Polygraph Testing Against Border Corruption

A bill passed by the Senate last month would require U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to administer polygraph tests to all applicants for law enforcement positions within the agency.

The move was prompted by reports (originally in the New York Times) and testimony before the Senate Homeland Security Committee that Mexican drug trafficking organizations were attempting to infiltrate the Customs and Border Protection agency by sending drug traffickers to take the entrance examination.

The CBP argued that polygraph testing of job applicants offered the most effective response, a Senate Committee report on the bill explained.

“According to CBP, less than one percent of applicants who are cleared by a polygraph examination subsequently fail the required single scope background investigation (SSBI) [for a security clearance], while roughly 22% of applicants who are not subjected to polygraph investigations fail the SSBI.”

“Because SSBIs cost an average of $3,200, CBP believes that expanding the use of polygraph examinations would cut down on failed investigations and create a more streamlined and cost-effective process for bringing new applicants on board.”  See “Anti-Border Corruption Act of 2010,” Senate Report 111-338, September 29, 2010.

The bill has been referred to the House of Representatives, where it remains pending.

Polygraph testing of CBP applicants already seems to have paid some dividends.  Last week, one job applicant was arrested following a polygraph test in which he confessed to an unrelated crime, the Florida Sun-Sentinel reported October 21.

But CBP reliance on the polygraph is unwise, said critic George Maschke, because “polygraphy is highly vulnerable to countermeasures, and members of criminal enterprises seeking to infiltrate CBP will likely fool the lie detector.”

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