Faced With Lie Detectors, Anonymice Reach for the Phone

The CIA is rolling out polygraph tests to squelch anonymous leaks to the press - a fact we now know thanks to anonymous sources leaking the news about the polygraph tests to the press.

Paging the CIA’s office supplies manager: Go ahead and double next month’s order for polygraph paper. Actually, triple it.

Yesterday, the New York Times reported that in an effort to crack down on leaks to the media, CIA Director Porter J. Goss is revving up the polygraph machines and strapping down anyone in reach to answer questions about their relationship to the press. The increased deployment of in-house polygraphs, according to the Times, is a result of Goss’ desire to “re-emphasize a culture of secrecy.” (This past Thursday, the CIA fired Mary O. McCarthy, a senior intelligence officer, after accusing her of leaking information about the CIA’s secret overseas prisons — which McCarthy has denied — based at least partly on a polygraph test.)

According to the Times, during the recent investigation, both Goss and his deputy director willingly submitted to lie detector tests. No doubt the tactic is aimed at sending a message throughout the agency — something to the effect that the crackdown applies to everyone and that the polygraphs will keep on pumping.

So is the message working? Does the stepped-up use of polygraphs appear to have halted the flow of CIA anonymice speed-dialing every reporter in town?

To judge by the Times’ own sourcing elsewhere in the article: absolutely not.

Witness the following:

The ‘single-issue’ polygraphs, which are distinct from the routine polygraphs given to agency employees at least every five years have been conducted by the CIA Security Center but with close supervision from Mr. Goss’s office, one official said.

Like other current and former intelligence officials, he was granted anonymity to discuss classified events at the agency without fear of retribution. [Emphasis added.]

To recap: The CIA is rolling out polygraph tests to squelch the anonymous leaking of information to the press — a fact we now know thanks to anonymous sources leaking the information about the polygraph tests to the press.

That sound you hear is Porter Goss’s head exploding.

Once he cools down, however, the director of the CIA may yet order another round of “single source” polygraph tests. This time, perhaps, asking the all-important question: Have you ever talked to the press about these goddamn polygraph tests?!?!

As we said at the outset: time to stock up on more paper.

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Felix Gillette writes about the media for The New York Observer.