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National Security Risk: FBI Employees Who Fail Polygraph Tests Still Have Access to Classified Information

Department of Justice Inspector General Michael Horowitz released a new report Thursday detailing serious lapses by the Federal Bureau of Investigation to follow up on polygraph tests failed by applicants and employees of the law enforcement agency. 


According to the report, "the FBI did not always adhere to its policy restricting access to sensitive information for employees whose unresolved polygraph results were under investigation" and "the FBI does not fully document or centralize its record keeping of polygraph case information."

Further, the investigation found that because of the lengthy period of time between an FBI applicant or employee failing a polygraph and action by the Bureau to follow up, a number of individuals still had access to classified information and sensitive national security secrets after failing the test. 

From the report (bolding is mine): 

We found that the FBI’s process for investigating  and adjudicating unresolved polygraph results varied greatly across the cases we examined.  We determined that the time between initiating an investigation and making a security clearance decision was often lengthy, taking an average of nearly 1 year (357 days).  We analyzed the timeliness of 53 of the 78 employee cases in our sample and found that the 53 investigations took between 9 to 940 days to complete and that the corresponding adjudicative decision process took between 1 and 613 days. Because FBI employees generally continued to retain access to sensitive information, systems, and spaces while an investigation and adjudication were pending, the length of time to complete the process can expose the FBI to security risks. 

We found that the FBI did not always comply with its own policy governing employee access to Sensitive Compartmented Information, classified national intelligence information concerning or derived from sensitive intelligence sources, methods, or analytical processes, which is to be handled exclusively within formal access control systems established by the Director of National Intelligence. The FBI’s policy generally prohibits access to Sensitive Compartmented Information for FBI employees who have not passed a polygraph examination within a specified period.  We identified instances in which employees unable to pass multiple polygraph examinations were allowed to retain access to sensitive information, systems, and spaces for extended periods of time without required risk assessments — potentially posing a security risk to the FBI. 


Once the cases of failed polygraph tests are eventually resolved, the OIG found the FBI does follow protocol by "not offering employment to applicants whose initial polygraph or retest examination results were unresolved."

The OIG produced a classified report to the FBI with a number of suggestions about how to shore up security when polygraph tests are failed. These recommendations include how to increase communication inside the Bureau, in addition to cutting down on the time between the failed test and employment determination. The FBI has accepted the recommendations and is working to implement them.

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