Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Gatekeeper by John F. Sullivan

Gatekeeper - Memoirs of a CIA Polygraph Examiner by John F. Sullivan describes his experiences during his 31-year career as a polygraph examiner.  Sullivan describes his examinations and methods as a polygrapher in which he emphasizes the importance of the examiner's skills as a psychologist and interrogator in a successful polygraph program. 

Sullivan is a champion and self-appointed spokesman for the use of polygraph testing.  He acknowledges that polygraph is as much an art as it is science.  He argues that polygraph is a highly reliable screening device that is more successful and less costly than other methods.

Gatekeeper traces Sullivan's career in the CIA Polygraph Division.  He describes how the use of polygraph suffered and prospered under the reigns of different CIA directors. 

Of special interest are Sullivan's chapters on Aldrich Ames, Intelligence Community and 9/11, and Interrogation and Torture.  The Ames case had a lasting imprint on the Polygraph Division. Random testing was instituted, a Quality Assurance Staff was created to review all tests, and tests that were deemed DI (deception indicated) were reviewed by the FBI.  Sullivan agrees with the assessment that the CIA had failed in the case of 9/11.  He says that "the Agency experienced a thirty-year decline that took a toll on its prestige and capacity to provide good intelligence." Following that statement, Sullivan explains how the the misuse by the government had "diminished the Agency's capacity to carry out its mission."  Although no longer a CIA employee and "out-of-the-loop," Sullivan believes that the charges against CIA officers in regard to abuses at Abu Ghraib were not practiced during his time with the Agncy and "violated the dictates of my interrogation training as well as ny standards of pesonal and professional conduct."

The book is filled with stories of successful interrogations and frustrating failures.  At times the polygraph examiner's conclusions and recommendations were subverted by CIA officials who wanted to protect a prized asset.

However, the book is much more than an overview of Sullivan's many polygraph tests.  It is a frightening look inside the world of the international spy agency.  The reader discovers an organization with the same flaws and problems of any bureaucratic organization: internal politics, turf wars, corrupted data, and incompetent employees.  These issues are alarming in light of the importance of intelligence gathering and assessment in the age of terrorism.

John F. Sullivan retired from the CIA's polygraph division after thirty-one years of service.  His previous book is Of Spies and Lies: A CIA Lie Detector Remembers Vietnam.  I had the pleasure to attend two of John's lectures at a Road's Scholar program in Washington in September 2013. The next presentation of Spies, Lies and Intelligence: The Shadowy World of International Espionage is March 5-9, 2104. John is on the schedule for Saturday morning, March 9. I know you will find him as informative and gracious in-person as he is in his book.

For more information about polygraphs, please see the American Polygraph Association and How Lie Detectors Work.

 We give Gatekeeper - Memoirs of a CIA Polygraph Examiner

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