Department of Defense Polygraph Program Gets Makeover

Steven Aftergood reports in the Federation of American Scientists’ Secrecy News newsletter & blog that on 25 January 2007, the Department of Defense issued a new directive governing polygraph policy:

The Department of Defense has revised and supplemented its polygraph program to include non-polygraph techniques for detecting deception.

A new Pentagon directive (pdf) introduces the term “Credibility Assessment (CA),” which refers to “The multi-disciplinary field of existing as well as potential techniques and procedures to assess truthfulness that relies on physiological reactions and behavioral measures to test the agreement between an individual’s memories and statements.”

The new directive also transfers the polygraph program from the Defense Security Service to the secretive DoD Counterintelligence Field Activity (CIFA). The program will be overseen by the Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence.

Eleven military and defense intelligence organizations listed in the directive are authorized to conduct polygraph and credibility assessment examinations.

The reliability of polygraph testing for employee screening is widely disputed on scientific grounds. But many government security officials nevertheless insist on its value and utility, and the practice persists.

See “Polygraph and Credibility Assessment Program,” Department of Defense Directive 5210.48, January 25, 2007.

Significantly, the new directive tightens control over DoD agencies’ use of any “credibility assessment” technology other than the polygraph. This seems a likely reaction to the post-9/11 debacle wherein some DoD components began using Computer Voice Stress Analysis (CVSA) to interrogate prisoners. The manufacturer of this quack device, the so-called “National Institute of Truth Verification,” has admitted in court that CVSA “is not capable of lie detection,” and the company was recently the subject of an ABC News exposé. DoD eventually put an end to its use of CVSA. The new directive ensures that henceforward, DoD agencies will use only officially approved pseudoscientific techniques for “credibility assessment” purposes.

The new directive also changes the name of the Department of Defense Polygraph Institute (DoDPI) to the “Defense Academy for Credibility Assessment” (DACA). At the time of this writing, the DoDPI website has not yet been updated to reflect this change.

ABC News Exposé of Charles Humble and CVSA on YouTube

A March 2006 ABC News Primetime story on Charles Humble, the phony Ph.D. behind the pseudoscientific Computer Voice Stress Analyzer, has been posted to YouTube:

For previous discussion of this news story, see Innocent Until Proved Guilty? (CVSA Exposé) on the message board.

Tremors of the Trade

Retired NYPD detective Warren J. Sonne writes for in an article titled, “Tremors of the Trade: Investigative Tool or Troublesome Black Magic?” Excerpt:

Over the past decade, police departments all over this country have lined up to purchase Voice Stress Analyzers. In a country that has placed restrictive rules of law on the police such as Mapp v Ohio (Fourth Amendment exclusionary rule against unreasonable searches and seizures) and Miranda v Arizona (Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination, and Sixth Amendment right to counsel). My question is, “Are PDs playing with fire?”

I believe that the plain answer is, “yes.”

I think that the first problem comes from the “Pac-Man” generation. Give us a high-tech toy and some practice, and within an hour we will defeat those lying criminals. Once we’ve done that, we can move on to the next level. Hey, CSI solves two or three crimes during their one-hour episodes, don’t they? Well, if they can do itÂ….

There are no quick fixes to criminal investigations, nor are there magic boxes to help detectives figure out who’s lying. There are no shortcuts to competent investigations — at least, there shouldn’t be.

The second problem that I see originates in the many high profile false confession cases that have plagued our profession. The Central Park Jogger case in New York is just one such example. In April of 1989, a young woman was assaulted and raped while running inside of New York’s Central Park. Investigation identified five teenagers as suspects to this crime, and subsequent interrogations produced confessions from four of them. This led to all five being convicted for this crime. In 2002, an unrelated person confessed to this crime, and his confession was coroborrated by DNA. This person, Matias Reyes, claimed that he acted alone. Since there was no corroborating evidence against the five teenagers, other than their confessions, their convictions were overturned.

There are many other cases that have been overturned by the courts involving people, some of them mentally challenged, who have confessed to crimes that they didn’t commit. As a result, many police departments across the country have instituted polices requiring the videotaping of all confessions, with some departments recording all, or nearly all, interviews.

So, do we really need a Supreme Court decision here? Another Miranda? “You have the right to remain quiet and refuse to play the CVSA Game.”

A third issue is, does it work? What is Voice Stress Analysis (VSA), also called Computerized Voice Stress Analysis (CVSA)? The equipment now being produced is in the form of very nice looking computers that allegedly measure “micro-tremors” in the voice. The manufacturers of this equipment claim that these micro-tremors are produced when people are under stress, such as when they are lying. One obvious problem is that stress can and does occur for many other reasons in addition to lying.

Some scientific studies (not all) have verified that these micro-tremors exist and can be measured. Unfortunately, these same scientists and their studies have failed to demonstrate lie detection accuracy using CVSA at anything better than chance (flipping a coin).

I visited the web site of the leading CVSA manufacturer, The National Institute for Truth Verification, but other than their claims that CVSA works as a lie detector, I could find no scientific studies to back it up. What I did find were a half-dozen or so endorsements from police officers who were scattered around the country. Yet, not one these endorsement actually claimed that the CVSA worked as a lie detector. It was called a “valuable tool,” and most of endorsers seemed to like the training program, or the versatility of it, but not one claimed that it was an accurate lie detector.

I remember the Xerox machine being a valuable investigative tool as well. All the detective had to do was push the magic button and out came a piece of paper with the word LIE or TRUTH on it. “What’s your name?” was the first question. “Sam Jones” was the reply. Push the button and out came the answer “TRUE.” “Okay Sam, you’ve done pretty well so far. Now, did you steal your Bill Doe’s bike this morning?” asked the detective. “No,” says Sam.” Push the Xerox button, and here comes the answer, “LIE.”

Some of you may laugh, yet others will remember the utility of this less than scientific procedure. People can be awestruck by the appearance of science. Before the advent of the Xerox machine, people had to use “carbon paper” if they wanted copies. People could certainly be naïve in those days. Well, faced with the scientific appearance of CVSA, people can still be naïve in these days as well. The argument for CVSA seems to be based on the utility of the device, not the accuracy of it.

Sonne is absolutely right. But his criticisms of voice stress analysis are largely applicable not only to voice stress analysis, but to polygraphy, too.

Moscow Airport Says Passenger Screening Device Doesn’t Detect Lies: It Reads Minds

On 6 April 2006, Adrian Blomfield of the Daily Telegraph reported that Moscow’s Domodedovo Airport would soon begin requiring passengers to submit to voice-based lie detector “testing” in an attempt to identify terrorists and drug smugglers. The device, Nemesysco’s GK-1 Security Access Control System, is completely unsupported by any peer-reviewed scientific research whatsoever. Now, in an apparent attempt at public relations damage control, Domodedovo Airport’s press office has issued a press release explaining that “GK-1 is not a lie detector…. GK-1 is a system … trying to detect whether [a person] is about to commit a crime.” So it’s not a lie detector, it’s a mind reader. Got it?

Here is the full text of the press release:

MOSCOW (RNWire) – In response to some media reports, in which the GK-1 multilevel voice analysis system was erroneously referred to as a lie detector system, the press service of Domodedovo International Airport states that these systems cannot be treated as analogous. GK-1 is based on the latest computer technologies and is a further development of the traditional profiling system.

Profiling is a preliminary interviewing by trained specialists, who analyze a persons’ look, responses and behavior. This method is actively used by security services of the world largest airports and airlines in order to prevent terrorist attacks and  transportation of illegal items and substances.

GK-1 is a system automating profiling methods and increasing profiling effectiveness. This is achieved, for instance, through exclusion of the so called human factor effect, i.e. mistakes made as a result of tiredness, possible collusion, etc.

GK-1 is not a lie detector, which is focused on an important question. GK-1 is a system performing multilevel analysis of emotional aspects of a person’s voice, trying to detect whether he/she is about to commit a crime. In contrast to cases, when a crime has already been committed, the intention to commit a crime leads to a unique psychological and emotional state which can be detected by GK-1.

The checks with the use of the afore-said technology will be made selectively and under control of Domodedovo Aviation Security specialists and representative of the federal authorities. Suspicious passengers will be offered to voluntarily undergo such a test. A passenger may be denied boarding if he/she refuses to undergo a test.

GK-1 interviewing is performed in an automatic mode. Questions won’t be of personal nature and will not prejudice the person’s rights. Such interviewing is related only to prevention of terrorist attacks and transportation of illegal items and substances.

In the course of pilot operations the content and the number of questions (from three to five in accordance with the plan) may be changed in order to improve the system’s effectiveness.

The possibility and advisability of the large-scale use of GK-1 system at Domodedovo will be determined on the basis of the pilot operations’ results. The use of such a system will not cause inconveniencies to the airport visitors. On the contrary, the successful introduction of GK-1 will lead to a reduction of checks currently performed at the airport, which will improve passenger comfort.

Press Service of Domodedovo International Airport would like to draw your attention to the fact that the airport is responsible for security of all airport visitors, including passengers and people coming to meet relatives and friends at the airport. This explains the necessity to continuously improve the security system.

GK-1 multilevel voice analysis system was developed by NEMESYSCO (Israel). The company’s representative in Russia is Urbis Management Systems Software. The testing which has been carried out by Domodedovo Aviation Security, Areopag-Center, and Drug Smuggling Prevention Department of Domodedovo Customs Authorities at Domodedovo Airport for several months, confirmed that the system can be effectively used in the security zones to prevent terrorist attacks, illegal traffic of arms, ammunition, explosives, poisonous substances and drugs.

For discussion of Domodeovo Airport’s regrettable decision to field this Emperor’s New Clothes pseudo-technology, see Lie the Friendly Skies on the message board.

Lie detectors raise doubts

Northwest Indiana Times reporter Bob Kasada reports on Computer Voice Stress Analysis.

This story ran on on Saturday, April 15, 2006 12:42 AM CDT

Lie detectors raise doubts


Portage police Detective Capt. Terry Swickard has a lot of confidence in the department’s computer voice stress analyzer.

The results of the high-tech lie detector test are not admissible in court, he said, but they have helped guide investigations toward convictions and the release of innocent suspects.

As a result, Swickard was not at all swayed by news of a Pentagon-sponsored study that concluded the technology performs at chance level and is ineffective in detecting the presence of deception or stress.

The study verified earlier findings, which had led the U.S. Department of Defense to no longer use voice stress analyzers, according to a spokesperson, who said it is policy not to be identified by name.

The computer voice stress analyzer, which is among two types of units evaluated in the University of Florida study, is used by police departments in Porter and Lake counties.

The maker of the units, National Institute for Truth Verification of West Palm Beach, Fla., said in a prepared statement that this and earlier studies are flawed because they are unable to produce the same type of jeopardy experienced by those undergoing the voice test in real-life situations.

The authors of the study said they prepared for this concern by factoring in the lack of “real-world” stress as part of their evaluation.

The National Institute for Truth Verification said 1,500 law enforcement agencies have relied on the units over the past 18 years and that an independent survey of agencies reported an accuracy rate of over 91 percent.

Porter Police Chief James Spanier, who was undergoing training with the computer voice stress analyzer at the time of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, said there must be some consequence for lying in order for the tests to be effective.

He also said the results are only as good as the questions asked.

Defense attorney Larry Rogers said he has been aware of the criticism of the tests for several years and is not surprised by the defensive responses from police.

If police were to admit the faults with the technology, they would be opening themselves up to liability and objections over the waste of tax dollars, he said.

Each computer voice stress analyzer unit costs $10,000 and six-days of training runs $1,440 per person, said Bill Endler, director of NITV. Endler is a retired police chief from Syracuse, Ind., and has worked at other departments around the state.

Rogers said he advises all his clients to exercise their right to refuse the voice stress test.

“You might as well use a Ouija board,” he said.

Michael Higgins, spokesman for the Lake County Sheriff’s Department, said the Pentagon study will have no impact on the department, which has five certified voice stress operators.