The following HTML text is provided to enhance online
readability. Many aspects of typography translate only awkwardly to HTML.
Please use the page image
as the authoritative form to ensure accuracy.
The Polygraph and Lie Detection
breaches of security, not minor security infractions (such as leaving a secure computer on when leaving one’s office briefly or what examiners call “pillow talk”). Yet, we were also told that all examinees who showed “significant response” results, requiring additional charts or repeat tests, were “cleared” after admitting such minor infractions. We were told that there were 85 such cases among the first 2,000 tested in the DOE polygraph security screening program. Under the assumption that the TES is intended to find serious problems, these 85 are false positives—tests that give positive results even though the target violations did not occur— (assuming, of course, that there were no unadmitted major infractions). However, in discussions with the committee, DOE polygraph examiners seemed to indicate that an instance of “pillow talk” revealed in response to follow-up questions triggered by a polygraph chart indicating “significant response” was regarded as a true positive, suggesting that the target of the screening was any security infraction, regardless of severity. Under this broader target, the same minor infraction in an individual who showed “no significant response” should be regarded as a false negative, whereas the DOE polygraph examiners seemed to indicate that it would be counted as a true negative, suggesting a switch to the narrower definition of target.
Assessing the polygraph’s accuracy for screening cannot be done without agreement on the criterion—what it is supposed to be accurate about. The committee has seen no indication of a clear and stable agreement on what the criterion is, either in general or within any particular organization that uses polygraph screening.
In addition to an agreed definition of the criterion, an appropriate point of comparison is necessary to assess accuracy. Some representatives of the DOE polygraph screening program believe that the program is highly accurate because all 85 employees whose polygraphs indicated deception eventually admitted to a minor security infraction. If detecting minor security violations is the target of a security polygraph screening test, then these 85 are all true positives and there are no false positives. However, the significance of these admissions for accuracy cannot be evaluated in the absence of data from an appropriate comparison group. Such a group might consist of examinees who were interrogated as if the polygraph test indicated deception, even though it did not. We have been told on numerous occasions that almost everyone who has held a security clearance has committed at least one minor security infraction. If this is true, the suggested interrogation of a comparison group whose polygraph tests did not indicate deception might have uncovered a large number of minor infractions that the polygraph did not detect. Such members of the comparison group would be false negatives. Thus, the high accu-