If the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) existed today as it was originally intended, no one would pass our vetting process. It’s strange that one of the founding principles of our modern intelligence community—to bring together an eclectic group of individuals from all segments of society with varied skills and strengths—has been lost. The world is gettered smaller by the day, and it’s easier than it’s ever been to have foreign contacts—a major red flag for applicants—even if only by way of video games or social media interaction. Yet our standards for who may join the intelligence world have become no less strict. I understand the principles behind the expectations, but is it possible we’re missing out on talented people?
The polygraph system is not fair to some.
There are countless stories of new people joining the community and finding out they failed their poly. Then, wherever they are, they’ve got to pack their bags and go home. Some are unable to work on special projects for the remainder of their career, or may simply not be able to return to a project. In some cases, an individual’s guilty conscience may have led them down a dark path in the interview. Alternatively, there’s no doubt some sociopaths soar through these tests. People fall through the cracks.
The revelations and hoopla surrounding Edward Snowden have made things much more challenging in regards to vetting those in the intelligence community. Instead of stardom, Snowden could have gotten out, gotten his act together, and run for Congress. More immediately, he could have worked on an oversight committee and tried to do something in a more impactful way, without the collateral damage of his actions, but he didn’t. We might have people who feel less beholden to our system. The higher scrutiny is justified. Still, that makes it tough for many to join up, and there’s no telling how many we’re turning away who could potentially be of value to our efforts.
The full-scope polygraph is sometimes said to be the most stressful event in one’s life. Many are rejected. Some are accepted. It’s not widely known what criteria rejects you and what doesn’t. But it’s safe to assume if the security professional conducting the test believes you’re a liability and counterintelligence risk, you’re not getting in. How is that defined today? We live in a time where everyone is online and everyone is accessible. We know that everyone’s information is vulnerable. You can create layers of security to protect yourself, but in the end, with time, resources, and the right people, your information can be accessed, whatever it is.
The polygraph’s credibility has been in question for a long time. In fact, many admit that it’s unreliable. I guess it’s the best we’ve got. For whatever reason, it’s the way it’s been, and it will likely remain so for a long time until a better solution presents itself. The polygraph is status quo, and the system might never change. That’s unfortunate, because good people are turned away from work that can get hairy, and we need individuals who are comfortable in that setting.
Featured image courtesy of www.reference.com.