- The Washington Times - Friday, February 23, 2001

Polygraph fails reliability test

In your editorial about accused FBI spy Robert P. Hanssen, "The mortician" (Feb. 22), you state that the FBI's failure to follow the example of the CIA and the National Security Agency in adopting an agencywide polygraph screening program is foolish. The opposite is true.

Polygraph "testing" may be useful in eliciting admissions from naive and gullible subjects, but it has no scientific basis: It has not been demonstrated by competent scientific research to be capable of distinguishing truth from deception at better than chance levels of accuracy under field conditions. The only spies that polygraph testing can reliably expose are those who are dumb enough to admit it.

I should note that the FBI does indeed use the polygraph to screen applicants for employment and is accusing some 20 percent of those "tested" of lying about use or sale of drugs, or about security matters. Their applications are summarily terminated, and there is no appeal process. A group of federal law enforcement applicants whose applications they allege were rejected on the basis of false positive polygraph outcomes has challenged the federal government's pre-employment use of polygraph screening in a pending lawsuit (Croddy, et al. vs. Federal Bureau of Investigation, et al). In an October filing in that case, the plaintiffs affirm:

"Upon information and belief, when the FBI implemented its polygraph program in 1994, the then current special agent class had already begun its training. Nevertheless, members of the 1994 class were administered polygraph examinations and approximately half the class failed. However, the FBI simply overlooked this problem and waived the requirements of the polygraph for the 1994 class."

In January 1995, FBI counterintelligence agents in at least one major metropolitan field office were all subjected to polygraph screening. As a result of a false positive outcome, FBI Special Agent Mark E. Mallah became the focus of a massive espionage investigation. Although he was eventually absolved, the attendant rumor and innuendo ruined his career with the Bureau.

Some might argue that the sacrifice of some honest, law-abiding Americans is worth it if the polygraph can catch or deter spies. But polygraph tests, in addition to having no scientific basis, can also be easily beaten.

Speaking before the Senate Judiciary Committee and the courts in September 1997, the FBI's foremost scientific expert on polygraphs, Supervisory Special Agent Dr. Drew C. Richardson, testified that "anyone can be taught to beat this type of polygraph exam in a few minutes."

All of the above information is documented on the Web site antipolygraph.org.

It is not the FBI's failure to adopt an agencywide polygraph program that is foolish; it is that agencies, including the CIA, NSA, and now, the Department of Energy, have made pseudoscientific polygraph testing the cornerstone of their counterintelligence programs. That polygraph tests can be (and have been) easily beaten through the use of simple countermeasures is reason enough for scrapping them.

GEORGE MASCHKE

Netherlands

What comes after deterrence?

Applause to Justin Bernier and Lesley Young for asking the right question: "Does deterrence still work?" (Commentary Forum, Feb. 16)

This question has extraordinary implications for our nuclear and defense posture. Their somewhat inconclusive answer is that deterrence would have a better chance to work if we knew more about the plans of adversaries such as Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. Beyond that, they express the hope that the Bush administration's upcoming Nuclear Posture Review might produce more satisfactory answers.

Let's go back to the origins of this modern version of the idea of deterrence. In a speech to the House of Commons on March 1, 1955, referring to the then recent advent of the hydrogen bomb, Winston Churchill surmised that "It may well be that we shall, by a process of sublime irony, have reached a stage in this story where safety will be the sturdy child of terror, and survival the twin brother of annihilation." As some of us remember, Mr. Churchill loved to liken the West and the Soviet Union to two scorpions locked in a bottle, each capable of destroying the other but not without destroying itself at the same time.

But Mr. Churchill did not anticipate that his scorpions were about to have babies. Today, we have "rogue states" such as Iran, Iraq and North Korea, to mention but a few. And an individual madman is much more likely to have access to weapons of mass destruction than during the Cold War.

The underlying fact is that destructive technologies are becoming increasingly more advanced and more widely available. Materials for biological warfare can be so unobtrusive that no one will ever be quite sure that a "rogue nation" is not preparing such weaponry. And no one can say with certainty where all the missile materials from the former Soviet Union have gone.

The proliferation of destructive capabilities, which many have only recently discovered, has been bound to occur from the beginnings of "deterrence." It has become increasingly clear that deterrence has never been more than a God-given grace period, a brief time for us to work out a more humane and permanent solution to our problems. But the question remains: What is this solution?

The currently popular idea of a "national missile defense" can never be more than a palliative. The reason is simple: Weapons of mass destruction are relatively inexpensive and easily prepared compared to the complicated systems required to oppose them. As a result, a determined aggressor can use enough weapons that he can saturate a nation's defense. The offensive weapon (perhaps a suitcase bomb) threatens an entire population center. A defensive technology must work every time with 100 percent reliability. But the history of technology has shown that nothing is 100 percent reliable. One would expect that an aggressor would increase his chances by using enough weapons to ensure that he had accomplished his objective.

So is there an answer? While no one can guarantee safety and survival forever, the outline of a solution is clear enough. To ensure our long-term survival, we must become civilized at the international level. The current international scene is anarchic, with each "sovereign" nation having the unimpeded right to use force and make war on those with whom it disagrees. The only potential solution to this dilemma is to develop a system of law and order on an international scale. We have made a good start with the United Nations, just as the Articles of Confederation were a good start for the United States. What the world needs now is what the Founding Fathers gave us on a national scale: a Constitution establishing a democratic, federal system of law. This system would include legislative, executive and judicial functions on the world level, with built-in checks and balances to assure stability.

It will be a long hard road to get there, but it is getting late. The time to start is now.

FELIX ROSENTHAL

Annandale

Members of Catholic group hardly 'elite'

The idea that Opus Dei proselytizes the elite is ludicrous ("Hanssen belonged to Catholic group that proselytized elites," A16, Feb. 22).[note]we need to add the date. also, is this a letter or a column?[noteEnd] I've been active in Opus Dei since 1979. Far from being one of the "elite," I can't even afford health insurance. I don't know where all these rich and powerful folks are hiding. The Opus Dei people I've met seem pretty ordinary to me.

The truth is that Opus Dei works with immigrants and inner-city poor children in the District and throughout the world, as well as operating schools. The real goal of Opus Dei is the sanctification of the layperson through ordinary work.

MARY SUE LAING

Fairfax

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