The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has been in the crosshairs after a federal watchdog report claimed that the agency green-lighted several job candidates for the role of special agents, despite these individuals failing the standard lie detector test during their hiring process.
This revelation came from the Justice Department’s Office of the Inspector General, which had its details cross-checked and confirmed by The Times through court documents that were part of a whistleblower lawsuit.
This lawsuit was initiated by an ex-employee of the DEA’s polygraph unit.
The whistleblower’s revelations also brought to light a potential preferential treatment extended to the acquaintances and relatives of existing DEA officials.
Shockingly, they claim that the agency’s management overlooked admissions of criminal behaviors that ought to have been escalated for in-depth investigations.
A particularly disturbing incident cited was when a prospective employee during a lie detector test “admitted to pedophiliac tendencies.”
The whistleblower, who preferred anonymity due to ongoing legal proceedings, recounted how they had, back in 2018, raised an alarm when an applicant divulged “pedophilic impulses towards his own daughter and other children.”
But they were met with the response that “there was nothing that could be done,” and that going ahead with an anonymous complaint to relevant authorities would make them “liable”.
In response to these allegations, a DEA spokesperson stated, “Over the past two years, DEA has demonstrated an unwavering commitment to ensuring that all DEA employees are held to the highest standards,” and mentioned the comprehensive leadership change at the top rungs, revamped hiring policies, and stricter disciplinary norms.
Polygraph tests, though generally not accepted in courtrooms, are a standard hiring protocol for federal law enforcement agencies.
The polygraph monitors the physiological responses and behavior of the examinee, based on their background information.
Another disconcerting instance cited by the Office of the Inspector General’s report relates to a DEA job candidate who, during a polygraph in December 2017, admitted to “inappropriate behavior while a juvenile with a younger juvenile.”
Alarmingly, this candidate was later inducted into the DEA in 2019 and currently serves as a special agent.
In light of these revelations, the Office of the Inspector General expressed its “numerous concerns” and highlighted the apparent exploitation of loopholes to evade the 2019 policy that prohibits hiring applicants failing the polygraph or showing signs of manipulating the test.
As per the report, post the 2019 reform, 77 individuals, mostly aspiring special agents, were onboarded despite their dubious polygraph outcomes.
The DEA’s justification? These applications were linked to a job announcement made before the policy alteration.
A further 43 individuals were hired in spite of evident red flags because their examinations happened prior to the policy update.
Uttam Dhillon, the DEA’s former acting administrator who was instrumental in introducing the 2019 polygraph reforms, voiced his disappointment over these revelations.
Recent times have seen the DEA leadership under the microscope, with allegations of questionable conduct.
Milgram, the DEA Administrator, previously faced scrutiny for awarding contracts without bids to her prior associates and instances of agent misconduct were revealed.
The DEA, according to the report, also allowed local and state law enforcement agents into federal task force units, even if they had not cleared the polygraph.
The whistleblower complaint indicates that DEA’s polygraph unit members undergo an intense 14-week training, which is considered highly challenging.
This training covers “methods of deception” and techniques that examiners can use to detect when someone is trying to manipulate the results.
Both the whistleblower and the federal watchdog report emphasized the intense pressure on examiners to give a pass to individuals suspected of cheating.
The DEA, in February 2023, was alerted about “instances where employees perceived or experienced pressure related to polygraph examinations of legacy candidates,” which refers to job applicants having DEA relatives.
The agency, in response, rolled out guidelines against any form of nepotism in hiring.
Kevin Byrnes, the lawyer representing the whistleblower, expressed grave concerns about this pressure to approve candidates associated with the DEA.
Byrnes shared his apprehensions about such practices compromising the integrity of the agency, “If that can be influenced or manipulated,” he asserted, “you can get people into the agency that lack the integrity and skills necessary to enforce the nation’s laws, and that can cascade later on.”
Highlighting the ramifications of such hires, Byrnes emphasized how several agents, who either used countermeasures or failed, later turned problematic.
“They’re the people who could tell a lie,” Byrnes concluded.
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