US goes after schools that teach how to beat polygraph tests

Polygraph examinationBy IAN ALLEN | |
The United States government has launched an extensive criminal investigation of companies and individuals who coach job applicants on how to deceive polygraph examiners. It is believed that the government administers about 70,000 polygraph tests a year to candidates seeking security-related jobs, or to employees who wish to maintain their security clearances. The significance of the tests, which can sometimes make or break a security or intelligence employee’s career, have given rise to the phenomenon of polygraph coaches. There are several dozen companies and individual instructors in the US, who claim to be able to teach people how to pass polygraph examinations. They train test-takers in methods such as controlling their breathing, tensing and relaxing their muscles, focusing their thoughts, or biting their tongue, in order to skew the results of the test in their favor. In the past, government agencies have largely ignored these instruction techniques, claiming that there is no proof they actually work (critics question whether polygraph tests themselves work, pointing to the fact that they are rarely permissible in court). But the US government’s attitude to these techniques appears to be changing, judging by a criminal investigation that was recently launched against polygraph coaches. The government has refused to acknowledge the existence of the investigation, but McClatchy newspapers said last week that its existence had been confirmed by “several people familiar” with the probe. The goal behind the investigation, according to McClatchy, is to discourage “criminals and spies from infiltrating the US government by using […] polygraph-beating techniques”. At least two individuals have so far been charged as part of the criminal probe, one of whom has pleaded guilty and is awaiting sentencing. McClatchy noted that the investigation has also yielded lists containing several thousand names of people who have sought assistance on how to pass polygraph examinations. And it added that at least 20 of these individuals applied for positions in the federal government, and around half of them were subsequently hired by member-agencies of the US Intelligence Community.

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