Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Secrets, Secrets

Very interesting article in the Post today about the use of polygraphs in the US government to gain employment and top secret security clearance. LINK. My dad is good friends with a polygraph expert from the FBI- but, as it turns out, the FBI doesn't seem to be a heavyweight in the creepy world of polygraphs.

It seems perfectly reasonable that some people would be unable to calm themselves down for one of these things. Particularly when career advancement depends on it. The article never discusses if false positives are more damaging than false negatives (that is, is it worse when the test/tester thinks someone is lying but they aren't, or when they pass the test and later are determined to have lied on it). I would suspect that the government would prefer to catch the liars.

Here's the quote to take from the article:

After telling Vermette that "there's no way you are not lying to me," the examiner pressed him on whether he was sexually involved with the teenager at church. The examiner then asked Vermette about her bra size. When Vermette said he did not know, the examiner asked him to guess -- after explaining bra sizes.

"He gave me a list of numbers to choose from, and I gave up and guessed one. Then he went on to ask about hair color, eye color, height and weight, all of which I am sure are absolutely vital to national security," Vermette wrote in an account of the episode. "I felt bad afterwards that I answered any of these questions but was under extreme psychological pressure and humiliation."

On another level, the article illustrates the mess that is the CIA/NSA/HSA/FBI. Lots of egos protecting their turf. I'm unsure as to why it seems we have different agencies that do the same/similar things. Homeland security should run domestic security, and FBI should be the law enforcement agency that tracks down fugitives and investigates crimes. Internationally, the situation is more complicated. What are the real differences between the NSA and CIA? I'll get on that.


Blogger Cardinal Sin said...

Without reading the article I think it is important to point out that experience polygraphist have to set a baseline. Often the only way to establish such a baseline is ask questions that the person and polygraph knows the answer too.... hair color, eye color, height, etc. The polygraphist can then use the answers as the baseline. There is no standard for truth or lie.... every individual is unique in there demeanor when being polygraphed (after all it is a stressful situation as you point out). I have taken a polygraph twice - and both times I was asked unusual questions. But as it was explained to me by the polygraphist- every baseline has to be established; when I am truthful, when I am lying, when I am guessing.

On your question about what is more damning- false positives or negatives. Simple, as you presumed when someone has lied and passed it is much more damning. The consequences of this can be disastrous. However- I think that this rarely happens. It takes either years of training to have a chance at lying ones way past a polygraph or a completely inept polygraphist. I for one think that government certified polygraphs should be admissible in court, but that is neither here nor there.

On your second point, it is my belief that the difference between NSA and CIA is one of modus operandi. There are certainly overlaps between the two agencies, but the NSA's charter is highly technical- communications, emails, etc. I view the CIA much more so on human intelligence gathering - clandestine officers, infiltrating foreign govt.’s., etc.

Could these agencies coordinate better? Without question. Are they flawless and without major problems? Absolutely not. However I for one believe that these agencies get a bad wrap – mainly by the far left.

I often point to my left side friends (brother included) that NO ATTACK has happened since 9/11- and this is no coincidence. Our agency are better funded, more cohesive, and are adapting to the realties of the post 9/11 world.

If terrorist are calling in the U.S - our people should listen. If potential threats can be deciphered by looking at pattern of domestic call logs, anonymously and w/out names or a recorded transcript- then our people should examine.

Muhammad Atta was getting his orders from Boston via Riyadh; he then was calling the other 18 hijackers to give their orders... I only wish we had the systems then that we have now.

I just opened up a whole new can of worms.

11:45 AM  
Blogger V. Hammond said...


Great comments. I agree, of course, about the process of lie-detecting. It's a necessary- if messy business. Oh wel. It is what it is.

The quesiton about the NSA and CIA was one more about the points that were brought up in the article. It seems that what is good for one agency (as far as passing a lie detector) is not good for the other. Does this mean that we have threats to our national security working in one or the other agency? I suspect not. It probably means that there are more than a few kinks to work out in Langley/D.C.

I don't think the far left gives the NSA or the CIA too tough a time at all. Between the FBI and the Pentagon- there isn't much room left on that punching bag. We'll see what Hadley is made of. I suspect he was chosen to bow to the Pentagon's plan. Not a win for the American people. Oh well, there were worse choices that could have been made to fill the post (none come to mind- Wolf man? Pearle? Poindexter?)

Most importantly of all- your point about the lack of an attack since 9/11. I'm sorry, but this isn't something to be touted or even comorted by. Sure, it's the best we could hope for- but 2,500 AMERICAN soldiers have died in Iraq- we're running out of friends at an amazing clip (see the front page of the Post today), have no political/international capital to engage where it mattters (most notably a missle headed our way from NK). Also, we've learned a lot about plots that have been called off by the terrorists themselves- because they aren't fantatical enough. I don't think you can say that we aren't vulnerable - see: both borders, mass transportation, NOLA, port deals, HSA funding of NYC, Iraq, etc.

I really believe that the Right makes a big mistake every time it brags about the lack of attacks since 9/11. First, they normally (and quickly add) it's not a matter of if but when. Second, it seems a VERY silly, ill conceived, and dangerous line of logic.

I remember back in 04- a line I repeated to anyone that would listen- "We'll all agree on George W. Bush sooner than we think." Well, I didn't think it would happen this soon- but it has. The silly, stubborn, and dangerous hangers on- will perhaps always refuse to see the truth. Maybe it doesn't matter.

1:43 AM  

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