NSA failed first poly

Hi all. I was told my poly was unsuccessful. I was hammered on drugs and I reiterated what was on my SF86. It was a FS poly but the polygrapher did not get to the CI part. I was told I would be polygraphed again with the CI portion and the drug portion again. I am looking for some words of advice on how to proceed from here. I told the truth and for 1.5 hours of the 3.5 hours I was in that room, I was drilled about drugs. I don’t know how I didn’t fail the falsification questions because I started falling asleep, my stomach was growling, and I was holding in my piss.


Did they reschedule you already? Or did you get the paper that you will be contacted in 30 days?

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Your experience is quite typical. Virtually everyone polygraphed by the NSA is initially accused of deception or withholding information, is interrogated, and then, if no disqualifying admission has been made, invited back for one or more follow-up sessions.

Bear in mind that the polygraph cannot read your mind. It’s an elaborate ruse to elicit admissions. The National Academy of Sciences has advised against its use by federal agencies for personnel screening. Nonetheless, agencies like the NSA value the polygraph for the admissions it scares out of naive and gullible applicants and employees.


Paper that I would be contacted in 30 days.

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Yea just sucks. It’s all just games. I “passed” the questions where I was holding in my piss and my stomach was growling. Getting told to watch my breathing made me hyper-aware of it which was counter-intuitive. The most upsetting part about this whole thing was that I spent 3.5 hours in that room and we couldn’t even get to the CI part. I’m honestly worried I’ll have a third poly at the rate of questions being asked. In your experience, how often do people get a third poly? Thanks for your time

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Regarding your breathing, note that polygraph operators are trained to expect a breathing rate of between about 15 and 30 cycles (in and out) per minute. Sometimes, in a stressful situation, people will breathe slowly and regularly in an attempt to remain calm. But doing so is likely to result in an accusation of attempted countermeasures use (an outcome that is actually worse than failing), even though no one who understands polygraph procedure and countermeasures (such as a spy trained by a foreign intelligence agency) would actually do this.

Regarding the frequency of third polygraph sessions, the NSA does not publish statistics, but it seems to be a common occurrence. Under the NSA polygraph regulation, the polygraph unit can, on its own say-so, conduct up to three sessions with a polygraph subject. Doing so provides the fullest possible employment for the NSA’s polygraph operators. Fourth or even fifth polygraph sessions are not unheard of, but require approval from higher up the food chain.

Interestingly, the NSA’s polygraph practices are little changed in the roughly 70 years that it has been relying on this pseudoscience. It still uses the relevant/irrelevant test that its first polygraph operators learned at the now defunct Keeler Polygraph Institute in Chicago, even though virtually all public agencies (with the exception of the CIA) have long since abandoned this technique.

As I noted last year in an article on the origins of the NSA polygraph program, the NSA’s polygraph operators have yet to catch a spy.

Good luck going forward.

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I kind of agree with what AntiPoly said. It is a fairly standard practice to elicit admissions. If what you put down on SF 86 is the whole truth, then just stick with that no matter what the machine indicates. If they still decide not to hire you, based on poly “results” then it’s out of your hands, but in reality the truth was on your side, your SF86 was correct and you did absolutely nothing wrong.


Yeah, I’ve been reading up on this forum and have been seeing people get a letter of suitability denial after being told the scheduling team will reach out to them within 30 days. Even though I made no admissions and kept the truth, I’m still worried sick I’ll never get called back. The only comfort I have is the polygrapher telling me not to beat myself up and that there are tons of people in the lobby who are taking their 2nd and 3rd poly.

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I was handed the paper and got an email to reschedule about 3 weeks later.

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No need to beat yourself up over something you cannot control.

When going through processing for any agency that requires FS poly, you should be continually applying for other jobs, because the FS poly jobs will always be an uncertainty until you get the FJO.

I had three polys, btw.


To update, I just did my 2nd poly and I was just told I was unsuccessful. I was also told my third poly is just going to be one question concerning drugs. I have been honest about my drug usage and now I have to wait for a link to reschedule. Considering how I’ve been honest both times and still failed, I have given up on this process.

I think it is a completely rational choice to not put up with such psychological abuse (which will continue in the event that you are hired by, or work as a contractor for, the NSA).

Have you heard of just a one-question polygraph before? The poly I took was much different than my first. I was asked the CI portion and then the drug portion. I was drilled on drugs and then the polygrapher left and when he came back, he said the CI portion had some distortion on his end and we needed to redo it. We redid it and he left again and came back saying my next poly will be just the drug question. We still had an hour left so I have no clue why he cut it short and didn’t do the drug portion in that time span.

This sounds like what is termed a “breakdown test.” You’ll find this procedure described in our subchapter on the Relevant/Irrelevant “Test” (the polygraph screening procedure used by NSA).

I ended up passing the third time around. I was told on the spot


Awesome thanks for the update

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i was told my first poly today was unsuccessful. I didn’t get a note or any indication a 2nd poly would be coming. I guess that’s not a good sign.

Same here, I took my poly yesterday…I was drilled by my polygraph instructor that I was lying about criminal activity (granted my record is clean and I made it clear to them the only “criminal” activity I have ever committed was when I was a minor/child) and was asked was I hiding anything else, I kept telling them no and eventually they told me they cannot go further with the exam and that I will need to reschedule. As you said I was not given a paper slip at all, but instead was told that I will receive an email for rescheduling. Can someone help me understand does this mean I failed because I didn’t get the paper slip?

To the best of my understanding, the fact that you did not receive a paper slip does not mean that you failed. As discussed earlier in this message thread, it is routine practice for NSA applicants (even those eventually hired) to be subjected to multiple polygraph sessions.

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I’ve gone through this numerous times over the years with different agencies and I don’t think I ever got a paper slip…?