Greensboro Polygraph Dragnet Roundup

From 2-4 May 2006, Greensboro, North Carolina mayor Keith Holliday and seven members of the city council subjected themselves to polygraph “tests” to prove that they did not provide a confidential report on racism in the Greensboro police department to the local News & Record newspaper. The un-named polygraph examiner, perhaps realizing on which side his bread was buttered, made the safest choice and passed all eight, allowing suspicion to focus on the lone council member who refused the polygraph (but denies having had anything to do with the leak).

On Saturday, 6 May, the News & Record editorialized on the polygraph misadventure in, “The Road to ‘Truthiness’ a Dead End for Council”:

Now what?

Now that each of eight City Council members has survived a gantlet of polygraph questions, where to from here?

Frankly, nowhere. Here endeth the road to truthiness.

Councilman Tom Phillips said he had hoped that the threat of the tests would “smoke out” whoever shared a confidential investigative report with the News & Record. It didn’t. Others suggested it would provide some sort of closure to this mole hill turned into Mount Mitchell. No such luck there, either.

What the council got for its trouble — and about $5,000 in taxpayer money — was a silly, ultimately counterproductive side trip into rumor, finger-pointing and denial.

The tests had been billed as a clear confirmation of the honesty of the council members who took them. Maybe. But polygraphs are hardly foolproof instruments and have been known to err both as measures of guilt and innocence.

Some council members said privately that they thought the tests were a bad idea from day one but feared the suspicions that saying so would have aroused.

Making all this vagueness even murkier are written statements this week by the lone council member who refused to take the test or sign an affidavit. In hand-printed answers to questions faxed to her by the News & Record, Dianne Bellamy-Small flatly denied she had anything to do with the leaked report. “I have never been the source of any leak,” she wrote.

Some of her colleagues obviously don’t believe that. Both Phillips and Mike Barber say Bellamy-Small leaked the report because she refused to take the polygraph exams or sign an affidavit affirming she hadn’t. Hinging it all on their word versus hers — which is to say, right where we started.

Barber also says he believes Bellamy-Small broke the law if she leaked the report, but this would be a flimsy case at best even if she did.

Meanwhile, the infinitely more important matter of the state of the Police Department still looms. Charges that black officers were targeted for surveillance during the tenure of former Chief David Wray are sounding more and more credible — and ominous. Add complaints filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission by three dozen black officers and recent revelations of secret tape recordings of black citizens, and an already bad picture worsens.

The city would be much better served if the council focused instead on those issues and their likely impact on the community’s confidence in the police and on race relations as a whole. This is a time for the council to set examples, not petty brush fires — and to come together, not pull apart.

And that’s the truth.

And in the 10-16 May issue of Yes! Weekly, staff writer Amy Kingsley reported in an article titled, “City Council Polygraph Tests Leave Questions Unanswered”:

Mayor Keith Holliday and seven other Greensboro City Council members lined up last week for polygraph tests designed to answer one question: Did they leak the Risk Management Associates report about police practices to the News & Record?

But one fundamental question is unlikely to be answered by the results of the tests. Can polygraphs determine who is lying and who is telling the truth?

Mayor Holliday announced May 5 that all eight council members passed the tests. One city council member, District 1 representative Dianne Bellamy-Small, declined to take the test on the grounds that the action was divisive.

Military and most civilian courts have ruled polygraph results to be inadmissible as evidence. However, the procedure is commonly used to screen applicants for law-enforcement and intelligence jobs.

“What the Greensboro City Council has done looks pretty foolish to me,” said George Maschke, founder of “The people of Greensboro shouldn’t put any weight on the outcome of these tests. It is not going to shed any new light on the situation.”

Maschke e-mailed the mayor and all the members of the city council after they voted to undergo polygraph examination urging them not to go through with the procedure. He and the co-founder of both failed pre-employment polygraphs for the FBI.

The most common polygraph exam is called a Control Question Test. The relevant questions pertain directly to the crime or incident at issue while control questions ask about a history of dishonest behavior.

In the Greensboro City Council’s case, a relevant question could be, “Did you leak the report to the News & Record”

The control set might include questions like, “Have you ever lied to get out of trouble?”

The machine measures physiological responses to such questions, including heart rate, respiration, perspiration and blood pressure. Practitioners theorize that innocent subjects will lie on control questions and answer the relevant questions truthfully. Innocent subjects will demonstrate stress reactions consistent with lying on control questions but not relevant ones, proponents argue.

“The data shows that they are quite reliable in some settings and not in others,” said Charles Honts, a psychology professor and polygraph proponent. “It works well with very specific issues like crimes.”

In specific situations, the polygraph has demonstrated accuracy rates between 80 and 90 percent. But Honts said any given test has a one in 10 chance of being wrong. Honts advocates making polygraphs admissible in court because their accuracy rates are higher than many other psychological evaluations commonly used as evidence.

Opponents of polygraph examinations question the results of studies that have shown high accuracy rates. The National Academy of Science found that polygraph testing lacks sufficient validity to be used as pre-employment screening in a 2003 paper.

In a hypothetical situation where the test was used, with an expected 80 percent accuracy, to find 10 spies out of 10,000 employees, the test did correctly identify eight of the spies. However, it also returned false positives for 1,598 employees. Two spies returned false negatives.

Drew Richardson, a former employee of the FBI’s Laboratory Division and Greensboro native, said the tests can be beaten with both mental and physical countermeasures.

“The way it’s typically done is to find ways to produce higher responses to control questions,” Richardson said.

Subjects can imagine a difficult math problem or bite the side of their mouth to produce the requisite physical reactions, he said. The questions are often reviewed in advance for examinees, making it easier for them to differentiate between control and relevant.

Honts disputed the effectiveness of countermeasures, saying that subjects must be trained by experts to beat a polygraph. About half the subjects in a laboratory setting can be taught countermeasures, but reading about it isn’t enough, he said.

Another one of Richardson’s concerns is that the test actually penalizes truthfulness. If a subject tells the truth on a control question designed to make them lie, they might register a false positive. It is a concern shared by Maschke.

“The problem about it is, suppose you make admissions,” Maschke said. “The more admissions a person makes and the more truthful they are, the more likely they are to fail.”

The National Academy of Science concluded that polygraphs detect deception in incident-specific scenarios well above chance but well below perfection. The city council members spent $5,000 of their travel budget on the exams.

Maschke said the city council in Irondale, Ala. used polygraphs to determine the source of a leak in 2003, but he heard the tests did not work. On the federal level, the CIA recently fired employee Mary McCarthy for allegedly leaking information about secret prisons in Eastern Europe to the Washington Post after she failed a polygraph.

“The biggest misconception is that a polygraph can detect lies,” Maschke said. “But nothing about what it measures has any clear connection to deception.”

To comment on this article, e-mail Amy Kingsley at

For more on the Irondale, Alabama polygraph dragnet, which was similarly abortive, see Irondale, AL Mayor Orders Polygraphs at City Hall on the message board.

Ethics Complaint Filed Against Polygrapher Edward I. Gelb of Los Angeles’s George Maschke has lodged a formal complaint against celebrity polygrapher Ed Gelb (a past president of the American Polygraph Association) with the Association’s Ethics & Grievance Committee for fraudulently passing himself off as a Ph.D. (Download letter of complaint.) To discuss this issue, see Ethics Complaint Against Edward I. Gelb on the message board.

Long Beach P.D. Chief Batts Backed Contract with Company Headed by Phony Ph.D. Ed Gelb

Chief of Police Anthony W. Batts wrote a letter to the Long Beach, California mayor and city council recommending approval of a $150,000 one-year contract with Intercept, Inc., the polygraph services company headed by phony Ph.D. Edward I. Gelb. The letter, dated 2 May 2006, the same day the council met to consider the item, and just over a week before the Long Beach P.D.‘s current arrangement with Intercept was set to expire, seems timed to forestall any serious consideration of alternatives to Intercept. Batts also notes that “Intercept has provided this service to the Police Department for several years under a purchase order.”

(Download Chief Batts’s Letter to the Long Beach City Council)

Lie Detector Producer Jon M. Crowley Responds to

On Friday, 5 May 2006, veteran newsman Kevin Broderick mentioned this blog’s article, Phony Ph.D. Ed Gelb Gets $150,000 Long Beach Contract in his influential LA Observed blog:

Lying in Long Beach: The website says the city of Long Beach has hired Intercept, Inc., a Los Angeles company “headed by celebrity polygrapher Ed Gelb, who fraudulently passes himself off as a Ph.D. Guests who appeared on Gelb’s television show, ‘Lie Detector,’ have reported to that the ‘tests’ he conducted lasted about 10 minutes from hello to goodbye, which is sub-standard even by the low standards of the polygraph community.”

Jon M. Crowley, who produced, wrote, and directed the Lie Detector television program featuring “Dr.” Ed Gelb, responds in his Hollywood Thoughts blog in a post titled, Lie Detector Expert Labeled a Liar:

Well, gang, I can tell you that as the supervising producer of “Lie Detector,” the folks at have their facts, as usual, all wrong.

In addition to being a morally upstanding individual, Ed Gelb never spent less than a TWO HOUR PERIOD with any polygraph subject. There are strict rules that all polygraph administrators must follow as established by a governing board of polygraph experts. Ed Gelb never did less than follow the ‘letter of the law’ of what is considered the highest standards of testing.

So why would Antipolygraph make such a posting? Who would make these spurious claims?

I offer a suggestion:

People found to be lying.

Why wouldn’t someone who appeared on the program — and revealed as a liar — want to continue the charade?

Additionally, I strongly suggest you research — via a google search — a brief background on the (disappointing) polygraph career of Antipolygraph’s moderator.

Sour grapes.

While has no direct knowledge of what went on during the polygraph sessions held for Crowley’s television show, the fact remains that we have heard from two different guests who appeared on the show that Gelb’s polygraph examinations lasted a total of about ten minutes. As for the assertion that “[t]here are strict rules that all polygraph administrators must follow as established by a governing board of polygraph experts,” it is Crowley who has his facts wrong. The polygraph trade is completely unregulated in the state of California. Anyone can purchase a polygraph instrument, hang out a shingle, and start giving polygraph “tests.” No license is required. There are no rules, no governing board of experts.

Lie Detector guest Bob Smitty reports that his request for a copy of Gelb’s polygraph report so that he could have it independently reviewed was not honored.

And for reasons he would know best, Crowley chooses not to address the central criticism that “Dr.” Ed Gelb obtained his “doctorate” from an unaccredited diploma mill. Instead, Crowley makes an ad hominem attack on co-founder George Maschke. You don’t need to use Google discover his background with the polygraph. See his public statement, “Too Hot of a Potato: A Citizen-Soldier’s Encounter with the Polygraph.” But it is not clear how any of this detracts from the overwhelming evidence that Ed Gelb is not a legitimate Ph.D.

Polygraph-Beating FBI Spy Leandro Aragoncillo Pleads Guilty

CNN reports that former vice-presidential aide and FBI intelligence analyst Leandro Aragoncillo has admitted to espionage in a plea agreement announced yesterday. Aragoncillo passed a pre-employment polygraph examination for the FBI that included a question about unauthorized disclosure of classified information. Aragoncillo is hardly the first spy to beat the polygraph. Others include:

  1. Ignatz Theodor Griebl
  2. Karel Frantisek Koecher
  3. Larry Wu-tai Chin
  4. Aldrich Hazen Ames
  5. Ana Belen Montes
  6. Jiri Pasovsky

For discussion of the Aragoncillo spy case, see FBI Spy Leandro Aragoncillo Passed Polygraph on the message board. The following is the full text of a U.S. Department of Justice press release on the Aragoncillo plea deal:

05-04-06 — Aragoncillo, Leandro — Guilty Plea — News Release

Former Marine and FBI Analyst Pleads Guilty to Espionage; Admits Transferring Classified Information to Assist in Overthrow of Philippines Government

NEWARK, N.J. – A former Marine who worked at times under two administrations in the Office of the Vice President of the United States pleaded guilty today to espionage and other charges, admitting that he took and transferred classified information, including national defense documents, to senior political and government officials of the Republic of the Philippines in an attempt to destabilize and overthrow that country’s government, U.S. Attorney Christopher J. Christie announced.

Leandro Aragoncillo, 47, admitted that he regularly transferred to his Philippine contacts national security documents classified as Secret, and that the information could be used to the injury of the United States or to the advantage of a foreign nation. He also admitted traveling to the Philippines in January 2001 to meet his co-conspirators, including during a visit to the Malacanang Palace, the official residence of the president of the Philippines.

Aragoncillo also admitted that some of the classified information he removed from of the Office of the Vice President (OVP) between approximately October 2000 and February 2002 included information marked Top Secret that related to terrorist threats to United States government interests in the Republic of the Philippines (ROP).

Aragoncillo, a naturalized U.S. citizen born in the Philippines and most recently of Woodbury, N.J., was an FBI intelligence analyst at Fort Monmouth, N.J. at the time of his arrest on Sept. 10, 2005. He admitted today that his espionage activity continued during his time as an FBI analyst.

Continue reading Polygraph-Beating FBI Spy Leandro Aragoncillo Pleads Guilty

Phony Ph.D. Ed Gelb Gets $150,000 Long Beach Contract

The Long Beach, California Press-Telegram reports that the city council has voted to spend $150,000 for polygraph services from Intercept, Inc., a Los Angeles-based company headed by celebrity polygrapher Ed Gelb, who fraudulently passes himself off as a Ph.D. Guests who appeared on Gelb’s television show, Lie Detector, have reported to that the “tests” he conducted lasted about 10 minutes from hello to goodbye, which is sub-standard even by the low standards of the polygraph community.

Polygraph tests

The City Council on Tuesday approved a $150,000 contract with Intercept Inc. to provide pre-employment polygraph tests for Police Department job candidates.

The contract is a one-year deal with an option for two one-year extensions.

The polygraph is part of the background investigation process for potential police employees. The polygraph machine, or “lie detector,” consists of several sensors that measure pulse, breathing rate and blood pressure.

“They ask questions related to drug use, conviction history, financial history… that kind of stuff,” Commander Greg Allison said.

The interview can take anywhere from two to four hours, depending on the applicant, he said.

“If they’re showing deception, it will take an additional interview,” Allison said.

Polygraph Exams Continue in Greensboro

Greensboro, North Carolina News & Record staff writer Eric Swensen provides an update on the polygraphing of the city council and mayor. Some of those polygraphed aren’t saying how they fared on the box. Excerpt:

GREENSBORO — Exam week will come to an end today with polygraph tests of three more City Council members. But what’s unclear is when results will be made public and what impact they might have.

Eight of the council’s nine members voted last month to submit to lie-detector tests to publicly state their innocence in the leak of a police department investigative report to the News & Record. But only Sandy Carmany, Florence Gatten and Sandra Anderson Groat have divulged an outcome: They said they passed but wouldn’t provide any other details.

The city’s top elected official, Mayor Keith Holliday, was tested Wednesday and would not say how he fared. Tom Phillips responded similarly Tuesday.

Some council members said Wednesday there had been no discussion about how to release the polygraph results in part because they’re busy with other issues.

“The only people really going crazy over the polygraphs are the media,” Carmany said, adding that she’s frustrated the media has downplayed other council business in favor of polygraph coverage.

Holliday and Carmany said the reasons for the council not coordinating the release of results also include time spent on other issues, including a department-by-department review of city spending and discussion of a likely November bond referendum.

News & Record reader Chuck Mann voices his approval of the ongoing polygraph sessions, suggesting some additional questions for the city council:

A question for council

I think it is great that the Greensboro City Council has voted in favor of voluntarily taking lie detector tests. Since the council works for the people of Greensboro, shouldn’t we have the right to submit questions that they can be asked?

I think they should be asked if they have done anything unethical or illegal since they have been elected to office. I assume that most of them would not refuse to answer that question, unless they have something to hide.

Chuck Mann

2nd Circuit Approves Post-Release Use of Polygraph

Mike Hamblett writes for the New York Law Journal in an article carried by

2nd Circuit Approves Post-Release Use of Polygraph

Mark Hamblett
New York Law Journal
Polygraph examinations for defendants being monitored by probation officials can be used to determine compliance with the terms of their supervised release, the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled.

Deciding the issue for the first time, the circuit said a polygraph meets the test for federal sentencing policy — that the “conditions of supervised release impose no greater restraint than reasonably necessary to promote sentencing goals.”

In United States v. Johnson, 04-4992, the court also found that the use of a polygraph on a convicted sex offender does not violate the Fifth Amendment right against self-discrimination.

Judges Dennis Jacobs, Jose Cabranes and Robert Sack ruled for the circuit, with Judge Jacobs writing for the panel.

The appeal was filed by Jeffrey A. Johnson, a convicted sex offender who was challenging the terms of his supervised release imposed by Northern District of New York Judge Thomas McAvoy.

Continue reading 2nd Circuit Approves Post-Release Use of Polygraph

Polygraphing of Greensboro City Council Begins

Greensboro, North Carolina News & Record staff writer Eric Swensen reports on the first day of polygraph “testing” of the city council:

Polygraphs off to unusual start

By Eric Swensen
Staff Writer

GREENSBORO — One council member says she passed, one wouldn’t say how he fared, and the mayor blamed the newspaper as the City Council began taking polygraph exams regarding the leak of an investigative report to the News & Record.

The council members who agreed to take the tests have said their intent has been to make a public statement about their innocence in the leak of the police department report. One member also said the tests would help restore the city manager’s trust in the council.

But the day got off to an inauspicious start. Media covering the proceedings were told the test site had been changed but weren’t told where. The exams eventually ended up where they started — in the executive offices at the Melvin Municipal Office Building.

Continue reading Polygraphing of Greensboro City Council Begins