The polygraph has always been a controversial ‘scientific’ tool used in the national security screening process. The majority of security clearances do not require a polygraph for eligibility, but some do. Within some programs, and within particular agencies, it can be difficult or impossible to obtain a job without taking a polygraph examination.

A recent comment at ClearanceJobs Blog asks if an employment offer with the CIA will be rescinded due to an ‘inconclusive’ polygraph:

I have received a COE  [Conditional Offer of Employment] and just recently completed my poly, mental health, and background interview. Everything went well except for the poly. I did it twice, and the examiner said that the results were inconclusive and that they will submit it to the adjudicator for their decision. 

The answer: ‘not necessarily.’ In recent years criticism of the polygraph has escalated. It’s still used extensively, but many agencies are careful to make sure any inconclusive or negative information discovered in the polygraph is backed up with other issues or facts delivered up by the background investigation itself.

Polygraphs had never been mentioned within the adjudicative guidelines used to determine eligibility to access classified information – until the update codified in Security Executive Agent Directive 4, which into affect June 8. SEAD 4 specifically states:

No adverse action concerning these guidelines may be taken solely on the basis of polygraph examination technical calls in the absence of adjudicatively significant information.

Contributor and security clearance consultant William Henderson wrote about this significant policy change:

 Existing national polygraph policy states that when polygraph is required, access to classified information can be denied if the applicant refuses to take a polygraph exam, is non-cooperative, or uses polygraph countermeasures.  National polygraph policy does not prohibit denying clearance for failing to successfully complete a polygraph exam (e.g. inconclusive or significant response results).  Additionally, there is no national policy that prevents an agency from rejecting an applicant based on employment suitability or fitness criteria, if the applicant does not successfully complete a polygraph exam.

The language is still somewhat ambiguous and gives the government a lot of room to interpret the results of the polygraph, but the bottom line is, an inconclusive polygraph alone, without any other red flags or issues within your SF86 or investigation, should not lead you to conclude your job offer will be rescinded and your chances of working with the intelligence community are dashed. There are a number of personality types which have a lot of difficulty passing a polygraph. If the problem is you’re simply too honest to pass the polygraph, you shouldn’t worry your chances of a career are dashed.

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Lindy Kyzer is the editor of She loves the NISPPAC, social media, and the U.S. military. Have a conference, tip, or story idea to share? Email Interested in writing for Learn more here.