I hate polygraph exams.
First, there’s the strap the examiner puts around your chest to measure any change in respiration rate. Probes wrap around the ends of your fingers and constantly monitor your pulse. Next is the blood pressure cuff that re-inflates every few seconds, squeezing the heck out of your biceps while it steals the secrets from your telltale heart.
Lastly, there are the questions. I have found, over the years and after a total of seven polygraph exams, that there are no answers that come without either guilt, humiliation or panic. No matter how many times I have taken (and passed) a polygraph, it does not get easier.
Also, and more to the point, before each polygraph the examiner always states a version of the following: “If you divulge a crime during this exam your answer will be reported to the appropriate law enforcement agency for possible prosecution.”
Silly me, I always took this warning seriously. However, it appears that polygraph examiners at the National Reconnaissance Office (a federal intelligence agency) were sometimes bluffing on this point. A recent McClatchy story, reprinted in the Trib (6/12), reported on several disclosures of felony crimes during this agency’s pre-employment polygraph exams.
If NRO polygraph examiners warned these prospective employees that a criminal confession during the exam would be reported to the appropriate law enforcement agency, then the examiners’ failure is a scandalous miscarriage of justice. The report states that child molestation and possession of child pornography were the focus of two polygraph admissions, yet these admissions were never reported to the respective police agency.
If, on the other hand, this warning were not given to the prospective employees (and wouldn’t you want to know the consequences of your answers if you were in the hot seat?), then that would suggest a blatant disregard for professional ethics. Either way, the NRO has some explaining to do.
The report states that employees who conducted the exams were not law enforcement officials. However, most private polygraph examiners are either current or retired law enforcement officers working as consultants. Either way, these are highly trained professionals who should know more than enough about the law to recognize a felony crime when they hear the gritty details.
The NRO’s explanation for failing to report at least two sex crimes – the examiners do not advise prospective employees of their constitutional rights prior to the test – falls short. Since when is everybody a “Law and Order” trained prosecutor? For the record, watching an episode of “CSI” does not give the viewer the training necessary to find and use evidence for an arrest. Call 911 and let the cops know.
The lessons learned in the wreckage of the Penn State child molestation scandal are only just drying on the paper, but everyone (especially the NRO) needs to pay close attention. The public has certainly learned the lesson that well-paid, educated and otherwise respectable leaders, i.e. the brain trust at Penn State, are capable of the most atrocious mistakes.
Allowing a serious crime to go unreported is nothing short of criminal. The federal officials and polygraph examiners at the National Reconnaissance Office, who swore an oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States of America, should know this. Shame on them.
We deserve to know the moral character of individuals in which we place our nation’s security, whether it be a local police officer or a federal intelligence official. Everyone who submits to a pre-employment polygraph exam does so willingly. For all its unpleasantness, the polygraph is still a great tool for finding and exposing individuals who are unsuited for these positions.
But when an exam reveals a serious crime, the police shouldn’t have to read about it in the paper.