“Making a Living Out of Finding Liars”

Moscow Times staff writer Valeria Korchagina reports on the lie detector business in Russia. Excerpt:

It’s no secret that hi-tech military plants in Russia have been forced to churn out pots and pans to make ends meet. But the connection between military and civilian technologies works both ways, and once-classified devices have found their way into the commercial sector.

One example is the ultimate spy-story phenomenon of the 20th century: the lie detector.

Although the use of lie detectors, or polygraphs, is mostly confined to law enforcement agencies, starting at about $100 a pop ordinary people with doubts about anyone from potential employees to antsy spouses can also take advantage of the device.

Civilian demand and a decade of drastic underfunding from the state have lured many experts from the KGB, now the Federal Security Service, out of their top-secret offices. Among their number is Vladimir Korovin, a 49-year-old human resources officer at a large production firm in Moscow, who spends his days truth-or-daring job applicants, as well as private clients.

Korovin left the FSB in 1995 to join the tax authorities, where he screened staff and would-be employees, weeding out those linked to the criminal world or other potential risk groups, like gamblers or drug addicts.

Three years later, Korovin was invited to join the infamous security service of Vladimir Gusinsky’s MOST Group, where he got the chance to apply his expertise on a vast scale.

“We had some 10 to 15 people going through our office every day. Altogether, I probably screened about 3,500 people,” Korovin said in a recent interview. As many as 25 percent of applicants proved to be hiding important information, he said — from lying about their education and the reasons for leaving previous jobs, to secretly working for competitors or having a criminal record.

Korovin first saw a lie detector in 1979. He was fresh out of medical college when the KGB recruited him for what it called “research and medicine-related work.” In fact, his job focused on studying bodily reactions to emotions, particularly those related to lying, and the role of polygraphs in this process.

“Back then, it was a top-secret topic,” Korovin says. “Official science denied the whole concept, but the KGB was interested in it because lie detectors were used by our opponents and could potentially help in counterintelligence.”

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