Special Reports

No lie: Obama administration issues new polygraph policy

The Obama administration has issued a new polygraph policy for tens of thousands of federal employees who take lie detectors for security clearances or to obtain “sensitive” jobs.

The policy issued by Director of National Intelligence James Clapper comes after his office ordered agencies conducting the tests to ask applicants or employees if they had leaked classified information to the media. The new policy, obtained by McClatchy under the Freedom of Information Act, reiterates the requirement.

Steven Aftergood, who runs the Federation of American Scientists’ Project on Government Secrecy, said that section is “striking because it elevates leaking of classified information to the same level as espionage and sabotage.”

Aftergood, however, said it was difficult to predict what the “consolidation” by Clapper would mean.

“It could mean that there will be greater consistency and uniformity in polygraph testing across different agencies.,” he said. “I think that was the intent.”

“Anyway, the directive is certainly a sign that polygraph testing is not going away or diminishing in importance.”

In a series on the federal government’s use of lie detector testing, McClatchy detailed inconsistencies in how agencies used the test and allegations of abuses that went unchecked. An estimated 73,000 people across the country a year submitted to polygraph tests to get or keep jobs with the federal government, although most courts do not consider the tests reliable enough to rely on as evidence in criminal trials.

Clapper’s office also found “inconsistencies” after its own review of federal programs but also found that “all programs were operating appropriately.”