The United States government is so worked up about polygraph countermeasures that it launched an ongoing criminal investigation dubbed Operation Lie Busters targeting individuals who teach others how to pass or beat polygraph examinations. An Indiana electrician named Chad Dixon who taught people how to pass the polygraph as a side job was sentenced to eight months in federal prison, and former police polygraphist Doug Williams, who operates the website Polygraph.com, was raided by federal agents who seized his customer records. At the time of this writing, he has not been charged with any crime but remains in legal jeopardy. Federal investigators created and circulated a watch list based on Dixon’s and Williams’ customer records.
Polygraphers often claim that they can reliably detect the kinds of countermeasures outlined in AntiPolygraph.org’s free book, The Lie Behind the Lie Detector (1 mb PDF) and in Williams’ manual, “How to Sting the Polygraph.” Yet no polygrapher has ever demonstrated such an ability, and polygraph community documentation obtained by AntiPolygraph.org strongly suggests that polygraphers have no reliable methodology for detecting them.
Confessions to countermeasure use are relatively rare, and when they occur, at least some federal agencies send case information, stripped of the examinee’s personal details, to the federal polygraph school, the National Center for Credibility Assessment, for study.
AntiPolygraph.org has received documentation of one such case. It concerns a counterintelligence-scope polygraph screening examination, case no. 902-0470-14, conducted by Thomas M. Touhey of the 310th Military Intelligence Battalion, 902nd Military Intelligence Group, United States Army Intelligence and Security Command at Fort Meade, Maryland on 7 January 2014. In his Report of Polygraph Examination (195 kb PDF), Touhey summarizes the case thus:
7. (U//FOUO) OTHER REPORTABLE INFORMATION: During the conduct of testing EXAMINEE exhibited atypical physiological responses, indicative of the use of countermeasures (CM). During post-test questioning, EXAMINEE admitted to altering HIS breathing during the initial phase of collection of polygraph charts. EXAMINEE stated that prior to the polygraph session, HE researched polygraph via internet searches using the keywords “polygraph”, CIA polygraph”, full scope polygraph” and “polygraph truth”. EXAMINEE recalled HE read a DOD-sponsored site and watched a video designed to inform readers about the polygraph process and of [sic] the website “Antipolygraph.org”. EXAMINEE related HE did not employ any physical countermeasures outlined in the web searches, such as pressing HIS toes or using a small stone or tack in HIS shoe. EXAMINEE related HE focused on changing HIS breathing during questions where HE wanted to create a clear response. EXAMINEE stated HE talked to co-workers about polygraph and was advised to relax and be honest. EXAMINEE stated HE felt the need to exaggerate HIS responses as HE was unsure of the sensitivity of the instrumentation. EXAMINEE executed a sworn, written statement, detailing the information.
Touhey’s report includes a hand-written statement by the examinee, a government contractor employed by the Tatitlek Corporation, that is consonant with the above summation.
From Touhey’s report, one might conclude that this is an example of a person who visited AntiPolygraph.org, followed the countermeasure advice found in The Lie Behind the Lie Detector, and got caught. But is that what actually happened here? Touhey doesn’t specify what “atypical physiological responses” were “indicative of the use of countermeasures.” But a look at the polygraph charts makes it clear:
Above we see the beginning of the first chart collection following the so-called “acquaintance” or “numbers” test (a gimmick intended to convince the examinee that the polygraph can detect the slightest deception). At the top, you see the upper and lower respiratory tracings in blue, followed below by the electrodermal (palmar sweating) tracing in green, the cardio tracing in red, and at the bottom, the “countermeasure sensor” in black. Such sensors typically consist of a pressure-sensitive pad placed on the seat of the polygraph chair. If the examinee presses his toes to the floor, or presses his toe against a tack in his shoe, a spike will register on the countermeasure channel. And that is precisely what happened here. Note the huge spike after the first comparison question (also called a “control” question). Note also the large spike after the second comparison question.1
This, and not any breathing irregularity, is what alerted the polygraph examiner that the examinee was attempting countermeasures. It explains why Touhey asked the examinee about toe-pressing. But note that AntiPolygraph.org specifically advises against this kind of countermeasure. Indeed, none of the suggested countermeasures in The Lie Behind the Lie Detector would produce the kind of spikes observed on the countermeasure tracing here.
AntiPolygraph.org has also received a copy of an “INSCOM Polygraph Countermeasures Report” (46 kb PDF) associated with this case. Despite the fact that, as discussed above, the examinee employed countermeasures that AntiPolygraph.org specifically advises against, Touhey reports that the examinee received his countermeasure information from AntiPolygraph.org.
The countermeasures report further notes that “EXAMINEE was re-tested the same day with favorable results.” AntiPolygraph.org co-founder George Maschke’s pre 9/11 observation that the key to passing the DoD counterintelligence-scope polygraph is evidently to make no substantive admissions may still hold true today.
Federal officials are deluding themselves if they think they can detect the kinds of countermeasures documented on AntiPolygraph.org based on examples like the above case. Well-trained spies, saboteurs, and terrorists who understand polygraph procedure will not make the rookie mistake that the examinee in this case made. AntiPolygraph.org makes information about polygraph countermeasures available to afford truthful persons a means of protecting themselves against the random error that is all too common in polygraph screening. But inevitably, the same techniques can also be used by those working against the United States (as happened in the case of Ana Belen Montes, a Cuban double agent trained in polygraph countermeasures who penetrated the Defense Intelligence Agency while passing her polygraph examinations “with flying colors”).
Instead of trying to criminalize the dissemination of information about polygraph countermeasures, the U.S. government should heed the warning of the National Research Council that “[polygraph testing’s] 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.” Polygraphy must be abolished.
UPDATE: An inspection of the examinee’s statement suggests that the polygraph examiner may have encouraged the examinee to mention AntiPolygraph.org. The statement reads in part:
Prior to my examination, I visited some websites both pro + con relating to the polygraph process. I did so to gather information so I could feel comfortable during my first exam. I performed primarily “Google” searches on terms: Polygraph, CI Polygraph, Full Scope Polygraph, and Polygraph Truth. Specific sites I recall visiting were: DoD sponsored/[owned?] polygraph site + video, and polygraphtruth.org (I think). Mind you that many sites visited were google search results so I don’t specifically recall individual URLs….
It appears that “Anti-polyoraph.org” [sic] was inserted between the lines at some later point:
- The polygraph chart data is included in a file, 902-0470-14.lip, that may be viewed with Limestone Technologies‘ PolygraphPro software. Incidentally, regular readers of AntiPolygraph.org may recall that Limestone’s vice president was arrested and charged with sexual assault in Massachusetts last year. [↩]