Drug War

Customs and Border Patrol Wants to Get Rid of Hiring Polygraphs Because of How Many Applicants Use Drugs

60 percent of CBP applicants can't pass the hiring polygraph.

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Ether? Never heard of her.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection has 1,800 unfilled positions, and President Trump wants the agency to hire an additional 5,000 employees over five years. But there's a problem, according to the Wall Street Journal: 60 percent of CPB applicants can't pass the agency's polygraph test.

While none of the Journal's sources knew exactly why so many people who want to work for CPB end up lying during interviews, several sources suggested "it was likely because applicants were untruthful about past drug use, even though that doesn't automatically disqualify them from being hired."

The polygraph was instituted in 2010 after a series of corruption prosecutions involving CPB employees. Now that it's clearly impeding the agency from realizing a neck-stomping vision of an impenetrable border, what should the agency do? "Is there a way," Rep. Martha McSally (R., Ariz.) said to the Journal, "for us to make sure we're upholding the standards—we all want to make sure there is no corruption—but a way to provide some common sense?"

Officials in and around CPB are considering an easier polygraph test, exempting applicants with military and law enforcement backgrounds, and even doing away with the polygraph altogether (ICE doesn't have one, and now they're getting all the good people). How making it easier for nominal lawbreakers to land federal law enforcement jobs comports with Trump's pledge to reduce corruption in the federal workforce is a fair question in want of a president coherent enough to answer it.

What's really odd about the Journal's piece is that no one–not a single person!–acknowledges the possibility that the hiring problem is bigger than nervous nellies lying about their weed (maybe meth) habits. Last December, The New York Times obtained records revealing that over 200 DHS employees were known by the agency to have received $15 million in bribes to make investigations go away, provide intelligence to drug cartels, and sell immigration documents, among other things. Again, those were the cases the department knew about and this was six years after passage of the Anti-Border Corruption Act of 2010. The FBI, meanwhile, can't seem to find good hackers who don't blaze.

Is there a way to both eradicate corruption and fill federal positions with the best people? No, not when the incentives driving corruption and deterring candidates are so closely tied to our crappy drug and immigration laws.

And I wouldn't be doing this topic justice if I didn't also encourage you to watch Reason.tv's episode on the criminal penalties for teaching people how to beat a polygraph:

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  1. In the words of Casey Jones, ” Whoa, who’s the babe?”

    1. The one who was taught to beat the box when asked if they are real.

      1. …beat the box…

        These euphemisms are getting less and less abstract.

    2. That lady really knows how to tits!

  2. But there’s a problem, according to the Wall Street Journal: 60 percent of CPB applicants can’t pass the agency’s polygraph test.

    While none of the Journal’s sources knew exactly why so many people who want to work for CPB end up lying during interviews, several sources suggested “it was likely because applicants were untruthful about past drug use, even though that doesn’t automatically disqualify them from being hired.”

    Wait a second – they can’t pass the polygraph test and you think this proves they’re lying? There’s a reason polygraph tests aren’t admissible evidence in court. You should know better than to jump to such a conclusion. In fact, I’d go so far as to suggest it’s more likely the reason so many applicants fail the polygraph has something to do with the moron running the machine than that everybody’s lying.

    1. I think lying about drug use seems like a pretty likely thing too.

      1. Even though that doesn’t automatically disqualify them from being hired?

        Depending on the agency, some of the questions they ask are specifically designed to trigger a response – “When’s the last time you masturbated?” – to get some parameters set and all the machine is measuring is your discomfort with a question, it can’t actually tell that you’re lying. Without knowing exactly what questions are being asked, a high failure rate is just as suggestive of a flawed test as a pool of flawed candidates.

        1. I think that probably neither of us has much basis to say one way or the other what is more likely here.

          1. Here is your basis…

            Do Lie Detectors Work

            50% false positive rate 10% false negative rate so if 60% are failing that means…

            37.5% are telling the truth and passing
            37.5% are telling the truth and failing
            22.5% are lying and failing
            2.5% are lying and passing

            1. Agreed. The basis is that lie detectors are fundamentally subjective, and therefore lie detector tests results are do not constitute “data” in the immediate sense.

              Not to mention that polygraphy in general is pseudoscience…

      2. That would assume that people are *worried* about their past drug use. Polygraph ain’t much use if you’re utterly unconcerned and the slightest bit prepared for the questioning.

      3. That would assume that people are *worried* about their past drug use. Polygraph ain’t much use if you’re utterly unconcerned and the slightest bit prepared for the questioning.

    2. The polygraph is not great (hence not good enough for a court) but it’s not total nonsense either. Most of the 60% are probably lying.

      1. A complete sociopath can pass a polygraph, the response the polygrapher is looking for is not a physiological response to ‘lying’ but a response to the feelings of guilt associated with attempting to deceive someone. No conscience, no guilt, no response.

        1. Yeah that’s kind of a killer flaw right there.

          Perhaps they use other tests to identify sociopaths–so they can direct them to more appropriate federal agencies to work in.

        2. A person who is just kinda clueless can easily pass one too because it just doesn’t occur to them that what they are doing is or was wrong, and a poly is going to have a hard time catching someone with any of the various forms of BPD because they are generally capable of disassociating from their actions sufficiently that they actually believe whatever they happen to be saying at the moment is true, even if they intellectually know it isn’t

        3. having a conscience does not mean that you care one whit (ie, feel guilt) over deceiving some random dude over a series of bullshit questions about something you don’t think is wrong and don’t regret doing.

          I’m not a sociopath and I’ve beaten polygraphs that have asked questions about things like ‘have you ever stolen’. Yes I have. More than once. Long ago and that time is behind me – and I’m not going to get all teary-eyed over lying about it now.

          1. Yeah that too, to be more precise, the test is dependent on the individual being tested to become emotionally invest themselves in the test and care what the polygrapher thinks of them.

        4. Oh, in addition to all the reasons a Polygraph could give a false negative (report someone is telling the truth when they are lying) there is the far more important issue of false positives (reporting someone is lying when they are in fact telling the truth) .

          While overall Polygraph tests do a reasonably good job of catching people who are actually lying, about 90% accurate, they do a horrible job of identifying people who are telling the truth with false positive rates of 50%.

          And that is exactly what is going on here 60% can’t pass because the polygraph has a built in 50% error rate and the implication is that about 75% of the applicants are telling the truth on the polygraph and 25% are lying (.75 * .5 = .375, .25* .9 = .225, .375 + .225 = .6) and of the applicants who pass the polygraph about 1 in 40 actually lied and almost as many were incorrectly identified as lying as actually passed the test. In fact more people are being incorrectly failed for lying (35.5%) as actually are lying (25%).

          The DEA can’t really accept this however because it would indicate that what they should really do is drop the use of the Polygraph altogether (same for the rest of the government agencies) and the rest of the media is too stupid and innumerate to understand the facts (and unfortunately that includes Reason in it’s current incarnation, in the past you had actual writers who would recognize these facts and report on that rather than just take the drug war aspect of the story)

          1. It’s impossible to quantify the lie detection rate, because doing so requires external knowledge that a lie is a lie, which is impossible for real-world scenarios. Furthermore, it’s impossible to replicate the mental state of a real lie in a real polygraph in a lab setting. Either the truth is revealed in advance, which colors the mental state going into the polygraph, or the lie may be maintained to researchers post-test.

            Recourse to impossible statistics demonstrates that you, too, do not understand how polygraphy works.

            Go, read.

            1. That is to say, “it’s impossible to replicate, in a lab, the mental state of a genuine lie in a real-world lie detector test”

        5. That’s not actually how polygraphs really work, nor is it how they are beaten. Sociopathy is irrelevant, and to suggest otherwise demonstrate ignorance of polygraphy on your part.

          Go, read.

  3. I assume the brief is accurate about the article hiding behind the paywall, and the issue is lying about drug use. Easy answer; conduct all polygraph (not lie detector) examinations in Colorado.
    Or maybe, you know, surrender in the war on drugs.

  4. They could always legalize recreational drug use – LET ME FINISH – for government employees.

  5. This ties heavily into my own occupation where my boss has seemingly decided to single handedly win the drug war. He makes the most derogatory statements about “burn outs” and “losers”, “why won’t they just drink booze?”, he’s pumping out a fuck ton of anti-drug material, we’ve ramped up random testing, he considers every cubicle employee to be working in a safety sensitive position, when he walks through IT he makes inhaling sounds with his hands to his lips like he were holding a joint, and makes uneasy cheech and chong jokes that crush morale. He makes sure that everyone in our Colorado branches know that legality be damned.

    As a stoner, who does his duty more or less, and lines fellow stoners against the wall at the behest of the orders of my superior officers — I feel like an agent that’s spent too long in deep cover and my life force is ebbing out of me.

    I was not told I would be a drug warrior when I was hired. The only thing that keeps me going is the knowledge that all stoners know they will be persecuted, that they must keep their heads down and persevere. I do what I can to fight on the inside, sort of, but some young kids, or old fools always get caught in pre-employment or randoms and then there’s not all to do but throw the book at them.

    I am a Nazi guard and I know following orders has nothing to do with justice. I have no honor. This article makes me think of that, as if I could forget.

    1. Hey man, I’m so sorry.

      Maybe it is time for a different job?

      I faced something similar in a previous job I had, it wasn’t as severe as what you are describing, but the work culture shifted from fairly laid back, to much more draconian and conformist. You had to either ‘get with the plan’ or become an enemy of the company. That’s when I quietly started looking for another job and was lucky to find one.

      1. Maybe it is time for a different job?

        I’m a pretty unambitious man, and a fairly loyal one at that — for all his fevered drug war speeches, I still feel that this man hired me when he could not have and I owe him for that… We are just a two man team, I work in Corporate Safety for a middling company of 31 branches throughout the Midwest, our guys mostly turn wrenches on truck repairs… My boss has moved forward on a number of safety initiatives because I can carry the slack for him; in his mind he is grooming me for his job… The drug war shit didn’t start right away… But now seemingly impossibly, it’s become enemy number 1.

        The sad part is that I can see how the culture has shifted, my co-workers, HR, the CFO, nobody feels comfortable enforcing drug policy, they mostly want to wash their hands of it — I’ve been told as such in confidence, explicitly from our IT manager — that FBI article linked above is on point. But everyone is afraid, nobody wants to speak out against draconian drug policy because they know they cannot win. So instead, we just follow the government issued status quo and fight the drug war, it’s easier that way.

    2. He makes the most derogatory statements about “burn outs” and “losers”, “why won’t they just drink booze?”, he’s pumping out a fuck ton of anti-drug material, we’ve ramped up random testing, he considers every cubicle employee to be working in a safety sensitive position, when he walks through IT he makes inhaling sounds with his hands to his lips like he were holding a joint, and makes uneasy cheech and chong jokes that crush morale.

      Christ, what an asshole.

    3. You are hilarious dude. I swear I think just like you and I was once just like you. I worked for the Nazis and probably didn’t sabotage enough. One time during some mad spell I think I even tried to bust some dude on my own. I made a guy admit he smoked weed in front of his dad. That was enough and I let the poor wretch go. You’ll probably debase yourself in ways you could never imagine in the future. God help you.

  6. “why won’t they just drink booze?”

    Ha. Because drunks are never burn outs or losers.

  7. Or they could maybe just stop asking people about their past drug habits, especially MJ. Nah, that’s crazy talk.

    Is the woman in the video taking a polygraph or making a tit bondage porno? NTTAWWT

  8. You know how to really beat a polygraph? Stick to your fucking story. It doesn’t matter how much you breathe or sweat or fidget. Just never give up or concede an inch when the mind-reader challenges your answers or tries to confuse you.

  9. This isn’t the fist time Reason has tempted me into watching that video based on the screen shot.

  10. key-rist man. If you can’t lie your way through a polygraph you’re too stupid to even be in the CBP.

  11. I can tell just by looking that those breasts are telling the truth.

  12. CBP agents with a history of drug use.
    What could go wrong with that?

    1. At least they’re not asking about hookers in Central America or anything.

  13. Most people who talk about this don’t really appreciate (what I believe to be) the USG’s position. It would seem not so much to be “they work” as it is “this is a great prop and opportunity to conduct an interrogation for the purpose of eliciting interesting things.”

    If you want what is arguably one of the most comprehensive reviews of the science (or lack thereof), look no further than the National Research Council [nap.edu]. The upshot of that report is a fairly scathing indictment of the tool for screening purposes, along with an acknowledgement that in the particular case of investigating a person’s involvement in a specific event, there may be some utility.

  14. so, WHY exactly do we need to lighten up on the security for hiring the very folks intended to keep our borders secure? Yes. ,exempting certain already vetted classes from the polygraph tests might be a good idea… but how about adding to that list those who have gone through the misery and expense of getting their Mother May I Cards to carry their own personal defensive weapons in public? As a class, that group are the most law abiding in the nation.. except possibly nuns, or , uhm, well, maybe someone else I can’t think of just now.

    If someone is lying and busts the machine, WHY is it even being considered to hire them? We;ve already got far too much corruption in FedGov. TSA, BATF, DoJ, FBI, NSA, CIA, why should we compromise for our border guards?

  15. Why do Border Patrol applicants need to take polygraph tests? Trump and his Cabinet secretaries–not to mention his National Security Advisors–didn’t have to take any before they were allowed to take up office.

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