Taking a Polygraph Exam for Security Clearance Purposes?

Many applicants for federal positions are intimidated by taking a polygraph exam. Much of this apprehension comes from misinformation about the nature of polygraph tests and what they can and cannot accomplish.

At Kalijarvi, Chuzi, Newman & Fitch, P.C., we have more than 40 years of experience dealing with all aspects of security clearance issues, including the polygraph examination. We can guide you through the process and educate you about what to expect and how to handle the exam. You are allowed to have a lawyer with you when you go for the polygraph test, but the lawyer cannot sit in the room with you. Therefore, it is more valuable to seek legal advice before you go for the polygraph session than to bring the lawyer with you to the session.

Understanding What a Polygraph Really Does

A machine cannot tell if a person is lying. The most a machine can do is show that in response to a certain relevant question, the person has a reaction that is different from the person's reaction to a neutral, boring question. The reaction is that the person sweats more, breathes differently, or has a faster heart beat.

A neutral question might be, "Is today a Thursday?" A relevant question might be, "Have you ever had contact with a foreign national that you failed to report to your agency?" If the person sweats more, or tries to hold his or her breath when answering the relevant question, then the polygrapher has something to work with.

The professionals in the polygraph business do not rely on the answers the person gives to the relevant questions. The answers are merely the starting point for the polygrapher to engage in a dialog with the candidate. "I see that your answer was deceptive when I asked you whether you had ever engaged in any criminal activity. What was on your mind?"

What Should You Do When You Are Scheduled for a Polygraph?

At Kalijarvi, Chuzi, Newman & Fitch, P.C., we offer clients practical advice about how to approach and prepare for the polygraph exam. Some of the most important things to keep in mind are:

  • First, try to relax, knowing that it is not your body, but your words that will get you in trouble. In other words, it is not the results of the machine, but the things to say to the polygrapher, that will be used against you. At worst, the polygraph will result in a finding that you were deceptive. That alone cannot be the basis for a security clearance denial.
  • Second, do not read any advice that says you can "beat" the machine. First of all, those techniques, like breathing regularly or squeezing your posterior when answering the questions, will be picked up by the machinery. Secondly, the polygrapher will ask whether you are using any techniques to try to beat the machine. So if you say no, you will be found deceptive on that question. If the polygrapher concludes that you are using "countermeasures" to try to beat the polygraph, the polygrapher will stop the session and write you up for using countermeasures.
  • Third, if you feel that there is something damaging that might come up at the polygraph session, or if you have something you have not revealed that you think is relevant, consult with our skilled attorneys before you go for the polygraph. Seeing a lawyer under these circumstances is not a violation of any rules, and it is good advice if there is something lingering in your mind. You can be sure that this lingering issue is going to come up, and you would be better served by reviewing your options with an experienced lawyer before you get hooked up to the machine. We may be able to help you provide further information that may reduce the effect of the damaging information.

Contact Our Experienced Washington, D.C., Security Clearance Lawyers

If you are scheduled for a polygraph and want to discuss what may happen, or if you have received a notice of proposed denial or revocation of your clearance because of polygraph issues, the law firm of Kalijarvi, Chuzi, Newman & Fitch can help. Call 202.331.9260 or contact us online.