NSA video tries to dispel fear about polygraph use during job interviews

The National Security Agency has posted a video online explaining how it uses polygraphs to screen job candidates, in an attempt to ease the fears of potential applicants.

The video, titled "The Truth About Polygraphs," depicts interviews with several subjects discussing their experiences taking the polygraph, also commonly referred to as a lie detector. Polygraph examiners in the video argue there is a great deal of misinformation surrounding the practice and attempt to dispel some of the fear and apprehension surrounding the test.

The video uses interviews with former applicants, polygraph examiners and NSA employees to make the process seem less threatening. It also uses humor via short clips from TV shows and movies like "The Simpsons" and "Meet the Parents."


According to the video, the actual NSA polygraph examination is roughly five minutes long and consists of a subject answering "yes" or "no" questions while a machine monitors their heart rate and blood flow. Subjects are asked questions such as "Have you engaged in espionage against the United States?" or "Have you provided classified information to an unauthorized person?"

The questions are repeated and if there are any results that would raise concern, the patient is allowed to discuss the issue with the examiner to explain themselves more thoroughly. After the interview the results are first sent to a quality control official before the subject is notified whether or not they passed. Even if a candidate fails their original polygraph, the video claims that 90 percent of candidates are given a second chance at the examination.

The video also depicts several NSA candidates describing the whole process as smoother and less intimidating than they expected. However, AntiPolygraph.org, dedicated to abolishing the polygraph for workplace use, argues that the video witholds critical information.

For instance, in a video response posted online last week, an official from the nonprofit points out that NSA may ask candidates about their pornography viewing habits, despite NSA claims that the process is not invasive. The group also argues that there is a scientific consensus that polygraphs are unreliable "junk science."