WASHINGTON — An inspector general for the U.S. intelligence community said Tuesday some admissions of crimes by spy agency workers during lie detector tests were not disclosed to law enforcement agencies because of breakdowns in government reporting procedures and poor advice from agency lawyers.
Inspector General Charles McCullough III said he has warned Director of National Intelligence James Clapper that intelligence agencies are inconsistent in their policies on handling and reporting crimes divulged by employees during polygraph tests. McCullough said Clapper has agreed to review agency guidelines governing crime reporting to ensure consistency across the U.S. government's intelligence agencies.
The revelations that polygraph admissions sometimes do not lead to crime reports comes at a critical time for federal intelligence agencies, which are increasingly relying on lie detector tests to improve a porous government security clearance process. The Obama administration is moving to toughen oversight of government workers with secret clearances after lapses in oversight were blamed for enabling National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden to disclose top secret documents about surveillance and contract worker Aaron Alexis to go undetected before he fatally shot 12 people at the Washington Navy yard last September.
McCullough said that in several cases, officials and lawyers for the National Reconnaissance Office failed to notify federal, state or local law enforcement officials after polygraphs of employees disclosed potential crimes, from child molestation and computer viewing of child pornography to narcotics possession and use. McCullough's office took up the review after a referral by Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, and a series of critical reports by McClatchy Newspapers in late 2012.
"The intelligence community lacks specific policy or guidance on how potential crimes should be reported," McCullough said during a conference call Tuesday morning. He added that Clapper's office responded by starting up "a process for coordinating an intelligence community-wide crimes reporting policy."
The inspector general reviewed the security files and lie detector tests from a sampling of nearly 300 employees of the NRO from 2009 to 2012, McCullough said. His office found that the NRO, which operates the government's spy satellites, had failed to report possible crimes from at least 3 percent of the personnel who were given polygraphs.
McCullough's review also found that lawyers in the agency's general counsel's office provided "inaccurate and inconsistent advice" to NRO officials and other officials when lie detector tests found evidence of possible crimes. That advice, McCullough said, "negatively affected the reporting of these potential crimes."
The most glaring lapse discovered by the review was the NRO's failure to promptly report possible non-federal crimes to local and state law enforcement authorities. McCullough blamed deficiencies in a 1995 government Memo of Understanding on crime reporting and the lack of authority in federal law to force agencies to report criminal admissions during lie tests.
But the inspector general review found that federal law did not impede any disclosure by agency officials. Instead, McCullough said, some NRO lawyers simply did not urge disclosure despite their ability to do so.
"Absent a legal obligation, the NRO's office of (General Counsel) chose not to report non-federal crimes to the Department of Justice or law enforcement, in some cases when those crimes posed threats to others," McCullough said.