Today, seven weeks after I claimed polygraph exams should have caught Edward Snowden, I came to realize I might have been wrong. Why? Because it appears he might not have taken one as part of his 2011 background check.
“As far as I’m concerned,” I explained June 18, “the 29-year-old deserves a special place in history, positioned alongside notorious spies — including John Anthony Walker Jr., Jonathan Jay Pollard and Ana Belen Montes — who were able to defeat both the polygraph and the best efforts of their government.” Note: I could have added convicted CIA spy Aldrich Ames (right) to the list as well, but you get the point.
This post-publication realization of mine came to fruition after I had read two separate articles — one in Government Executive and the other at NewsMax.com — which had cited a third article in The Wall Street Journal as their primary source of details about an investigation into the background check conducted on former National Security Agency contractor Snowden.
Because I won’t pay to read articles behind the Journal’s pay wall, I am forced to rely upon the two secondhand articles for key details; hence, my use of the word, might, in the first paragraph above and the slightly-convoluted language in the paragraphs below for which I beg your apologies in advance.
Both non-Journal articles reported that National Counterintelligence Executive Frank Montoya led the investigation into the 2011 background check of Snowden. Likewise, both reported that US Investigative Services, a government contractor, conducted the background check of Snowden. In addition, both listed several failures on the part of USIS related to the background check. Note: I’ll let you look at the articles if you’re interested in those other failures, because I want to move on to the important stuff.
Nowhere, however, was it reported in either of the non-Journal articles that the Journal article had mentioned any details about the Montoya report mentioning Snowden had been subjected to a polygraph examination(s) as part of the USIS-conducted background investigation. Why?
It was the polygraph, after all, that was at the center of a June 2012 announcement by Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper Jr., the nation’s top intelligence official. Clapper said he would implement tough new measures aimed at stemming the spate of unauthorized disclosures of national security information that had dogged the 17-agency Intelligence Community during his watch. In short, those measured consisted of adding more questions during polygraph exams of existing and and prospective employees.
Again, why wasn’t Snowden’s polygraph exam(s) mentioned?
While that question hangs in the air for a moment, consider the words of a retired counterintelligence expert/friend of mine who is familiar with the background investigation process. When I shared news about the Journal‘s reporting on the Montoya report with this man, whose name I cannot share his name for reasons of his personal security, he offered some feedback which included the comments below:
I think the real problem is that the system is broken, and they are using USIS as a scapegoat — although I am sure they are partially to blame. The real question still remains how did Snowden pass a polygraph for both the CIA and NSA… and why isn’t anyone asking this question. The people who would normally ask this question are scared out of their wits due to the ongoing polygraph countermeasures investigations by federal agencies. So I guess mum is the word.
Am I surprised to learn an expert thinks “the system is broken” when it comes to conducting background checks? Hardly.
During the exhaustive four-year investigation that preceded the release of my second nonfiction book, THE CLAPPER MEMO, I discovered several areas inside the federal government that are broken and need to be fixed.