The rules for polygraph testing federal government employees received a recent update from the office of the Director of National Intelligence. James Clapper issues a Sept. 14 memo, as reported by McClatchy D.C., which appears to elevate the leaking of classified material to the media to the same level of concern as espionage. The memo appears to add questions about media contacts to the  polygraph testing process in a way that had not been done in the past.

The Counterintelligence Polygraph

CSP examinations represent the baseline for the application of polygraph in support of personnel security vetting. Heads of agencies may authorize the use of the CSP for the purposes stated above in Section B when deemed to be in the interest of national security. CSPs may be used in support of determinations of initial eligibility for access to classified information and initial eligibility to hold a sensitive position, thereafter in support of reinvestigations or continuous evaluation, and administered at periodic or aperiodic intervals.

Steven Aftergood, who runs the Federation of American Scientists’ Project on Government Secrecy,  told McClatchy that while the change raises concerns, it may just signal an attempt to standardize the  polygraph testing process across the agencies reporting to the DNI. McClatchy reported that about 78,000 people are polygraphed every year. The tests are part of a hiring decision, or follow-up testing during the person’s tenure in the position.

Preparing for a Polygraph

Clearance Jobs offers a comprehensive guide for those about to be tested, titled “How to Prepare for a Security Clearance Polygraph Examination.” It is important to remember that different rules apply to contractors than apply to federal employees. Private employees have protections under the Employee Polygraph Protection Act (EPPA).

The American Psychological Association, in a piece titled “The Truth About Lie Detectors (aka Polygraph Tests)” discusses many reliability issues with the process. Such tests are not admissible in a court of law. It does appear that the Federal reliance upon  polygraph testing will continue for the immediate future, despite any issues of reliability or legal admissibility.

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Charles Simmins brings thirty years of accounting and management experience to his coverage of the news. An upstate New Yorker, he is a freelance journalist, former volunteer firefighter and EMT, and is owned by a wife and four cats.