Skip to comments.Cuban spy passed polygraph at least once
Posted on 03/27/2002 10:16:42 PM PST by George Maschke
WASHINGTON - Even though confessed Cuban spy Ana Belen Montes already outwitted a lie-detector test, the government plans to rely on polygraph exams to check her honesty as they debrief her about her 16-year spying career while working for U.S. military intelligence.
Montes took a polygraph examination at least once during her career as an analyst at the Defense Intelligence Agency, her attorney says.
''At the time she was polygraphed, she passed it,'' said prominent Washington attorney Plato Cacheris, who added that he did not know when the exam was given.
Critics of polygraph exams, which are designed to snare liars, say they are astounded that U.S. officials would rely on them to determine if Montes is telling the truth.
''Isn't this incredibly ironic?'' asked Drew C. Richardson, a retired FBI agent who wrote a doctorate dissertation on polygraph research. ``She beats the polygraph and now we're going to use a polygraph to assess the damage? It's utterly, unbelievably stupid.''
Montes, 45, is the most senior spy for Cuba ever caught. FBI agents arrested her Sept. 21 at her workplace. In a plea agreement with the Justice Department, Montes confessed March 19 to spying for Cuba and offered to reveal all details of her betrayal to investigators before her Sept. 24 sentencing. If polygraph exams show that she has been honest and candid, she will get a 25-year jail term, with five years of parole.
Montes isn't the first turncoat in the U.S. intelligence community to beat the polygraph, or lie-detector, exam, and her case is sure to add to controversy over whether the government can rely on the polygraph to catch spies.
Some critics assert that the polygraph tests lure counterintelligence units into a false sense of security, and should be abandoned for other methods.
The Defense Intelligence Agency, which is the preeminent military intelligence arm of the Pentagon, declines to say whether -- or when -- Montes was given a polygraph exam after her hiring in September 1985. It also refuses to provide details of results of any exams given to Montes.
''All DIA employees are subject to polygraphs,'' said an agency spokesman, Lt. Cmdr. James E. Brooks, declining further details.
All government intelligence agencies require employees to agree to regular polygraph examinations. In such tests, an examiner asks a subject questions while a polygraph machine measures changes in a subject's heartbeat, blood pressure and respiratory rate. If the subject lies, the theory goes, then the examiner can detect faster heartbeats, higher blood pressure and other telltale physiological changes.
The FBI, the CIA, the National Security Agency, federal and state governments, local police departments and numerous private agencies routinely use polygraph tests to detect suspected criminal activity.
''The use of polygraph is controversial even within the law enforcement and intelligence community,'' said John L. Martin, the former head of internal security at the Justice Department.
Some form of polygraph machines have been around since 1917, and their use is now widespread, even if still controversial. ''There may be about 3,000 examiners [in the United States],'' said Dan Sosnowski, a spokesman for the American Polygraph Association, a trade group.
In 1988, Congress barred most private employers from probing possible criminal activity of job applicants through polygraph exams. Law enforcement agencies and some limited categories of private companies can still require a polygraph exam as a preemployment requirement.
While statutes vary from state to state, polygraphs can sometimes be introduced as evidence at criminal trials if attorneys for all parties agree, Sosnowski said. They are inadmissible in Florida courts unless the prosecution and defense agree to admit them.
The CIA is known as the agency with the most-freewheeling polygraph tests, delving even into intimate details of the lives of employees in an effort to unmask spies.
''There's a schedule of polygraphs that you have over your career. And they can be aperiodic as well,'' said CIA spokesman Tom Crispell. ``It is one of many tools that are used at the CIA as a security procedure.''
Curiously, among those criticizing the use of polygraph tests is Aldrich Ames, a CIA veteran arrested in 1994 and accused of receiving more than $2 million to reveal to the KGB the names of U.S. agents in Russia. At least 10 agents were later killed.
Ames passed two polygraph exams in the CIA while spying for Russia, said one knowledgeable official, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The polygraphs were not done correctly, he said: ``It indicated deception. They didn't pursue it.''
Ames calls the polygraph tests ``pseudoscience.''
''Like most junk science that just won't die [graphology, astrology and homeopathy come to mind], because of the usefulness or profit their practitioners enjoy, the polygraph stays with us,'' Ames wrote in November 2000 from his cell at Allenwood federal prison in Pennsylvania.
''The U.S. is, so far as I know, the only nation which places such extensive reliance on the polygraph. . . . It has gotten us into a lot of trouble,'' Ames added in letter to a staff employee of the Federation of American Scientists, Steven Aftergood.
Another career CIA analyst, Larry Wu-tai Chin, arrested in 1985 as a spy for Beijing, also beat the polygraph exams he was administered.
Martin, the former chief counterintelligence officer, said the polygraph exam, if administered with precisely phrased questions, can lead to new avenues of interrogation, and uncover deception.
''It can be effective if used properly,'' Martin said.
Aftergood, the official at the Federation of American Scientists, said evaluation of polygraph tests ``is a subjective matter.''
''There is a widespread recognition that it is not an entirely reliable technology,'' Aftergood said.
You don't have to be a trained spy to beat a polygraph test: anyone can do it. To find out how, see AntiPolygraph.org's free on-line book, The Lie Behind the Lie Detector.
Relying on polygraphs is indeed utterly, unbelievably, stupid.
Then one of my secretaries commented "They beat it". She said that they knew when it was coming, they smoked a little grass and they beat it. A few days later I scheduled an un-announced exam and the two prime suspects were declared "deceptive".
Not necessarily. You could still fail or come up inconclusive. The key to passing is to ensure that your physiological responses to the so-called "control" questions are stronger than your reactions to the relevant questions. You can be nervous and heck and still pass by covertly augmenting your reactions to the "control" questions.
Very few people understand how truth vs. deception is actually inferred during a polygraph "test," and what the difference between a "control" question and a relevant question is. But you'll find it all explained in The Lie Behind the Lie Detector, (a free download).
She apparently was opposed to U.S. policy toward Cuba and thought of herself as "helping the Cuban people." The only financial compensation she reportedly received from the Cuban government for her espionage is reimbursement for some of her espionage-related expenses.
Polygraphs are great for getting admissions/confessions from people who don't understand that polygraphy is a fraud. But polygraph "testing" has no scientific basis at all. Not surprisingly, it has not been proven by peer-reviewed scientific research to differentiate between truth and deception at better than chance levels of accuracy under field conditions.
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