Florida Congressman Dennis Ross Seeks Radical Amendment to Employee Polygraph Protection Act

On Monday, 8 June 2015, U.S. Representative Dennis A. Ross (R-FL) held a press conference with Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd to promote a proposed amendment of the 1988 Employee Polygraph Protection Act “to provide an exemption from the protections of that Act with regard to certain prospective employees whose job would include caring for or interacting with children.”

If passed, the bill, dubbed the “Protect Our Children Act,” would allow for compulsory pre-employment polygraph screening of school employees from teachers to janitors, employees of theme parks, zoos, swimming pools, day care centers, churches, and so forth. Specifically, Ross’ bill provides in relevant part:

`(g) Exemption for Certain Employers of Employees Who Care for or 
Interact With Unsupervised Children.--
            ``(1) Exemption.--Subject to paragraph (2) and subsection 
        (c) of section 8, this Act shall not prohibit the use of a 
        polygraph test by any employer if the test is administered to a 
        prospective employee--
                    ``(A) whose activities would involve the care or 
                supervision of children or regular access to children 
                who are cared for or supervised by another employee;
                    ``(B) whose job description indicates a high 
                probability that the prospective employee will interact 
                with unsupervised children on a frequent basis; or
                    ``(C) where the employer reasonably believes there 
                is a high probability of unsupervised interaction 
                between the prospective employee and a child on a more 
                than incidental basis.

Subparagraph (g)(1)(c) is so broadly worded that many jobs not currently envisaged might be construed to fall under it. But even if the legislation were more strictly worded, it is a bad idea that will not protect children. There is broad consensus amongst scientists that polygraph “testing” has no scientific basis. As retired FBI scientist and supervisory special agent Dr. Drew Richardson has observed, polygraph operators are involved in the detection of deception “to the extent that one who jumps from a tall building is involved in flying.”

Passage of Ross’ proposed amendment to the EPPA will predictably result in many innocent job applicants being falsely branded as liars, even as pedophiles seeking access to children pass the polygraph using simple countermeasures that polygraph operators cannot detect.

Conducting polygraph screening “for the children” doesn’t bestow any validity on this pseudoscientific methodology. Politicians who truly care about protecting children should eschew the sort of magical thinking associated with polygraphy and reject this bill. Rep. Ross’ bill currently has no co-sponsors.

Developer’s Silence Raises Concern About Surespot Encrypted Messenger

surespot-youtubebannerIn June 2014, I suggested Surespot Encrypted Messenger to visitors to AntiPolygraph.org as a secure means of contacting me, and I’ve been including my Surespot address (georgemaschke) in my signature block on message board posts and e-mails, as well as on AntiPolygraph.org’s contact page. Now I’m not so sure about Surespot. I fear the developer may have received a secret demand to facilitate electronic eavesdropping on Surespot users, as did Ladar Levison, who operated the now defunct Lavabit e-mail service.

Surespot is a free, open source, easy-to-use app for Android and iOS that allows users to exchange encrypted messages using public key cryptography. The source code is available on GitHub. Surespot is provided by 2fours, a small company run by Cherie Berdovich and Adam Patacchiola of Boulder, Colorado.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation’s Secure Messaging Scorecard gives Surespot relatively high marks:

EFF Secure Messaging Scorecard - Surespot

Before recommending Surespot, being cognizant of the Lavabit saga, I e-mailed Berdovich and Patacchiola to ask about any governmental demands for information, sending the following questions on 31 May 2014:

1 – Have you ever received a National Security Letter?

2 – Have you ever received a court order for information?

3 – Have you ever received any other request to cooperate with a government agency?

Berdovich replied that the “[a]nswer to all three questions is no.” Because Surespot’s website doesn’t include a warrant canary, I wrote again on 12 Novembember 2014 asking the same three questions. Patacchiola, who programmed Surespot, replied the same day: “1 and 2, still no, 3 we have received an email asking us how to submit a subpoena to us which we haven’t received yet.”

The following day, I asked Patacchiola if he could say what agency or organization is seeking details on how to submit a subpoena. He did not reply.

In April 2015, I sent Patacchiola a similar set of questions but received no reply. I wrote again on 25 May 2015, asking:

1. Has 2fours received any governmental demand for information about any of its users?

2. Has 2fours received any governmental demand to modify the surespot client software?

3. Has 2fours received any governmental demand to modify the surespot server software?

4. Has 2fours received any other governmental demand to facilitate electronic eavesdropping of any kind?

If the answer to any of the above questions is yes, can you elaborate?

I have also attempted to contact Berdovich and Patacchiola via the Surespot app itself but have received no reply. While its possible that they’ve simply tired of being pestered by me about government demands for information, I don’t think that’s the case and suspect they are under a gag order.

Surespot is doubtless of interest to U.S. and British intelligence and law enforcement agencies because of its adoption by English-speaking supporters of the Islamic State. In February 2015, the U.K. Daily Mail reported that the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) was using Surespot to recruit British brides for jihadis:

Daily Mail - British jihadi brides groomed using messaging app

And on 26 May 2015, the U.K. 4 News ran a story heralding “Intel fears as jihadis flock to encrypted apps like Surespot”:

4 News - Intel fears as jihadis flock to encrypted appsWhile Islamic State supporters may use Surespot, so too do a diverse group of people, including individuals who wish to contact AntiPolygraph.org privately. The Google Play Store indicates that the Android version of Surespot has been installed 100,000-500,000 times. It would be inappropriate for any government agency to take action that would compromise the privacy of all users of a messaging service in the course of its effort to investigate one, or a few. But that is what happened to Lavabit, the privacy-focused e-mail service used by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden. The government secretly ordered Lavabit’s proprietor, Ladar Levison, turn over his server’s secret key, and forbade him from telling anyone about it.1 I fear something similar may have happened to Surespot’s Adam Patacchiola.2

Update (12 June 2015): The day after this post went online, on 8 June 2015, the Surespot server (server.surespot.me) experienced an outage, two references to which are to be found on Surespot’s Facebook page. Two days thereafter, on 10 June 2015, the U.S. Department of Justice filed a Statement of Facts (PDF) in U.S. v. Ali Shukri Amin that mentions the use of Surespot by the defendant, a supporter of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL):

11. In or about late November or early December 2014, the defendant put RN [Reza Nikbakht] in touch with an ISIL supporter located outside the United States via Surespot in order to facilitate RN’s travel to Syria to join and fight with ISIL.

18. On January 16, 2015, an overseas ISIL supporter communicated to the defendant via Surespot that the group of ISIL supporters, including RN, had successfully crossed over into Syria.

The Statement of Facts does not specify how the Department of Justice came to know these details. Under terms of the plea agreement (PDF), Amin “agrees to provide all documents, records, writings, or materials of any kind in [his] possession or under [his] care, custody, or control directly or indirectly to all areas of inquiry and investigation.”

In addition, Amin also agrees that, at the request of the United States, he “will voluntarily submit to polygraph examinations, and that the United States will choose the polygraph examiner and specify the procedures for the examinations.”

  1. Levison contested the secret order in court, but lost. He ultimately turned over his secret key after shutting down Lavabit entirely. He was threatened with arrest for closing his own business. []
  2. On 22 May 2015, the Daily Mail reported that Cherie Berdovich “left the [Surespot] organisation last summer.” []

Business Insider on How to Pass a Polygraph Test

On Wednesday, 3 June 2015, Business Insider published a story by reporter Christina Sterbenz titled “The one thing you need to know to pass a polygraph test.”1 AntiPolygraph.org co-founder George Maschke and American Polygraph Association president Raymond Nelson were interviewed for this report.

A few points in the article merit special note. Sterbenz writes:

Most jurisdictions, including the government, have also forgone the use of probable-lie comparison, Nelson said, and now rely on “directed lie comparison,” which doesn’t require any manipulation when asking control questions.

It is AntiPolygraph.org’s understanding that the probable-lie control question test remains the primary technique relied upon by federal, state, and local governmental agencies in the United States. It is true that the U.S. Departments of Defense and Energy have adopted the directed-lie Test for Espionage and Sabotage, but to the best of our knowledge, these agencies are outliers, and the CIA and NSA continue to rely on the Relevant/Irrelevant technique while federal law enforcement agencies rely on the probable-lie CQT as embodied in the Law Enforcement Pre-Employment Test. Moreover, even the directed-lie technique entails numerous instances of examiner deception of the examinee, as explained by retired FBI polygraph expert Dr. Drew Richardson more than a decade ago.

“It’s less scientifically, ethically, legally, and socially complicated,” Nelson said.

The directed-lie technique is arguably less ethically complicated than the probable-lie technique, but it has no stronger scientific or legal basis. It’s still pseudoscience.

Sterbenz writes:

In 2002, the National Academy of Sciences published one of the most comprehensive studies of polygraph accuracy, concluding that while the tests could “differentiate lying from telling the truth at rates well above chance,” they weren’t accurate enough for security purposes.

Regrettably, Sterbenz’s citation of the National Academy of Sciences’ report omits crucial caveats. What the NAS report actually states, at p. 214, is:

Notwithstanding the quality of the empirical research and the limited ability to generalize to real-world settings, we conclude that in populations of examinees such as those represented in the polygraph research literature, untrained in countermeasures, specific-incident polygraph tests for event-specific investigations can discriminate lying from truth telling at rates well above chance, though well below perfection.

Accuracy may be highly variable across situations. The evidence does not allow any precise quantitative estimate of polygraph accuracy or provide confidence that accuracy is stable across personality types, sociodemographic groups, psychological and medical conditions, examiner and examinee expectancies, or ways of administering the test and selecting questions. In particular, the evidence does not provide confidence that polygraph accuracy is robust against potential countermeasures. There is essentially no evidence on the incremental validity of polygraph testing, that is, its ability to add predictive value to that which can be achieved by other methods.

AntiPolygraph.org notes with respect to the foregoing conclusion (in Chapter 1 of The Lie Behind the Lie Detector):

Some in the polygraph community have attempted to hang their hat on the first sentence of the above citation to support the claim that polygraphy “works.” But note that the Committee’s conclusion that “specific-incident polygraph tests for event-specific investigations can discriminate lying from truth telling at rates well above chance” is conditioned upon the subject population being similar to “those represented in the research literature,” that is, ignorant of polygraph procedure and countermeasures. Such ignorance cannot be safely assumed, especially with information on both polygraph procedure and countermeasures readily available via the Internet.

It follows from the Committee’s conclusion that “the evidence does not allow any precise quantitative estimate of polygraph accuracy” that software algorithms peddled by polygraph manufacturers such as Axciton and Stoelting that purport to determine with mathematical precision the probability that a particular individual is lying or telling the truth are unreliable. And because, as the Committee concludes, “the evidence does not provide confidence that polygraph accuracy is robust against potential countermeasures,” it is not safe to assume that anyone passing a polygraph “test” has told the truth.

The last sentence of the above-cited passage is the key one with respect to polygraph validity (as opposed to accuracy): “There is essentially no evidence on the incremental validity of polygraph testing, that is, its ability to add predictive value to that which can be achieved by other methods.” What this means is that there is no evidence that polygraph “testing” provides greater predictive value than, say, interrogating a subject without the use of a polygraph, or with a colander-wired-to-a-photocopier that is represented to the subject as being a lie detector.

Indeed, in the first chapter of their report, in a subsection titled, “The Lie Detection Mystique” (pp. 18–21), the Committee members compare polygraphy with superstitious lie detection rituals in primitive societies, likening the polygraph community to a shamanistic priesthood “keeping its secrets in order to keep its power.”

A discussion thread regarding this article has been opened on the AntiPolygraph.org message board.

  1. The less click-baity title suggested by the article URL, “How to pass a polygraph test,” would have been more appropriate. There are numerous things that anyone hoping to pass a polygraph “test” should know. []

George Maschke on the Peter B. Collins Show

peterbcollinsnewOn Monday, 1 June 2015, AntiPolygraph.org co-founder George Maschke was a guest on the Peter B. Collins Show to discuss developments in the trial of Doug Williams, whom Collins interviewed before the trial. A free preview clip of the interview is available online, and the entire interview (along with any archived interviews, including that of Doug Williams) is available with the purchase of a $1 day pass.

George Maschke on the Scott Horton Show

scott-horton-showOn Wednesday, 27 May 2015, AntiPolygraph.org co-founder George Maschke was interviewed on the Scott Horton Show about the recent trial of Doug Williams, who was targeted in a federal undercover operation dubbed Operation Lie Busters. The entire interview is available online, as is Scott Horton’s earlier interview with Doug Williams himself.

Book Review: A Life of Lies and Spies by Alan B. Trabue

a-life-of-spies-and-liesAlan B. Trabue retired from the Central Intelligence Agency in 2011 after a 40-year career, 38 years of which he spent in the polygraph division. AntiPolygraph.org has received a review copy of his memoir, A Life of Lies and Spies: Tales of a CIA Ops Polygraph Interrogator (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2015). The book comprises numerous entertaining anecdotes about polygraph examinations the author conducted on agents recruited by CIA case officers, with a special focus on operational security matters. As Trabue notes in his epilogue, it is his hope that his story not only entertains, “but also helps keep others in the world of espionage and covert activities safe from harm.” While Trabue provides relatively little detail about polygraph procedure, or about the history of the CIA polygraph division, this review will focus on such details; more general reviews of the book are available here and here.

Trabue notes that when he first interviewed with the CIA polygraph section in 1972, it was known as the “Interrogation Research Section.” The cryptic name is understandable when one realizes that polygraph “testing” is all about interrogation. Trabue refers to himself as a “polygraph interrogator” (p. 7), noting (at pp. 29-30):

During my training, it was constantly stressed that the CIA considered the polygraph process to be an aid to interrogation. My training officer stressed that my mission was to obtain any reportable information regarding the issues under investigation and report the information to the adjudicators. Interrogation and the reporting of information obtained during polygraph examinations were stressed much more than the technical results of actual polygraph testing….

But despite this acknowledgement, Trabue seems not to understand that polygraphy lacks any scientific basis and to actually believe that polygraph charts are a reliable indicator of deception, noting at p. 79, that “[a]fter a deceptive response has been clearly identified on the polygraph charts, an interrogator will confront the examinee with that fact.” He writes that [m]any [polygraph examiners] had cases with polygraph charts clearly indicating that an agent was a double agent…” (p. 83) and speaks of “unmistakable deceptive reactions” (p. 177).

Alan B. Trabue

Alan B. Trabue

Of course, there is no such thing as a “deceptive response” that can be “clearly identified” on polygraph charts. The entire procedure is pseudoscience–the brainchild of interrogators who had little grasp of the scientific method. The author’s failure to understand this after nearly four decades as a polygraph examiner bears out Upton Sinclair’s observation that “[i]t is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.”

Trabue notes that when conducting polygraph examinations of agents recruited from within foreign intelligence services, he “tried to make posttest decisions based solely on analysis of the polygraph charts and avoided any posttest interrogation” (p. 92). No doubt he was following CIA polygraph protocols, but any reliance on polygraph chart readings is misplaced: the procedure is inherently biased against the truthful and yet easily defeated by liars using simple countermeasures that polygraph operators cannot detect.1

Trabue actually provides an example of the unreliability of polygraph chart readings in Chapter 12 (“Castro’s Buddy Beats the Box”). This chapter tells the story of Trabue’s experience conducting “a very thorough polygraph interview and examination” of a Cuban agent recruited by the CIA. Trabue notes that “the results [were]…clearly and unmistakably nondeceptive” and that he “was confident in [his] analysis and with the final call of No Deception Indicated.” But Trabue adds:

Cuban Interior Ministry Officer Nicolas Sirgado (1935-2013)

Cuban Interior Ministry Officer Nicolas Sirgado (1935-2013)

There is an unexpected and bitter ending to this story. In a most unfortunate turn of events, about two years later I was advised that Fidel Castro had been seen on Cuban television with his arm around the shoulders of the agent I tested. Castro revealed to the world that my examinee had been a double agent against American intelligence for many years….

Trabue does not name the Cuban double agent who beat him, but his account closely matches reporting on the late Cuban intelligence officer Nicolás Sirgado, who beat the CIA polygraph three times.

In a letter penned in 2000, convicted spy Aldrich Hazen Ames, who twice passed CIA polygraph screening examinations while spying for the Russians, offered insight into why the CIA continues to rely on polygraphy despite ample evidence of its unreliablity: bureaucratic CYA:

Deciding whether to trust or credit a person is always an uncertain task, and in a variety of situations a bad, lazy or just unlucky decision about a person can result not only in serious problems for the organization and its purposes, but in career-damaging blame for the unfortunate decision-maker. Here, the polygraph is a scientific godsend: the bureaucrat accounting for a bad decision, or sometimes for a missed opportunity (the latter is much less often questioned in a bureaucracy) can point to what is considered an unassailably objective, though occasionally and unavoidably fallible, polygraph judgment. All that was at fault was some practical application of a “scientific” technique, like those frozen O-rings, or the sandstorms between the Gulf and Desert One in 1980.

An anecdote recounted by Trabue (at pp. 197-98) speaks to this sort of reliance on polygraphy as a means of skirting responsibility for one’s decisions:

There was one other occasion when I was pressured, again from the chief of an office. I was within minutes of leaving the office to test an agent who was going to be involved in a diplomatically sensitive and expensive operation.

As I prepared for the case in a vacant office, the chief entered ans slowly approached. Putting his knuckles on the desk, he leaned over me, made sure he had my eye, and said, “I expect DI or NDI results.”

His words were delivered with all the menace, threat, and intimidation he could muster.

He paused and then added, “I don’t want to hear any of that Inconclusive crap.”

At first, I thought he was joking. His menacing words were delivered in an overbearing, intimidating manner and brought an instant smile to my face, but I quickly saw from the expression on his face that he was dead serious.

As my smile faded, I said, “Sir, I’ll do my best to get clear test results, but unfortunately the outcome of some polygraph tests is an Inconclusive call. Sometimes there are health reasons, and sometimes there are just inconsistent and erratic responses for unknown reasons. Inconclusive means you don’t know one way or the other. I’m not about to flip a coin jsut to make it DI or NDI.”

“I want DI or NDI,” he said, glaring down at me. “That Inconclusive call won’t do me any good. We’ve got an expensive operation about to start, and I’ve got to know one way or the other.”

I repeated, “I’ll do my best, but an Inconclusive call is a possibility.”

Still hovering over me, he slowly and emphatically repeated, “I want a DI or NDI call.” He raised himself to full height again, turned his back to me, and walked out of the office.

CIA polygraph trivia mentioned includes the fact that for decades the CIA used the Stoelting three-channel Executive Model polygraph with a communal inkwell that held red ink. The instrument was built into a briefcase  and weighed about 25 pounds (pp. 129-30, 239). Trabue notes that “[t]here was a standing joke in Polygraph Section that foreign intelligence services could easily identify CIA polygraph examiners because their right arm was longer than their left arm” (pp. 118-19).

Trabue also unwittingly offers a counterinterrogation tip for polygraph examinees (p. 229):

All interrogation officers are familiar with the concept called “throwing a bone,” wherein an examinee offers an interrogator information to throw him off track. It is a stalling tactic, usually an act of desperation, used in the hope that the interrogator will take that bone and run with it for a while and perhaps even believe that the bone is the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. A “bone” may be information fabricated by the agent, it may be a partial truth, and it may be an entirely true piece of information, but it most certainly is not the information that the examinee was really concealing during interrogation. After a lengthy interrogation, a confession will many times be treated by an interrogator as a bone thrown by the examinee. The interrogator will say something like, “John, thanks for telling me that, but that could not possibly explain the massive reactions I saw on your polygraph charts. Something much more serious caused you to react. John, what else is there?” The interrogator will continue with the interrogation as if there had been no confession. If what the examinee said was truly the reason for his reactions, he will continue to offer his story over and over again, because he has nothing else to add. (emphasis added)

As one of only three published memoirs by a retired CIA polygraph examiner,2 Trabue’s My Life of Lies and Spies will be of interest to all concerned with polygraphy, interrogation, or intelligence operations.

  1. For an overview of such countermeasures, see Chapter 4 of AntiPolygraph.org’s free book, The Lie Behind the Lie Detector. []
  2. The other two being Of Spies and Lies: A CIA Lie Detector Remembers Vietnam and  Gatekeeper: Memoirs of a CIA Polygraph Examiner, both by John F. Sullivan. []

U.S. v. Doug Williams Recap

AntiPolygraph.org has followed the case of U.S. v. Doug Williams with interest, from the raid on his office and home on 21 February 2013, to the indictment handed down on 13 November 2014, to the trial held 12-13 May 2015 (see our on-location reporting on day one and day two of the proceedings). On the second day of the trial, Williams changed his plea from not guilty to guilty with respect to all counts. There was no plea agreement with prosecutors. Later on the evening of 13 May, the content of Williams’ website, Polygraph.com, was removed from the Internet, and a WHOIS search suggests that the site is no longer registered in his name. Williams’ Twitter account, @PolygraphCom, was deleted the same evening. To date, Williams has not spoken publicly about why he changed his plea.

Just prior to the trial, the Guardian published a noteworthy article by Jessica Glenza about the case. After Williams’ guilty plea, the Department of Justice issued a press release that formed the basis for much of the national reporting on the case.

Ars Technica published a story by David Kravets that engendered a good many thoughtful comments, and Slashdot also posted the news, along with numerous comments. See also the relevant discussion thread on the AntiPolygraph.org message board, which covers the period from the indictment through the trial.

U.S. v. Doug Williams Day 2: Doug Williams Pleads Guilty

Summary: On the afternoon of Wednesday, 13 May 2015, Doug Williams changed his plea from not guilty to guilty with respect to all charges. The jury was dismissed and proceedings were suspended pending a sentencing date to be determined. Williams remains free on bond.

Proceedings began at 09:15. The jury entered the court room and Special Agent Robbins re-took the witness stand. Robbins testified that on 17 October 2012, Doug Williams e-mailed Special Agent J.D. Castillo (who was working under cover), stating that he (Williams) worked under the assumption that he was telling the truth. Williams said that the fact of Castillo’s being trained by Williams  should be held in confidence. Robbins read out the text of an e-mail from Castillo to Williams in which Castillo said he needed to lie. In consequence of that, Doug Williams via e-mail cancelled the plan to train Castillo.

On 17 October 2012, Castillo called Williams. The entire phone conversation, about 20 minutes long, was played in court. Williams indicated numerous times that he suspected that Castillo was an undercover agent. He suggested that Castillo could read his manual and take a private polygraph exam. Castillo continually pressed Williams, saying that he needed his help, and flattering him, saying that he had confidence in him and trusted him. Williams repeatedly said he was unwilling to train him, using terms including “I’m out” and “Save your money for the lawyer.” Each time Williams refused, Castillo played on Williams’ sympathy. Finally, Williams asked Castillo to let him sleep on it.

Robbins testified that after this phone call, he had no intention to call back.

The government then presented an e-mail message from Williams to Castillo sent later the same day using the address theparanoidchicken@hotmail.com, telling Castillo that he could recontact him under a different identity. Eventually, Williams again communicated directly with Castillo, without requiring him to create a new identity, and they spoke by phone. Williams told Castillo that he should send a money order, to avoid a paper trail, for $4,500. Williams would purchase a plane ticket himself. Williams told Castillo, “I know you’re a believer” (the implication being that he was a fellow Christian).

SA Robbins testified that a mail cover was in place for Williams’ post office box at this time. That is, the U.S. Postal Service would send Robbins images of the front and back of each piece of mail Williams received. A copy of the envelope used to send the $4,500 payment via the U.S. Postal Service was shown to the jury, as was the cashier’s check (and not a money order) it had contained, which was endorsed by Williams on the reverse.

An e-mail message dated 20 October 2012 from Williams to Castillo confirmed receipt of the money and flight details. Williams asked Castillo to make hotel arrangements.

SA Robbins testified that a Secret Service agent placed a microphone in the Virginia hotel room where Williams was to train Castillo. Robbins monitored events from an adjacent hotel room.

The prosecution then played an edited audio recording of the training session (Government Exhibit 120) that was about 55 minutes long. Castillo told Williams that he was under investigation because a person named Marcos whom he had allowed to bring cocaine into the country had been arrested and had named him as an accomplice. Castillo told Williams that the Department of Homeland Security wanted to polygraph him about the allegation. Among other things, Castillo mentioned to Williams that he (Castillo) had the option of declining to take the polygraph.

Williams emphasized that the polygraph is an interrogation and that one shouldn’t spill the beans on oneself, and shouldn’t mention the training.

Williams told Castillo that there were only two kinds of questions on the polygraph, “control” and “relevant.” Castillo had earlier been instructed to memorize a list of 33 control questions listed in Williams’ manual, How to Sting the Polygraph. Williams told Castillo that all other questions were relevant. (This is actually a simplification, other kinds of questions include not just relevant ones, but also irrelevant, sacrifice relevant, and symptomatic questions. For an explanation of these question types and their functions, see Chapter 3 of The Lie Behind the Lie Detector.)

Castillo suggested to Williams that the relevant questions would be things like “Have you ever made a profit from illegal proceeds?” and “Are you allowing narcotics into the country at this time?” Williams suggested “Did you know Marcos was bringing in narcotics?” as a relevant question.

Williams then presented his hypnosis training, in which he instructed Castillo to imagine himself relaxing on a beach, listening to the waves roll in, wave after wave. This mental imagery was to be applied during the asking of relevant questions (that is, all non-control questions). During the asking of control questions, Castillo was to think scary thoughts, such as being arrested, perp-walked, and thrown into a prison cell.

Williams then ran three practice polygraph question series on Castillo. The audio of one of these was played for the jury. At the conclusion, Castillo’s polygraph chart was scored “No Deception Indicated.”

The prosecution then showed two Twitter posts made by Williams under the ID @PolygraphCom that made reference to his training session with Castillo.

After the training session with Castillo in Virginia, SA Robbins decided to do a second in-person meeting that was held with a different undercover agent on 21 February 2013. In this case, a money order for $750 was sent to Williams through the U.S. Postal Service. After  the second in-person training session, federal agents executed search warrants on Williams’ office and home. Charles Porth seized two cell phones and a laptop computer from Williams’ office and a second computer from his home, and conducted a forensic analysis on each device.

In addition, subpoenas were issued to SolidSpace, the company that hosted Polygraph.com, for data associated with the site, including e-mail sent to Williams’ e-mail address, doug@polygraph.com, and to Microsoft for data associated with the e-mail address theparanoidchicken@hotmail.com.

SolidSpace provided e-mails associated with Williams’ account. One of these, Government Exhibit 301, was shown to  the jury. It was from Hayleigh[redacted]@gmail.com. She said she wanted a fresh start, had to take a polygraph, and needed to lie. Williams replied to her that he could help and suggested that she purchase his manual and DVD. SA Robbins testified that this e-mail exchange was not initiated by an undercover agent.

SA Robbins testified that after the 21 February 2013 raid, Williams made changes to his website, including removal of the claim that he could teach a person to pass the polygraph “lying or not” and the addition of a “terms of service” statement clarifying that he would not train anyone who told him that they intended to lie, and that any in-person training customer who made such a statement would forfeit the fee and not receive training.

At 12:11, a stipulation by the prosecution and defense was read out loud in court. The parties stipulated that:

  1. At all times www.polygraph.com was solely owned and operated by Williams.
  2. The e-mail address doug@polygraph.com was only used by Williams.
  3. The e-mail address theparanoidchicken@hotmail.com was only used by Williams.
  4. The phone number listed on Williams’ website belonged to and was used by Williams.

At 12:14 Proceedings adjourned until 13:30 for a lunch break.

At 13:40, the DOJ trial attorneys and Williams’ defense lawyers met to confer in the corridor outside the courtroom.

At 14:05, the attorneys moved to Judge Vicki Miles-LaGrange’s chambers, returning to the courtroom at 14:33. The jury had not returned from the lunch break. At 14:40, the attorneys again went to the judge’s chambers, and at 14:41, the jury re-entered the courtroom. At 15:10 heavy rain began pounding on the dome lights of the courtroom. At 15:13, the attorneys re-entered the courtroom, the prosecutors smiling. Attorneys for both parties reviewed paperwork.

At 15:18, the judge entered the courtroom. Doug Williams announced his intention to change his plea from not guilty to guilty with respect to each of the five charges against him. There was no plea agreement. The maximum punishment for each count, read aloud by DOJ trial attorney Heidi Boutros Gesch, was 20 years imprisonment, a fine of up to $250,000, and a special assessment fee of $100. Williams stated that he understood that he was waiving the right to a jury or bench trial, and that he could receive the same punishment as if found guilty at trial. Williams stated that he was satisfied with the services of his counsel, Mr. Buzin. Judge Miles-LaGrange twice erroneously referred to Williams as “Mr. Smith.”

At 16:35, the judge stated that to accept Williams’ guilty plea, the court needed a factual basis and asked Williams to describe his crimes. Williams read out language that closely (perhaps precisely) tracked the language of the indictment. The court found factual basis for the guilty plea and referred the case to the Probation Office. Williams will be notified of the sentencing date by his counsel, Mr. Buzin. Detention was not required, and Williams remains free on bond, with the added condition that he not possess a firearm. Williams stated that he had already disposed of his firearms.

Judge Miles-LaGrange asked the prosecutors to withdraw their exhibits because of space constraints in the court, but added that they probably won’t, owing to appeal (perhaps referring to the possibility of the appeal of any sentence).

At 17:00, Judge Miles-LaGrange announced that the court was in recess.

U.S. v. Doug Williams Day 1

Proceedings in United States of America v. Douglas Gene Williams began this morning in Room 301 of the Federal District Court building in Oklahoma City. Williams is charged with two counts of mail fraud and three counts of witness tampering in connection with his training two undercover agents how to pass polygraph tests.

Trial attorneys for the United States Government Brian K. Kidd and Heidi Boutros Gesch met with Williams’ attorneys, Stephen H. Buzin and Chase A. O’Brien in pre-trial conference from about 9:20 to 10:40 AM.

Judge Vicki Miles-LaGrange entered the courtroom at 10:55 and shortly thereafter swore in the prospective jurors. Voir dire, or the questioning of potential jurors, began at 11:07. No prospective jurors knew the prosecutors, the defendant, or any of the witnesses who are to testify. Potential jurors were asked whether they had served on juries before, and if so, if they ever served as a foreman, and if they had ever been ever been called as witnesses. In response to additional questions, a couple several prospective jurors acknowledged having been polygraphed before, but none expressed any concerns about the use of polygraph examinations or undercover or sting operations.

At 11:53, the court adjourned for lunch until 1:15, when voir dire resumed. Potential jurors were asked about their occupations, their families, their hobbies, and whether they had any bumper stickers. Then, after a sidebar, some 18 prospective jurors were excused, and at 2:18 the jury, composed of 7 men and 5 women, was sworn in. There are also two alternate jurors, a man and a woman.

At 14:35, trial attorney Brian Kidd delivered the prosecution’s opening statement. His remarks were briefly interrupted as witness sequestration was invoked, meaning that anyone who might testify later in the trial could not be present in the courtroom. Kidd’s opening statement summarized the charges in the indictment and among other things, made clear the identities of undercover agents 1 and 2. UC1 is Javier Domingo “J.D.” Castillo and UC2 is Brian Luley, both of whom are on the prosecution’s witness list.

At 14:50, Stephen Buzin delivered the defense’s opening statement, mentioning Doug Williams’ work to protect peoples’ rights. There will be testimony on how Williams became an opponent of polygraphy, and mentioned that he had worked in the White House. Buzin also referenced Williams’ involvement in the passage of the 1988 Employee Polygraph Protection Act. Buzin said the government didn’t like Williams’ business and decided to make him a scapegoat, noting that he has been doing what he does for 35 years. Williams will take the witness stand. Buzin said the government wasn’t happy with Williams because he had shown that the polygraph was a fraud, and that taking a practice polygraph test is not illegal and that Williams did not defraud the government. Buzin contended that the evidence does not support the allegations. Buzin stated that they made him a target; they wanted Doug Williams. “They wanted to make Mr. Williams at any cost, a scapegoat.”

After opening statements, a decision was announced that all uncontested government exhibits would be entered into evidence. These were government exhibits 1-300 and 302-304.

At 15:02 the prosecution called CBP Special Agent Jeffrey Michael Bartlett as its first witness. He testified about an “exploratory call” he made to Doug Williams on 25 September 2012 “to determine if he would teach people to pass [the polygraph] who he knew were lying.” Bartlett made just this one phone call and had no other involvement in Operation Lie Busters, the criminal investigation that targeted Williams. The audio of the phone conversation was played in the courtroom. On cross-examination, Bartlett acknowledged that he had no knowledge that Williams had committed any criminal offense before calling, stating that the “exploratory call” was based on information on Williams’ website, Polygraph.com. Asked by Williams’ attorney Buzin, “Is it normal procedure to make exploratory calls to people who have committed no criminal offense?” Bartlett answered “No.” Bartlett never heard of Operation Lie Busters and did not himself have to take a polygraph to be hired.

At 15:32, the prosecution called CBP Special Agent Doug Robbins as a witness. Robbins testified that in June 2012 he was assigned to determine whether Doug Williams was teaching people “how to lie on polygraphs” after he knew they were going to lie, stating that a complaint had been made to the Joint Intake Center based on an examinee who failed a polygraph.

The text of Polygraph.com as it appeared on 5 March 2013 was displayed on a projector screen, and prosecutor Heidi Gesch asked Robbins to read portions of it.

In a seeming concession that polygraph countermeasures work, Robbins stated that Williams’ training poses a problem for CBP’s polygraph requirement. Robbins made the decision for an “exploratory” or “predicate” phone call to be made.

Government exhibit 100, a recording of a phone call placed by SA J.D. Castillo to Doug Williams on 15 October 2012 was played in its entirety. Castillo called to arrange polygraph training, and Williams had the impression that he was facing a polygraph screening test. Audio of a second call Castillo placed to Williams later the same day was also played, in which Castillo clarified that the polygraph examination was not for employee screening, but associated with an accusation of wrongdoing. Castillo was emphatic that he could not travel to Oklahoma for this training, and that Williams must come to Alexandria, Virginia to provide the training. Although not addressed in court, it seems clear that this was an attempt to establish grounds for possible prosecution of Williams in the Eastern District of Virginia, where Chad Dixon, who was also targeted in Operation Lie Busters, was prosecuted.

At 4:48 PM, Judge Vicki Miles-LaGrange adjourned proceedings until 9:00 the following morning.

Doug Williams Interviewed on the Peter B. Collins Show

peterbcollinsnewFormer police polygraphist Doug Williams, who was targeted by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection polygraph unit in Operation Lie Busters, was a guest on the Peter B. Collins Show, during which he spoke about his entrapment and the upcoming trial scheduled to begin in Oklahoma City on Tuesday, 12 May 2015. An audio clip and written summary of the interview are available online. The full 33-minute podcast may be downloaded as an MP3 file with a $1 day pass.