Secrecy News

New DNI Guidance on Polygraph Testing Against Leaks

Updated below

Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper issued guidance this month on polygraph testing for screening of intelligence community personnel. His instructions give particular emphasis to the use of the polygraph for combating unauthorized disclosures of classified information.

Counterintelligence scope polygraph examinations “shall cover the topics of espionage, sabotage, terrorism, unauthorized disclosure or removal of classified information (including to the media), unauthorized or unreported foreign contacts, and deliberate damage to or misuse of U.S. Government information systems or defense systems,” the guidance states.

Such examinations “shall specifically include the issue of unauthorized disclosures of classified information during pre-examination explanations by incorporating a definition that explicitly states that an unauthorized disclosure means unauthorized communication or physical transfer of classified information to an unauthorized recipient.”

The polygraph administrator is further instructed to explain that an unauthorized recipient is any person without an appropriate clearance or need to know, “including any member of the media.”

See Conduct of Polygraph Examinations for Personnel Security Vetting, Intelligence Community Policy Guidance 704.6, February 4, 2015.

The use of polygraph testing to combat leaks has been a recurring theme in security policy for decades. Yet somehow neither leaks nor polygraph tests have gone away.

President Reagan once issued a directive (NSDD 84) to require all government employees to submit polygraph testing as an anti-leak measure.

In response, Secretary of State George P. Shultz famously declared in 1985 that he would quit his job rather than take the test. “The minute in this government I am told that I’m not trusted is the day that I leave,” Shultz told reporters.

Having forthrightly declared his position, Secretary Shultz was never compelled to undergo the polygraph test or to resign. “Management through fear and intimidation,” he said in 1989, “is not the way to promote honesty and protect security.”

From another perspective, the problem with polygraph testing has nothing to do with intimidation but with accuracy and reliability. There is at least a small subset of people who seem unable to “pass” a polygraph exam for reasons that neither they nor their examiners can discern. And there are others, such as the CIA officer and Soviet spy Aldrich Ames, who have been able to pass the polygraph test while in the espionage service of a foreign government.

Update: The polygraph provisions of NSDD 84 were quietly modified in 1984 and were never implemented.