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Probe: National Reconnaissance Offic Kept Secret Child Abuse

Employee Confessions During Polygraph Tests Not Reported

Washington — The nation’s spy satellite agency failed to notify authorities when some employees and contractors confessed during lie detector tests to crimes such as child molestation, an intelligence inspector general has concluded.

In other cases, the National Reconnaissance Office delayed reporting criminal admissions obtained during security clearance polygraphs, possibly jeopardizing evidence in investigations or even the safety of children, according to the inspector general report released Tuesday, almost two years after McClatchy’s reporting raised similar concerns.

In one instance, one of the agency’s top lawyers told colleagues not to bother reporting confessions by a government contractor of child molestation, viewing child pornography and sexting with a minor, the inquiry by the inspector general for the intelligence community revealed.

“Doubt we have enough to interest the FBI,” the agency’s then-assistant general counsel told another official in an email, adding, “The alleged victim is fourteen years old and fully capable of calling the police herself.”

After the other official insisted on reporting it, the confession was eventually investigated and it turned out that the girl was still in contact with the contractor who’d confessed to the crimes. It took almost five weeks for the Department of Justice to be informed.

When confronted with the lapses by the inspector general’s investigators, the National Reconnaissance Office’s then-top lawyers said they “were not legally obligated to report child sexual abuse to DOJ or law enforcement organizations because child abuse is a state crime, not a federal crime,” the report said.

“Therefore they generally chose not to report those crimes unless the admissions also involved federal crimes such as possession of child pornography.”

The conclusions confirm an investigation by McClatchy in July 2012 that found law enforcement officials were not being told of some criminal confessions obtained during the National Reconnaissance Office’s security clearance polygraphs.

“It’s hard to understand why the NRO failed to report crimes involving children immediately,” said Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, who demanded the inquiry. “The NRO showed a complete lack of common sense in failing to require reporting of serious state crimes of this sort.”

The inspector general said that as a result of McClatchy’s reporting and congressional interest, the spy agency had improved its reporting of crimes. McClatchy, however, learned that a second inquiry of the same polygraph division recently documented other problems. The NRO’s inspector general found “significant shortcomings” in the agency’s polygraph program that it says “may result in potential negative national security implications.”

originating at the NRO.”

That inspector general declined to immediately provide a copy of the unclassified and recently completed report, but McClatchy was able to obtain details of its conclusions. The report quotes an NRO official as saying the polygraph program was “terribly broken” and would require a “paradigm shift” to address shortcomings. The official added that the “current status of the NRO polygraph program is bleak.”

The NRO had been warned as early as 2010 about possible problems with crime reporting by the National Security Agency’s inspector general after an outside routine review that intelligence inspectors general conduct. In an unusual arrangement, the NRO is staffed by both the CIA and Air Force employees.

While the inspector general for the intelligence community confirmed that the NRO wasn’t legally required to report certain state crimes such as child molestation, it noted that the agency wasn’t prevented from reporting them, especially when “an imminent danger” to others may exist.

The NRO polygraphed more than 30,000 people from 2009 to 2012. Less than 1 percent in the first half of 2013 made admissions that would jeopardize security clearances or trigger criminal investigations, the intelligence inspector general’s report said.

The NRO, however, did not report some alleged federal crimes that it was required to, such as possession of child pornography, in part because of “inconsistent and inaccurate advice” by the agency’s top lawyers at the time, the inspector general for the intelligence community found. Those lawyers are not named and are no longer in their positions, but the report did not say whether they’d moved or been fired because of the reporting problems.

Delays as long as several months, meanwhile, meant “individuals could continue the criminal activity or tamper with or destroy evidence in the interim,” said the inspector general’s office, which said it referred for investigation seven admissions related to child porn or child abuse that the NRO didn’t report.


The National Reconnaissance Office failed to notify authorities when some employees and contractors confessed during lie detector tests to crimes such as child molestation and delayed reporting other criminal admissions obtained during security clearance polygraphs, an intelligence inspector general found. A headline on an earlier version of this story named the incorrect agency.