality and we are stuck with it. Either work to constructively re-build our collective nest at LANL within this reality and slowly change perception, over time, or leave. You are not doing any of us any good by constantly whining about DOE, Congress, LANS, Bechtel, corporate America, neocons, and so on here. You are only fanning the flames of purgatory.

Anonymous said...

5/2/07 6:27 AM - according to the newspapers that follow all the lawsuits, everyone who sues the Lab gets paid a settlement - the aqua regia postdoc, the laser student, the Mustang Lady - to just go away because the Lab is guilty and they don't want more bad press ... anyone know the details?

Anonymous said...

If there was a lie detector test that was 95% accurate, and there isn't, 5% of the staff would fail it. Say that test is given to 5000 LANL staff, that means 250 people will incorrectly fail it. If there was one spy in the bunch, we would be firing 250 innocent people for every spy. So that means in the group of 250, the probability that any one is actually a spy is 1/250. Now we can all agree that the current lie-detectors aren't 95% accurate. They're not 80% accurate, they're maybe 50% accurate. A cheaper alternative is the penny test. Flip it.

Even the flaming idiot that came up with this policy can do the math - this "spy test" is hardly any better than the witch tests used in Salem. If she drowns she wasn't a witch, if she floats she is. Just how many "spys" will DOE drown before rational people prevail?

So maybe additional security measures are needed. It's just that lie-detectors don't qualify as a security measure. Implementing this idiotic policy will damage LANL, the DOE, and the nation.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...
Anonymous 5/2/07 5:45 AM wrote:

"Was the Mustang lady really not guilty of doing anything wrong anything at all?"

If she was not totally innocent, then why did UC pay her $375K to settle her lawsuit?

The options are:
1. She was innocent.
2. She was guilty and UC is incompetent.

5/2/07 6:27 AM

Hod about option C - she was guilty but they were incompetent in their investigation.

Anonymous said...

6:27 asks was the Mustang lady innocent or was it just UC being UC--incompetent. I think it's more the latter. Early on UC took a public stand in support of the Mustang lady. Siding with the Mustang lady would put its critics, namely Walp, Doran and CBS, at bay. The objective was to bring into question the veracity of what W/D&CBS were saying about procurement fraud at Los Alamos. What better way to do this than to say, as Nanos said..."there never was a Mustang!" Oh really? How do you order a Mustang thinking you're ordering transducers or whatever it was she was supposed to be ordering, and not know the difference? Come now...look inside the Matrix. The illusion is what they want us to see, but reality is what lies beyond what’s being presented to us as being the obvious. UC did it again in other words, and Congress just keeps plodding along in blissful ignorance.

Anonymous said...

Poster 12:22 AM does a pretty effective job of demonstrating the new face of management at LANL. It seems to involve large doses of cynicism coupled with a complete lack of confidence in the staff that work under them at the lab. I fear it's only going to get worse from this point on out for most of LANL's scientists. Within a few more years you won't recognize this place as a scientific institution of high caliber. It's for these reasons that I'm now seeing a large number of our best staff members, especially the younger ones, heading out the front door. What's left will be the dregs who can't find anything better. Damn, this is depressing to watch!

Anonymous said...

Since the Polygraph testing is total junk maybe we should think of a list of 15-20 questions that they can ask.

1. "Are you a liar?"

2. "Do you think the person administering
the polygraph test is an idiot?"

3. "Did you get a bad deal for your soul?"

4. "Do you have what it takes?"

5. "Are you sorta gay?"

6. "Are you the best person for the job?"

7. "Did you cry when number Dale Earnhardt died?"

8. "Did Jesus get what was coming to him?"

9. "Was Iraq was behind 9-11??

10. "Is perception reality?

11. "Are you worth it?"

12. "Will do what needs to be done?"

13. "Are you jealous of people better than you?"

14. "Do you give a dam?"

15. "Are you ambiguous?"

16. "If you are in the desert and you see a tortoise lying on his back ... ?"

17. "Can you find Iraq on a map?"

18. "Are you for real?"

19. "Are you willfully caviler?"

20. "Will you do the right thing?"

Anonymous said...

Perhaps they will succeed in identifying the replicants.....

Anonymous said...


Don't give yourself too much stress over it.

With 1/2 the FY gone, the NET change in number of LANS employees is -105 thru the end of March (PDocs and Regulars). It would appear there is not a problem hiring people. I do not know the job classification of the new hires.

Eric said...

For anyone who wants to participate, I would be happy to have discussions on positive things that we can do to strengthen the Lab or the county.

Anonymous said...


Do you think the DOE Polygraph Program is going to strengthen the Lab and the country?

Eric said...

My main question is the reverse.

If the polygraph program weakens the Lab and also the country, who is accountable and will be fired?

After reading a lot of Zelicoff's work, I do not see the polygraph program as strengthening either the country or the Lab. I see it as weakening both.

On the other hand, security at LANL and other high worth sites in the government or outside it (for instance IBM) seems to be critical for a strong country.

Anonymous said...

"If the polygraph program weakens the Lab and also the country, who is accountable and will be fired?"

To even ask this question, what metric would you use to measure the strength/weakness of the program?

Anonymous said...

"To even ask this question, what metric would you use to measure the strength/weakness of the program?"

I would see how many people start dropping out of the covered programs, especially Sigma 15. Refuse a poly and you lose your Q. Worth it?

apocalyptic architect said...

I think they should have given the Mustang Lady the polygraph.....

Anonymous said...

Jerry Pournelle, science fiction author (Lucifer's Hammer) and long-time Byte magazine contributor, gave a talk at LANL about 15 years ago I'll never forget (and not because he broke the vugraph projector to make a key point).

Pournelle said secrets would last - at best - about 6 months. Any security protecting information was bound to fail. Pournelle said the best defense against this was to constantly out-think and out innovate your competitor/enemy. He said this was particularly important for an institution like LANL. Quite and interesting talk and thesis; doubly so as this was a sponsored LANL colloquia (unclassifed!).

And here's the irony: the constantly increasing security rules and regulations do nothing but get in the way of that innovation. In many ways, the very best defense our country can maintain is being stifled in the name of "security".

(FYI, I don't agree with Pournelle that secrets have such a short half-life. Indeed, some information and data obviously can and should be protected for as long as necessary.)

Anonymous said...

5/2/07 9:35 PM - in addition to the Mustang Lady, they should have given the Agua Regia postdoc and the Lasered Eye student and others a polygraph test as well.

Anonymous said...

Hey let's give televised polygraph tests to Bush, Cheney, Rice, Rumsfeld, Gonzales, Rove, Libby, and all the rest of the Buscho fascists and see why we're REALLY in Iraq!

Instead of obsessing about a bunch of over-hyped "security incidents" here with 20 or 30 year old "classified" matter, or the minus 1 percent of employees they'll "catch" with pee tests, let's see what "old poly" can find out about this fascist administration, the trillions of dollars they have wasted, the security problems in CIA, FBI, DOE, NNSA etc that get covered up, and the continuing "diplomacy of aggression" they follow.

Anonymous said...


In reading the memo, it sounds like failure/refusal takes you out of the categories listed, not the basic Q.

Anonymous said...


Read the CFR.I've already checked with HQ; refuse a poly and that can form the basis to remove your Q.

Dr. Strangelove said...

The memo is a "beard".

It alludes to things which may be current policy but are not in the regulations they reference. They are nothing more than a "stated intention" which may or may not be their true intention and in no way commit them to anything in a longer term. What is outlined in the memo

The regulations read such that they could include the basic Q at any moment. We are Bechtel-LANS at-will employees. That includes them having the right to fire us because they feel we may have become "unreliable". Failing a poly given to get/keep a special access catagory could easily be mistaken for proving to be generally unreliable.

There is nothing in the regulations or in LANS (Bechtel) history that indicates they give the benefit of the doubt or that they make attempts to be fair. At best, they attempt "not to get caught".

The neocon foxes have obtained a sweet arrangement. Their own fox is now guarding the henhouse. Unfortunately, the "hens" are "golden geese" of sorts and the "eggs" are the worlds most elaborate, well designed, tested and maintained (despite huge potential issues with the latter) collection of weapons of mass destruction on the planet.

This situation has been building for a VERY long time. Some of us hens here had to have the fox move into the henhouse to recognize it.


Anonymous said...

I agree 9:18.

If the current list of employees in the pool includes only those in the categories listed, and the only thing that put me in the list was the 15, I'd be letting that go in a heartbeat.

Anonymous said...

Just got polygraphed. One of the questions asked was whether I'd ever participated in any of the LANL-related blogs? I asked why that was relevant and was told this was one of the key Homeland Security questions on the test. I pleaded the fifth then went home and guzzled one.

Anonymous said...

This is a joke, right?

"Just got polygraphed. One of the questions asked was whether I'd ever participated in any of the LANL-related blogs? I asked why that was relevant and was told this was one of the key Homeland Security questions on the test. I pleaded the fifth then went home and guzzled one."

Anonymous said...

to any "leading"question, just ask, "define *blank*" - i.e. if asked about LANL related blogs ask "define LANL related blogs".... if asked about drug or alcohol use ask "define drug use"or "define alcohol use"..... by constantly having the polygraph issuer place everything into his/her definition it disqualifies all your answers.

Anonymous said...

NNSA is worried about security, right, hence the POLYGRAPH.

What do they think they accomplished by building the new traffic diversion to get into the Administration Area. Those guards in their new little houses don’t even open the window and look at times, one wonders if you have been given the ok to pass through or not.

Just by building the new diversion and closing the interior guard houses makes me feel safer. Now you don't have to show your badge.

So having a POLYGRAPH will definitely make this a much safer place to work by reducing the number of idiots that have to drive through the new diversion to get to work. Have you almost been in an accident there?

I feel safer already.

Anonymous said...

The "diversion" is the stupidest thing I ever saw. A gridlock mess that served no purpose at all. I've NEVER had anyone look at my badge. But then the guards had, as we were told, SPECIAL MILITARY TRAINING to spot vehicles that might pose a security threat. The guards don't even stick their heads out the windows. Total bullshit. And then they obsess over the "classified" crap Quintana was archiving, which was so old it should just have been declassified but no one wanted to bother.

Hey let's throw another %25M away on a moronic security perimeter that accomplishes exactly NOTHING

Anonymous said...

I don't actually know what crap Jessica Quintana was archiving, but saying that it was 20 years old doesn't prove much. What's the most recent US nuclear warhead to be deployed to the stockpile? And when was it designed?

Anonymous said...

Does participating in a LANL-related blog mean reading, posting, or commenting? Are you putting us on that the polygraph operator actually said that that was somehow related to homeland security (whatever "homeland security" might mean to different people)?

The strength of the blog and the good old USA is that this sort of stuff can be placed before the world for all to see. It certainly shows our weaknesses, but the ability and willingness to do that is evidence of strength that is far more important than the weakness exposed.

Anonymous said...

DOE/NNSA/LANS/Bechtel/Congress definitely want to know, by any means necessary, those workers who posts on any of the unofficial LANL blogs. In fact, you can be reasonably certain that they already have a pretty good idea of who most of the lab posters are, anonymous or not. The new polygraph tests, with over 5000 LANL staff in the testing list, should make for some very frazzled nerves as testing time approaches.

Confess now, my sons, and maybe you can save your souls from Clearance Hell. Big Brother loves you. Accept his generous offer of forgiveness by coming forward now.

Douglas said...

Bullshit, 5/4/07 10:28 AM.

Nobody, including the blog moderators know who any of the anonymous posters on any of the LANL blogs are. I'm curious, however, who you are and what your motivation is for attempting to distort the truth.


Anonymous said...

Earlier this week the Los Alamos Monitor printed an article which stated something similar to the 7:08 post, that the papers found in the meth trailer were 20 or 30 years old. It would seem that if they were valuable, they should stay in paper form so they could be easily inventoried, and not be copied electronically with the result that it would be more difficult to keep track of them and prevent loss. If they were not of value, why not just shred or burn or put in an open library? In the first recent Stupak hearings, the Congresswoman from Colorado said it had not been long (perhaps a year) since the committee had dealt with Los Alamos and wondered what could be done to prevent need for a similar hearing in another year. The obvious answer is nothing. If new material is continuously being classified and none is ever destroyed or downgraded to unclassified, the frequency of loss will increase, one would think. If there is more availble to lose, more will be lost. Was the stuff found really of any national security interest? Is anything of any importance even being done anymore at Los Alamos? If non-lab persons can no longer ride a bicycle on Pajarito Road, is the prohibition due to work being done at TA-55, or to prevent outsiders from seeing that no work is being done? Pehaps the Stupak committee asked good questions and got good answers when the doors were closed.

dissident_scientist said...

Fellow Scientists,

With this continued harrassment and insult to our intellects and veracity, I plan on creating and implementing an Offsite Polygraph countermeasure training program. Be prepared or be out of work. Recommended reading, "The Lie Behind the Lie Detector", at, and David Lykkens, Tremors in the Blood.
Hope to see you there. Please read the e-doc. And to you CI polygraphers, never, never, never, screw with scientists. It has now become a personal crusade to do this program in.

George Maschke said...


The Lie Behind the Lie Detector may be downloaded directly here (1 mb PDF). The full title of the late David T. Lykken's seminal work on polygraphy is A Tremor in the Blood: Uses and Abuses of the Lie Detector (2nd edition, Plenum Trade, 1998).

Anonymous said...

I understand everyone's distress regarding the new polygraph testing. I went through the counterintelligence polygraph over 5 years ago for HRP enrollment (formerly PSASP). Honestly, just like random drug testing, its not THAT horrible! People who are deemed "inconclusive" are given opportunities to go back and get retested or explain in better detail why their are tripping up with answers. Some people are inherently nervous and this can also affect the results. The tester gives you every opportunity to get comfortable, discuss issues that may be concerning you,etc.

George Maschke said...

I'm a co-founder of, a non-profit, public interest website dedicated to exposing and ending waste, fraud, and abuse associated with the use of lie detectors. I'm also a former reserve military intelligence officer with experience in counterterrorism. You can read about the experience that led me to speak publicly on polygraph matters here.

As most at LANL hopefully know, polygraph "testing" is a pseudoscientific fraud. The person being "tested" is supposed to be "naive," that is, ignorant of how the procedure actually works. But you'll find the trickery on which the "test" relies exposed in Chapter 3 of our e-book, The Lie Behind the Lie Detector (1 mb PDF). Regarding the specific technique used by DOE for its polygraph screening program, see my article, "The Lying Game: National Security and the Test for Espionage and Sabotage."

In Chapter 4 of The Lie Behind the Lie Detector, my co-author and I lay out countermeasure strategies that those facing polygraph screening may choose to employ.

But we also offer another option, what we call the "complete honesty" approach. This involves being completely up front with your polygrapher about your knowledge of polygraphy's lack of scientific underpinnings, your knowledge of polygraph procedure, and even of polygraph countermeasures (while forswearing their use).

This might be a reasonable option for those who are unwilling to suffer the career consequences of flat out refusing the polygraph, but who still wish to preserve their intellectual integrity and dignity.

Go ahead and answer the relevant questions about counterintelligence concerns. You should have no objection to doing so. But refuse to "play the lying game" and refuse to offer explanations of why you might have "reacted" to any questions (such questioning is at the heart of the polygraph interrogation). You have no reasonable obligation to explain why an invalid test may have produced inaccurate results.

Various methods of passive protest are also available. For example, has a number of PDF posters that you might wish to print out and place in your work area. One that might be especially apt reads: "The National Academy of Sciences Doesn't Believe in Polygraphs...Do You?"

A printout of this 1938 razor blade advertisement (5.2 mb high res PDF) featuring the creator of the lie detector (whom the FBI at the time considered to be a phony and a crackpot) will also demonstrate that you know the emperor is naked.

I recall that back around 1999, someone produced buttons saying "Just Say No to Polygraphs!" Perhaps more buttons should be made and distributed. offers through our on-line store a button that reads: "I Know the Lie Behind the Lie Detector" that might also be suitable (but I'm not here to sell you buttons).

In sum, I think that there are indeed viable alternatives short of picketing or mass resignations that will be more palatable to many and which, if widely adopted, would underscore the folly of DOE's misplaced reliance on polygraph screening and make its continuation more difficult.

Anonymous said...

Have any of the posters here been through a polygraph in the past or this one?

It's that I'm for or against the processes. I'd just like to know what kind of questions are asked. I thought the questions were supposed to be relevent to security and not delving backward in time to former discretions. Right? Wrong?

Anonymous said...

Pretty interesting. You guys got rid of Nanos with a blog. Who knows, maybe you can rid the weapons labs of so-called lie detectors by blogging.

George Maschke said...

Anonymous asks,"Have any of the posters here been through a polygraph in the past or this one? etc."

The line of questioning can be quite wide-ranging. Here are some personal accounts that were submitted to Dr. Alan P. Zelicoff, a former senior scientist at Sandia National Laboratories who was ultimately forced to resign because of his unwelcome truth-telling about polygraph screening.

You can also read about individuals' polygraph experiences with a variety of agencies on's Personal Statements page.

Anonymous said...

How about this approach. If polygraphed, answer all questions the opposite of what is expected. Instead of registering all truths, register all lies.

"Is your name X?" - No.

"Are you a spy?" - Why, of course.

"Do you plan to overthrow the government?" - Yes, tomorrow.

"Do you put the toilet seat up every time you pee?" - Yes, every time.

"Did you pee on the wall during your drug test?" - Of course not sir.

Theoretically, the test should be just as accurate if you lie on every question as if you told the truth each time.

Anonymous said...

As I read the comments regarding drug testing and polygraphs and the links to, I am amazed at how far removed we are from the rights our founding fathers guaranteed us in the Constitution.

I wonder what will convince Washington that without being guaranteed innocent until proven guilty we are already living in a police state.

I wonder how Washington can subject its citizens to polygraph and drug tests when Washington itself is free from them.

I wonder how many in Washington, at DOE and in Congress, who are cleared for the information that polygraphs and drug tests are supposed to protect have willingly permitted themselves to be tested.

I wonder what would happen to me in a polygraph or a drug test since I take medication for anxiety, depression, and high blood pressure (all of which started at approximately at the height of Nanos' reign of terror).

I wonder if ADA will protect anyone who is ill, on medication, under stress, unable to perform, and forced to prove oneself innocent of a crime that has not been committed.

I wonder if our courts still support innocent until proven guilty and would support those who go to court to fight this attack on our rights.

I wonder what how our Congressional delegation would react if every LANL employee, contractor, retiree, former contractor, and County councilor emailed each with a detailed letter asking if each member of the delegation had been polygraphed and drug tested, if each was willing to subject itself to what LANL employees have to be subjected to, if each would require every DOE employee to be polygraphed and drug tested first, and if each would support publicizing the results. The more who are tested, the more the unreliability surfaces.

Yes, I am tilting at windmills, but short of a massive exodus of all talented people from LANL and every other DOE lab, I see no other way to turn the tide.

Anonymous said...

Bodman no longer cares much about LANL. Neither does most of Congress. Neither does most of the American public. Once you truly grasp this, the actions you need to take are clear.

The Manhattan-era glow has long worn off at Los Alamos. It's time for many of us to start packing bags and finding a more functional place to work. If you stay around these parts as a scientist any longer, it's only going to get worse with each passing year. The pattern is now very clear and persistent and this trend is highly unlikely to change... lower wages, less benefits, more policies which can get you fired on a whim, more top-level oversight, less real work, rock-bottom morale, less scientific output, greater workplace anxiety, fears of layoffs, fears of the polygraph, fears of drug test false positives, management and support offices that actively works against you, etc, etc, etc.

As in gambling, sometimes you have to make the gut-wrenching decision to take your losses and back away from the table before you lose everything. And in this particular game, the guys sitting on the other side of the table (DOE/NNSA/LANS/Congress) are clearly holding a stacked deck.

It's strange to think that in most parts of the world, national governments hold their top defense scientists in high esteem. Not so, apparently, in America. Here we seem to enjoy beating them to a pulp. Therefore, if you aren't currently happy with your workplace, if you can't stomach the idea of still being here in 5, 10, or 15 years, then it's time to find a better place to work. If you're finding the need to take anti-depressants, sedatives, or blood pressure medicine just to make it through the day at LANL then something is seriously wrong.

Life is short, so learn to enjoy it while you still can. I doubt anyone now working at LANL will look back during their old age and say "I'm glad I spent my productive years working at LANL." Ten or twenty years ago that might have been possible, but not today.

Eric said...

To anonymoust 6:27 PM

You may think that you are tilting at windmills.

I am listened to by those windmills.

I am willing to contact the right people. I do not have to be anonymous.

How do I get an accurate count of people who want such a contact made and something accomplished?

I do not need to know names, unless someone wants to tell me their name in confidence. I do need a good count of people without counting the same people multiple times. Is there a way to do this?


Anonymous said...

Unclogging the Clearance Pipeline - Federal Computer Week, April 23

...The shortage of skilled workers with security clearances has driven up the cost of attracting and retaining workers qualified to fill positions involving classified, secret and top-secret programs. Lockheed Martin has offered signing bonuses of $20,000 to qualified workers with security clearances. Another government contractor has lured cleared workers last year by giving away a pair of BMW automobiles.

As expected, the competition for cleared workers is particularly stiff in Washington. The going rate for an Oracle database administrator in the nation’s capital has jumped from between $70,000 and $90,000 to $120,000...

*** Meanwhile, back at the dysfunctional DOE, our government bureaucrats work extra hard trying to figure out new ways to get all the highly qualified and highly cleared government scientists to quit their national security jobs! Go figure? ***

Anonymous said...

AP News - Tenet: U.S. must do more in Mideast

In the interview, Tenet discussed a range of issues:

"We have lots of fissile material in the world. We have scientists in the world," he said. "This needs a major national effort that involves our national labs, science, policy, our intelligence and law enforcement community to give it a focus, to pay attention to it, because the consequences of something like this are devastating for us."


Sorry, Mr. Tenet. Both DOE and Congress have seen to it that our "national labs" will effectively be out of service for the next few years. Most of the nuclear scientists are now hiding under their desks in fear of losing their jobs and their homes. But, hey, you're in luck! It looks like Halliburton can fit this work into their current schedule. They've just hired a bunch of truck drivers that have been cleverly placed under the job title of "Nuclear Scientist". And these guys can even pass a piss test. What more could you ask for?

Anonymous said...

For any congressional staffers who read this blog and who think their boss might care about how far down the tubes DOE sites, and in particular those that deal with nuclear weapons, are slipping, the following from a DOJ manual is offered: (9-13.300) (Just Google it up.)

"Though certain physiological reactions such as a fast heart beat, muscle contraction, and sweaty palms are believed to be associated with deception attempts, they do not, by themselves, indicate deceit. Anger, fear, anxiety, surprise, shame, embarrassment, and resentment can also produce these same physiological reactions. S. Rep. No. 284, 100th Cong., 2d Sess. 3-5 (1988). Moreover, an individual is less likely to produce these physiological reactions if he is assured that the results of the examination will not be disclosed without his approval. Given the present theoretical and practical deficiencies of polygraphs, the government takes the position that polygraph results should not be introduced into evidence at trial. On the other hand, in respect to its use as an investigatory tool, the Department recognizes that in certain situations, as in testing the reliability of an informer, a polygraph can be of some value. Department policy therefore supports the limited use of t he polygraph during investigations. This limited use should be effectuated by using the trained examiners of the federal investigative agencies, primarily the FBI, in accordance with internal procedures formulated by the agencies. E.g., R. Ferguson, Polygraph Policy Model for Law Enforcement, FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin, pages 6-20 (June 1987). The case agent or prosecutor should make clear to the possible defendant or witness the limited purpose for which results are used and that the test results will be only one factor in making a prosecutive decision."

The more one reads about polygraphs, the more one is driven to conclude that any entity SERIOUSLY concerned with personnel reliability should NOT even be considering polygraph use.

Anonymous said...

as I said before, any true psychopath could pass a polygraph test any day of the week.... you want proof? Give a polygraph test to Bush and see how easily that lying sack of shit passes.....

Anonymous said...

Puh-lease 8:40, we have a few senior managers at LANS/LANL that could qualify just as well. Anyone care to suggest who all fits the bill??

George Maschke said...

Senior managers don't fail polygraphs, unless perhaps the polygrapher is made to understand that someone more senior wants them to. This is not because senior managers are psychopaths. It's because the polygraphers know better than to accuse someone too high up the food chain of being a liar. When someone like former Secretary of Energy Bill Richardson sits for a polygraph "test" (as he indeed did), it's all for show. Polygraphs are for the ruled, not for the rulers.

Anonymous said...

Too All,

My Curriculum vitae is updated, at quick look, 4 local universities need professors. More openings at various universities in the surrounding states. It looks good and its time to punchout. Bottom line is, DOE / CI cretons take your polygraph program and stuff it. See how much work gets done as the senior staff leaves, my letter of resignation is submitted. Much success too all of you thats left. You will figure out who I am soon enough. At least at a minimum prepare yourself to leave.

Cheuss !!

Anonymous said...

Too [sic], its [sic], too [sic], thats [sic]

Doesn't necessarily mean the writer is deficient in the useful attributes of a competent researcher. Some employees can get along in several languages, but just can't spell in other than their original.

For those comtemplating a job offer at LANL: Worker safety has never, at least in the past 25 years, except in very isolated cases, been an issue. Mid-career technicians, engineers, and most PhDs, will ensure newcomers stay out of trouble. Holian showed Nanos the folly of making something out of accident rates that are so far down in the noise as to not be an issue unless the rare spikes are integrated to get some pre-ordained result.

But, this polygraph issue is something a whole lot different. You really need to weigh the value of use of some very fine, unique, research equipment and facilities, and association with good people, against the possibility of irrational use of polygraph "results." And, you have to contemplate how secure the information and facilities actually are if those in charge are relying in any way on polygraphs as a feature of the security program.

Anonymous said...

I'm a little confused. I recently took a polygraph examination. The process was nothing like everyone is describing except the person that said they allow you to explain responses or inconclusive results. If memory serves, I recall them giving me every opportunity to tell them anything that came to my mind reference the security questions. I found this very helpful during my examination. As a scientist, I went in a little skeptical and on guard. Whatever my examiner told me would happen, happened. There were no secrets. She told me this would occur and it did. If she was going to do something, she did it. If something came to my mind, I was allowed to fully explain what I was thinking about. The examiner also explained every question definition and made sure I understood what the question meant. The whole experience was a dialogue and not a one sided lecture. Maybe we should all sit back and open our minds to what is going on instead of attacking. It just might make the whole process easier for everyone. Just a thought!

Anonymous said...

anonymous 5/9/07 2:00 PM,

This post sounds like a polygraph examiner spreading another grand tale of how wonderful and great the experience of the polygraph is. Sorry, we are not buying into your little happy story. Take your polygraph and your thoughts of wonderful bliss and put it where the sun doesn't shine. Horse manure of any kind has a most unique aroma. Thats what your post most likely is.

Eric said...

With respect to this post, readers may want to read pages 279-285 in "The Nuclear Borderlands" by Joseph Masco.

Here is an excerpt from page 280.

"Weapons scientists have assumed that polygraph technology is about detecting lies, making the central question the ability of the technology to perform that task. However, the CIA and FBI regularly use polygraphs not only as a measure of truth or falsity, but also as a tool of interrogation and intimidation. In fact, the polygraph was used this way in the Wen Ho Lee investigation. Lee passed his first lie detector test in December 1998, but in an interview with the FBI in March 1999 he was told that he failed. He was then told of the fate of the executed atomic spies Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, and was told he had already lost his job and his retirement."

Anonymous said...

When I submitted my comment I was only trying to convey it was not as bad as I originally thought it would be and was only trying to help. I never envisioned being called a polygraph examiner. That is very offensive to me. Even more so than the procedure I endured to maintain employed. I never said I thought it was valuable in any way. My apologies if I offended anyone. Eric is dead on about the way this "tool" is sometimes utilized.

Anonymous said...

From the Reader's Forum a post by a brave LANL employee.

May 10, 2007

Drug testing policy and the Fourth Amendment

America is a great country. “"We the People" are the government. We retain rights that most other countries citizens do not have. Our founding fathers even had the foresight to write some of them down. Had the first ten Amendments not been included, our Constitution would never have been ratified. All of our rights are extremely important, but without the Bill of Rights it would be trivial for a tyrannical government to usurp all of our power. Even with the Bill of Rights, many of our politicians are eroding our rights on a regular basis. The rights we have were not given to us by the government, we are born with these rights. They are inalienable and nobody can take them away. We can't even sign them away ourselves. We can choose to ignore them and let them be trampled, but they are still there.

The fourth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States reads: “"The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath of affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized."

We find ourselves in a position where this right is being violated by our own employer. I know that courts have said that it is acceptable for a company to violate our rights, but that doesn't make it right. Those same courts have said that those same companies can not base their hiring decisions on race, religion, gender and many other things, because it violates those peoples rights. Which is it? Can a company violate [its employees'] rights or not? I don't want companies to be able to [and also] don't want companies to be able to violate any other rights we have. I want a safe work environment, but not at the expense of freedom. As long as I have worked here, the Laboratory has had a policy of being able to test for drugs or alcohol when there was reasonable suspicion. I would much rather risk injury or even death than violate the Constitution. In response to my concerns, I've been told that I don't have to work at the Laboratory. That is correct, and the very same thing can be said about the others I mentioned, but no one should have to avoid working at a place they enjoy just so that their rights won't be violated.

We were told at a meeting the other day that there are different tests and that each one tests for a different number of drugs. Because of budget concerns the Lab has chosen to test for the least number of drugs. Evidently they don't care about the drugs they don't test for. We also were told that since the program was started in March, that there have been no false positives. There is no way they can know that with certainty. They didn't say a word about false negatives. I realize that they are testing for illegal drugs, but many other things that Laboratory employees do are illegal and dangerous. Running a stop light is illegal and many times deadly. Driving above the speed limit is illegal and there have been a few deaths caused by speeding to and from work. Will the slippery slope lead to black boxes in our vehicles for weekly inspection? Will we see police state cameras at every intersection? What about yearly IRS audits?

I must confess, I don't know what I would do if faced with a random test. I don't fear the test, I fear the loss of freedom. I like where I live and I also have a mortgage to pay. I enjoy my work and I enjoy the people I work with, but I also enjoy my freedom and hold the Constitution dear. I do know that it takes more than just a few voices to make a difference.

--Tony Heaton

Anonymous said...

I just did a little research on our new polygraph policy, and I am appalled. In summary, the DOE commissioned The National Academy of Sciences to study the polygraph policy in 2002. NAS recommended strongly against the use of polygraphs for screening. Faced with this, and many other negative comments, the DOE decided to go ahead with the polygraphs anyway. The reason for this decision is evidently that Congress required the DOE to institute polygraphs in spite of DOE objections. So, it seems that the same angry politicians who are raking LANL over the coals these days are forcing a scientifically unsound policy on "butthead" scientists. Witch-hunts and trial by ordeal seem not far away.

Details are given below.

First I googled "polygraph scientific evidence." Not surprisingly, I found no scientific evidence to support polygraphs. The second entry in the search results was "Department of Energy Polygraph Program," a reprint of congressional testimony by Stephen E. Fienberg, in which he summarizes the National Academy of Sciences report, "The Polygraph and Lie Detection."

Fienberg basically says in no uncertain terms that polygraphs are not suitable for employee screening applications, as opposed to "specific-incident" polygraph examinations, because of the large number of false positives, that is, innocents falsely accused, in a general screening.

Then I googled the NAS report, "The Polygraph and Lie Detection." This is a book that can be purchased, at, for example. I found an executive summary at A conclusion is copied below.

"CONCLUSION: Polygraph testing yields an unacceptable choice for DOE employee security screening between too many loyal employees falsely judged deceptive and too many major security threats left undetected. Its accuracy in distinguishing actual or potential security violators from innocent test takers is insufficient to justify reliance on its use in employee security screening in federal agencies."

An interesting example is given in the executive summary of the book. Based on favorable assumptions about the statistics of polygraph success, if you want to catch 8 of 10 assumed spies in a population of 10000, you would need highly sensitive questions. In that case, the statistics would predict 1,598 falsely accused employees, and other examination would be needed to weed out the actual spies. If you lower the sensitivity so there would be only 40 false positives, then 8 of 10 spies would pass. This ignores the effect of countermeasures, which most spies would know about.

Next in line, I found the DOE final rule, 10 CFR 709, at Click on National Security and then Intelligence and Counterterrorism. Then check the PDF version, and you will find Federal Register / Vol. 71, No. 189 / Friday, September 29, 2006 / Rules and Regulations. There is some interesting preamble discussion in there. A few selected quotes:

"DOE received comments that were mostly critical of the proposal to retain the existing regulations. The comments especially took issue with DOE’s proposal, despite the NAS Report, to continue with mandatory employee screening in the absence of an event or other good cause to administer a polygraph examination."


"In DOE’s view, the commenters’ arguments for eliminating the use of polygraph testing entirely simply cannot be reconciled with the Congress’ direction to DOE in the NDAA for FY 2002. In section 3152 of that Act, Congress required the Secretary of Energy, taking into account the NAS Report, to adopt regulations for a new counterintelligence polygraph program to minimize the potential for release or disclosure of classified data, materials or information. When enacting section 3152, Congress was well aware of the controversy with regard to the scientific basis for polygraph examinations. Nevertheless, Congress’ direction was to adopt new polygraph regulations, and DOE believes it would not be permissible to interpret section 3152 as authorizing a new polygraph regulation that would provide for the total abandonment of polygraph testing."


"As proposed in the Supplemental NOPR, DOE also will retain the policy in the present rule against taking any adverse personnel action solely based on the test results of polygraph examinations. Finally, we will retain the present policy that no adverse decision on access to certain information or programs will be made solely on the basis of such test results."

I came away with the thought that the DOE are painting themselves as the nice guys, the reluctant followers of a congressionally mandated policy. You should read the entire Federal Register section to draw your own conclusions.

Alan Zelicoff said...

Readers may be interested in the actual positive and negative predictive value of the polygraph based on published field trials. Using a Monte Carlo simulation to determine confidence intervals, I calculate the following:

• When the inconclusive results are ignored, the NPV of the polygraph is 97% (92% - 100%). Although inconclusive results are a fact of life (and thus difficult to in fact ignore), within this data set an individual who passes a polygraph is almost certainly not being deceptive.
• When inconclusive results are considered to be errors of ambiguity, the NPV of the polygraph falls to 73% (62.5% - 78.1%). Thus, the polygraph is better than flipping a coin, but would juries or agencies that grant security clearances want to rely on it when a deceptive individual is able to pass 27% (21.9% - 37.5%) of the time? I’m glad I don’t have to make that decision .
• The PPV of the polygraph is 88% (82% - 87%) when inconclusive results are ignored.
• The PPV of the polygraph falls dramatically to 55.5% (45% - 60%) when inconclusive results are accounted for. Put another way, if a subject fails a polygraph, the probability that she is, in fact, being deceptive is little more than chance alone; that is, one could flip a coin and get virtually the same.

More detailed information can be found in an informal paper on my web site:

Alan Zelicoff said...

(Correction to above paper reference:

1. For text of paper:

2. For spreadsheet calculations (PopTools download will be required. see paper above for instructions):

Anonymous said...

This thread has been getting comments for 15 days and has now dropped off the main set of recent postings. Is there a way to get another front page post on polygraphs and get this linked to it? It certainly is in the interest of national security to get congress educated about "lie detectors" once and for all, assuming it is really congress that is pushing DOE to be stupid about polygraphs. The first LANL blog got rid of Nanos. Perhaps this third LANL blog could get polygrapns relegated to use only after charges have been brought and then only as a tool of very questionable usefulness, in accordance with DOJ guiedlines.

Anonymous said...

Here is the full text of "The Polygraph and Lie Detection"

Anonymous said...

Please quit trying to tie the polygraph crap to your constitutional rights. No one is holding a gun to anyone's head here. If you don't like the thought of peeing in a bottle or taking a polygraph test, then GTFOH!

Rifs are coming. Many people that the new mgt had hoped would leave during the transition, didn't. Now the hope is that the "invasion of privacy" will drive others away to help avoid the bad press of a rif.

Would it help if they moved the wee-wee-mobile to the Cheeks parking lot? Free lap dances while you are polygraph tested?

Anonymous said...

"I never had sex with that woman!" Well of course it depends on how you define "had." "There was never a Mustang." Well of course it depends on how you define "was." Come on...give me a poly. I'm ready!

Anonymous said...

If you can't prove it, then I didn't have sex with that wait I did I did

Anonymous said...

Wait..what is the right answer?

Anonymous said...

Damn! That was a woman?????

Anonymous said...

Don't answer yet until we know what the right answer is

Pinky and The Brain said...

If you still have a job tomorrow then it was the right answer.

Alan Zelicoff said...

I am pleased to see that staff at LANL haven’t dropped their guard with regard to the somewhat surprising and sudden reappearance of polygraphs as part of the CI program at the lab. It is also proper and fitting that and that this thread has been bumped closer to the top of the blog pile. Given that there are briefings this week to “explain” the new polygraph program to staff, it is timely that the webmaster has made this decision.

Having been the reluctant point person at Sandia trying to encourage a scientifically-based debate over polygraphs -- and being forced from my employment as a result at the hands of my former director, Dori Ellis (who was doubtless acting on direction from higher authorities at the lab or perhaps DOE headquarters), I believe there are several essential questions that LANL staff should direct to CI management regarding the “random polygraph” during the “explanation” of the polygraph program.

First, it is important for thosewho are subject to the “random” polygraphs to determine if the scope of the new “random” polygraph, specifically: what are the questions that may be asked during the polygraph itself AND during the pre-test and post-test interviews? The rules or limitations may have changed since the time of the “screening polygraphs” of 2000 – 6 with reinstated license given to polygraphs to ask medical questions -- which have no demonstrated relevance to the polygraph and in which polygraphers have no training -- particularly as regards the effect of medications or medical conditions on polygraph results -- see commentary by Dr. Larry Clevenger, head of occupational medicine at Sandia on the illicit attempts of polygraphers to obtain personal medical information on my web site at: .

Readers should note that Cleverger’s letter to Sandia’s executive VP forced a meeting between DOE polygraphers and Sandia senior management which led to an unsigned agreement in 2002 in which polygraphers abandoned their baseless attempts to obtain personal medical information. But the “rules of the road” may have changed (which would hardly be surprising given the traditional dysfunctional history of the DOE.) If the rules and/or limits on polygraphers questions at any phase of the polygraph process have been altered, in my opinion as a medical professional, additional damage to individual’s careers will most certainly become apparent, if only because polygraphers will make ill-informed judgments far beyond their limited training. Perhaps that can be forestalled by appropriate questions to LANL management.

Second, even I was taken aback by the Orwellian intonations from Dr. Hagengruber's memo, specifically when he writes referring to the new "random polygraph" program: "If they [i.e. individuals subject to the polygraph program] choose to object now to the implied participation in the polygraph program, they will immediately become ineligible for any of the accesses or programs listed." which appears to prohibit principled discussion and debate. Yikes. The questions that should be raised in this context are, at a minimum: does this directive mean that there will be no discussion, review, course adjustment, and prospective scientific assessment of the utility of polygraphs? In short, has the DOE (or LANL management) foreclosed any opportunity to learn the value (or perhaps the adverse effects) of the “random” polygraph from this enforced experience? As I consider Roger a long-time friend and mentor, perhaps I have misinterpreted his words (indeed, I pray that I have), but from the communications I have received to date from LANL employees, they view the memorandum as an ominous presaging of stifling of open scientific debate. A clarification is clearly in order, though I am dubious that one will be forthcoming without intensive and persistent questions from the technical staff.

Third, and perhaps most important: the comments posted on this website over the past few weeks underscore the distain for management, rapant cynicism, and no small measure of fear (or intimidation) that can't be good for LANL (or any of the other labs for that matter) and its missions. There is no doubt that the Labs are a precious resource, but at the same time there is also no question that they are on a course to ruin. I believe it is manifestly clear that current management at LANL (and Sandia) are complicit in that decline as it is incontestable from the decision to reinstitute polygraphs that lab management regards its role as merely a pass-through for implementing DOE policies. At least a few of the questions to be asked with this complicity in mind may be: just what DID LANS discuss with the DOE on the potential unintended adverse consequences of reinstituting the polygraph program? What value do contractor-operators bring if they demonstrate little concern with the welfare of the health and careers of employees who “fail to pass the polygraph” when they concur in the immediate stripping of high-level security clearances (assuming I rad the CI memorandum correctly))? And closely related is the question: what processes will take place to reinstate high-level security clearances in the face of an adverse judgment from a polygrapher?

Finally, given what appears to be a low point in morale and, simultaneously, in management malfeasance I'd like to suggest a small, but important role that this website might play in effectively protesting (though not immediately stopping) polygraphs: there should be a thread where individuals can anonymously write about their polygraph experiences including, inter alia, the test procedure itself, the questions they were asked, the content of the pre-test interview (where almost always the polygrapher attempts to gather highly personal medical information that is of no relevance to the polygraph per se) and post-test questions (where it is not at all uncommon for accusations to be leveled against the subject, perhaps in a baseless attempt to extract some sort of confession that the polygrapher just KNOWS is waiting to come out.) There are at least three benefits of having such data for the world to see:

- polygraphers will likely be tempered in their questioning (or, equivalently, will have some clear reinforcement for sticking to the rules on the kinds of questions they are supposed to be asking which should have nothing to do with lifestyle, medical conditions personal or family matters, etc.)

- attempts to obtain irrelevant information (or equivalently, fishing for information) can be tallied for all to see.

- other previously undocumented abuses can be revealed.

In short, a form of independent quality control and/or oversight – which the record shows Sandia repeated refused to implement as part of its due diligence during the last go-round with polygraphs – can at long last be initiated, albeit indirectly by staff. I suspect, but can not prove, that LANL has no plans perform even perfunctory oversight, let alone what could be meaningfully done at little expense or effort -- for example, by having a panel of community leaders from outside the laboratory review a statistical sample of the polygraph videotapes obtained at each and every examination to be sure that polygraphers have not stepped beyond their bounds and have respected the dignity of examinees. This was a substantive suggestion I made when I was a senior scientist at Sandia – consistent with precedent for many projects where the potential for harm to staff existed – but it was consistently rejected by Sandia president Paul Robinson, and there is little doubt that Anastasio will be disinterested as well. Thus, if most LANL staff are intent in seeing some oversight to preclude polygrapher abuse (and let’s be clear, they have NEVER been subjected to independent public scrutiny in the past), I believe technical staff will have it do it themselves.

It is true, as one anonymous blogger not-so-gently states, that there is no constitutional right to a security clearance (there's always one "love it or leave it" opinion expressed in the polygraph debate). But that observation completely misses the point. No matter what the venue in government-mandated procedures – without exception – the consideration of due process (meaning fairness, equitable application, and consistency) is paramount and required. That is not only a correct reflection of the values of our polity but good for national security as well. Based on the previous "screening" polygraph experience and despite ruined careers it caused, it is certain that without the repeated airing of a meaningful sample of individual, there will be no path toward meaningful Congressional oversight nor motivation for that rare breed of principled manager to start to push back against the DOE polygraph program in the interest of improving the very security we all cherish and depend upon (ditto for random drug screening, but that too is another posting). The fecklessness of polygraphs will otherwise go unchallenged and nothing will change. And that will only further undermine protection of vital secrets (to the extent that government is actually serious about protecting them) by leaving the lion’s share of counter-intelligence influence at the labs to a vapid group of near-thugs who contribute nothing but further error in an already tainted decision-making hierarchy at the labs and the DOE.

Important? I’d say so. Others are of course free to disagree.


Anonymous said...

Today my AD (Seastrom) sent out a communication in which she said 14 people have been terminated because they were tested positive for drugs. If this many people have been busted, I wonder how many more users there are at LANL? I actually feel better about the random drug testing than this polygraph program which seems like a way to get rid of the people that don't fail the drug test and who LANL management simply want to dispose of. This seems especially true considering all the scientific data discounting the validity of the polygraph test. I wonder how many more lawsuits the Lab is going to have because of polygraphs versus RIFs...

Anonymous said...

Slightly off the topic, but what has happened to Doc's blog? It seems rather .... dead?

Pinky and The Brain said...

Just guessing, but Doc may have already accomplished what he set out to do.

Dr. Strangelove said...

Doc is not dead... long live Doc's blog.

Doc is still stunned from reviewing Todd Kauppila's case.

Doc is a little tired of the lack of participation by the readers.

LANL has well over 10000 employees, maybe 500 folks (not all from LANL) check in on Pinky here, 150 check in on Doc regularly. Only a handful (many hecklers) bother to comment.

NOBODY has given a Poly or Drug test testimonial.

Doc is tired of the lack of participation. Though this post seems to have some "juice".

Doc will bounce back.

- Doc

Anonymous said...

11:56 PM you believe Seestrom?

I would challenge the data simply because, if I understand the policy correctly, the procedure for disputing a false positive occurs after termination. And it could cost an ex-emplyee a great deal of money. Drug testing, just like polygraphs, is another form of RIFs.

Eric said...

A small thought.

If polygraph testing drives away exactly the young workers who are needed to make the nation secure, what is its value to the country?

Anonymous said...

"I never sexually harassed those dozen or so female employees of mine, and yes I am King Mikey's Chief of Staff."

But of course I'll never be polyed, now will I?
--Sir Richard of LANS

Anonymous said...


Exactly. And, will all the folks who choose to resign from the polygraph "pool" (whether or not they leave the Labs) somehow forget all the Sigma 14/15 and SCI information they learned while they were actively performing those duties? Which would better serve national security: Having a small cadre of very committed employees exposed to the most sensitive categories of data? Or actively working to piss off that same set of people, then replacing them with others - if you can find them - who are more willing to risk their reputations and livelihoods on the whims of a pseudoscientific test method.

Anonymous said...

A startling piece of trivia for readers to ponder:

Roger Hagengruber stated on Tuesday that PNNL administers the CI polygraph program for the DOE.

Anonymous said...

Dr. Strangelove, I can talk about the CI polygraph I took for HRP. Can you give us a new thread?

Alan Zelicoff said...

To add to Anonymous 9:06 of 5/17/07:

PNNL has always had the polygraph core responsibility for the DOE. There are, I would guess, still quite a number of Lab staff around from 1999 when David Renzelman -- the "chief" DOE polygrapher -- set up his headquarters at PNNL after retiring as DOD or Air Force polygrapher. Renzelman was a native of Pasco, WA so I believe it was fine with the DOE (desperately seeking an "expert" polygrapher) Renzelman work out of PNNL.

At the risk of been seen as having too many posts on this the threat (I have zero desire for that -- indeed I wish the whole thread was unnecessary, but that would mean that both management and the DOE would have already recognized the destructiveness of the polygraph and that apparently isn't going to happen), the reason I add this history is that Renzelman is, regrettably, a typical example of what happens to anyone who has unchecked power. Because there never has been any oversight of the polygraph programs at the national labs (a rather shameful abdication of management reponsibility in my view), Renzelman became more and more reckless in his own behavior, believing that no one would check him on his direction to his polygraphers to engage in wide-ranging inquisitions instead of sticking to the "four national security questions" that were supposed to be the SOLE basis of the now-defunct "screening" polygraph.

Renzelman was mostly right in this conclusion. But someone (to this day, I don't know who) from the CI department at Sandia sent the following letter to then NNSA Director Linton Brooks after a DOE complex-wide CI meeting where Renzelman apparently got just a bit too full of himself:

Brooks Letter and Renzelman Resignation.

Renzelman's maudlin resignation missive is also attached. To the best of my knowledge he is truly retired and thus doing no further harm. But, there is now doubtless someone occupying his old position who believes he/she has a similar lock on the truth.

Without independent oversight, even well-meaning individuals in positions of enormous power over individuals (let alone simpleminded zealots) cab -- and most certainly will -- do much harm to security, science, and careers at the Labs.


Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...

Exactly. And, will all the folks who choose to resign from the polygraph "pool" (whether or not they leave the Labs) somehow forget all the Sigma 14/15 and SCI information they learned while they were actively performing those duties? Which would better serve national security: Having a small cadre of very committed employees exposed to the most sensitive categories of data? Or actively working to piss off that same set of people, then replacing them with others - if you can find them - who are more willing to risk their reputations and livelihoods on the whims of a pseudoscientific test method.

5/17/07 9:04 AM

I was one of the small cadre...due to management competence I left. The only thing worse than working for a fucking idiot is knowing that you do

Anonymous said...

Interesting letter on Renzelman. The guy comes off looking like a total dick. I wonder how many other "Renzelmans" are still with us today?

Anonymous said...

Eric - I think you're an idiot and I'm disgusted by your sad attempts to drum up business on the blog. Go back to where you came from. At least go somewhere.

Eric said...

Anonymous 11:48 PM

I am sorry that you are in such pain.

On a positive note, I will buy coffee for you or anyone else who is willing to show up at Ruby K's next Tuesday, May 22, at 10 AM so that we can discuss, face to face, what measures might improve the future of the town and the Lab.

Anonymous said...

For a little humor on an otherwise serious matter, check this out:

What's New 5-18-07

Also check the link. Bob is not a believer.

Alan Zelicoff said...

Apropos the posting Anonymous of 7/17/07 11:32AM, may I formally suggest that the blog-master establish two new pages or sub-threads linked from the "DOE Polygraph Program" page, if possible:

1. A place for detailed descriptions of CI polygraph experiences and testimonials (in compliance, of course, with legitimate classification requirements. Note, however that there are often items that polygraphers claim one can't discuss that one, in fact, can.) This thread might also include a tally of total number of polygraph experience reported and total number of "passes" and "fails" and "inconclusives". Having the latter statistics available will unquestionably be useful to policy-makers and also for further scientific inquiry into the polygraph (such as retrospectively calculating sensitivity and specificity of the test.) I would be happy to keep a talley by reviewing all submitted reports/testimonials and publish an informal paper (which I'll post on my server space if desired) summarizing total number of polygraphs reported and the end-results.

2. A second page (probably less frequently populated) of the summaries from management meetings with staff to "explain" the CI polygraph or DOE polygraph policy. In the past (though not necessarily true now at LANL), management at Sandia made many errors in describing:

(a) the "scope" or limits of the polygrpah examintion;

(b) ignored, perhaps out of sheer ignorance per se, the pre- and post-test "interview" process and its permitted scope;

(c) individuals rights during a polygraph (for example, the right to decline any question that is not within the scope of a CI polygraph.) There are supposed to be a limited number of questions a polygrapher can ask during the polygraph test itself, and it would be useful, I believe, for staff to know the detail(s) explicated by manageemnt

(d) process of polygraph review and ejudicaiton of "failing to pass the polygraph."

Let me re-emphasize that I am NOT encouraging any disregard for legitimate classification guidance (including but not limited to the publishing of protected information) NOR am I encouraging or even suggesting refusal to take the polygraph. I am, however, hoping to motivate the scientific staff to try to take a bad situation (that is, the existence of polygraph program per se) and generate a bit of good out of it by at as systematic an accumulation of polygraph results and process information as possible. For what it's worth, during the NAS polygraph study (2000-2001), David Renzelman (former "lead" DOE polygrapher) revealed exactly this information in an unclassified, open hearing. I was sitting right next to him when he did so -- he had hand-written the information in pencil on a scrap of paper -- and his "data" is on the audio record of polygraph study group on the NAS site, so I am reasonably confident that I am suggesting nothing other than what has already been done -- albeit a "one time" snapshot from a dubious source as there was no possible way to independently review of his claims at the time.

Regrettably, when I suggested just this kind of passive oversight in the past to Sandia (which is my only direct experience though I did hear the same from staff at LLNL) management explictly and repeatedly refused to gather this information, let alone analyze and/or distribute it. Of course, we didn't have organized websites like this one at Sandia, but now that Pinky has been foresightful enough to create one, I believe it can definitely serve as a place where meaningful scientific contributions to the polygraph literature can begin, and staff alone can do it (as it is unlikely that management at any level will.)

Maybe we'll all learn something.

Respectfully submitted,
Al Z.

Anonymous said...

Each of the 113 previous posts has been read, and most of the links. It's obvious that polygraphs are only useful if guilt/responsibility has already been established by other means and what is desired is a little more information, which may or may not be reliably obtained with a polygraph.

More data, as suggested by Al Z., wouldn't be very useful, it would seem. Another tack has come to mind.

There are very many forms of discriminatiion in employment that are not allowed by law. See, for example, the LLNL jobs pages on that website. Why not add that discrimination based on polygraph test results can not be grounds for refusing to offer employment (or for termination)? Too simple? Maybe not.

Just out of curiosity, it was noted that the LANS/LANL jobs pages do not seem to have such an all-encompassing anti-discrimination declaration. Intended or an oversight?

Alan Zelicoff said...

With respect and regard to Anonymous 5/20/07 08:58, I think I haven't made the point clear (or less likey, you've missed the point). So, begging the indulgence of the readership let me try again:

1. There is NO question that the polygraph can not determine guilt, innocence or deception with a reasonable degree of NPV or PPV. The NAS study made that clear, and all I've done in addition is calculate confidence intervals based on published data in field use (other than DOE sites for which there is no published data). The sole exception may (emphasize: "may") be the "guilty knowledge" test for specific criminal investigation where VERY specific questions are asked that ONLY the perpetrator of crime could know the answer to.

2. That said, please note that the major goal of gathering the data I suggested is to make sure that "due process" has been followed. This may sound like a hollow legalistic rationale, but at Sandia (and perhaps at LANL) during the now-defunct "screening" polygraphs, people lost their jobs because the polygraphers didn't follow the rules (i.e. they went beyond their bounds because they could because, in turn, management refused to do any oversight; the usual malfeasance was violation of "substantive due process" if you read the testimonials on my web site, but obviously the sample size is too small to draw definitive conclusions in this regard).

So, it is one thing to lose your job for revealing classified information to unauthorized individuals. It is quite another to lose your job because the polygrapher failed in fulfilling either "procedural" or "substantive" due process requirements (Dr. Strangelove will probably have more information about this shortly so check out his/her web site later today or tomorrow). So, make no mistake: the ASSURANCE OF DUE PROCESS is the PRIMARY reason for gathering the data (because that data has NOT -- repeat NOT -- ever been gathered before and publicly revealed.)

Put another way, the data I suggest gathering goes DIRECTLY to the discrimination query you correctly raise in your posting. Violation of substantive due process is most often one of illegal discrimination (e.g. a subject passes the polygraph based on the squiggles on the tracings but the polygrapher flunks the subject because she is a black female or a homosexual male.)

3. To the extent that the sensitivity and specificity of the polygraph may be different in the DOE population (and I believe it is; scientists undergoing polygraph testing are not the same in a multiple dimensions as criminal suspects undergoing interrogation at a police station or, worse, using the polygraph to try to "prove" innocence), gathering more data IS a useful for future policy decisions (that is, to the extent that DOE or LANL management cares about rational policy formation in national security questions.)

However, I could well be wrong about this latter justification for gathering more data (i.e. maybe highly educated scientists are no different in their physiologic responses -- let alone the feelings they engender in the polygrapher -- than suspects in criminal cases, but I don't think so.) We'll find out quickly enough once the data has been gathered, and I'm happy to devote time to analyzing it.

Hope this helps, and again my thanks for the posting.


Anonymous said...

I work in Intelligence and in the course of work have done things that bother my conscience. I am concerned about my future. Am I doomed when I sit for the polygraph?

Anonymous said...

Well, in the Lie Behind the Lie Detector, linked in earlier posts, it is stated that half of all FBI candidates since 9/11 fail the polygraph. One would think that to be a high number of unfit persons making the cut to the polygraph step. But, 50/50 is as good as a coin toss. That must be considered good enough for the "best." Is it good enough for you? If would seem you have at least a 50/50 chance of passing if you tell the truth.

If what is in LBLD is correct, only Congress can fix the problem:

"While in 1988, Congress ratified
and President Ronald Reagan signed into law the Employee Polygraph
Protection Act (EPPA) prohibiting most polygraph screening
in the private sector, the Act expressly exempted federal, state, and local government. In the years since the OTA report, the reliance of Government on polygraphy has grown, rather than diminished,even as numerous spies have beaten the polygraph."

Anonymous said...

5/19 11:52 AM, Al Z. said about this blog, "I believe it can definitely serve as a place where meaningful scientific contributions to the polygraph literature can begin, . . ." R-i-g-h-t!! And they call me an optimist!

Pinky and The Brain said...

Funny you should say that. I'm staring at a printout of his 5/19/07 11:52 AM comment right now.
For both items 1. and 2. I would likely only receive anonymous reports. I'm not unwilling to create these threads. And they certainly will be of no value of they don't even exist. I suppose if he is willing to moderate them its worth a try. The topic of polygraphy has so far received the most comments of all.

Pinky and The Brain said...

Doc Strangelove has some accounts in his I Cannot Tell a Lie! post.

Anonymous said...

I believe Dr. Z in incorrect when he says that PNNL has always been in charge of DOE polygraph. What about the approximately ten years prior that Wackenhut serviced the contract? Oops!

Anonymous said...

Those wishing to anonymously send a note to Pinky and the Brain (for example, about their polygraph screening experience) can use an anonymous remailer such as that linked below to send mail to

Pinky and The Brain said...

Cute! Honestly, we can't tell where comments come from. If you don't want to email us but also don't want to communicate via a comment that everyone else can see, this could be for you.

See also for more anonymity resources.

Alan Zelicoff said...

Historical and definitional clarification on comment by Anon. 5/21/07 3:49PM:

1. The DOE did not have a polygraph screening program OF ITS OWN until Bill Richardson proposed ans initiated it (along with no small amount of help from Rep. Wilson and Sen. Richard Shelby; talk about odd bedfellows!) until about 2000 in the wake of Richardson's indictment of W. H. Lee in the media (before the latter becomes a distraction from the subject matter herein: I do not know, nor do I have an opinion on whether or not Mr. Lee was guilty as charged by Richardson. The Federal courts dismissed the case against Mr. Lee and apologized for his incarceration. At least two DOE polygraphers -- perhaps three -- passed, failed, and then passed Mr. Lee on his polygraph. However, at the very least, the Lee case is an indication of the potential for abuse of the polygraph, due process, and the superficial attractiveness of a "box" to determine guilt or innocence. That Mr. Richardson found the polygraph program an appealing way to augment CI processes is perhaps an instructive illustration in the depth of his thinking and the nature of his political reactions.)

2. Previous to that time, polygraphs administered for certain specific programs (primarily, but not exclusively for the intel some DOD agencies) were NOT DOE programs but were required by the funding agency, and officially administered by those agencies, typically via contractors (see below). To the best of my knowledge, such polygraphs have been given (without any oversight, of course) for many years. Since the number of subjects was small -- and perhaps because few people failed -- this caused little attention. It wasn't until Richardson's call for "everyone with a clearance" (potentially 25,000 + individiuals, later reduced in a confusing series of administrative decisions from Richardson's office) that attention was focused on both polygraphs and the polygraphers recruited to do them, simply because the numbers were so large (including the numbers subject to false positives and the attendant costs to individual careers.)

3. Wackenhut was the primary subcontractor to administer polygraphs under both the "stand alone" DOE program and long-standing intel-agency project polygraphs. I don't know if it was the only one. Perhaps other readers can list subcontractors.

Thus, the DOE screening polygraph program (which is the one I believe to be the context of this page's discussion, and now resurrected as the "random" polygraph program) is and was run by DOE (out of PNNL with David Renzelmen as chief polygrapher and if my memory is correct, someone called Katerine Eberwine from Forrestal as administrator. My notes on the 2002 meeting to which I earlier referred among Sandia senior management, Mr. Renzelman, and (I think) Ms. Eberwine were confiscated when I was forced out of Sandia so I can't document with confidence the DOE officer charged with ostensible oversight of the DOE polygraph program.)

A small clarificaiton, but perhaps important for historical accuracy.


Anonymous said...

I heard a rumor that Dr. Z was never in any programs that required a polygraph. Is this true? If so, why are you fighting so hard against them? I am probably a bit naive about this whole security thing. I thought that if someone wanted Uncle Sam's clearance, they had to abide by Uncle Sam's rules no matter what they are. If they say do this this week, we do this. If next week they say something else, we do something else. Also, shouldn't the government use every tool that is out there? Would someone shed some light on this for me? Thanks.

Anonymous said...

My bad Dr. Z. I was fed some erroneous information about the polygraph program. Sure does sound confusing.

Alan Zelicoff said...

I'm starting to get all of the anonymous-es confused, so my apologies in advance if I make an error here in attribution, but in answer to questions raised above:

To anonymous 5/23/07 1:46PM:
- I was, of course at Sandia during the screening polygraph program and although the specific "population subject to the polygraph" changed over the period 2000-2006, I was always one of the groups subject to a polygraph (with one ambiguous short period of time that I'd best not reveal because I simply don't know which of my clearance levels are/were, per se, classified.)

- Perhaps more to the point of the alleged rumor, I publicly volunteered -- to Bill Richardson when he visited Sandia, on national radio and in print -- to be the first Sandian (outside of senior management which, let's face it, don't count when they pass because they don't ever flunk) to be polygraphed. It never happened of course because I would have answered the four national security questions and the control question and not an iota more. It would have driven the polygraphers (and probably Bill Richardson) nuts.

- Finally, and most important, you are completely correct in your implicit and explicit understanding that NO one has a "right" to a security clearance and has to abide by whatever Uncle Sam says to get one subject to two constraints (which are detailed in the posting on 5/20/07 above) called "procedural" and "substantive" due process. In exemplum reductio ad absurdum, the USG can, for example, require everyone who applied for a Sigma 14 to first raise their right hand three times, then their left twice before being granted a clearance. If an individual carries out that requirement but is denied a Sigma on the basis of the statement "we didn't like the length of your arm even though you raised you hand like everyone else" that's a failure of substantive due process (which is to say, something so outrageous than no "reasonable" person would countenance it) and the clearance could NOT be denied on that basis (assuming it were adjudicated; having been an expert witness in DOE employment cases, I think I can reasonably predict we'll see this happen once the new "random" polygraph program gets rolling. Makes for great fun in the courtroom.

So the point is that, absent oversight (and to be clear there is NO independent oversight of polygraphers -- they just review each other's polygraphs and polygraph videotapes) there can be NO guarantee of due process.

And that is the second most important reason that I have struggled against the polygraph. The first is that it is scientifically vapid and thus, in general, undermines the national security it is allegedly designed to protect. Bad move in my view as a pretty hawkish guy on national security matters (but obviously it must be balanced against constitutional protections other than in suspension of rule of law as happened during some crises in US history.)

To Anonymous 5/23/07 1:50 PM:
- I quite understand. This IS a confusing subject, and as the Renzelman palaver shows, unchecked power is not only corrupting of the polygraph process, it leads to polygraphers themselves telling lies. If I don't miss my guess, DOE bureaucrats responsible for the polygraph program and the pimply-faced staffers on Congressional intel committees, would just as soon have it all remain that way so that thoughtful people don't meddle or, heaven forbid, blog on a site loosely associated with a national laboratory for Heaven's sake.

- Finally, I would note that if the far-above-the-mean-IQ folks who read this blog have their eyes glaze over, you can imagine how much time most citizens (and perhaps some Congresspeople) spend thinking about the damage wrought by polygraphs. But struggle to understand, we must. My departed father, a poorly educated, but very wise man taught me many things, one of which is was that "truth, like love, is expensive and difficult. And both are worth every effort to get right."


Al Z.

Anonymous said...

P&B. This string of comments is still being added to. That's good. When it is no longer getting comments, please consider putting it to the top of your page. It would be a good thing for all 6 billion persons on the planet if polygraphs could be relegated to the very few applications (under very controlled oversight) where they might be of at least a little possible value.

Anonymous said...

This may be a stupid question but I will ask it any way. Exactly how many people have actually lost their jobs as a direct result of the polygraph? I do not know any. Granted, I do not know everyone at the lab.

Alan Zelicoff said...

Responding to Anonymous 5/25/07 9:37 AM:

To the best of my knowledge, the data on who has either actually lost employment (or, perhaps equivalently been relegated to work that does not fully utilize the talents of a given invididual) as a result of "failing to pass" a polygraph has never been released. The NAS study group -- despite clearances that should have provided them with access to such information -- was denied it, and few in Congress (including the sponsors of the NAS study) cared, if at all.

It puzzles me to the point of astonishment that lab management fails in its due diligence responsibilities to monitor AND publish the information you ask for. The failure to do so raises the obvious question: what is the role of management if but to do nothing but implement DOE policy without retrospective (let alone prospective) review as good science would demand? It would seem that the management fee is neither earned nor justified. Taxpayers and Congress should be outraged, but in the scheme of things, a tens of millions of squandered dollars doesn't keep Lab directors awake at night, and they somehow manage to countenance vacuous random drug-testing as well.

It will be the responsibility of lab staff to quantify the numerator and denominator: how many people have taken the polygraph and how many have "failed to pass" (a turn-of-phrase for "flunking", and further undermining the responsibility of management to protect critical information while, at the same time, maintaining morale, recruitment of new staff, and meeting the DOE's stated goal of "the Best of Science." If past is prologue, no one in management will do so.

A bit more history: there is no question such data exists (though it remains in the hands of polygraphers and bureaucrats at the DOE.) and hardly out of the reach of senior laboratory management. But when I asked Paul Robinson (former Sandia president) to gather such information -- if only for purely internal use of senior management -- he never responded. Much worse, Robinson even failed to respond to suggestions and direct requests from the director of Occupational Medicine at Sandia (see below), specifically regarding illegal polygrapher inquiries into medical histories of individuals (let alone the risible explanation that polygrapher's gave -- and perhaps still give -- for soliciting such information from polygraph subjects.)

For reasons I find difficult to understand (though I have asked him repeatedly), my colleague Dr. Larry Clevenger dismissed the oath he took as a physician to protect individuals against harm from "conceited fools" (see Oath of Maimonides for the specific reference and just a bit of common-sense guidance here; it isn't perfect, but its the best we've got as the Nuremberg trials and the Helskinki human rights doctrine concluded). Knowing Clevenger to be a generally well-principled (if somewhat timid) practitioner, I would think resignation would have been in order, but I could only decide that course for myself and would never impose my actions on others. Nonetheless, color me disappointed, but hardly surprised.

I don't consider myself to be holier nor more righteous than anyone. I am merely exercising ethical duties as a physician and scientist in questioning the application, theory, and actual implementation of the polygraph -- based on the the existing science. I believe all scientists should (though perhaps I expect far too much and doubtless there are some who will bring out some tired refrain akin to tilting at windmills.) In my opinion, there is no room for equivocation in these duties. It is, indeed, hard to imagine another situation (save the extremes of war and genocide that fortunately have not visited our society) where scientifically-based ethical protest are clearer than this, up to and including very public and very loud resignation of national laboratory occupational medicine physicians and senior scientists over a straightforward example of, at best, practicing medicine without a license, and at worst, permitting experimentation on unwitting subjects without appropriate retrospective review, protective oversight and analysis.

The key moral issues with polygraphs as with all human-use experiments -- scientific validity, competency of the users,and potential benefits to society -- are willfully ignored by both national laboratory management and the medical departments charged with the health and safety of employees, and at their own peril. If not the purview of these entities, then to whom does such responsibility fall? The end result -- intentional ignorance by abjuring even the gathering of the data necessary to answer your important question, let alone failing to publish it is, in my view, heinous and monstrous on its face. This episode will continue to accelerate the spiraling demise of the national labs as institutions of importance and serious science. As others on this page have already pointed out, it's already happening, and perhaps unsalvagable (though I hope I am wrong.)

Others may, of course, have a different interpretation.

Additional documentation available upon request.

Al Z>

Anonymous said...

Is there any way to advertise somewhere asking people that have lost their jobs or been reassigned as a direct result of "failing" the polygraph to step forward and let us know? Just thinking out loud. I agree Dr. Z. Management should have these stats.

Alan Zelicoff said...

To Anon. 5/29/07 6:55 AM:

1. Yes, I believe that the intent of the I Cannot Tell a Lie page is to do precisely this.

2. I would urge that all LANL employees (or even those at SNL who don't have a blogspot nearly as well developed as LANL) post their polygraph experiences to include as much of the detail alluded to in my earlier posting above. So that putative postings would not be viewed as mere testimonials, I would suggest the following items be included, if possible:

- content of "pre-test" interview with special reference to any requests on the part of polygraphers for medications being taken or medical conditions (of ZERO relevance to the polygraph interpretation but certainly an invasion of privacy and perhaps a biasing factor in deciding if the subject has "failed to pass" (i.e. flunked) the polygraph when that judgment is made.

- content of "post-test" interview (ditto on attempts to ask other non-national security questions)

- the specific questions asked DURING THE ACTUAL polygraph test

- general demeanor of the polygrapher (e.g. accusations (or not) of the subject lying or being deceptive; raising of voice; etc.)

- if possible (and I realize that this might NOT be possible because it could strip an individual of their anonymity), whether or not adverse action was taken against them for "failing to pass" the polygraph and, ostensibly, whether or not they have lost their job (or, perhaps equivalently, been reduced to doing unimportant, dis-interesting or dull work).

Hope this helps. One thing I know for sure: if scientific staff doesn't publish their polygraph experiences, then we'll never have any data to analyze. Management will refuse to do (and doubtless offer tortured explanations for their malfeasance and abandonment of health/safety responsibilities.)

Assuming that the data-protocol described above is followed, we have at least a primitive case-control study (which is much better than anything in the formal polygraph literature let alone the information put forward by the DOE) that will permit a modest assessesment of the risk-benefit utility (my goodness! A systems study on polygraphs!) of this particular "national security" tool. I'm willing to do the work and statistical analysis and write it up, perhaps as an evolving document that can be posted on this site (or I can post it on my web page).

It's a start.

Al Z.

Anonymous said...

I think Dr. Z is on the right track even though I tried to express my experience once and was accused of being an examiner. I am curious to see what others went through.

Anonymous said...

Dr. Z. I read your input about volunteering to take a test. Why didn't they let you take the test? Who would have tested you? I have another question. I recently went through the AAAP polygraph procedure. It was a very confusing process (MMPI, poly, speaking with a shrink). Is there a difference between the polygraph they give with the AAAP program and the one administered outside the program?

Alan Zelicoff said...

In response to Anonymous 6/06/07 12:48:

1. I can only speculate -- and can NOT state with any special knowledge -- as to why I was never polygraphed by the DOE. My guess -- and let me emphasize again that it is just a guess as I can not read minds any better than polygraphers can't read minds -- is that the officials knew I would:

(a) answer the 4 "national security questions" that were supposed to be the full extent of the polygraph (save for the "control question" and the "irrelevant question" as reviewed in George Maschke's excellent book on the practical aspects of polygraphs)

(b) and I would have answered absolutely nothing else. Specifically, I would have declined any information about medical conditions (whether or not I indeed was being treated for anything -- that's personal and of NO relevance to the polygraph), any medications I was taking (ditto) or any knowledge about the physiologic effects (if any) of deception. As a physician-scientist, I think it is fair to say that I know a great deal more than any polygrapher about the effects of medications and medical conditions on the polygraph (and, much less importantly, vice-versa.) I think it is also fair to say that the DOD-PI and the DOE knew I know much more about polygraphs than do polygraphers (and you can too because you are a scientist and polygraphers are not, so they can't begin to understand the ambiguities of the data with which they deal; I'm sure there is an occasional exception, by the way.)

Thus, I suspect -- but can not prove -- that the DOE knew the approach outlined above would cause an endless amount of trouble for the polygrapher because the "box" itself is -- for all intents and purposes -- completely incapable of deducing deception (see previous paper I have posted in an early posting.) Instead, the polygrapher relies on the individual BELIEVING that the machine has some non-stochastic chance of divining deception such that the polygrapher can nearly always count on the subject mellifluously responding to the INEVITABLE remark from the polygrapher along the lines of: "You did well on question #1 and #4 but when I asked you if you had ever revealed classified information to an unauthorized source, I get an unusual reading on the polygraph tracings. So, since I know you are probably an honest guy, I am going to turn off the polygraph and ask you what you were thinking about or if you have anything to get off of your chest."

Very VERY few people can resist the fear of not responding with an outpouring the details of every traffic ticket they've had, pilfering pencils during elementary school or other unpleasant thoughts (including about political figures.) Of course, the polygrapher doesn't care about these universal human foibles (indeed, the polygrapher assumes that an individual is LYING when the "irrelevant" question is asked such as "before 2007, did you ever want to hurt someone". Just about everyone says "no", and the polygrapher ASSUMES that is a lie and then compares the polygraph tracing during that response -- in a wide variety of uncontrolled and unverified ways -- to the answer to the relevant question. See how vapid this all is? Not only is the assumption about physiology PRECISELY incorrect -- for example that heart and respiratory rates are regular (they are NOT except in very ill people) -- but the very basis for detecting a lie is an assumption about lying that may or may not be correct.)

The right way to answer the polygraphers' INEVITABLE implication that you (or any subject) is being less than truthful is to say NOTHING other than: "I answered the question you asked truthfully. If your machine is giving you 'unusual readings' perhaps there is something wrong with the machine, but I'm not an expert in that. You are."

2. Regarding the AAAP: Procedures and rules have changed and will doubtless continue to change either as a matter of a fruitless search for a way of detecting deception or because some other interest beyond national security is served with process changes.

But, your basic point is correct: the procedures here are confusing and complicated (including speaking with a psychiatrist who MAY be able to diagnose anti-social personality with specificity and sensitivity much higher than random chance alone, but then that would be a rare individual applying for AAAP). And these procedures are unique (well, more or less to AAAP and some other weapons-related accelerated clearance procedures).

AL z.

Anonymous said...

Dr. Z: Thank you for your input. Sounds like DOE or whoever is running this chicken outfit does not really have a handle on things. Maybe there are too many chiefs and not enough indians. MMM!

Anonymous said...

Dr. Z: Just thought of another question for you. Can a psychologist actually make an informed decision about someone by taking a test and by speaking with them for a few minutes? Seems to me that anyone can put on a good act for a relatively short period of time. Sounds like this could be another case of fraud, waste and abuse.

Anonymous said...

Book TV Cspan2 on Jun 9 and Jun 10 was from the Printers Row Book Fair and one author featured was Ken Alder, author of The Lie Detectors: A History of an American Obsession.

He was an excellent speaker and really debunked the use of polygraphs. Perhaps there's a way to suggest that Congressional persons read the book. Congress does not allow the use of polygraphs, but they can legislate the use for others. Maybe one or two of them might get the idea that what they have forced on the DOE is a really bad idea.

Anonymous said...

The moment that congressmen and senators are subjected to polygraphs, the use of them will end. The thing to remember here is that its a tool used by bureaucrats to cover and control the minions that could potentially cost them their cushy government jobs. It provides a barrier between being responsible for a decision and having a scapegoat if that decision goes bad. Just my perspective

Alan Zelicoff said...

This page shouldn't turn into the "Dr. Z" commentary blog, so if the page-master (or readers) feel I'm being too verbose or dominant, please let me know. I am happy to respond privately to questions or comments as well. My e-mail is: Please feel free to contact me.

So briefly in response to recent comments:

To Anonymous 6/13/07 12:14 : I believe it is correct to conclude that DOE doesn't have any understanding of the downside risks of polygraphs anymore than senior decision-makers fail to understand the absence of upside benefits. More to the point, DOE behaved rather badly when -- after the NAS study of 2001 was published -- they didn't even send the Secretary to Congress for testimony as I believed was required (they sent the Deputy Secretary whose testimony was contemptible.) Put another way, if DOE's motto "The Best of Science" (or something like that) is a nothing less than a lie, and a self-deceptive one at that. Ditto for random drug-screening which has been well reviewed and analyzed in the medical literature. It is worth than worthless, just like polygraphs.

It is thoroughly unsurprising that DIrector Anastasio hasn't changed his mind on random drug screening despite the overwhelming scientific evidence of its pure fecklessness.

To Anonymous 6/13/07 3:30 : Psychologists and psychiatrists are rather good (i.e. with good specificity and sensitivity) in identifying and individual with the "anti-social" or "borderline" personality phenotype. Such individuals are very high risk for mishandling sensitive information and material. Literature references available upon request, but the bottom line is: much better than the polygraph (though still with some false positives and negatives.)

To Anonymous 6/13/07 5:51 : I happen to be reading Alder's book. It is quite good, and I'd recommend it to management and DOE bureaucrats. For a book on polygraphs that gets is precisely wrong (also helpful in my view) see: "Gatekeeper: Memoirs of a CIA Polygraph Examiner" by John F. Sullivan. I'm particularly honored that he takes a feckless swipe at me!

To Anonymous 6/14/07 2:59 PM : Exactly right, but it will never happen. When the Senate Intelligence Committee was itself being investigated by the FBI for the famous leak of the pre-9/11 NSA intercept ("Tomorrow is Zero Hour"), the FBI wanted to polygraph Committee members and staff (not smart, but as you point out, what's good for the goose....) However, then Chairman Richard Shelby told the Bureau that "no one will take a polygraph test" because "everyone knows it is an inaccurate test." This is the same Senator who helped push through the now-failed DOE polygraph program.

When I wrote about this far-above-the-mere-mean level of hypocrisy in the Washington Post, the long knives came out -- mostly wielded by my "director", Ms. Dori Ellis though doubtless at the direction of Paul Robinson and then Secretary Abraham. You can read the OpEd piece on my website.

It didn't take much scientific genius to know that Shelby, Abraham, Robinson and Ellis were dead wrong (and experience has, I believe pretty much proven it.) But did they learn anything? Nah; it is most unusual for bureaucrats to ever change their minds about anything. What amazes me is that science based organizations (I'm referring to the Labs, not necessarily the DOE) continue to reward and promote managers who make errors easily identified with root cause analysis. And that, more than anything, may account for the rather critical Congressional maneuvering manifested by the one and only way that people understand: probable severe budgetary cutbacks.

Al Z.

Pinky and The Brain said...

Al Z.,
The blog is what the readers make it. Your contributions are helpful, please continue!

Anonymous said...

Things have quieted down here at LANL, has anyone been notified or called in yet for a polygraph. I have heard absolutely nothing from anyone here. Or is it just a calm before the storm. Inputs ?

Alan Zelicoff said...

RE: Posting from Anonymous 6/20/07 11:16 AM

I had been pondering the same question, so I put it to friends and colleagues at LLNL and SNL. To the best of anyone's knowledge (about half a dozen total people, most in a position to know but not among the most senior ranks of management), no one has yet been polygraphed. No explanation given.

Suggestion: Might someone place a phone call to the Director's office or Security office to find out when polygraphs are scheduled to begin? Even more to the point, might someone ask if anyone has been polygraphed yet? I would be happy to do so, but since I no longer have any standing as an employee at Sandia, I'm reasonably confident that no one would answer my question or even return a phone call.

Perhaps someone from the Los Alamos Monitor be willing to make such a phone call and if he/she is rebuffed (as I expect is likely) at least the press might be willing to publish that fact for the community to see.

Al Z.

Anonymous said...

I have heard that testing has already started at SNL. Do not know the number of people tested already or of anyone that has been.

Anonymous said...

It sounds like security / CI types want the waters to calm down, and then in small numbers introduce the polygraphs. This may be a ploy to say, "See its not so bad !!". I do believe, (a reasonable guess on my part) that they are very conscious of the fact, that they do not want to piss off the senior scientists on this facility. As the leaders go, so do the rank and file. Its going to be an interesting summer.

Anonymous said...

I was tested last year in June and unfortunately my responses to questions about a possible collaboration with "persons with a foreign nexus" were not sufficient. I was scheduled for another test several weeks later with the same result. Even though I have been a loyal and productive employee with excellent management reviews it did no good. I was stripped of my HRP Access and handed a green badge signifying an uncleared person. Fortunately, my employer who is a major contractor has given me enough work to stay somewhat busy although it is not the work I have been doing for 20 + years. It can feel very demeaning to be in this situation. Some of the people you work with are suddenly looking at you in a funny way and it is stressful in other ways as well. Since the polygraph results I have had a couple interviews with DOE security investigator types and last week I had a two hour interview with a DOE contractor psychologist who must have been at least 80 years old asking me what seemed like ridiculous questions. Almost to person these interviewers have started the interview by saying: 99% percent of the people I interview end up fine but, there are a few problems. This has gone on for almost a year and if it weren't for my contractor employer hanging in there with me, I would probably be ruined financially and out of a job. Not sure how this is going to end up but, I know I am not a terrorist, sabetour, or spy so I guess I just need to hang in and hope for the best. Not sure what my advice would be for those scheduled for a test. I guess it would be to just hope for the best because it is totally out of your hands. Good luck and if you have any advice for me, don't hold back. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

You should have defended yourself immediately after the first one and researched the polygraph and understand what a load of garbage the polygraph truly is. It would have made you relax and know what the examiners game is. Knowing countermeasures wouldn't have hurt either, using them though is a gut call. Now you just have to endure, for that I am sorry you have to do this. Much success to resolvng this.

Anonymous said...

I am not sure advising someone to know countermeasures is a good idea. What happens if they get so nervous and attempt countermeasures and does not do a very good job and gets caught? What happens then? Are they given another chance to take the test? Are they kicked out immediately? Are they allowed to explain themselves? I do not know. Wish I did. I wish I was more help than just asking all these questions. Does anyone know what the answers might be?

Anonymous said...

I now understand why around here,that the management feels it can get away with these kinds of actions. This last post shows or proves that some of you need to grow a pair and get some backbone. If you aren't willing to toughen up and do whats neccessary to defend yourself, then you deserve the beating you get. I for one will be not put up this these simple minded cretons and their credibility assessment program. I am more than prepared to resist these fools, and beat them. A geek I may be at times, but a coward never. Remember the Spartans !!

Dr. Strangelove said...

Doc Z & Pinky+Brain -

Glad to see the "buzz" is still alive on this topic.

Sadly a lot of the comments indicated folks are not reading what you've told them.

Sounds like the best you can do is stick to the 4 national security questions and don't volunteer a thing.

It doesn't sound like anything a Poly can show will hold up in court. Refuse to volunteer and refuse to accept a "failure".

If you *are* a spy or a lying cheat then please, "move on down the line" but otherwise, stick to your guns.

I'm a recent 15 and a current SCI (I would speak in the accustomed "1st person plural" of "We" but it just somehow seems to schizoid even fore me (or is that us?) ion this case.

I think I could brave the poly and except for the potential false-positive am very comfortable I could pass the piss test. But damned if it all doesn't offend the living piss out of me.

This whole thing continues to piss me off. It doesn't seem to begin to improve safety or security, seems mostly only to demoralize and irritate and cause folks to quit and move elsewhere.

Everytime I walk past the pissmobiles I have an urge to:

A) Piss on their tires.
B) Walk in and insist on donating some urine on the spot. Maybe if everyone walking by just stopped in and volunteered, they'd eventually start hiding their vans rather than flashing them for all to see!

- Doc

Anonymous said...

The last anonymous entry sounds like someone that talks a big game but I bet when the time comes, they will give in to the system which has been around a long time. And just because someone decides to do what the government says does not equate into being a coward. A question, if you are caught doing countermeasures what would the defense be against this? Does braveheart know the answer to this? Supposedly, if you are caught doing countermeasures the examination is immediately terminated. Everything is then reported. To whom? I have no idea. Does not seem to be a good idea or something someone can win.

Anonymous said...

Why do you have to beat these cretons? Why not just go in, do what they say and leave? It wasn't as bad as I thought. Granted, I do not have access to a lot of classified since I am a mechanic. Could this be the difference? Not being associated with classified? Are you more likely to fail a polygraph if you have more access to classified? I know these probably sound like stupid questions and to some they are. However, I do not know and maybe there are others out there that do not know either. Maybe Dr. Z could address this. I like his posts. He never personnally attacks anyone.

BraveHeart said...

I have a real problem with Big Brother (STUPID) asking me to do something that is about as valid as the Easterbunny. Sounds like to me that you must have been getting your ass kicked since grade school. They want sheep, willing, unknowing, and about all easily crapped on sheep. I am already seriously looking at moving and changing jobs. Never has my honor or veracity been challenged before, and its not going to happen now. So when they march you out the door for being a liar or spy. (Based on a ridiculous machine or no-mind cretin polygrapher) Remember how you got there !!! You just went along and followed the flock, and got flocked. Unless your the lead dog, the view is always the same.

Anonymous said...

As far as countermeasures are concerned, I don't know if they work. But I am willing to bet that I have the ability to make them work. With all the information on the Internet it is more than enough to plan, practice, and implement countermeasures. Its not like we are mentally battling individuals of any intellectual consequence. To the brave goes the spoils.

Anonymous said...

How do we know the examiners are stupid? Maybe they have as much education as we do. Maybe they even have more. I find it very disheartening that individuals with a different view point on matters, is considered stupid and cretins. Not a very open-minded way to look at things. I do not have a feeling either way about polygraphs. If Uncle Sam tells me to do this, even though I might disagree with it, I am going to do it. It is the government's clearance and if I want it, I will play the game. Doesn't mean I am giving in. I am just following the rules that the "powers-to-be" have made. To the anonymous person saying they are going to move on ore words to that effect, maybe they should. The sooner the better.

George Maschke said...

Regarding whether countermeasures work, there is little doubt but that they can be effective. The polygraph community is very concerned about this vulnerability, and the subject of countermeasures is a perennial topic at polygraph conferences and seminars. Nonetheless, no polygrapher has ever demonstrated any ability to reliably detect countermeasures, nor has the polygraph community published a single paper on how to do so. The main approach that polygraphers are using is to discourage countermeasure use by spreading fear, uncertainty, and doubt (FUD).

Bear in mind that not using countermeasures provides no protection against being falsely accused of using countermeasures.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Maschke: I might be a little naive about the polgyraph and all that is involved; however, to me why would polygraph guys advertise what they look for when it comes to countermeasures? If they advertise what they utilize wouldn't this give an advantage to the guys being tested? I cannot believe even polygraph guys are this dumb. I guess I could be wrong. Would you shed some light on this for me? It is a very interesting topic. I guess I have another question for you. Who are you? Do you work at the lab? If so, you are very brave to publish your name.

Croatan said...

After hearing how polygraphers are concerned with the effectiveness of countermeasures and that they cannont detect someone who knows how to use them, the answer may be that through the internet and blogs like this one, countermeasures will become very well known and used so often it makes polygraph results even less credible than they already are. This may take a while though :) I noticed a recent news story where a former marine admitted to being involved in a massacre of innocent's in Iraq but, it was only found out after he made an admission during a polygraph he was taking for a job application. This is the first time I have heard anyting like this. Do we think the polygraph underworld is now putting out propoganda to enhance its chances of maintaining it's sorry existence ? Bastards !

George Maschke said...

Anonymous (7/6/07 2:10 PM),

You ask a good question: if polygraphers can detect countermeasures, why would they give away the secret of how they do it? The reason one would expect a paper to be published if polygraphers really had a reliable method of countermeasure detection is that there are several thousand polygraph operators (several hundred of whom work for the federal government), and they need to be trained.

Keep in mind that polygraph procedure itself depends on the examinee being ignorant of how the "test" actually works (and doesn't). Nonetheless, the federal government publishes an unclassified handbook that explains how to administer the standard polygraph techniques currently in government use. has obtained a copy of this handbook, formally titled the Federal Psychophysiological Detection of Deception Examiner Handbook. You can download it here (963kb PDF). While it includes a chapter on countermeasures, it doesn't explain how to detect them.

And consider this: if the federal government had a reliable means of detecting countermeasures, why would the instructor at the federal government's polygraph school who teaches the countermeasures course for polygraphers have seriously proposed that the act of making information about polygraph countermeasures available to the public should be criminalized? This really happened. See my article, "A Response to Paul M. Menges Regarding the Ethical Considerations of Providing Polygraph Countermeasures to the Public."

Regarding myself, no I do not work at LANL. You can read about my background, and the experience that led me to co-found here.

Anonymous said...

If they make me take one and give me problems, I will quit and work elsewhere. Being a loyal American and dedicated employee for many years counts for nothing. Life is too short for this idiocy.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Maschke,

Thanks for the links and the website. I have downloaded your ebook and have made multiple copies of it. And have passed those copies out to a few discerning individuals here at LANL. If we have to put up with this nonsense, lets at least be prepared. My colleagues also were most impressed with the level of research in your book. Again thank you so much.

Alan Zelicoff said...

In response to Anonymous 7/2/07 10:17AM who wrote: "Why do you have to beat these cretons [sic]?.. Are you more likely to fail a polygraph if you have more access to classified? I know these probably sound like stupid questions and to some they are. However, I do not know and maybe there are others out there that do not know either."

Your questions are not at all naive, let alone stupid. I will give the best advice I can on "how to take a polygraph" in a moment, but note that this does NOT guarantee passing the polygraph because, in the end, the decision to pass or fail you depends on whether or not the polygrapher believes you. And that, in turn, is mostly a function of the polygrapher himself, with his selective reference to the tracings in a purely post-hoc manner to find "data" that supports his already-made decision, and perhaps an unspecified "quota" of having to flunk at least someone (which is the ultimate answer to "why" this insipid policy has to be retired, otherwise CI is doomed to ever more failure at a time when, at least in my view, we can least afford it.)

So, here is what I advise TO do (followed shortly by what NOT to do):

1. Answer the "control" question as directed by the polygrapher. If he asks you say the number "7" written on a piece of paper is the number "5", then simply do as he asks.

2. You will be asked a "probable lie" question meaning that the polygrapher ASSUMES you -- like most people -- will fib on this question. For example: "Have you ever wanted to hurt someone during the past 10 years?". Most of us of course HAVE wanted to hurt someone (although I assume there are some saints who have not), and the polygrapher knows that you are interested in demonstrating your integrity and inherent good nature, so you'll probably answer "no". But -- and it really doesn't matter in the end -- if you really DID want to hurt someone, then answer "yes" at which point the polygrapher will switch off the machine, ask you explain more (e.g. "my former manager was so unfair to staff that I wanted to make sure he got a bad performance review so I thought about submitting an anonymous letter to senior management about him"). The polygraph will then say something like "Okay, fair enough. But aside from that is there anyone else you wanted to hurt in the past 10 years", and eventually he wants you to answer "no" (using that, believe it or not, as a "baseline" for your physiologic response to a "lie". Can this test get any more vapid?)

3. Assuming that the polygrapher is following the format of the "Test for Espionage and Sabotage" (TES) which is by far the most common approach at the DOE labs as opposed to the "lifestyle" polygraph (or most rarely of all, the "Guilty Knowledge Test" which would be used only in the context of an actual investigation of charges brought against you), there will be 4 "national security" questions. Typically they are something close to these:

- Have you committed an act of sabatoge?
- Have you committed an act of espionage?
- Have you provided classified material to an unauthorized person?
- Have you had unauthorized contact with a foreign national?

You should answer "no" to the first and second questions, but -- unless there really is NO instance where you inadvertently uttered classified information or you've NEVER failed to report some contact with a foreign national you should have reported (like at at cocktail party at an embassy) -- then answer "yes" to either the third or fourth question.

Why would I advise this? Because the polygrapher expects that EVERYONE has at SOMETIME made a small error and either uttered phrase one shouldn't have or failed to fill out a foreign contact report. So, if you don't answer "yes" to either question #3 or #4 above, the polygrapher will probably dis-believe you and engage in an inquisition (see below).

When you answer "yes" to either question #3 or #4 above, then just as with the "probably lie" question, the polygrapher will stop the machine, ask you to explain, and you might then say something like: "well, once while talking about work with my spouse in bed, I mentioned something about the design of the XZQ61 mod 15 firing set I shouldn't have mentioned" (or whatever; it really doesn't matter). The polygrapher will nod knowingly (and will frown or engage in some other tendentious behavior indicating his appreciation for the weightiness of this matter) and then say (doubtless after a deep breath, sigh or other sign of mild approbation): "well, besides that is there any other time when you revealed classified information to an unauthorized individual?", and then answer "no".

And here is what NOT to do:
1. Do NOT answer any questions -- either before, during or after the polygraph test -- about medications or medical conditions. The DOE agreed in 2002 to never ask such questions (which had been their wont until that time) as they finally conceded (after I presented them with the literature) that there is NO evidence from ANY study that ANY drug or medication can affect the polygraph machine's diagnostic sensitivity or specificity (which is close to random in any case).

2. When the polygrapher states -- as will almost ALWAYS be the case -- "well Sam, your readings are very honest on questions 1, 3 and 4, but when I asked you about espionage I got some strange readings on my machine indicating that you aren't being completely truthful" (or some random variation thereof). "So, I'm going to turn off the machine and ask you to tell me what you were thinking about or see if there is something you want to get off your chest".

You have two choices here. In general, I would recommend that you say: "no, I wasn't thinking about anything in particular or general except the question you asked" or "no, there is nothing I want or feel the need to get off of my chest". This MAY cause the polygrapher to then say: "well, we have to work through this unusual reading on my machine. I'm trying to help you help yourself to pass", to which you should respond: "Thank you. I have answered your question honestly, and don't know why your machine is giving you unusual readings other than the well known conclusion from the National Academy of Sciences study which showed that there is much random fluctuation in physiologic readings of all types in humans that may give you a false impression or your machine a false reading".

Alternatively, you could say: "well, I was thinking about a movie I watched a few nights ago where the main character -- a retired FBI agent -- decided to spy for a foreign government" (or something like that) just to give the polygrapher a little fodder to chew on. He will probably then say, "oh, I see. Maybe that explains it. Well, besides that, anything else?" Then say, "no, not that I can think of", and he'll turn the polygraph machine back on and ask the question again.

Now please understand that he may STILL not be satisfied, or, equivalently, will say again "hmmm.... I'm still not getting a good reading here; the machine is indicating deception". You'll simply have to play the game again by patiently responding: "I have answered your question honestly, and I am not the expert on polygraph machines. You are, Mr. Polygrpaher. So I guess you'll have to figure out if this is a random fluctuation of your machine or not as we all know can happen."

But be nice; don't be a smart ass or the polygrapher will flunk you (first, because he can and second because by now he's figured out that you've figured out that he doesn't know anything about whether or not you are telling the truth from his machine's tracings.) And, don't be surprised (or angry) if there are four or five go-rounds with a single issue. It may well be that you're the guy that the polygraph has decided he needs to flunk to meet an ill-defined quota (otherwise known as "SOMEBODY has to flunk otherwise I won't have a job as a polygrapher for very long."

UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES should you EVER mention any personal relationship or use "hot button" phrases like "I had arguments with my wife over child custody during our divorce proceedings and that's what I happened to be thinking about when you asked question #X" (which will inevitably result in the polygrpaher turning off the machine and engaging in a wide-ranging inquisition of your personal relationships, again with the excuse of "I'm trying help you get through this polygraph test successfully") or "once somebody said I was a child molester and I punched him out in a bar" (the same scenario will unfold, this time with questions about child abuse and you'll never win if you stuble into going down this road).

You get the idea: stick to the 4 national security questions. You don't have to answer anything else, and if you do, it can -- and often does -- easily spiral into flunking territory.

In summary:
1. When the polygrapher asks you to answer the "directed lie" question with a lie, then simply do as he asks (by the way, that isn't a "lie" in psychological terms; it is a mis-statement with the intent to comply; a "lie" is a mis-statement with the intent to deceive. This important distinction further undermines the entire "theoretical" underpinnings of the polygraph, but that's another paper.)

2. When the polygrapher asks you the "probable lie" question ("Have you ever wanted to hurt someone" or "have you ever thought the polygraph was a worthless tool for national security") just answer "no", or if you answer "yes" have some benign fodder to offer as an explanation and then eventually answer "no."

3. Answer ONLY the four national security questions AND NO OTHERS. YOU ARE UNDER NO OBLIGATION TO DO ANYTHING MORE. When you answer the national security questions, also give the polygrapher a little fodder to work here with by answering "yes" (which the fully polygraph expects) to question 3 or 4 and have another benign explanation ready.

4. NEVER EVER talk about personal relationships, divorce, medications, medical conditions or other personal information. If you do -- even if you think it is satisfying the polygrapher -- you run the risk of a never ending inquisition that will lead to failing the polygraph.

One final point: MOST people (but far from "all") will have NO problem with polygraph or polygrapher. It'll be over quickly and you'll wonder "what was all the fuss about?" The answer is that the polygraphers know that they MUST pass the vast majority of people (if they flunk even 15% of people it creates enormous headaches for the rest of the CI program and for management). So, when someone tells you "it was no big deal", it probably wasn't a big deal. BUT, someone MUST flunk (otherwise, what's the point of having all of those polygraphers) and if you are unlikely enough to be the person the polygrapher decides to flunk, you'll know it quickly enough. Be polite but resolute and answer ONLY the four national security questions remembering the one KEY fact: the polygraph machine can NOT distinguish between deception and truth -- though the polygraph will attempt to convince you otherwise.

The tragedy in all of this -- aside from the use of non-science at premier (or once premier) science institutions -- is that SOMEONE WILL FLUNK no matter what (and again, my advice as to how to approach the inherently unpredictable behavior of poorly educated individuals granted power over your life and the cost-effectiveness of our important CI programs is no guarantee against flunking.) And, as I understand it current "policy", flunking the poly leads to an immediate loss of your security clearance (but please correct me if I am wrong on this latter point.) It is hard to imagine a more shameful, irresponsible, pusillanimous, wasteful abuse of talented, loyal, highly-trained and critically important people (let alone the dollar resources that could be used for much more important CI activities.)

Since it is obvious that the DOE (and most of senior labs' management) failed to learn anything from previous deeply unsuccessfuly "screening" polygraph program -- unceremoniously trashed in Oct 2006 -- I would reiterate what I've said elsewhere: in the end, the only way that this foolishness will disappear is when enough people sue, quit, or simply refuse to take the test (though I am not recommending any particular strategy, although what I did in my own career is clear enough for anyone to see.)

Sorry for the long response, but I wanted to cover at least 90% of the scenarios. If you'd like more information or answers to other "what if" scenarios and problems (and there are so many of course I can't cover them all in a posting), please feel free to contact me directly. My e-mail is: I'll be happy to post Q&A for interesting or relevant questions that come up if you believe other readers would benefit as well.

Al z>

Anonymous said...

Has anyone been asked to take their polygraph yet. Everyone I am talking too, has not heard or seen anything coming out of security. It is extremely quiet for a program with this much visibility to just go into hibernation. Inputs ?

Croatan said...

Al - In my mind, you are a tremendous person. Thank you for taking the time to explain so many things. I am currently going thru a similar situation. Not sure what will happen as I am still in the system.

Anonymous said...

I have heard some people have actually taken a "random" test already. That is all I have heard about that.

Alan Zelicoff said...

To Croatan and Anonymous 7/26/07 9:34 AM:

I appreciate the kindness of your expressions, but I'm just a scientist hoping to bring the most robust scientific data to a management (at LANS, Sandia and of course the DOE) that appears determined to ignore it. While I have little doubt that senior management at the labs and DOE will wave this effort off with the back of their hands (which, if you look at the old videotapes is exactly what then DOE Secretary RIchardson did during the polygraph 'hearings' -- not even a 'listening tour' of 1999-2000), I believe that for both the future integrity of the labs and the good names of laboratory staff (who really do the the key work), it is essential that:

1. Anyone who has had a polygraph immediately write down their experience (memory is selective for unpleasant experiences even among extraordinarily intelligent and well trained scientists) and then post it either on this page or on the "Dr. Strangelove" page.

2. NO ONE provide more information than is required in answering 'yes' or 'no' to the four national security questions. TO do more is to guarantee an inquisition if not failure (though there are no guarantees of passing a polygraph in any case if the polygrapher decides he/she does not believe you.

3. Begin to prepare either (a) an individual employment case for a DOE hearing officer or (b) a class-action suit. The latter is more difficult and FAR more time consuming but individually less expensive; the latter is possibly expensive but far more rapid.

Needless to say, I am willing to assist in the technical aspects of an individual mediation with the DOE for those who "fail to pass" their polygraphs for no charge. My rationale should now be clear: polygraphs are disastrous for national security and ruinous of individual careers. Someday this must -- and I'm reasonably convinced will -- stop. But IF and ONLY IF individuals write down their experiences and then make a decision to request administrative review should they fail.

All of that said, the mere fact that individuals are willing to do so will, I predict, lower the rate of "failure to pass". This is, in the short run, a good thing for both national security and individual's reputations. What remains, of course, is finally consigning the tacit management recognition of the polygraph's validity to the ash heap of history.

There are implications of Laboratory managements failure to push-back on the polygraph requirement to broader society. Given that polygraphs remain admissible in NM courts (subject to Daubert hearing review) he NM Attorney General and various District Attorneys must routinely deal with the argument that "if polygraphs are good enough for our top-notch scientists at Sandia and Los Alamos they are good enough for NM courts." That logic is of course faulty (and deceptive) a priori, but as an expert witness now called in several actions to admit polygraph evidence into court ( all of which failed after Daubert review), I recognize that jurisprudence suffers until and unless the NM Supreme Court removes admissibility of polygraphs into court proceedings.

It is likely -- almost certain -- that someday a US National Laboratory employee will be wronged by a criminal who probably committed a felony. That criminal WILL without question find a "qualified polygrapher" to "prove' that they are innocent. I believe it is fair to say that will serve individuals at the labs careers now -- and the tragedy of polygraphs being introduced during potential legal confrontations in the future -- to be just a bit forward leaning in making their individual experiences known -- and loudly for all to see (albeit anoymously).

And, I stand by my offer to assist anyone who wishes to contact me privately. It may be the most important thing any of us does in our lives, given than management at multiple levels fails to resist the very bad policy that ill serves national security and individual careers.


Anonymous said...

i just had a test last week. not to bad. they asked if i was a spy. not much else. wanted me to lie alot. did what they asked. was done in under 2 hours.

Alan Zelicoff said...

To anonymous 7/31/07:

Thank you for taking the time to summarize. Now we (a) know that polygraphs are clearly being given; but (b) need a few more "N"s to get a clear idea of whether or not the polygraphers are following the rules and, most important, whether or not people employees as well as contractors are losing their clearances based on this specious test.

Thus, I would encourage other polygraph subjects to write down (as soon as possible after their polygraph) the details of their experience. Of one thing I am certain: not all will be as benign as the one described by Anonymous 7/31/07 but if we can dissuade polygraphers from unwarranted abuse (which gains nothing in any case), perhaps a few careers can be saved along with maintaining some semblance of morale and security at the Labs.


Anonymous said...

dr z, this is 7/31/07 anonymous again. the examiner said that when i lie my body changes and when i tell the truth very little happens. is this why he wanted me to lie at some of the questions and tell the truth at the questions about being a spy. it made sense to me. is the polygraph process this simple. did i miss something. or was that it. if this is it why is there such a problem with taking them.

Alan Zelicoff said...

To Anonymous 7/31/07 (from 8/9/07. The nomeclature is getting me confused!)

To answer your good question: in an individual case, it is impossible for me to say whether or not the POLYGRAPHER is telling the truth -- I'd have to see your polygraph charts to know if there is, indeed, some measurably different "reaction" when you engage in truth telling vs. DIRECTED lying.

But, you see, there is a problem immediately withe validity construct that the polygrapher posits. When the polygrapher INSTRUCTS you to not tell the truth, is that psychologically and physiologically the same as a an actual "lie". The former is a "mis-statement with the intent to COMPLY". The latter is a "mis-statement with the intent to DECEIVE". Suffice it to say that the vast majority of the Fellows of the American Psychological Association believe that the two mis-statements do not result in the same physiologic responses, and certainly NOT the primitive physiologic responses that the polygraph measures (which are indirect in that they measure not brain function but peripheral nervous system responses from brain activity -- the equivalent of some combination of low- and high-band pass filters that have not been further characterized in the "circuit" that is your autonomic nervous system.)

The bottom line is to ask: what, in fact, are the negative and positive predictive values of the polygraph? I have a paper on this subject using data published in the polygraph literature for actual field trials (not laboratory experiments on college students in psychology departments). Click the link to download the paper.

The bottom line is: the average negative predictive value of a polygraph is about 75% (95% CIs = 60 to 90%). This means that IF you pass a polygraph the polygrapher is right in calling you "non-deceptive" about 3/4 of the time, but could be wrong 40% of the time. Put another way, deceptive individuals could pass a polygraph as frequently as 40% of the time.

The Positive Predicitive Value of a polygraph is much less: about 60% on average, with a 95% confidence interval of 43 - 70%. This means that if a polygrapher says you are deceptive because of failing the test -- as based on published field trials in the polygraph literature and NOT from some random claim from a polygrapher about his/her "especially accurate track record", that he/she is wrong 40% of the time on average. That is, you can be mis-classified as deceptive with a 40% likelihood if you "flunk" the polygraph (or, as some managers like to put it: "fail to pass the polygraph" which, in my view is weasel-wording for "flunking").

Interestingly, the PPV of the polygraph may be WORSE than flipping a coin within the 95% confidence intervals. All of these calculations were done with a Monte Carlo simulation and I'd be pleased to share the spreadsheet calculation (I use PopTools as the add-in into Excel for the simulation) for anyone who wants it.

If we employed tests with similar NPV and PPV characteristics in medical situations where consequential decisions were being rendered (is this cancer? do you have coronary artery disease that is life threatening?) my medical colleagues and I would easily be subjected to malpractice actions. Why polygraphers are not is, of course, due to the political protection that polygraphers enjoy. That such protection comes from senior leaders at the Labs and DOE is, needless to say, reprehensible and perhaps one reason that some lab staff have concluded that the DOE national laboratories are no longer very serious places to work.

Unproven science used to determine the career path of well-trained scientists does not go over well with them, and no responsible individual in the Federal bureaucracy (or LANS or Lock-Mart) should expect otherwise.

Hope this helps, but please feel free to ask further questions or write to me directly. I would also welcome critiques on the paper referred to above as I may have made a calculation error (but I don't think so as I had a few people check my results.)

AlZ .

Anonymous said...


It's been two weeks since anything was added to the polygraph comments. Think it's time to put it at the top of the postings again?

Thanks for considering.

Also, thanks for not censoring some of the early rants on the Bronze Star award over the weekend. Based on some of the first comments, I agreed with Gussie's suggestion, but some grain followed, along with all the chaff, that probably wouldn't have been stimulated without the chaff/crap posts.

Pinky and The Brain said...

We can move the post up again. I'll be looking for the right moment.

The reaction to the bronze star post surprised me too, and like you I was unsure how bad it would get. But I didn't reject any of the comments and I think it turned out well.

In case you haven't guessed, I was also an army sergeant in my younger days.

Anonymous said...


Whenever it makes sense to put it back on top is fine. It would be a great tribute to your efforts if this blog caused the end of almost all polygraph use.

Also served as enlisted. Different outfit - occasionally got seasick.

Old Salt

Anonymous said...

I have a question. I have some friends from SNL & LLNL that have had a polygraph. Is there a way for them to post to this blog or it only for the LANS people? If they can, how would they do it?

Pinky and The Brain said...

They can post a comment here and they also can email us at:

or email Gussie at:

This blog and this post in particular have a readership much bigger than just LANL. Please encourage your friends to share their experiences with us.

Alan Zelicoff said...

I would echo Pinky's suggestion (and kind offer) to Sandia (or other national laboratory) employees who have taken a polygraph to post their experiences here. Since neither the lab bureaucracies and management nor the DOE will provide statistics on important parameters of polygraph use and implementation, it would appear that the only way that an assessment of the true utility of the polygraph in the national security screening setting is if scientists at the labs take the time to record their experiences here. Alternatively, if staff feel uncomfortable making such postings, I am happy to receive narratives of individual's experiences and post them -- with all name references removed of course -- on my website's page of polygraph testimonials.

In order to get a more-or-less uniform dataset for later analysis and reference, I would suggest the following for individual's consideration in reporting their experience:

1. First -- and definitely most important -- write down your recollections immediately after taking your polygraph. Memories -- particularly of unpleasant items -- evaporate quickly. (You can add later the ultimate result of the polygraph as per item #5 below).

2. Note (a) the length of time of the entire process; and (b) the actual amount of time you are connected to the polygrpah machine

3. Note also:
- were medical questions asked in the "interview" before the actual polygraph test was taken? This would include inquiry into medications that you are taking (either by prescription or over-the-counter) and ALSO any medical "conditions" for which you are being treated (note: it is ostensibly illegal for polygraphers to ask these questions and you do not have to answer them)

- were you accused of deception on any of the 4 national security questions?

- were any questions OTHER than the 4 national security questions asked?

- were you asked to come back for a second (or even third) polygraph because you failed to pass the first (or second) time?

- did the polygrapher imply that you were using countermeasures of some sort to "fool" the polygraph machine?

- in your judgment was the polygrapher generally pleasant, hostile, or neutral.

4. Finally, were you ultimately told that you passed your polygraph or not, and how long it took to find out.

I think most readers can see that we can easily compute the likelihood of procedural failures (or perhaps frank illegalities) on the part of polygraphers as well as pass and fail rates. Then, given the cost of the polygraph program and the cost to individuals who may lose their security clearances for some period of time should they fail their polygraphs (which in and of themselves are non-determinative in a substantive way and thus lead to more investigation), a prospective utility analysis can finally start to be constructed.

This analysis of the real-world utility of polygraphs (or lack thereof) is long overdue, and both laboratory employees and the taxpayers deserve no less than to have a full explication of the data and results. I would add that we have an opportunity to contribute an additional invaluable service by taking the time to chronicle as many of the DOE polygraphs as possible as are also important implications for the civilian legal process as well. Odd as it may seem, polygraphs are still admissible in court in New Mexico (if they survive a Daubert review, and in my experience they usually don't but nonetheless raise the costs of trials substantially). In my experience in the courtroom as an "expert witness" on polygraphs, I've observed that it is not at all unusual for attorneys wanting to enter a polygraph result into the record will argue: "if it's good enough for the national labs, it's good enough for the Courts". Shameful (because they never enter anything but polygraph results that support their client's innocence and never ever report if a client has taken and failed a polygraph), scientifically incorrect, and a probably intentionally deceptive statement as well, but tragically true.

That our governor -- and former energy secretary responsible for resurrecting polygraphs back in 2000 -- has been silent on this latter issue is unsurprising of course. But, the costs of the Daubert hearings for each and every polygraph submitted (usually by criminal defense attorneys in particularly ugly crimes) is enormous, which might be justifiable if polygraphs added anything to the trial process. They don't; indeed, the opposite is the case.

Al Z.

Anonymous said...

The link in the above post doesn't work. Can that be corrected? Or the address be shown so it can be cut and pasted? Thanks.

Pinky and The Brain said...

This link will work for you.

Anonymous said...

Yes, that link works. What is there is depressing. Not a description of how Americans should treat fellow Americans. Someway, somehow this abusive, counterproductive activity needs to be stopped. Wish the way to do so was clear.

Thanks for making it available.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous 9/27/07 9:35 PM:

There is a way to help eliminate the polygraph. Go to the website. Read, understand, and use the information and help spread the word on this fowl machine and its practitioners. I did and it made all the difference in the poly suite. Good Luck ....

Anonymous said...

I took a polygraph after reading all of the information on

Given the ease of the examination, I wish I had not looked at the web information, all it did was create unnecessary anxiety.

Alan Zelicoff said...

Re: Anonymous 10/10/07 10:17AM

I, like you, am relieved that you had no trouble with your polygraph -- and indeed, most (meaning something more than half) don't.

However, as the testimonials -- and they are only that, "all numerator, no denominator" essays -- make clear, some people do. There are several points to thus be reinforced, in my view:

1. Scientists at LANL and SNL have the opportunity to help answer the question that DOE refuses to answer: how many people get polygraphs and what percentage flunk? In failing to answer this question DOE is (no great surprise here to most readers) vacating its responsibilities to the taxpayers. That the management -- of SCIENCE institutions for heaven's sake -- is complicit in this is malfeasance of the first order.

2. As a matter of policy, the use of polygraphs in any setting is a very slippery slope. I recognize that all of life is lived on the margin (or, its topological equivalent, the slippery slope), but this is one slope that I doubt many thoughtful people want to go down ("First they came for the ...." and so forth). Awfully chilling when one thinks about it.

3. Thus, the mere fact that some individuals, even the majority of individuals pass their polygraphs isn't new, nor is it helpful to ascribe one's own anxiety perceptions to others. Rather, we need the simple data to then understand the "trade off" implicit in the polygraph program: since some people at the labs clearly ARE harmed, just how big is that number and what is benefit (I think there is none) in return?

In addition to the pernicious effect on morale, recruiting, and the value proposition of the labs of using an abjectly unscientific "tool" at scientific institutions, there is a much more important issue that I believe cogent summaries of each person's polygraph experience address: how we regard each other's humanness. I'm no softy on national security or nor do I believe that sacrifices for the greater good are uniformly unjustifiable (indeed, the very opposite is true in my view). But, I also know how fragile creativity and the freedom to exercise it can be. The loss of the latter is incalculable, and may well be obviated to a great extent by the willingness of all laboratory employees subjected to the polygraph to take a few minutes to write about their experiences and post them (or send them to me and I'll happily put them together into an anonymous collection.)

Al Z>

Alan Zelicoff said...

A "portable" version of the polygraph is now to be put in the hands of soldiers in Iraq who are supposed to use it to detect terrorists and also people-who-would-do-harm to US troops who apply for positions paid for by the US Government (such as interpreters).

The story is reviewed on MSNBC (see:; I believe the journalist does a good job at critiquing the accuracy figures reported for this portable device. According to Dr. Steve Fineberg who ran the NAS polygraph study on the utility of the polygraph at the national labs -- published in 2003 and available on the NAS web site -- they are highly inflated and he warns that the polygraph is a worthless (and probably worse-than-worthelss) tool for security screening in Iraq (let alone the national labs.)

Thinking about the history of the polygraph and its re-introduction into the lab's pro forma operation by then Secretary Richardson in 2000, I can't help but wonder if the national laboratories' acquiescence to the use of the polygraph has had the unintended consequence of permitting this unproven (most would say "clearly disproven" technique for deception detection to find its way to the most vulnerable of US citizens serving in obviously dangerous war zones.
In those cases where I have been asked to testify on the utility of the exculpatory polygraph in criminal defense, a typical question I get from defense attorneys who seek to admit a "passed" polygraph into court is along the lines of: "if its good enough for the national labs, isn't it good enough for the courtroom"? Perhaps the same phenomenon, regrettable and damaging as the logic is, is taking place in Iraq security screening as well.

Perhaps others disagree, but if the national labs can't put a stop to demonstrably garbage science -- which then finds its way into rather meaningful policy circles -- then who might? Perhaps further it is little wonder that the credibility of the labs as independent arbiters of science, discounting the pure monetary value of telling policy-makers what they want to here -- is not merely gone, but causal in the critiques that the labs are facing.

I, for one, thought we might do better than this as a Senior Scientist at Sandia as my management sought to avoid any responsible review or, at least in my view, principled conduct. I was incorrect. This sad realization would seem to remove a distinguishing (and once distinguished) contribution of the Labs to at least national security. This is not to say that little of utility comes out of the labs (I actually believe the opposite is true). It is to say, however, that when a bit of confidence and risk is required to speak truth to power, the labs are no longer the place to look. There are few other alternatives, if any.

The end result will probably only augment the views already expressed on this and the other LANL blog pages regarding the ultimate fate and funding of the labs, but maybe things will change to prove me incorrect. That would be refreshing.


Anonymous said...


Is this a time to put polygraphs back on the top again? Saw a "golden retriever" cruising down Trinity this morning. There hasn't been much information about urine testing circulating around lately, either.

Thanks for your consideration.

Anonymous said...

There probably aren't too many readers following this thread, but a link from the link Al Z. posted above is mind-boggling. These portable "lie detector" toys the bureaucrats at the Pentagon accepted for use were "tested." If you're feeling guilty about feeling cheerful, have a look at

Alan Zelicoff said...

RE: Anonymous 4/25/08 9:07 AM posting

I'd like to thank the poster for noting that it was Batelle Labs that "validated" the PCASS portable polygraph instrument. I believe that anonymous 4/25 is correct when she/he implies that the report (which I had not seen) is "mind boggling", and I assume that Anonymous 4/25 means "mind boggling" in a terribly adverse sense.

The report concludes: "Analyses indicate that decision accuracy for the PCASS examinations was significantly
better than chance. As depicted in Table 1, the overall accuracy for correctly identifying
participant veracity was 78.9% including no opinion decisions as errors (i.e., 56 of the 71
participant’s veracities were correctly identified), and 91.8% excluding 10 no opinion decisions
from the analysis. Statistical power analyses indicate that a sufficient number of participants
were tested to ensure that these results are representative of the sampled population. These data
suggest that the PCASS system is effective in detecting deception."

That Battelle would come to such a conclusion without carefully and thoroughly caveating the statement with an emphasis on the well-described limitations of "mock crime" experiments as a surrogate for "real world" detection of deception is indeed mind-boggling. It suggests terribly shabby science and a failure to read the psychology literature on the construct validity of the polygraph (see my paper for more detail:

The bottom line is that the Battelle study reproduces the results done in dozens of "mock crime studies" and adds absolutely nothing to the knowledge base of real-world application. Only a half-dozen "field" studies have been published and they show that the polygraph is about as good at flipping a coin in determining deception, and thus frequently misses deceptive individuals. More worrisome for the DOE labs is that the polygraph is most likely to misclassify truth-tellers as "deceptive" leading to possible loss of security clearances for individuals subjected to screening polygraphs.

But most worrisome is that Battelle would publish such low-value work. Taxpayer dollars are clearly being squandered, and the troops in dangerous places where the PCASS system is supposed to help them determine whom to trust are being put, at least in my view, at unacceptable risk. It is all but certain that lives will be lost as a result; it is only a matter of time that a subject who (easily) passes the PCASS will do harm.

Very regrettable, and perhaps an example of the consequences of failing to abide first and always by scientific methods and commonly accepted ethical standards among professionals. I believe (but can not prove) that outcomes like this one could have been completely prevented if DOE laboratory leadership would have heeded the DOE's own mantra: "the Best of Science" in stating -- in the strongest possible terms -- that there was no demonstrable value to the polygraph when it was first proposed by Secretary Richardson (with the backing of Rep. Wilson) in 1999 as a "solution" to security problems at the Labs.

But then it would have taken just a tad of courage to do so.


Anonymous said...

All I can say about the "portable polygraph" is HOLY CRAP and ask what next?

Anonymous said...

9/11 Nukes

Anonymous said...

I took a random polygraph this week. It was no big deal. Unless you have something to hide, you simply answer the questions and leave. I have no problem doing this in the name of national security. I'm confused why there is such a big deal made about the polygraph.