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News Story/Commentary on Polygraphing
April 30, 2009 at 9:11 pm #71149
Because of the source would SUGGEST that MAYBE POSSIBLY the Title could be switched to Commentary/News Story
When Lie Detectors Lie: The CIA and John Sullivan
By Jeff Stein, CQ SpyTalk Columnist
I’ve got an idea: Let’s require CIA polygraphers to undergo regular psychiatric tests.
Since they claim to be able to read the inner thoughts of people they put “on the box,” shouldn’t they have their own heads examined from time to time?
The thought came to mind as I talked with John Sullivan, who spent 31 years in the Central Intelligence Agency giving “lie detector tests” to CIA employees, including foreign spies the agency hires.
Sullivan is a believer in the tests, of course: How could he not be? He’s devoted three decades to monitoring blood pressure and studying the squiggly lines that supposedly show whether his subjects are telling the truth. He is said to have been very, very good at his craft.
Some call it witchcraft — mostly people who have failed it, of course, but also a former FBI crime lab official with a Ph.D. in physiology, Drew Richardson, in congressional testimony
No doubt Sullivan has flushed out a lot of liars during his three decades as a CIA polygrapher. But it’s equally true that skilled liars can beat the tests (see Ames, Aldrich H., etc.), honest people fail them, and polygraphers have ruined the careers of many a flustered innocent.
One victim, who detailed his hellish CIA test at antipolygraph.org, a Web site devoted to debunking the “junk science” of lie detectors, painted a portrait of his examiner as Catwoman in Batman.
“The U.S. government has provided a safe haven for examiners to act out their sick dominance fetishes upon people,” he wrote, using the pen name False+.
Hoisted by His Own Petard
John Sullivan objects mightily to such aspersions, but he got a taste of the test’s potential for abuse when he sought a renewal of his CIA security clearance for a post-retirement job.
Sullivan had just written “Gatekeeper: Memoirs of a CIA Polygraph Examiner,” described as “a window to the often acrimonious and sometimes alarming internal politics of the CIA: the turf wars over resources, personnel, and mandate; the slow implementation of quality control; the aversion to risk-taking; and the overzealous pursuit of disqualifying information.”
He was turned down. Two job offers evaporated. Now, he’s suing. http://www.fas.org/sgp/news/2007/04/sullivan.pdf
His lawyer, Mark S. Zaid, said a distorted polygraph test was the key instrument in retaliating against Sullivan for his book.
“The irony of my situation most certainly did not escape me,” Sullivan told me on April 10.
Today, he says, “I absolutely believe that the last polygraph examination I underwent was an abuse of the process and that those who participated in that process engaged in misconduct.”
I asked him whether CIA polygraphers are grilled on whether they’ve ever abused their powers, either on their own or at the direction of agency higher-ups, during their own lie detector exams.
They are not.
“The only time that would happen would be if a specific allegation of such misuse or abuse had been made, and I don’t recall that ever being done,” Sullivan told me.
Except, of course, in his own case. Even then, Sullivan doesn’t believe polygraphers should be asked if they’ve ever misused a test.
It “would open a can of worms,” he said.
It sure would.
Meanwhile, maybe the CIA could deploy a few good shrinks to the polygraph unit.
“I really don’t see the need for periodic psych testing,” Sullivan told me, “but neither do I see any harm in it. The psych screening . . . should identify some potential problems.”
Or many, many problems.
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