Rep. George Santos (R-N.Y.), center, among others, are sworn in by...

Rep. George Santos (R-N.Y.), center, among others, are sworn in by Speaker Kevin McCarthy as members of the 118th Congress in Washington, on Jan. 7. Credit: AP/Alex Brandon

When George Santos was sworn into Congress, I thought, “This is absurd.” While some saw it as the latest twist in his disastrous story, I saw it as a clear systemic failure. The public deserves better.

I spent much of my career in the CIA, serving as the agency’s chief interrogator and polygrapher. I dealt with some of the world’s most dangerous criminals in custody, trying to get to the truth. I also vetted people at the highest levels in the agency, doing all I could to ensure their trustworthiness and honesty to serve and protect. Lives, and the nation’s security, were at stake.

I understood the critical importance of knowing when someone was lying.

Since leaving the CIA, I established my business, Global Traveler. My team and I work with multinational corporations, nonprofits, and other organizations. One of our most important functions is to do deep background checks to determine the true and complete bona fides of job candidates.

Given how much time, effort, and expense businesses and certain government agencies invest into checking candidates’ backgrounds, I am perplexed and disappointed that we as a nation are failing when it comes to elected representatives. How is it possible that Santos could lie about virtually everything — from his educational background to his work experience and even his ethnicity — and use so many variations of his name and still be sworn in to serve?

To make matters worse, representatives in Congress have access to confidential information — simply by virtue of the office they hold. Can anyone truly believe that a person who has lied so extensively can be trusted with secrets?

Throughout my years in government service, I was scrutinized down to my knickers to ensure I was suitable to access such information. I was subjected to background investigations, polygraph tests, financial disclosures, and more.

The people have a right to know the basics about a candidate before an election. The public does not have the ability to fire a representative who lied his way into Congress, and instead has to wait two years for another election.

We can solve this and take the necessary steps to reduce the chances of a similar situation in the future. It is time for a public background checking system for political candidates.

The current system is inadequate. Published reports indicate that a background check commissioned by his own campaign in 2021 so alarmed some of Santos’ own vendors that they urged him to drop out of the race and members of his campaign quit. But that information never became public.

Hoping that opposition research will bring everything to light is not the solution. Voters need a public system that provides due diligence without political bias.

Making this happen will require action at all levels of government, since this needs to be the case for federal, state, and local offices.

The parties have every reason to cooperate. They want candidates who will stand with them on important issues. If someone lies about themselves, how can they be trusted to vote as they said they would? All my years in this line of work have demonstrated to me that no one can trust a serial liar. No one.

This isn’t about “big government” looking into people’s private lives. It is about making sure that voters are not scammed by candidates who lie about every facet of their lives.

This guest essay reflects the views of Global Traveler LLC founder Barry McManus, who spent more than 25 years in the CIA, rising to become chief polygrapher and interrogator.

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