President Reagan and Secretary of State George P. Shultz came to a meeting of minds yesterday on polygraph tests for U.S. officials, sharply limiting Reagan's Nov. 1 executive order in a manner that satisfied Shultz's strong and bluntly expressed objections to the large-scale use of "lie detector tests."
A White House statement issued late yesterday, following a meeting between Reagan and Shultz, said the president had decided that polygraph examinations are to be required on a governmentwide basis only as "a limited though sometimes useful tool when used in conjunction with other investigative and security procedures in espionage cases." This "minimum standard" for the government, as the White House described it, appears to represent a retreat from the spirit and substance of Reagan's Nov. 1 order authorizing polygraph examinations for "all individuals" with access to highly classified information.
Shultz, who Thursday threatened to resign if required to take such a test, said after issuance of the White House statement he was satified and that he and the president agreed on the uses -- and abuses -- of polygraph examinations.
A senior aide to the secretary of state said 90 percent of Shultz's objections to the executive order had been accommodated in the new policy expressed by the White House. The official pointed out that polygraphs have long been used in specific investigations of espionage and other crimes -- a status quo that was preserved in last night's announcement.
As originally formulated, according to a partial text released yesterday by the White House, "National Security Decision Directive 196" would have authorized polygraph tests for more than 182,000 federal employes and contractor personnel and the creation of a sweeping "national polygraph program."
In addition to the use of polygraphs in espionage investigations -- a practice that breaks no new ground -- the White House statement said it would be up to individual departments and agencies to "impose additional requirements" as they choose.
Thus, the Central Intelligence Agency, which long has required extensive lie detector tests for its personnel, and whose director, William J. Casey, is a strong advocate of polygraphs, could continue its existing practices. And the Defense Department under Secretary Caspar W. Weinberger, another lie-detector advocate, could continue to ask a reluctant Congress for authority to require polygraphs for more than 100,000 of its employes with top-security clearances.
Both the CIA and the Pentagon issued statements in recent days backing a broad application of Reagan's order. The CIA said Casey had taken a polygraph as an example to agency employes, and Weinberger said he would be willing to do so.
Under the new interpretation of the order, Shultz evidently can continue the status quo at the State Department. A total of only 10 State officials in three years (1981-84) submitted to "voluntary" polygraph exams in connection with investigations of espionage or other wrongdoing.
White House officials said Reagan's National Security Planning Group, a small committee of top officials where highly secret matters are discussed, had considered a new polygraph program in a meeting Aug. 7 as part of a broad program of combatting espionage.
Shultz, who was in attendance, reportedly expressed his deeply felt view that what he termed "so-called lie detector tests" are misleading and ineffective, and that their imposition on public servants in nonsecret jobs carries the message that their loyalty and character is in question.
Reagan nonetheless signed his sweeping order Nov. 1.
According to the text released by the White House, Reagan approved a recommendation from his National Security Planning Group "that the U.S. government adopt, in principle, the use of aperiodic, non-lifestyle, CI counterintelligence -type polygraph examinations for all individuals with access to U.S. government sensitive compartmented information (SCI), communications security information (COMSEC) and other special access program classified information."
More than 182,000 people would have been subject to the polygraph program under these definitions, according to a 1984 report of the General Accounting Office, an investigative arm of Congress. The report said that 133,781 U.S. employes and contractor personnel, including 4,550 at the State Department, hold "sensitive compartmented information" (SCI) clearances. Another 49,231 federal employes and contractor personnel are included in other "special access programs" for highly classified information, according to the GAO