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Posted at 6:03 PM ET, 02/15/2011

Ivins case’s inconvenient issue: his polygraph

By Jeff Stein

The FBI and the National Academy of Science today jousted over the quality of science applied to solve the 2001 anthrax attacks, but another inconvenient piece of the puzzle seems to have been artfully swept under the rug: the fact that Bruce E. Ivins passed a polygraph.

Polygraph advocates, not the least of which are the national security agencies that rely on the tests despite their many well-known miscues, refer to what they do as “science.”

But polygraph critics, including a retired senior FBI laboratory official, often deride the test as little more than witchcraft, a mechanism that measures emotions, not “lies,” and is entirely dependent on the widely varying skills of its operators. The rig may be fine as an investigative tool to “sweat” a suspect, they say, but entirely unreliable as a mechanism to ferret out skilled criminals, spies or deceptive job applicants. Indeed, it not infrequently declares the innocent "guilty."

Almost a year ago the Justice Department said in its review of the case that Ivins, an Army scientist at Ft. Detrick, Md., employed “classic countermeasures” to defeat his 2002 polygraph test, among them getting a prescription for “psychotropic medications.” A Newsweek report also said Ivins employed “controlled breathing to fool the examiners.”

But as an organization of polygraph critics noted at the time, “there are no studies on the effects of such medications on polygraph results.”

The FBI’s own case file on Ivins, moreover, contradicted the DoJ report.

Ivins “did not research anything about the test, to include ways to defeat its accuracy,” the FBI’s 2002 report on Ivans said. (See here, page 199.)

“Likewise, he did not take any steps to defeat the tests [sic] accuracy or use countermeasures. In fact, IVINS stopped taking his anti-depression/anti-anxiety medication 48-72 hours before the polygraph, and he offered to provide blood and/or urine specimens at the time of the test to prove he was not medicated.”

An obvious question might be whether, of the many other possible suspects who were eliminated, any were eliminated solely on the basis of polygraph examinations.

An intriguing possibility, if not likely. As the FBI said in response to the NAS report Tuesday, the totality of an investigation renders suspects, not any one test. Or as the bureau put it Tuesday in regard to the anthrax tests, "Although there have been great strides in forensic science over the years, rarely does science alone solve an investigation.''

The “science of polygraphs" included, it might have added.

By Jeff Stein  | February 15, 2011; 6:03 PM ET
Categories:  Intelligence, Justice/FBI, Lawandcourts  
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What a bad joke. First, the FBI flubbed this case deliberately, because the facts pointed towards diversion of material from an illegal biological weapons production operation run by the CIA and Battelle Memorial Institute, the #1 private biowarfare contractor for the U.S. government, who now oversees the entire Fort Detrick / Dugway / "Project Bioshield" Operation.

Go look up "Project Clear Vision" if you doubt this. The truth is, the U.S. government was cooking up bioweapons in the late 1990s and early 2000-2001 period, in violation of signed BWC treaties, and someone diverted some of that material for use in the anthrax mailings, while attempting to play it off as an "Islamic terrorist operation."

Recall Colin Powell and his little tube of simulated anthrax, at the UN?

Bruce Ivins had nothing to do with it - any more than did Steven Hatfill, remember? - and despite the claims of the National Academy, the Daschle-Leahy material was indeed treated with silicon (part of the electrospray method used in its production), and thus engineered for maximum dispersal (which is why the Hart Senate Building was shut down for two months and required extensive decontamination).

The physical and genetic evidence both point towards this being the product of a covert U.S. government biowarfare project, and that's what they're really out to hide - as well as the role the anthrax attacks played in drumming up support for billions in financing for an expanded bioweapons program.

Note also that this NAS panel was beset with conflicts of interest related to its ties to corporate concerns and Project Bioshield funding - and even so, they couldn't hide the fact that there's no possible way Bruce Ivins could have cooked this stuff up. If he was still alive, he'd be in the same position as Hatfill - holding a few million in wrongful prosecution settlement cash.

The FBI, the DHS, and HHS all have egg on their face over this, don't they? What a bunch of lying jackals. Just look at their faces!

Posted by: cargocult | February 15, 2011 7:01 PM | Report abuse

I'm not sure why people keep going on about the polygraph. Several professional reviews and tons of anecdotal material confirm that it's a stress detector that can elicit information depending on the skill of the operator and the susceptibility of the subject.

I, not being impressed with the voodoo surrounding it, never had much trouble getting through. Some of my colleagues, Catholics in particular, had hyper-active guilt machines in their brains and went through hell with the poly.

Posted by: TexLex | February 15, 2011 8:16 PM | Report abuse

Kudos to you, a thousand times kudos. Your analysis is impeccable.
I believe there was no way the Post [or most other ‘papers of record’, for that matter] would’ve published such comment a decade ago.
Is it because: the government’s orchestration of the whole 9/11 event is now by and large common knowledge? Or, when on top of the Internet, tens of thousands of its paying sub’s like me can celled in disgust as it became nothing but a government mouthpiece? Or other reasons along these lines?
Regardless, the anthrax case is similar to WTC Building 7 in that the gov can’t even convince people w/ IQ of 60 not to see its direct hand in it.

Posted by: ircacorporation | February 15, 2011 9:12 PM | Report abuse

Forcing an employee to take a polygraph who otherwise would not voluntarily do is a violation of both their 4th and 5th amendment rights. The 4th is violated in terms of having multiple detectors strapped to one's body is an unreasonable search. The 5th is violated in that answering questions and having the accompanying physiological responses recorded and analyzed by a biased individual risks creating the APPEARANCE of guilt, which the polygraph examiner, and the agency he works for, uses as an excuse to penalize the apparently guilty.
The 5th amendment is intended to protect the innocent from the appearance of guilt.

Posted by: glenmayne | February 15, 2011 11:40 PM | Report abuse


Posted by: Howard45327 | February 16, 2011 2:22 PM | Report abuse

Glenmayne is absolutely correct; except that you miss a big point. It isn't that Ivans was required to do so, he just was required to do so to keep his security clearance & hence his job.

If they grab someone off the street they can't insist that they ask questions or take tests (unless they are driving, but that is a different argument), but that doesn't mean you can't insist that your kids tell you the truth, that you can require someone to answer questions in order to obtain or keep a job.

What if you were a cashier and the draw came up short and you were asked if you took any money out and you said "I choose not to answer the question based on my 5th amendment rights." Fine, they wouldn't be able to arrest you based on that, but I'm sure you wouldn't be able to work the register tomorrow.

Posted by: cyberfool | February 16, 2011 4:23 PM | Report abuse

Polygraph machines do not detect lies, polygraph operators do. The machine does not replace interrogatiuon, in merely aids the operator in directing his interrogation to points that seem to cause the victim stress, which may or may not be because he is lying. A polygraph examination is a polite term for a hostile interrogation; it is the interrogator, not the machine, that needs to be evaluated and judged in terms of the accuracy of results. And like in public opinion polling, the science is being able to develop neutral questions that can be answered only yes or no. There are a few good poly operators/interrogators around, but not nearly as many as there are machines in use. A polygraph is never "passed" or "failed," the operator merely decides if the subject is withholding information about the subjects asked about. In my experience, most of the questions asked in a national security polygraph exam are too narrowly focused and based on inaccurate assumptions about how someone would do something bad so that is is easy to "tell the truth" (that is, "pass,") and still conceal the bad things you may be doing. And the operators are badly informed about the reality of the jobs they are checking people for. That is, the poly "works" far better on new applicants than at the "reinvestigation" level.

Posted by: DCNative41 | February 17, 2011 3:28 PM | Report abuse

First and foremost the polygraph is nothing more than an interrogation prop, meant to scare and intimidate the naive and ignorant.
That being said, and knowing that the US Government is sponsoring a counter-intelligence sting website called, the US Govt has every intention of trying to control any and all misinformation regarding this case or any other case that shows that this bumbling group of ineffective bureaucrats can really screw up someones life.

For all interested parties:'s true mission can be found at:

look for the Danger banner.

Posted by: RustyOldToolSet | February 21, 2011 1:04 AM | Report abuse

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