Global war on terrorism: polygraph—an intelligence tool

Global war on terrorism: polygraph—an intelligence tool

Joe Don Castleberry

On 31 March 1998, in United States v. Scheffer (1) a divided U.S. Supreme Court held that either side could ban the results of a polygraph examination from use in a criminal trial because there is no consensus that polygraph evidence is reliable. The Court found that the scientific community and the state and federal courts are extremely polarized on the matter. Five of the concurring and dissenting justices noted that:

There is much inconsistency between

the Government’s extensive

use of polygraphs to make

vital security determinations, and

the argument it made in that case

stressing the inaccuracy of these


The majority of the Court found nothing inconsistent, however, in the Government’s use of the polygraph for personnel screening and as a tool in criminal and intelligence investigations because, it said, such limited out-of-court uses of polygraph techniques differ in character from, and carry less severe consequences than, the use of polygraphs as evidence in a criminal trial.

The Court noted that between 1981 and 1997, the Department of Defense (DOD) conducted more than 400,000 polygraph examinations. Justice John Paul Stevens in a dissenting opinion supported its use by DOD, because, he said, its polygraph examiners were trained at its own Polygraph Institute, “which is generally considered the best training facility for polygraph examiners in the United States.” The Supreme Court’s opinion has put to rest any argument against the continued use of this technique as a tool in national security investigations.

The Army Leads the Way

The Polygraph Branch, 310th Military Intelligence (MI) Battalion, conducts counterintelligence (CI) scope, polygraph screening examinations in support of DOD Special Access Programs, the Department of the Army (DA) Cryptographic Access Program, and the National Security Agency (NSA) on a routine basis. In addition, polygraphers conduct operational examinations in support of offensive CI operations, CI and counterespionage (CE)investigations, and counterintelligence force protection source operations (CFSO). With the current Global War on Terrorism and other significant events occurring throughout the world, the mission continues to increase. During the last fiscal year, the Branch conducted more than 1,100 CI-scope polygraph screening examinations and nearly 70 operational examinations. These numbers will likely increase dramatically in the near future.

The Army will continue to lead the way when using polygraphs in the tactical arena. U.S. Army examiners were the first polygraph personnel to go to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and Kandahar and Bagram, Afghanistan, pursuant to the war on terrorism and the search for Osama bin Laden (see Figure 1). While other agencies waited to see if polygraph examinations would yield favorable results in such an environment, Army examiners proved they could, conducting sensitive examinations to determine the veracity of information reported by known or suspected Taliban and al-Qaeda members. In one instance, use of the polygraph nullified a significant biological weapons threat while in another it aided the State Department by clearing one of our allies of direct involvement with al-Qaeda. It has also cleared some individuals of direct involvement with al-Qaeda and allowed commanders to employ available assets better.

Expanding Use of the Polygraph

As an investigative aid, the polygraph has helped investigators in closing many investigations. In cases where the Army requested a polygraph test, the polygraph examinations have either proven or nullified numerous allegations. This has led to a significant increase in the number of requests received by the 310th MI Battalion. In the screening environment, use of the polygraph has identified numerous security concerns and possible threats on a continual basis; on several occasions, examinees have admitted to having classified or sensitive information outside government control. The polygraph has identified these potential threats and led to recovery of the information.

The DOD is continuing to expand the use of the polygraph because of its proven benefit. The 902d MI Group’s polygraph examiner personnel strength may increase from the current ten examiners to twenty-five in the next five to ten years. This includes adding various programs and requiring even more polygraph examinations in those areas where intelligence is susceptible. The U.S. House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence recently concluded that the polygraph was one of the best tools available to safeguard intelligence information. It is another tool that commanders can use to safeguard information. This has many looking at expanding its uses to other jobs within the military where leaks can occur.


The polygraph is still one of the best, and sometimes the only, means available to determine the veracity of information. In the tactical environment, the Army has proven to be the expert in its employment. However, we still have a long road ahead. We need to educate those in the tactical environment better on the uses and benefits of polygraph examinations, clearly spelling out the ways in which the examiners can benefit the command. Branch personnel currently teach a two-hour block of instruction to the CFSO Course and Officers CI Course (35E) at Fort Huachuca, Arizona, on a recurring basis. Examiners also furnish tailored instruction to units throughout the continental United States when requested. Polygraph examination, like any other specialty, cannot be learned overnight and our experienced examiners are an invaluable asset that we must protect.

Enduring Freedom (Cuba)

[] Nullified a biological weapons threat when the suspect, a known al-Qaeda member, admitted to falsifying information.

[] Cleared a U.S. ally by verifying information provided by a high-ranking member of a foreign government.

[] Cleared several detainees of direct involvement with terrorist activities and identified several who participated in hostilities.

Enduring Freedom (Afghanistan)

[] Confirmed secret contact with a middle-eastern intelligence service by a U.S. employee working as a translator.

[] Verified significant intelligence information found in the possession of a detainee in Kandahar.

[] Obtained admission that a detainee actively participated in the war against U.S. Forces on the front lines near Kabul.

CI/CE Investigations

[] Identified the individual who removed a Top Secret document from a secure facility. There were 25 suspects initially.

[] Cleared a U.S. Army officer of espionage while confirming involvement with a foreign intelligence service.

[] Used the polygraph to confirm information passed while examinee was engaging in espionage as part of an initial plea agreement to reduce prison term.

Counterintelligence-Scope Polygraph

[] Recovered Top Secret/Sensitive Compartmented Information (TS/SCI) materials from a home computer due to admission obtained.

[] Obtained admission relating to the smuggling of TS documents from a sensitive compartmented information facility (SCIF). Nullified a significant threat and identified a foreign national who assisted.

[] Recovered 135 pages of Secret documents from a U.S. Marine Corps officer who had the information stored at his residence.

Limited Access Interpreter

[] Obtained information relating to secret trips to Iraq and close associations with a government official in Iraq.

[] Obtained information that tied examinee to known or suspected militant organizations.

[] Obtained significant intelligence information omitted from the submitted SF-86 (Questionnaire for National Security Positions), which disqualified applicant from positions.

Figure 1. Selected Successes Achieved Through Polygraph Examinations in Several Mission Areas.

ASAS User’s Conference 2003

The 2003 All-Source Analysis System (ASAS) User’s Conference will be 16 and 17 September 2003 at Fort Huachuca, Arizona. The U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) Systems Manager (TSM) ASAS is the sponsor. This year’s conference will focus on Lessons Learned and you, the users in the field, will primarily present the forum. We want to hear what your success stories are and what improvements you foresee requiring so that the TSM can continue to be responsive to your needs.

Due to our major focus on the Global War on Terrorism including Operations IRAQI FREEDOM and ENDURING FREEDOM, we did not hold an ASAS conference in 2002. The program has reached several significant milestones over the past two years since our last conference. Some of the highlights are the maturing of the ASAS-Light baseline system, interoperability functions, and the Block II Analysis and Control Element (ACE) workstation.

The agenda includes briefings by the TSM, Project Manager (PM), and the U.S. Army Communications-Electronics Command (CECOM), unit briefings, and demonstrations. The TSM intends it to be an unclassified event; however, there may be some classified discussions. We request all attendees transmit their clearance information (both collateral and SCI) to the telephone numbers listed below. In both cases cite the “2003 ASAS Users’ Conference 16-17 September 2003” and list MAJ Eva Branham as the local point of contact. For SCI clearance information only, please pass clearance information through special security office channels to SSO Huachuca, Ms. Dondi Minor, telephone (520) 538-6500 or DSN 879-6500. For collateral clearance information only, please fax to the S2, 306th MI Battalion at (520) 533-3044 or DSN 533-821 or call (520) 533-3025.

Please send an initial response back from your organization if you will attend; list the number of people and whether you plan to brief (if so, state any schedule preferences). Also indicate if there are any areas you are particularly interested in hearing briefed or wish seeing demonstrated by the TSM, PM, CECOM, or other ASAS-equipped unit.

As you complete your briefings, please forward them to MAJ Eva Branham or Ms. Diane Rabb via E-mail at or, respectively. For additional information, please contact MAJ Branham through E-mail or telephonically at (520) 538-8316 or DSN 879-8316.


(1.) Supreme Court of the United States; Number 96-1133; United States, Petitioner v. Edward G. Scheffer;, 31 March 1998.

Chief Warrant Officer Three Joe Don Castleberry is currently the Chief, Polygraph Branch, 310th MI Battalion, 902d MI Group. He joined the Army in 1987 and, upon completing basic and advanced individual training, was assigned to the J2, U.S. Forces, Korea. While assigned to the West Coast Battalion, he submitted an application to become a Polygrapher. In 1991, he attended the DOD Polygraph Institute and worked as an examiner since. CW3 Castleberry has served in Korea, Denver, and at Fort Meade. He attended the Warrant Officer Basic Course in May 1994. Readers may contact the author through E-mail at

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