U.S. Department of JusticeMarch 1, 2001
Press Conference with Attorney General John Ashcroft
Q: On the Hanssen case, do you think that polygraphing would have done much to have caught Hanssen any earlier, and are you ready to commit to having the FBI do required testing of its agents, as many members of the intelligence community seem inclined to do?
ASHCROFT: Well, let me just say that -- (pause) -- I have to try and sort out what I'm -- there are certain things regarding intelligence questions that I --
It's my understanding that there have been cases in the past that polygraphing did not work on. I think you could name them. So the polygraph is not a sure way. The polygraph is said to have about 15 percent false positives and has an impact on the way an agency operates.
Nevertheless, I believe that there are applications for polygraph that are important, and the director and I have agreed that because of the national security involved and the risks involved and the very important consequences of breaches, that we should elevate the use of polygraph in certain cases as it relates to the Bureau.
And secondly, that we would take another interim measure, and the other interim measure would be to have a different way of auditing access to information in the agency, particularly on computers, so that individuals with an inordinate or an inappropriately inquisitive mind might be understood for what they are and inquired of.
Now, none of these things is expected to be conclusive, and each of these things is subject to the review, which we expect to be very comprehensive, which we have asked Judge Webster to conduct. He's a person who has a very thorough understanding of the intelligence community, having both been the director of the CIA and the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and had a wide variety of roles. And it's our expectation that he will assemble a broad group of -- or "group" is the wrong word -- a broad array of expertise to try and help us make whatever decisions we can to elevate security.
I have to say that this incident was probably one of the most troubling things I could imagine. This is a long-term penetration, undetected for a long series of years. It is the kind of thing that we must not -- well, we simply must minimize those kinds of risks wherever possible.
On the other hand, as long as you have human beings involved with critical information, as Director Tenet of the CIA has indicated, you have risk involved. Our job is to minimize that risk and to shorten the intervals during which that risk is -- to which we are subject to that risk.
Q: Just to follow up, how exactly will you elevate polygraphing? Has that started already?
ASHCROFT: I'm not sure whether the first have taken place yet. But I can assure you that it's an item about which we are serious, and the director and I have agreed that it should be commenced.