A recent study by the National Center for Credibility Assessment published in the journal “Computers in Human Behavior” is capturing the attention of many within the national security clearance assessment world. The center is predicting that US government national security screening will evolve to the “individual candidate” going head-to-head with a robot. Makes one think of the film, i-Robot, where the androids make key judgmental decisions without human interaction. First screenings and then onto polygraphs? Is this a real possibility?

Recently passed security clearance reform makes continuous monitoring a reality, with the goal of catching issues an individual is not self-reporting. The idea of a computer-generated agent is similar – the hope is that with iRobot – and his big data analytics brain – a security clearance applicant will be more likely to disclose issues.

Computer-generated Agent

According to the report’s abstract, the principal investigators, a computer-generated agent presented basic national security suitability questions to candidates on the topics of their “mental health, drug, alcohol and criminal histories.” If you’ve previously obtained a security clearance, you’ll recognize those topics – they’re key criteria that can result in denial of a security clearance based on issues of suitability. The investigators claimed success when there were “admissions” provided during the computer-generated agent administered screening that weren’t previously provided on the self-report questionnaire.

Tell the robot the truth

Does the theory that an individual will be more truthful to a robot than a human hold water? Maybe. The computer-generated agent isn’t judgmental, no physiological reactions to avoid, and provides the candidate a truly “blank” face to share their answers/issues. Humans are trickier, they have instincts, their own experiences and history. The computer-generated agent, with appropriate data storage and accessibility may have available all of the history of all of the tests surrounding a given assessment topic or question. This immediately brings in the potential for suitability indicators based on the big data analytics of the individual’s answer and where it falls in the field of “norms.”

Are polygraphs next?

Administering screening test by robot is the first step. But what about already-controversial polygraph examinations? Could security clearance polygraphs be next?  The natural evolution to have the computer-generated agent administer the pre-polygraph screening, the polygraph and the post-polygraph screening can be expected. The polygraph itself is measuring physiological reactions to true/false questions determined discussed during the pre-screen. These results are mathematical measurements of the physiological reactions to the question by the candidate. The principal investigators noted that those who made more “admissions” also evidence a physiological reaction.

Soon – Dr. Robot may be discussing your SF-86’s content with you, face-to-face.

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Christopher Burgess (@burgessct) is an author and speaker on the topic of security strategy. Christopher, served 30+ years within the Central Intelligence Agency. He lived and worked in South Asia, Southeast Asia, the Middle East, Central Europe, and Latin America. Upon his retirement, the CIA awarded him the Career Distinguished Intelligence Medal, the highest level of career recognition. Christopher co-authored the book, “Secrets Stolen, Fortunes Lost, Preventing Intellectual Property Theft and Economic Espionage in the 21st Century” (Syngress, March 2008). He is the founder of securelytravel.com