British Airways
Good Morning America World News Tonight 20/20 Primetime Nightline UpClose WNN This Week
October 8, 2002
HOMEPAGE
NEWS SUMMARY
US
INTERNATIONAL
MONEYScope
WEATHER
LOCAL NEWS
ENTERTAINMENT
ESPN SPORTS
SCI / TECH
POLITICS
HEALTH
TRAVEL
FEATURED SERVICES
SHOPPING
DOWNLOADS
WIRELESS
Sponsored by NetZero!
INTERACT
VIDEO & AUDIO
BOARDS
CHAT
NEWS ALERTS
CONTACT ABC
Click Here!ABCNEWSstore.com
Spies Get Past Polygraphs, Panel Says

Reuters


Print This Page
Email This Page
See Most Sent
* Inside the Mind of a Sniper
* Are Self-Test Medical Kits Safe?
* Stop Online Thieves From Impersonating You on the Net
Oct. 8

- By Maggie Fox, Health and Science Correspondent

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Lie detectors may work in some cases, but they are too flawed to use for general security screening and could let through skilled spies, an independent panel said on Tuesday.

Not only do polygraphs cost many honest people a government job, but there are spies and criminals who probably know how to deceive them, said the National Academy of Sciences panel, appointed at the request of the Department of Energy.

"Someone who passes a polygraph is often treated as if he were no longer a security threat," Kevin Murphy, a professor of psychology at Pennsylvania State University, told a news conference. "We believe that is not justified."

"It means that if there were spies or major violators in their organization, they are not catching them," added Stephen Fienberg, chairman of the committee and a professor of statistics and computer science at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. "This is clearly a problem for national security."

The skill or technique of the questioner, and the equipment used, makes no difference, the report concluded.

"We stress that no spy has been caught yet using a polygraph," said Kathryn Laskey, an associate professor of systems engineering and operations research at George Mason University in Virginia.

The academy committee, made up of lawyers, psychologists, engineers and other professionals who had no experience with polygraphs, spent a year and a half studying the issue. They interviewed polygraph experts at the FBI, CIA and National Security Agency, as well as at the Energy Department, and reviewed previous studies.

MYSTIQUE SURROUNDING POLYGRAPHS

It is clear that agencies rely heavily upon them.

"The U.S. federal government, through a variety of agencies, carries out thousands of polygraph tests each year on job applicants and current employees, and there are inevitable disputes that are sometimes highly publicized when someone 'fails' a polygraph test," the panel wrote.

"The polygraph seems to have received undue deference," said Fienberg.

He said people believe having to pass a polygraph test acts as a deterrent to would-be criminals and spies, and the committee could not say whether this was indeed the case.

Murphy said thousands of people had likely been turned down for government jobs for flunking a polygraph test -- tens of thousands when local police and law enforcement departments were included.

"Certainly many are turned away erroneously," Fienberg added.

David Faigman, a law professor at the University of California San Francisco, said the report did not look into whether polygraphs were good at detecting criminals. But he noted courts were skeptical of lie detector tests, anyway.

On a case-by-case basis, they may work, Faigman said. But the panel said something better was clearly needed.

Radiologist Dr. Marcus Raichle of Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, said none of the alternatives looked at by the committee, ranging from brain scans to temperature sensors, were "ready for prime time."

The government seems to have done little to find a better alternative, the committee said. "We are talking about a need for systematic research over a number of years," Fienberg said.

A spokesman for the Energy Department was not available for comment.

Copyright 2002 Reuters News Service. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Register Now!
RELATED STORIES
* U.S. Index
* More Raw News
US HEADLINES
* Shell Case Recovered in Sniper Probe
* Experts: Sniper May Be Challenging Cops
* Bail Granted to One Buffalo Terror Suspect
* Bush Port Reopen Order OKed
* World's Funniest Joke Stinks


Copyright 2002 ABCNEWS Internet Ventures.
Click here for: HELP ADVERTISER INFO CONTACT ABC TOOLS PR TERMS OF USE PRIVACY POLICY

Family of sites: ABC.com ABC Family ESPN.com Disney.com FamilyFun.com GO Mail Movies.com