Upcoming Polygraph

Hey everyone.

I will be completing my first polygraph soon and have a couple of questions for those who have been through it.

Some background: I have an active TS and am currently working as an investigator, so I am very familiar with the various forms and procedures. This poly is part of the hiring process for a potential new job. I will be doing both the lifestyle and the CT poly. I will obviously answer everything truthfully as I have nothing to hide.

Here’s what I’m wondering about regarding the lifestyle poly:

  1. From what I gather, the questions are based off of the SF86.

My only “issues” on the form are:
-foreign contacts (one friend from London, a great aunt in Switzerland, and a cousin in Cayman). No gov/mili affiliation.
-Marijuana use in 2016. One time. No buying or selling.

However, when I was in high school I was a regular user of marijuana. I also occasionally ecstasy. I was under 18 and it was outside of the time frame for the SF86 so I didn’t list or discuss it.

Should I expect them to ask about use before I was 18? Or frame it as “have you ever”?

Again, I plan to be totally honest. I just want to know what to expect.

  1. My teenage drug use was mainly inspired by a hugely traumatic event in my life when my mother nearly died. I mainly view this as mitigating/explanatory information, but I’m worried it might be interpreted as a risk that stress would cause me to use drugs. (Which is not the case at all. I was a stupid teenager back then.) Any suggestions as to whether that would be positive or negative to say, should it come up?

Thanks everyone!

No one can really discuss the questions with you, as it’s considered classified information. The same time, you may or may not be asked the same questions as others. That said, just be honest. It’ll go much more smoothly. It’s more important to be honest and have them clarify their questions (they will do so if you ask in order to avoid making you think too much and going down a rabbit hole) than to be caught in a web of lying.

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@Jmp1013, questions asked during the “pre-test” phase of the polygraph examination may include some derived from information provided on your SF-86. However, the relevant questions asked while you’re connected to the polygraph instrument are standardized. You can expect relevant questions similar to those used in the Law Enforcement Pre-Employment Test (used by federal law enforcement agencies) or the Relevant/Irrelevant Test (used by the CIA and NSA).

Your use of marijuana in 2016 may raise a security concern, particularly if you were employed by the federal government at that time. I don’t know whether you’ll be asked about any drug use ever (rather than just the past seven years, as on SF-86). You’ll note that the Relevant/Irrelevant Test question list I linked above includes a “have you ever” type question, but that document dates to the early 1990s.

Offering excuses for your drug use while in high school is unlikely to help you and, as you fear, could well hurt you. I would offer no such excuses if I were in your shoes.

@ntotoro, the questions asked on various federal polygraph screening formats are not classified. Indeed, they cannot be, because they are routinely disclosed to persons who do not hold security clearances. Detailed information about all the standard federal polygraph techniques is not only unclassified: it’s also in the public domain and has been for years. See, for example, the Federal Psychophysiological Detection of Deception Examiner Handbook.


I was always taught never to disclose polygraph questions unless it’s with someone who has been through the same type of polygraph.The questions themselves may contain answers with nothing more than PII data (unless it’s about an NDA for some briefing you’ve had in the past), but that the procedures themselves were classified.

Polygraph operators would prefer that nobody know anything about their procedures, because polygraphy actually depends on the operator lying to and deceiving the person being “tested,” and the subject not understanding the deceptions on which the procedure is based. However, all of the basic polygraph techniques (the probable- and directed-lie “control” question “tests” and the relevant/irrelevant “test”) were developed outside the federal government, are not classified, and have been described in the academic literature on polygraphy.

It’s not classified. There are no markings on anything related to polygraph that make it classified. The BS brochure they give you is yours to keep and it’s posted online. They just want you to think it’s classified so you don’t talk to anyone about it. It’s all 100 percent crap.

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The foreign contacts should be no issue at all, especially if you had reported them beforehand and the background investigator already looked into them. During my polygraph I reported two new foreign contacts that I had forgotten to mention on my SF-86, and all the polygrapher did was give me some forms to fill out their information then proceed as normal. Not a big deal. They only care if you are hiding something then they will try to find out what you are hiding.

As far as the drug questions go, it could be either “ever” or “past 7 years”, just depends how the interview is conducted. The best thing you can do is be honest without overvolunteering information. Just say you were a dumb teenager who made a dumb mistake. I wouldn’t go into details about your family unless asked.