Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

CIA at Fault for Putting Security in Hands of `Sweat Merchants'

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

CIA at Fault for Putting Security in Hands of `Sweat Merchants'

Article excerpt

Aldrich Ames, the CIA official accused of being a Russian penetration agent, was "fluttered" - polygraphed - in 1986 and in 1991. If he is found guilty, that would prove the "lie detector" is unreliable. It would show how the CIA was lulled into a false sense of security by a device law enforcement officers know is a splendid tool to scare suspects into confessions, but could be easily fooled by a natural liar, a psychopath or a trained spy.

The smug reliance by CIA Security on machines that can only measure the nervousness of both liars and truth-tellers is particularly curious: The agency has a program that teaches agents going into the field how to beat the enemy's polygraph. Did Ames take the course or have access to its materials?

The FBI, I am told, is much more selective in its internal use of polygraphs. It knows experienced agents are less intimidated by the "sweat merchants" with their high degree of inaccuracy; federal law officers involved in the Ames investigation privately scorn the CIA for foolish reliance on polygraphs for internal security.

In 1981, Ronald Reagan's new intelligence chief, Bill Casey, challenged James Baker to a polygraph test about Jimmy Carter's stolen debate papers. Suspecting that my friend Casey may have been the culprit, I asked him why he was taking the gamble; he said that with some Valium and a sphincter-muscle trick he learned in the OSS, he could flatten the spikes before they appeared on any machine.

The machines - devoutly believed in by the technology-intimidated public - can be fooled in the other direction by nervous truth-tellers. In the 1980s, National Security Adviser Robert McFarlane flunked a polygraph test looking for the leaker of a story to The New York Times; desperate, the adviser called the newspaper to establish his innocence. Editors who knew he was not the real source agreed on a one-time basis to exonerate the man whose career the polygraph would have wrecked. …

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