FBI to give police lie-detector tests


By Kevin Johnson, USA TODAY
Posted 6/18/2006 11:09 PM ET

WASHINGTON — The FBI will give lie-detector tests to hundreds of state and local police officers assigned to terrorism task forces across the country as part of a new effort to battle espionage and unauthorized information leaks.

FBI Assistant Director Charles Phalen said the polygraph program was launched in the past month at seven of the bureau's 56 field offices where agents are teamed with local police to investigate terrorism.

The polygraph tests are part of an ongoing security crackdown following the conviction of former FBI counterintelligence agent Robert Hanssen, whose spying activities for Russia and the former Soviet Union went undetected for 15 years. He was sentenced in 2002 to life without parole.

Up to 2,000 state and local officers could be required to submit to testing, Phalen said.

"There is no more powerful tool in our tool bag" than lie-detector tests, Phalen said.

Phalen said the FBI hopes the testing will establish "a common level of trust" within the teams of federal agents and local police and encourage a free exchange of information.

An official with the largest police union fears the program could have the opposite effect.

"This is symptomatic of the FBI's paternalistic approach to the rest of law enforcement," said Jim Pasco, executive director of the Fraternal Order of Police.

"This could lead to more tension between local law enforcement and the FBI, which has existed over the years," Pasco said. "It fosters the view that the FBI is somehow superior to local law enforcement, and that is demonstrably untrue."

None of the local officers would be exempt from the testing.

Houston Police Chief Harold Hurtt, president of the major cities chiefs group, said the program was met with some "concern" over whether the bureau would provide test results with local department officials, especially if those findings revealed "questionable conduct" by the officers.

But Hurtt said the FBI committed to sharing that information with the departments as part of what the chief said was "a reasonable approach" to securing classified information.

"It's something we need to do going forward," Hurtt said.

The FBI began requiring all new employees to submit to polygraph examinations in 1994. That program did not apply to agents and employees, including Hanssen, who were hired before that time.

Among the changes adopted after the spy scandal was a requirement that all agents to submit to polygraphs and be retested every five years.

Five years after the changes were implemented, an undisclosed number of agents, analysts and other employees have yet to be given a polygraph test, Phalen acknowledged.

Phalen said the bureau has primarily focused on members of the FBI's national security division. All positions in that division, he said, have been "covered."

"We know we have not gotten everybody," the assistant director said, referring to the entire bureau. "But I believe we have the core of the people, and we continue to focus on that core."

About 90 examiners have been conducting between 7,500 and 8,000 tests per year. More than half of those examinations involve new applicants. The remainder involves existing agents and other employees.

About 25% of new applicants are disqualified based on polygraphs. Phalen said only a "couple dozen" of existing employees each year register some sort of "deception" upon testing.