In its landmark report, The Polygraph and Lie Detection, the National Academy of Sciences found that polygraph screening is completely invalid and warned that a faith in polygraphy not warranted by the evidence represents a threat to national security objectives. The following article published in Global Reliance magazine, a bi-monthly publication of the U.S. Air Force Office of Special Investigations (OSI), provides a vivid example of such unwarranted official belief in the lie detector. Not only does the title of this article itself ("OSI provides the truth in Baghdad") reflect a misplaced faith in polygraphy, but the article also quotes an OSI polygrapher as stating that "in some cases, whether an individual was going to be released or hauled off to jail" has depended on polygraph results. The author of this article fails to note that Al-Qaeda training materials explain that the lie detector is a fraud and that Iraqi Baath party operatives have been beating the polygraph.
The Global Reliance website includes a notice that, "Due to security concerns, the online version of the 'Global Reliance' [sic] uses aliases for most OSI personnel mentioned." Thus, the names used in this article may be fictitious.
OSI provides the truth in Baghdad
By Master Sgt. Carolyn Collins
When Special Agent Clint Richter packed his bags for Baghdad he didn't just have to pack extra socks and toothpaste, he had to pack an extra suitcase - his polygraph instrument.
SA Richter was the first polygraph examiner to deploy full time to Iraq supporting a steady-state Air and Space Expeditionary Force rotation.
SA Richter's September 2003 deployment marked the first time the OSI polygraph program had a continuing requirement or permanent presence in Afghanistan or Iraq. Up to then, the polygraphists had supported the Global War on Terrorism and Operation Iraqi Freedom on a TDY basis.
Initially, SA Shane Deer from the polygraph program office at Headquarters, Andrews AFB, Md., went TDY to Baghdad to assess the requirements and operating environment. Within weeks of his return, SA Richter was gearing up to make the trip. Before he even stepped on the plane to leave home, he was met with challenges and frustrations he had not expected.
"Being a civilian agent, the biggest challenge I faced was convincing personnel at my base that I was really deploying and needed the deployment training and equipment," SA Richter said. The challenges continued when the agent arrived in Iraq.
"The polygraph exams we have administered over there have been some of the most critical and important work we have ever done in this program," said Polygraph Program Manager SA Pat Muller. "The program is extremely proud to contribute what we can to the OSI and Coalition Provisional Authority's mission over there.
"I gave Cliff the green light to hit the ground running and provide polygraph support to whomever asked, when they asked," SA Muller said. "And that's exactly what he did. Cliff has set a new standard."
SA Richter barely had his bags unpacked before he was approached about running his first exam. The request didn't come from the CPA or OSI - it was from the FBI. They had unconfirmed source information that pointed to an individual's possible involvement in the bombing of the United Nations building in August 2003. After the source under went the polygraph test, the suspect was cleared.
Over the next 100-plus days, SA Richter was called upon daily by a variety of customers.
SA Richter likened these requests to his being back at his home station. "You don't get any calls for exams but then as soon as you show up at a detachment, you get more work than you can schedule ... but that's what I wanted," SA Richter said. "It was nice to be wanted."
SA Richter ran the full gamut of examinations from the routine counterintelligence security tests on coalition force members for special access to individuals verifying information on Saddam Hussein's current location. Whether the exam was conducted in a bathroom of a bombed out building or at a remote location in the same room he slept, SA Richter ensured the exams were accomplished.
"As long as I had electricity, a table and two chairs, I was good to go," SA Richter said.
SA Richter said that in nineteen years as an examiner, these were the toughest exams he's had to face. Most of the exams were conducted with the assistance of an interpreter. Although SA Richter had run many interpreter exams before, these were especially challenging.
"Besides the cultural difference affecting the polygraph, the status of some of the examinees added to the difficulty. Whether the examinees had been incarcerated for months or had just recently been picked up by coalition forces, their current status and unknown future played an important role in their psychological well being," SA Richter said. "Trying to build any semblance of trust with the examinees, let alone through a translator, was extremely difficult. Some examinees were familiar with the American 'truth machine' while others were scared to death of having electrical wires attached to them. I tried to reassure them by saying 'Trust me. I'm going to help you, if you're telling the truth' but not all of them believed me."
Additionally, examiners normally have some say as to when an exam is run. Some of these exams were extremely time sensitive, so if the exam needed to be run in the middle of the night, even if it was the third exam that day, the exam was administered.
"The action taken based on my exam results added to the stressful challenge. Knowing that in some cases, whether an individual was going to be released or hauled off to jail based on my call, I wanted to make sure I did everything perfect and had a good test," SA Richter explained. "Running a source exam at home is important, but knowing based on my exam results (in Iraq) that troops will be saddling up and may be going into an ambush or on a wild goose chase is a different ballgame."
With his growing popularity in Baghdad, SA Richter said it was nice to hear "I want Cliff to run this guy before we do anything" but his anxiety went up immediately upon hearing that. During his three months in Baghdad, SA Richter conducted more than 50 exams providing coalition troops with a heavy weapon - the truth.
SA Muller envisions that as long as OSI agents are out there running sources, collecting intelligence and catching the bad guys, polygraph will be there to support them.
"We've always provided a valuable peacetime service to OSI and the Air Force, but now we are an integral part of OSI's support to the warfighter," SA Muller said.