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FBI chiefs among first to get polygraph tests

Hanssen could have been exposed earlier, experts say

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WASHINGTON — About 500 FBI employees with access to intelligence information will be given lie detector tests beginning next week, the first security reform to come from the arrest of alleged spy Robert Hanssen, officials said.

FBI Director Louis Freeh has also ordered reviews of all "sensitive investigations" to determine if other agents have accessed information outside their normal duties, and he plans to beef up the bureau's "reinvestigation" of agents involved in intelligence cases, according to a memo sent to FBI employees.

Freeh has long resisted expanding the use of polygraph exams, but many counterintelligence experts contend Hanssen might have been caught earlier if he had been required to take one. Hanssen, accused of spying for Moscow since 1985, was never polygraphed during his 25-year career at the bureau.

The 500 employees who will face the first polygraph tests of their careers include about 150 top managers at FBI headquarters in Washington, special agents in charge of regional offices and any others with access to sensitive intelligence material, officials said.

The tests will be "counter-intelligence-focused," according to the memo. Employees will not be asked about personal issues including finances, drug use and sexuality. Refusing to be tested could result in a job transfer, the loss of a security clearance or "disciplinary action" for insubordination, according to the memo.

Officials said Friday they did not know if Freeh would be tested.

FBI officials billed the plan in part as a way to shore up public confidence in the wake of Hanssen's arrest. That case has prompted investigations by the Justice Department's inspector general, the Senate Intelligence Committee and an outside review panel led by William Webster, former director of the FBI and the CIA.

"Everybody understands this has to be done, that we have no choice," said FBI spokesman John Collingwood. "No one wants to do anything that indicates mistrust in employees, but everybody recognizes that we had a serious breach here. We have to make sure it doesn't happen again."

Some proponents of polygraphing argue that the plan — which will affect a small portion of the FBI's 27,000 employees — is not aggressive enough.

"It's a good start, but if that's all they're going to do, they're going to miss an awful lot of people," said Edward Curran, a former top FBI counterintelligence official who helped oversee polygraph programs at the CIA and the Department of Energy.

Polygraph opponents disagree. George W. Maschke, an Army Reserve captain who runs the AntiPolygraph.org Web site, said, "More polygraphs does not mean more security. ... Polygraph testing has no validity and ... anyone can be taught to beat the polygraph in a few minutes."

All outside applicants for FBI jobs have been required to submit to lie detector tests since 1994. Hundreds of intelligence agents with access to specific classified materials have had to take the tests on a case-by-case basis.

But unlike the CIA, which intensified its use of polygraph tests in the wake of the Aldrich Ames spy scandal, Freeh and other officials have resisted calls for wider use of them at the FBI.

Collingwood said Webster agrees with the limited expansion of polygraph use announced by Freeh, and might advocate stronger steps.