LAPD Polygraph Operator Michael Ward Spins the Truth About Polygraphy

LAPD Polygraph Operator Michael Ward with Officer Roseann Adams

In a public relations video posted to Facebook on 24 April 2020, LAPD polygraph operator Michael Ward explains for applicants the special procedures in place for polygraph screening during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Most of the video is straightforward and non-controversial. However, in two segments, Ward makes false and misleading claims about polygraphy that call for comment.

In his scripted interview with LAPD recruiting officer Roseann Adams, Ward denies that nervousness in any way affects polygraph results:

Roseann Adams: So, I know a lot of candidates are nervous to take the polygraph exam. Does being nervous affect the result in any way?

Mike Ward: Aah, great question. Probably the top question that we get asked in the polygraph unit. The answer is absolutely not. My best advice to you is don’t be nervous about being nervous. Expect it. Being nervous just proves you’re normal, and it has absolutely no effect at all on your ability to successfully complete the polygraph exam. So relax.

Ward’s claim that nervousness does not in any way affect polygraph results is simply not true. If the subject is more nervous when answering the relevant questions than when answering the so-called “control” questions (answers to which are secretly expected to be untrue), then the subject is likely to fail the polygraph, whether or not she answers the relevant questions truthfully.

Second, Ward denies that any polygraph countermeasures work:

Adams: There is a lot of things on the internet on how to beat the polygraph exam, like sticking a thumbtack in your shoe. Is this true, and do any of these tactics work?

Ward: Heh heh. Well, don’t try that at home, I guess. Umm, you know, we have this saying around here for police officers that take their advice from the internet: give it a rest. Listen, there’s only two ways you can fail the polygraph exam. The first one is of course, if you lie, the test will definitely detect that. It’s what it’s designed to do. Two, if you try to manipulate or regulate your physiology during the test, you will also get a negative result.

We always ask candidates not to look for tips on how to pass a polygraph, because the internet is full, of course, of bad advice that if followed will by itself cause a candidate to fail their exam, even if they were truthful.

The examiner will give every candidate very easy and clear instructions that are easy to follow. If a candidate does not follow those instructions and instead resorts to internet gimmicks or tricks to try and beat the polygraph, they will end up, quite frankly, with an unfavorable result. The best advice is, give that countermeasures stuff a rest.

This response by Ward contains multiple untruths. While sticking a thumbtack in one’s shoe is indeed inadvisable as a countermeasure, Ward’s claim that there are only two ways to fail the polygraph—lying and manipulating one’s physiology (a euphemism for using polygraph countermeasures)—is a lie. Because polygraphy has no scientific basis, it is common for honest applicants who do nothing to manipulate their physiology to fail, and pre-employment polygraph failure rates tend to be high. Shortly after the LAPD mandated pre-employment polygraph screening in 2001, then Chief Bernard C. Parks acknowledged the failure rate to be 50%.

For examples of truthful persons who failed the LAPD polygraph despite not “manipulating their physiology,” see the following personal statements:

Ward lied in stating that the polygraph will “definitely” detect if you lie. False negatives (an untruthful person passing) do occur in polygraphy. One of the most notorious examples is CIA officer Aldrich Hazen Ames, who passed the polygraph twice while committing espionage against the United States.

Ward’s claim that “if you try to manipulate or regulate your physiology during the test, you will also get a negative result” is not necessarily true. No polygraph operator has ever demonstrated any ability to detect the kinds of countermeasures outlined in AntiPolygraph.org’s free book, The Lie Behind the Lie Detector. Moreover, the available scientific literature supports the view that polygraph operators are unable to detect such countermeasures.

Contrary to Ward’s claim, the reason that the LAPD polygraph unit “always ask[s] candidates not to look for tips on how to pass a polygraph” is not because they don’t work, but precisely because they do. A second reason polygraph operators don’t want applicants to research polygraphy is that the procedure is entirely dependent on trickery. An educated subject ruins the trick.

Truthful applicants may wish to learn and use polygraph countermeasures to protect themselves against the high risk of a false positive outcome. The Lie Behind the Lie Detector is a good primer. For further reading on the LAPD polygraph unit’s policies and procedures, see our 2020 report, “LAPD Polygraph Policy Documents Disclosed” and the message board thread, “LAPD Polygraph Questions Disclosed.”

On a final note, polygraphy is not the only pseudoscience Michael Ward practices. The LAPD video introduces him as “Dr.” Michael Ward but doesn’t mention whether he is an M.D. or a Ph.D. In fact, he is neither. Dr. Michael Ward is a doctor of chiropractic, “a pseudoscientific complementary and alternative medicine.”

The LAPD recruitment video is mirrored below:

Racial Discrimination Alleged in New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority Police Polygraph Screening

An applicant for employment with the New York State Metropolitan Transportation Authority Police Department has filed a federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaint in connection with a pre-employment polygraph screening “test” administered by that department. Anthony M. DeStefano reports for Newsday. Excerpt:

An NYPD officer from Nassau County trying to get a job with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority police is accusing the agency of racial and disability discrimination in a government filing.

Jonathan Kyle Carter, 29, of Uniondale, alleges in a complaint that a conditional job offer he received from the MTA to join its police force in late 2020 was rescinded after he took a polygraph test.

Carter, a five-year NYPD veteran, claimed in his filing with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission that the MTA used polygraph tests to “suppress the hiring of African American (Black) police officer candidates. “

“This racially motivated invidious discrimination is done to facilitate a covert policy and procedure by MTA that denies black candidates equal opportunity, among other reasons, in favor of white applicants with family already employed by the MTA, that is nepotism, at the expense of the constitutional rights of black candidates,” Carter alleged in his filing.

His attorney, Peter Crusco of Farmingdale, said the EEOC will investigate the case and either decide to mediate the matter or give Carter the right to sue the MTA for discrimination.

A spokesman for the MTA said in a statement that as a matter of policy the agency doesn’t comment on personnel matters or “matters of pending litigation or that could become litigation.”

EEOC official said under federal law they can’t confirm or deny whether any complaint is filed.

In the filing, Carter said that he completed several parts of the MTA police application process, including an interview on Jan. 13, 2020. He said he was given a conditional offer of employment for a police officer position on Nov. 3, 2020. The employment was conditioned on a medical exam and the polygraph test, he said.

In an interview with Newsday, Carter said that he wanted to switch to the MTA police because it offered a better work schedule and better quality of life. Carter, who works for the city’s Transit Police, has 43 arrests with the NYPD, records show.

Carter said that during the polygraph exam he mentioned to the examiner that he had been diagnosed with “White Coat Syndrome,” a condition in which he gets nervous in any kind of clinical situation.

“My heart and my blood pressure goes up, so usually when I take any kind of medical exam I usually fail the initial one,” said Carter.

The polygraph examiner then became hostile when Carter mentioned White Coat Syndrome, telling him it wasn’t a real medical condition, Carter’s filing said. 

On Dec.11, 2020, after the polygraph test, Carter said he received notification from an MTA employment manager that the agency was rescinding its offer because of the results of the polygraph test. 

Based on the polygraph result, “the MTA had determined that you do not meet the requirements of the MTA police officer position, ” the letter from the agency stated, according to the EEOC complaint.

Polygraph screening provides government agencies perfect cover for unlawful discrimination in hiring. A suppressed study by the federal polygraph school showed innocent blacks failing the polygraph at a significantly higher rate than innocent whites.

Part 2 of the Pretend Podcast’s Interview with Doug Williams

In season 7, episode 7 (The Lie Detector part 2) of the Pretend true crime documentary podcast, Javier Leiva concludes what is likely the last public interview of the late polygraph critic, Doug Williams. AntiPolygraph.org co-founder George Maschke and private polygraph operator Andrew Goldstein were also interviewed.

In this episode, Leiva addresses Williams’ decision to continue providing polygraph countermeasures training to an undercover federal agent after the agent stated that he had engaged in illegal behavior that would preclude him from the federal job he was pretending to be seeking. Additional text commentary and a video clip from the undercover operation are available on the Pretend podcast’s web page for this episode.

Doug Williams, RIP

Douglas Gene Williams
(6 October 1945 – 19 March 2021)

It is with deep sadness that we report that longtime polygraph critic Douglas Gene Williams died on Friday, 19 March 2021, after an illness. He has been cremated.

Williams, a former polygraph operator with the Oklahoma City Police Department, quit his job in 1979 and began publicly campaigning for the abolishment of polygraphy from the American workplace. In 1985, he testified against polygraphy before the U.S. House of Representatives in a hearing that helped bring about passage of the Employee Polygraph Protection Act of 1988.

Williams featured prominently in the CBS 60 Minutes report, “Truth and Consequences,” which aired on 11 May 1986 and documented workplace polygraph abuse.

In 1997, Williams launched Polygraph.com, a website through which he sold his manual, “How to Sting the Polygraph,” which explains how to pass a polygraph “test” whether or not one is telling the truth. Williams later offered in-person training on the methods outlined in his manual.

Williams’ manual soon became the core of the federal polygraph school’s course on polygraph countermeasures. So concerned was the federal polygraph community about the public availability of the kind of information Williams taught that a senior instructor at the federal polygraph school, then called the Department of Defense Polygraph Institute, publicly suggested that teaching it should be outlawed.

In 2012, federal agents targeted Williams for entrapment in a sting operation dubbed Operation Lie Busters, as a consequence of which he was criminally charged in 2014. Ultimately pleading guilty, Williams was sentenced to two years in prison followed by three years of supervised release during which time he was prohibited from engaging in any polygraph-related activity.

Released from prison in 2017 and from supervised release in 2020, Williams had resumed publicly offering instruction on how to pass the polygraph.

Also in 2020, Doug Williams’ life story, as told to writer Jack Straw, was published under the title, False Confessions: The True Story of Doug Williams and His Crusade against the Polygraph Industry. (A review by AntiPolygraph.org is available here.)

Williams is survived by his mother, Doris, of Chickasha, Oklahoma and a sister, Janet. He was preceded in death by younger brothers Michael and Donald.

Doug Williams Interviewed on the Pretend Podcast

Doug Williams

In season 7, episode 6 (The Lie Detector part 1) of Pretend, a true crime documentary podcast, Javier Leiva interviews Doug Williams on topics ranging from his experience as a police polygraph operator, his 1979 decision to publicly come out against polygraphy, and how to pass or beat a polygraph “test.” They also discuss Operation Lie Busters, the federal sting operation that targeted Williams for entrapment.

Javier Leiva

This podcast also includes audio from the final undercover operation that preceded Williams’ arrest.

AntiPolygraph.org co-founder George Maschke was also interviewed for this podcast.

Kyriakos Kotsoglou on Polygraphs in the British Legal System

Kyriakos N. Kotsoglou (Twitter profile)

In episode 102 of the legal podcast Excited Utterance, Vanderbilt University law professor Edward K. Cheng (@edwardkcheng) interviews Northumbria University senior lecturer in law Kyriakos N. Kotsoglou (@Kyri_Kotsoglou) about the use of polygraphs in the United Kingdom, with an emphasis on Kotsoglou’s new article, “Zombie Forensics: the use of the polygraph and the integrity of the criminal justice system in England and Wales,” International Journal of Evidence and Proof, 2021 (1): 16-35.

Edward K. Cheng (Twitter profile)

Kotsoglou addresses the systemic problems associated with a justice system embracing such a pseudoscientific technique as polygraphy. His critique is of relevance for policymakers everywhere.

Texas DPS Polygraph School Graduation Ceremony Showcases Law Enforcement’s Faith in the Pseudoscience of Polygraphy

On Friday, 12 March 2021, the Texas Department of Public Safety Polygraph School graduated its 29th class. In the midst of the most deadly pandemic to hit the United States in a century, and in defiance of current U.S. Center for Disease Control guidance and the city of Austin’s and Travis County’s mask mandates, participants did not wear masks and did not observe social distancing. They did, however, shake hands and touch their faces.

No masks, no social distancing, hand-shaking, and face touching at Texas DPS Polygraph School’s Class 29 graduation ceremony

Texas DPS Director Col. Steven C. McCraw, a retired FBI agent who once headed the Bureau’s Inspection Division, gave the graduation address, portions of which AntiPolygraph.org has transcribed. In remarks that are often ungrammatical, McCraw expresses an evidently sincere belief in the pseudoscience of polygraphy, condescension for those who oppose it, and at the same time a recognition that polygraphy is all about interrogation and obtaining confessions. He expresses no concern for potential harm to innocent persons:

Texas Department of Public Safety Commander Steven C. McCraw

I do believe that this is such a important part, discipline, law enforcement discipline, without question. I’ve seen the benefit of it and in a world where crime is transitory—I know the sheriff and I were talking a little bit about it—you know it’s, wherever you’re at, whether it’s North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Oklahoma, certainly Louisiana or Texas, I mean what happens somewhere happens somewhere else. And we recognize that we’re working pretty much the same criminal organizations, the same criminals, and this, this thing, as long as there’s an unending demand for sex with children, we’re, we’re plagued with this depravity of mankind when we talk about what’s going on.

And, and at the end of the day, your job is to get the truth, and of course, we’re, we’re very proud about the school, and pleased that we’re able to produce it, but it’s only as good as the people you put into it, plain and simple. I mean, you are sitting here, there’s a good reason. You’ve exhibited throughout your career not just integrity, but good judgment, and interview, interview skills. I mean you have, already have the tools to get the confessions. You’ve demonstrated that. So you, whether you have a tool or not, but having the science behind it and the tool to help is so vitally important.

From the department’s standpoint, I guess from our standpoint, and I can tell you an example, if nothing else, pre-employment polygraphs. It’s amazing what people will walk into a door wanting to be a state trooper. I mean, we’ve got pedophiles, okay, obviously, we have, we have people who are planning armed robberies of a, an armored vehicle, we’ve had individuals that were thinking about fragging their leadership in Afghanistan. So there’s some, there’s criminals out there applying, and if not for, because the background looked good, everything looked good, if not for those pre-employment, you know, interviews, during confessions that many times those confessions happen even before the interview, before their polygraph is given, because of the quality of our people that are providing that uh, that pre-polygraph interview that they’re conducting, going over the particular facts. And it’s amazing, you know, how we’ve been saved.

While law enforcement applicants sometimes make disqualifying admissions, polygraph screening also results in many honest, well-qualified applicants being wrongly branded as liars and blacklisted. There is no evidence that law enforcement agencies that polygraph applicants have a more honest workforce than those that don’t. Notably, state and local law enforcement agencies in Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey and Oregon are prohibited by law from polygraphing applicants and employees.

McCraw continues:

So there’s people that don’t really like the polygraph in the legislature, in some other parts of the judicial system, but they don’t understand it, or haven’t seen it, and don’t recognize that, how productive it is.

McCraw’s supposition that those who “don’t really like the polygraph” don’t understand it is ill-founded. Those who understand polygraphy the best tend to oppose it. For example, the National Academy of Sciences conducted a thorough review of the scientific evidence on the polygraph and likened polygraphy to superstitious lie detection rituals in primitive societies.

As the late Dr. Stephen Fienberg, who led the National Academy of Sciences’ polygraph review committee observed, “Polygraph testing has been the gold standard, but it’s obviously fool’s gold.”

McCraw goes on:

At the end of the day, no one goes to jail on a polygraph. There’s got to be corroborating evidence. But there’s so many times where it’s a he said, she said, and you don’t know. And I can say even from a disciplinary standpoint as a director, when you’re looking at somebody that, you know, has, has compromised their integrity, but they’re consistent they had not, and you know, you don’t want to lose a good employee, or employee that appears to be a good employee, that’s worked so hard, you invested in, and you know, you don’t wanna, just based upon, you know, circumstantial evidence remove somebody, but at the end of the day, the polygraph is the great separator.

I mean that then, was it last week when someone I swore was telling me the truth. I moved finally, I thought that somebody that’s telling me something, here’s, here is a candidate we’re firing and it’s just unfair, uh, because clearly, he didn’t do it. Guess what? He lied, okay? And I wouldn’t have been able to know that unless there was a polygraph given in that regard.

Tactical polygraphs. Whoever came up with a tact—who’s idea was that anyway? Matt, did you have something to do with that? Yeah, somebody conspired. That’s a cool name, right? Not a strategic polygraph, but a tactical polygraph, okay? It implies that you’re, you know, proactive, you’re out there, you’re in the field, and you’re getting your hands dirty, you’re where it’s at. And that’s exactly what it’s about.

A so-called “tactical polygraph” is a polygraph “test” administered to a suspect promptly after arrest in an attempt to obtain admissions to crimes beyond those for which the suspect has been arrested. The suspect’s “failing” may be a pre-scripted part of the interrogation plan.

Texas DPS polygraph operator Matthew “Matt” Mull

The “Matt” to whom McCraw called out is Texas Department of Public Safety Captain Matthew Mull, a polygraph operator and advocate of this coercive interrogation technique.

You know, we don’t do our, our sex trafficking operations without, without a polygrapher on site. I’ve been even lobbied by ICE HSI on more than one occasion to increase the number of polygraphers that we have, you know in the Rio Grande valley because of how productive it has been. Of course, it’s productive. And if, at the end of the day, you know it’s not only in terms of finding evidence to support, you know, putting them where they need to be, but it’s also identifying victims, other victims in that regard. And you are in a position to be able to do that.

You know there’s, not now, when you hit the day, first day running, you’re going to be in a position to do something that other people won’t be able to do. I mean, you’ve already got that skill to interview on top of that, you’ve got this, then you have the opportunity, because they’re being funneled into your presence, and you have an opportunity to make a difference. And sometimes, you know, patience is important, I know. You know, I don’t have it. But I know you have it, because sometimes you have to listen and empathize—for hours—with someone that you’re disgusted by.

I’m always, always reminded of someone that worked for me in, in my FBI days and we had the Tohono O’odham reservation in Arizona, and there was such pervasive child molestation on the, on the “res,” that, you know, how do you get the confessions? What do you, if someone does one, they do fifteen. How do you able to gonna elicit that infor—, you know how do you, and it’s about empathizing, and she was able to do that again and again and again, and followed up with a polygraph that always, you know, produced results in a way that we’re sparing the children from having to testify, which is brutal when you do so.

So there’s so many good things that you’re going to be doing, you know, whether it’s murderers, [unclear], whatever it is, you know, that cross your career, and, you know, and you’ll also, again, you know, in another discipline, ’cause people are understand that, hey, law enforcement is data based, scientific based, we don’t, we don’t, it’s not voodoo, okay, it’s about science, it’s about things that work.

Col. McCraw’s assertion that law enforcement is “scientific based” does not hold true when it comes to its reliance on polygraphy—a thoroughly discredited pseudoscience. “Voodoo science” is not an inapt characterization of polygraphic lie detection.

McCraw concludes:

It’s about, you know, evidence-based strategies. It’s in policing it is, is in fact a profession, and a very important, critical profession. There’s nothing more important that government does is protect its people, and you’re a key part of that with what discipline that you have that fits into it. And we’ve got an obligation to use all the tools that we can, and you’re, you’re a very important tool…

Law enforcement has no obligation to use tools such as the polygraph that are known to be scientifically baseless. McCraw’s remarks help to illustrate how deeply entrenched belief in the century-old, cop-invented pseudoscience of polygraphy is in American law enforcement.

From left to right: Texas DPS Polygraph School director Captain Bobby McCloskey, Tyler, TX PD Sergeant Kevin Fite, and Texas DPS Director Col. Steven C. McCraw

Video of the Texas DPS Polygraph School Class 29 graduation ceremony is available on the Texas DPS YouTube channel here:

The Guardian’s Ian Sample on Polygraph Use by the British Ministry of Justice

The Guardian’s science editor, Ian Sample, sits for a polygraph “test” and reports on the British Ministry of Justice’s growing reliance on the pseudoscience of polygraphy. Excerpt:

The Ministry of Justice introduced compulsory lie detector tests for sex offenders in 2014. But now the controversial technique is poised to become more widespread in the British justice system.

The domestic abuse bill and the counter-terrorism and sentencing bill, both passing through the Lords, provide for regular, mandatory testing of domestic abuse offenders, suspected terrorists and convicted terrorists on release. While failing a test would not in itself mean prison time, fresh disclosures, investigations prompted by failed tests, attempting to beat the polygraph, refusing a test or remaining silent in a test, could all trigger a recall. Loss of liberty in such circumstances is determined not by court but by probation officers, the former lord chief justice, Lord Thomas, has noted. Tests are expected to start in the spring.

For Don Grubin, emeritus professor of forensic psychiatry at Newcastle University and director of Behavioural Measures which runs the Heaton Mount training course, the polygraph is a means of gaining fresh information, an additional tool to help manage offenders. “What you’re looking for is information to indicate there’s an increased risk,” he says. But debate in the Lords and beyond has raised serious questions around the polygraph’s place in the legal system.

Marion Oswald, vice-chancellor’s senior fellow in law at Northumbria University calls the polygraph “an oppressive interrogation tool”, a phrase Grubin finds “over the top”. Oswald wants an immediate moratorium on polygraphs, an independent review of their usage across police forces and the probation service, and if tests resume, continuing independent oversight. “There’s a really high risk of people relying too much on these polygraph outputs,” she says. But Grubin argues there’s no evidence of this being an issue, adding that the risk is no greater than for other measures, such as criminal record checks and tagging.

It is not “over the top” to characterize the polygraph as “an oppressive interrogation tool.” It is precisely that. Indeed, former police polygraph operator Doug Williams has aptly characterized the polygraph as a “psychological billy club.”

Because polygraphy has no scientific basis, any reliance on polygraph chart readings is over-reliance.

CIA’s “Molly Hale” Lies About Lie Detectors

CIA social media graphic

Since 2002, the CIA has used the pseudonym “Molly Hale” to respond to selected public inquiries. Since 2019, such inquiries may be directed to the CIA’s Twitter or Facebook accounts using the hashtag #AskMollyHale.

On 3 March 2021, Molly Hale replied to the following inquiry:

Dear Molly,

I would really love to work for CIA, and think I would be a great candidate, but I’m nervous about taking a lie detector test. It’s not that I have anything to hide, I just feel like my results wouldn’t be accurate because of my crazy nerves! What do you recommend I do?

Nerves of Jello

Among other things, Molly Hale writes:

I’m here to tell you that the actual polygraph is far less intimidating than your mind might make it out to be. We’re talking less Jason Bourne and more Meet the Parents, if cinema is your thing. But seriously, the polygraph isn’t a strategy to ‘psych out’ potential officers….

This is a lie. The polygraph is precisely a strategy to psych out potential CIA officers. Specifically, it is intended to convince them that the polygraph operator can read their minds (lie detection is a form of mind reading), and that deception is futile. In fact, polygraphy has no scientific basis (it’s a century-old, cop-invented pseudoscience), and polygraph outcomes have no clear connection with whether one has spoken the truth.

In the pre-employment polygraph screening technique used by the CIA, applicants are typically accused of lying or withholding information during the initial polygraph session and are badgered for admissions. If no disqualifying admissions are made, they are typically invited back for one or more follow-up sessions.

Molly Hale continues:

…It is a tool, which is leveraged to assess a person’s strength of character, trustworthiness, honesty, and reliability; nothing more, nothing less. Given the access to sensitive information afforded to CIA officers, it is important we use every tool at our disposal to determine a person’s suitability for employment.

Ouija boards and astrological charts are also at the CIA’s disposal. Should they use these, too? Molly Hale goes on:

To your point about nerves affecting the outcome of the test, understand that CIA polygraph examiners are some of the world’s most capable security professionals. They are well-trained in the use of polygraph instruments and are skilled in properly assessing the results. That is to say, they know how to distinguish nerves from deception. If you’re concerned that the examiner might conflate the two, let me ease your worries: our examiners are incredibly good at what they do.

Molly Hale’s claim that CIA polygraph operators “know how to distinguish nerves from deception” is patently false. The fundamental weakness of polygraphy is that it cannot distinguish between people who are nervous because they are lying and those who are nervous but telling the truth.

In 2002, the National Academy of Sciences completed a thorough review of the scientific evidence on polygraph screening and concluded that “its accuracy in distinguishing actual or potential security violators from innocent test takers is insufficient to justify reliance on its use in employee security screening in federal agencies.”

The CIA is willfully ignoring the science on polygraphs.

Molly Hale has yet another lie to tell:

If I haven’t been up to this point, let me be very clear: if you want to work for CIA, don’t let a fear of the polygraph be the one reason that stops you. We’re not looking for perfect people, we’re looking for honest people. If you are candid and forthright through the process, the polygraph will not be an issue.

Many candid and forthright CIA applicants end up being falsely branded as liars and disqualified based on polygraph chart readings. (Some have shared their stories here.) In fact, retired CIA polygraph operator John F. Sullivan has opined that “an honest subject has no better chance than a dishonest subject of getting through the process.”

Molly Hale concludes:

So take a deep breath, calm your nerves, and submit that application!

Before you submit that application, we recommend that you educate yourself about the pseudoscientific means by which the CIA will pretend to assess your honesty and integrity. Our free book, The Lie Behind the Lie Detector, is a good starting point.

Dr. Phil Presents Polygraph Operator Gil Witte as a “Countermeasures Expert”

On 29-30 October, the Dr. Phil show aired its first polygraph episode since the death of the show’s longtime polygraph operator, Jack Trimarco, in 2018. For that purpose, Dr. Phil brought on John Leo Grogan, whom Trimarco had denounced as “nothing more than a fraud,” but whom host Phil McGraw presented as “one of the most respected polygraph examiners in the country.”

On 19 & 22 February 2021, the Dr. Phil show aired its second polygraph episode since Trimarco’s death. It is seemingly no accident that this two-part polygraph episode, like the previous one, aired during a Nielsen sweeps rating period, a crucial time for advertising revenue. The Dr. Phil show has historically used the revelation of polygraph results at the end of an episode to build suspense and boost viewership.

Jeremy Dewitte

This episode’s guest is Jeremy Dewitte, who operates a funeral escort service in Florida, where he has been criminally charged with impersonating a police officer. Phil McGraw introduces the polygraph segment thus:

Dr. Phil: Is Jeremy playing cop or just doing his job? He insists he is not impersonating a police officer and wanted to take a polygraph test to show that his state of mind was not to try to imply to people that he was doing so. I recommended against it. I didn’t want him to do it. I, I’m not a big fan of these things, but he, he insisted. We’ll find out the results together. Be right back.

Although Phil McGraw states that he recommended against the polygraph and is “not a big fan of these things,” in an interview with AntiPolygraph.org, Jeremy Dewitte stated that it was a producer of the show who first broached the topic of a polygraph “test,” asking if he would be willing to do one. Dewitte states that he told the producer that he had no problem doing so, and that no one from the Dr. Phil show attempted to discourage him from doing so.

This time, the show did not re-engage John Grogan’s services but instead introduced a new polygraph operator, Gil Witte of San Diego:

Dr. Phil: Jeremy says he wanted to take a polygraph, uh, to clear his name. Uh, now we reached out to world-renowned police polygraph examiner, instructor, publisher, and speaker, uh, Gil Witte. Now, Gil has over seventeen years of experience. He’s conducted thousands of polygraph tests and is the current president of the California Association of Polygraph Examiners.

To AntiPolygraph.org’s knowledge, the 41-year-old Witte is not particularly renowned, nationally or internationally. He has worked as a civilian polygraph operator for the San Diego Police Department and as an instructor for a Florida polygraph school. As for his being a “publisher,” he has co-authored a single article that appeared in Polygraph, a non-scientific quarterly trade journal published by the American Polygraph Association.1 Witte is indeed the current president of the California Association of Polygraph Examiners, a relatively insignificant organization. It would seem that Witte’s greatest claim to fame to date is his appearance on the Dr. Phil show.

Polygraph Operator Guillermo R. “Gil” Witte

McGraw goes on to characterize Witte as a “countermeasures expert,” and Witte implies that he caught Jeremy Dewitte attempting to use polygraph countermeasures:

Dr. Phil: …Gil, when it comes to polygraph exams, you’re also a, a countermeasures expert. Explain what countermeasures are.

Witte: Uh, countermeasures are behaviors that you can do during specific questions on the exam to enhance physiology on those areas and appear as a truthful individual. That’s why we have activity sensors to the floor for your feet, activity sensors on the chair for core movements, and the rubber tubes that go over your chest and your stomach do record upper body movements, so upper body activity. So if you were to try to manipulate any of those, we actually have the sensors that tell us, this data’s true, this data’s not true.

Dr. Phil: Did that play into the test yesterday?

Witte: Yes it did.

It should be noted that no polygraph operator has ever demonstrated any ability to reliably detect sophisticated polygraph countermeasures (the kind that anyone who understands polygraph procedure would employ), and the available research suggests that they can’t. Extensive polygraph community documentation obtained by AntiPolygraph.org confirms that polygraph operators have no coherent methodology for countermeasure detection.

To AntiPolygraph.org’s knowledge, Gil Witte, who holds a master’s degree in mental health counseling from Nova Southeastern University, has conducted no research and published nothing on the topic of polygraph countermeasures, and his website provides no documentation of any such expertise. As of this writing, Witte has not responded to an inquiry from AntiPolygraph.org regarding the basis for his being characterized as a “countermeasures expert.”

Witte does not explain what Dewitte did that he construed to be polygraph countermeasures. However, Dewitte told AntiPolygraph.org that in order to stay calm during the polygraph, he breathed slowly and deeply. Such breathing is not uncommon when people are in a stressful situation. However, it is not something that anyone who understands polygraph procedure would actually do in an attempt to pass or beat the polygraph. Nonetheless, polygraph operators often call slow and/or deep breathing a polygraph countermeasure.

Dewitte told AntiPolygraph.org that during the polygraph session, conducted in early November 2020 in a hotel conference room, Witte provided no indication that he suspected he was employing polygraph countermeasures.

According to Dewitte, the relevant questions asked on the show were chosen by the show’s producers, and not by himself:

List of relevant questions chosen by the Dr. Phil show

All three of these relevant questions go to Dewitte’s state of mind. He could have sincerely believed that his denial to each of these questions was truthful, while a reasonable person looking at the available evidence could reach a different conclusion. Because of the subjective nature of the selected relevant questions, it is unlikely that the accuracy of the polygraph results could ever be independently confirmed or disconfirmed.

Showman Phillip Calvin McGraw reading the polygraph questions

As it turns out, Witte deemed Dewitte deceptive with respect to all three relevant questions, stating that he scored -37 (a particularly low “failing” score).

However, given polygraphy’s complete lack of scientific underpinnings, Witte’s assigned polygraph score is without evidentiary value and provides no meaningful indication of whether Dewitte acted with mens rea.

Given that Dewitte had been indicted for allegedly impersonating a police officer, it is hardly surprising that the three relevant questions would have produced a strong emotional response, whether or not he answered them truthfully.

Asked by AntiPolygraph.org what other polygraph questions Witte had asked him, Dewitte recalled two probable-lie “control” questions: “Have you ever lied to a loved one?” and “Have you ever represented yourself to be something you’re not?” Dewitte did not appear to understand that these were “control” questions, or the function they serve. (A person who has studied polygraph countermeasures would presumably know this. For an explanation of “control” questions and effective polygraph countermeasures, see Chapters 3 & 4 of our free book, The Lie Behind the Lie Detector.)

Dewitte told AntiPolygraph.org that he was never provided with nor shown his polygraph report, and that he would not object to Witte providing AntiPolygraph.org with a copy of the computerized data file associated with his polygraph examination so that we could conduct an independent review. At the time of writing, Witte has not responded to our request that he send us that data.

  1. Witte, G., Senter, S. and B. Blalock, “Impact of Interview Route Maps: Single Examiner Case Study,” Polygraph, 2016, Vol. 45, No. 2, pp. 117-124. []