Steven Williams, a 30-year-old U.S. Air Force staff sergeant stationed at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base in North Carolina, has confessed to killing his ex-wife, Tricia Todd, on the night of 26 April 2016. Williams reportedly dismembered Todd with a chain saw and buried her body parts in an acid-filled container in a pre-dug grave in a Florida nature preserve.
Despite having committed a premeditated murder, on or about 3 May 2016, Williams passed a polygraph “test” about his ex-wife’s disappearance. As Huffington Post senior crime reporter David Lohr noted on 5 May:
A search of Williams’ car showed nothing unusual, authorities said, and he passed a polygraph examination.
“He did voluntarily submit to a polygraph exam,” [Martin County, Florida Sheriff William] Snyder said. “Nothing in Mr. Williams’s lengthy interview — and it was a long, detailed interview — nor his polygraph exam indicated that he was involved or had any additional information about Tricia Todd’s disappearance.”
Snyder added that “at this point, there is no focus that needs to be on the former husband.”
It would appear that Williams’ passing the polygraph helped to misdirect investigators, at least temporarily. Williams ultimately confessed to killing Todd and agreed to lead investigators to her remains as part of a plea arrangement which will see him incarcerated for 35 years.
Steven Williams’ fooling the polygraph after committing such a monstrous act calls to mind the case of “Woodchipper Killer” Richard Crafts, who passed a polygraph “test” despite having killed his wife, Helle Crafts, dismembered her body with a chainsaw, and ground up the parts with a commercial woodchipper.
It would be a mistake to rationalize away these failures of the polygraph to detect deception by saying, “well of course they passed, they were psychopaths who felt no remorse for their actions.” The fact of the matter is that there is little evidence regarding whether psychopaths have any special advantage when it comes to beating polygraph “tests.” The important thing to understand is that polygraphy has no scientific basis whatsoever.
Polygraph methods were devised by interrogators who had little understanding of the scientific method1, and anyone can fool the polygraph using simple countermeasures that polygraph operators cannot detect. Polygraph countermeasure techniques are documented in Chapter 4 of AntiPolygraph.org’s free book, The Lie Behind the Lie Detector (PDF).
In an address to members of the Federalist Society at the South Texas College of Law that was posted to YouTube on 15 April 2016, Department of Defense (and probable NSA) polygraph operator Brian R. Morris mentioned that in the aftermath of NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden’s revelations, the Department of Defense tripled the number of polygraph screening examinations that it conducts annually. At 3:45 Morris begins speaking about polygraph screening and notes:
I got the number of internal exams that the DoD ran whether they’re applicants or current employees trying to maintain their security clearance, from May 2010 to April 2011, over 43,000 internal exams. That’s pre-Edward Snowden. Post-Edward Snowden, that number’s tripled….
This would indicate that the various DoD agencies with polygraph programs are currently conducting more than 129,000 polygraph examinations per year, a remarkably high number. It should be noted that as an NSA contractor, Edward Snowden was subject to polygraph screening and reportedly underwent two polygraph examinations in connection with that employment.
Morris also spoke about polygraph countermeasures in response to a question by an audience member at 35:35. Morris concedes that mental countermeasures to the polygraph (such as are outlined in AntiPolygraph.org’s free book, The Lie Behind the Lie Detector), are a “tough thing.” Morris mentioned AntiPolygraph.org directly and falsely implied that its co-founder, George Maschke, is living in The Netherlands to avoid criminal prosecution in the United States. (Maschke attended and reported on the trial of Doug Williams that Morris mentions.)
Woman: Can you beat the box?
Morris: Can you beat it? Could I? Or could anyone?
Woman: You talked about countermeasures. What do you have in mind for countermeasures. What does that term mean?
Morris: All right. Well, countermeasures is something that somebody is attempting to do to get a false negative, all right? And a false negative means they pass your test without being completely truthful. Now traditionally — I talked about Polygraph.org being a good website? If you go to AntiPolygraph.org [laughter] that’s a site run by George Maschke who’s a former…I think it was FBI or CIA applicant who failed multiple polygraph exams, did not get chosen based on the results of the polygraph exams, so he kind of made it his life’s mission to try to help people to [using air quotes] cheat on the polygraph, to be able to successfully get through. Now if you go look at where he is located, he is living in the Netherlands, because at this point, if you actually try and help somebody to cheat on a polygraph exam — Doug Williams, go Google Doug Williams — incarcerated. Former polygraph examiner who was helping people try to cheat on the exam, was getting paid to do it, and they prosecuted him, I think it was for perpetrating a fraud on the government in terms of trying to help people do that.
But the traditional way, I’m sure you’ve seen like, I don’t know, Ocean’s Eleven or Twelve, like put a tack in your shoe and step on it, wear rubber underwear, do an anal sphincter squeeze, you know these physical things, and that’s the whole point of this pad [holds up piezoelectric sensor pad] which has been, oh, about the last 10 or fifteen years, is that — make sure people are sitting still and not moving on the test.
Now the tough thing is, is when we deal with mental countermeasures. Somebody’s not physically moving, but they are trying to simulate things that would cause fear in them and generate a response. And if you imagine standing on the edge of the Grand Canyon with your back to it and closing your eyes, and just tipping of the back and falling, or that — being right at the top of a roller coaster just as it’s about to go over the edge, you can generate some massive electrodermal responses.
The problem is, unless you’ve got someone who can train you to say, “That’s a reasonable response” — I mean, if I’ve got this all right here [pointing to polygraph chart on screen], and I’m looking about, you know, this much is [inaudible] and all of a sudden I’ve got [inaudible] of my screen there, that response is too good to be true. It’s not a legitimate response. And so, while mental countermeasures are something we certainly pay attention to, somebody would have to be extremely sophisticated. And the other thing is that if somebody does countermeasures and they successfully get through, nobody’s going to tell you about that. They’re not going to go “Whoo! I lied and I beatcha!” “Thanks, you’re done!” [laughter] You know, that’s not gonna happen.
Morris suggests that mental countermeasures can be detected if a reaction is “too good to be true.” However, the polygraph literature is bereft of any evidence that any polygraph operator can detect mental countermeasures (or physical ones such as tongue biting). Extensive countermeasure training materials and federal case files leaked to AntiPolygraph.org show that polygraph operators have no reliable methodology for detecting the kinds of polygraph countermeasures outlined in The Lie Behind the Lie Detector or in Doug Williams’ manual, “How to Sting the Polygraph.”
Morris’s presentation may be viewed in its entirety below:
The following is a guest post from Doug Williams, who writes from the federal prison camp at Florence, Colorado. Williams, who for decades had taught people how to pass or beat polygraph “tests” without incident (and whose website, Polygraph.com, remains online), was targeted for entrapment in a federal criminal investigation dubbed Operation Lie Busters. On 21 February 2013, federal agents searched Williams’ home and office, seizing business records. Williams was later indicted on two counts of mail fraud and three counts of witness tampering, and pled guilty during a trial held in May 2015. On 30 October 2015, Williams began serving a two-year prison sentence. The only crimes of which Williams was convicted are those that federal agents conceived and stage managed.
It is now very obvious that my book From Cop to Crusader: The Story of My Fight Against the Dangerous Myth of Lie Detection has been distributed to just about every polygraph operator on the face of the earth. And while it is true that I have still not achieved my goal of destroying the dangerous myth of lie detection, I have most certainly succeeded in infuriating those who administer these so-called lie detector tests. Polygraph operators know they are perpetrating a massive fraud, and they know that they cannot detect deception by simply measuring changes in a person’s breathing, pulse rate, and sweat activity on the hand – in fact the whole idea that a polygraph is a “lie detector” has been debunked and all the scientific evidence proves it is no more accurate than the toss of a coin – but still the myth persists. And the polygraph industry has grown into a four billion dollar a year enterprise so they will do whatever it takes to keep this very lucrative con game going. Polygraph operators know they can’t win a debate with me about the validity of the polygraph as a lie detector – many have tried and all have failed. And they know they can’t present any valid reason for their continued use of the polygraph as a lie detector. They know that I have proved the polygraph industry is just an evil scam, so in an attempt to keep the myth of lie detection intact, they realized they had to destroy me – or I would certainly destroy them.
So, one man came forward with a desperate plan designed to finally try to stop me for good. This man’s name is John R. Schwartz, and his plan was called Operation Lie Busters. Schwartz was the head of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Agency’s Internal Affairs Credibility Assessment Division (the polygraph section). He spent literally years working with his subordinate polygraph operator, Fred Ball, devising the scheme (Operation Lie Busters) to set me up on manufactured charges and throw me in prison. Schwartz’s and Ball’s insidious plan was a desperate attempt to stop me from “protesting against the polygraph” and stop me from giving personal training (practice polygraph tests) which is, in essence, just allowing people to understand how the polygraph works and teaching them how to overcome their nervousness and learn how to prove their truthfulness by producing a perfect “truthful” chart – they knew they had to stop me because I was going to destroy the myth of “lie detection” and put them out of business.
According to newspaper reports about Operation Lie Busters, Schwartz is quoted as saying those who “protest the loudest and the longest against polygraph testing are the ones we need to focus our attention on.” And in this same speech Schwartz acknowledged that teaching the techniques (techniques found in my manual How to Sting the Polygraph) known in polygraph circles as “countermeasures” isn’t always illegal and might be protected under the First Amendment in some situations. “I’m teaching countermeasures right now. The polygraph schools are supposed to be teaching about countermeasures,” he said. “So teaching about countermeasures in and of itself is not only not illegal, it’s protected. You have a right to free speech in this country. But (Doug Williams) may be prosecuted if he knows that the people he is teaching plan to lie about crimes during federal polygraphs.”
This marks the very first time that a polygraph operator has admitted that is is possible for me to train a person to pass the polygraph test regardless of whether or not they were telling the truth or lying. This is a very important admission because if it is true that I can indeed do that, that is prima facie evidence that the polygraph is absolutely worthless as a lie detector. Schwartz admitted that I can do this by the statement that he made in that same speech. He said, “It makes more sense to me to try to investigate the party (Doug Williams) that’s doing the training because when you do that, you eliminate dozens or hundreds or thousands of people…from getting that training.” So not only does Schwartz admit that I can indeed train a person to always pass the polygraph test but he shows his fear that this has been happening in thousands of cases.
So, there is no doubt that I am the one who has protested the loudest and the longest against polygraph testing. But when did protesting the fraud and abuse of an out of control government agency become a felony crime? Why did the Department of Justice decide to go along with Schwartz and indict, prosecute, and imprison me for daring to speak out against the abuse cause by the use of the insidious Orwellian instrument of torture commonly referred to as the “lie detector?” Their motives are very clearly stated and there is no doubt that that is what the prosecution was all about – they went after me simply because I was protesting (and exposing) the waste, fraud and abuse that is rampant in the polygraph industry.
Yes, John R Schwartz freely admitted to – and even bragged about – using the criminal justice system to go after me, to silence me, and destroy me because I was exposing him and his cohorts as frauds and con men, and pointing out the fact that they have ruined the lives of many people by falsely accusing them of deception. But the real question those in authority who rely on the polygraph should be asking is: Why is the polygraph industry so afraid of me? Why did they mount a massive attack on me for speaking out against them? I’ll tell you why – because I am telling the truth about their evil scam and they know they cannot withstand even a cursory examination of their procedures. Why? Because I am right and they are wrong! That reminds me of an old saying, “It is dangerous to be right when the government is wrong.”
It is frightening when you consider the fact that at the urging of one vindictive government polygraph operator, the Department of Justice, Homeland Security, the CBP, the FBI, and many other government agencies would form a task force and raid my office – that they would hold me against my will for hours, terrorize my wife and me, search my office and my home, and seize all of my computers, my polygraph instruments and every scrap of information that was of any interest to them. All this because I was protesting their fraudulent and abusive use of the polygraph as a “lie detector.” Schwartz and his fellow polygraph con men knew they could not prove their polygraph was accurate and reliable – and they knew that I would continue to expose their fraud. So they conceived of Operation Lie Busters as a way to not only get their revenge and punish me but to try to stop me from doing what I had been doing for almost forty years.
Basically, Operation Lie Busters consisted of sending two undercover agents in to pose as people wanting to learn how to pass their polygraph tests. They knew exactly how to entrap me in their scheme – they used the two things that are the hallmark of their profession – trickery and deceit. They set me up and unfortunately for me, I fell into their trap. They knew I had spent decades helping people pass the polygraph test – because I knew that just telling the truth only worked about half the time. So the agents started off by saying they were telling the truth and were just frightened about taking the test. The undercover agents were just following a carefully devised script, and they knew exactly how to approach me so that I would fall into their trap.
They got me to agree to train them under false pretenses – telling me that they were just afraid they would be falsely accused of doing something wrong or that what they told the polygraph examiner would get them in trouble with the job they had – then when they got to me, they changed their story and started making outrageous statements about crimes they had committed.
I’ll admit I was confused and did not handle the situation correctly, but I swear I had no criminal intent. I reasoned that if a person could not refuse to take the polygraph test without suffering consequences as a result of that refusal, they should at least be able to protect their rights under the Fifth Amendment and not be forced to give evidence against themselves – even if that “evidence” was a reaction on the polygraph chart. But it is important to note that this was a completely fabricated, manufactured crime – they had to manufacture a crime because they had no evidence of a real crime. The undercover agents were lying about lying – they never even took a polygraph test, and even the pre-sentence report by the probation officer said very clearly that “there are no victims of this crime” – it was all just pretend. I have often said that since this was just a pretend crime, I should just pretend to go to prison.
More evidence that there was never any real crime committed is in the fact that federal agents seized the records of almost 5,000 people who had either received my personal training or my manual and DVD. They interviewed most, if not all, of them. The agents told them: “We’re not after you, we are after Doug Williams.” They asked them over and over again if I ever told them to lie or if they ever told me they were going to lie, and if so, would they testify against me in court. Not one of those 5,000 people ever said that I told them to lie or that they told me they were going to lie.
So, after over three years of investigating me, the government still had no evidence that I had ever committed any real crime or even said or done anything that they could twist into a crime – so they had to manufacture a crime with which to charge me. It should also be noted that my attorney asked the U.S. Attorney in Oklahoma why he was not prosecuting my case, and why the Justice Department was sending attorneys from the Public Integrity section out of Washington DC instead. He simply said, “We looked at the case and we didn’t want anything to do with it.”
Also, the charges listed on the search warrant were different than the charges they indicted me on. They obviously had a real problem finding some statute or some phrase in some statute that they could twist into something with which to charge me. The statutes they used were certainly not used in the manner in which they were intended by the lawmakers. More details about Operation Lie Busters can be found in my book From Cop to Crusader in the chapter entitled “Big Brother Is Here, and He Is Really Pissed Off.”
God knows my motives – I have spent forty years trying to help people get past the most traumatic experience most of them will ever endure. All I ever did was try to help people avoid being falsely accused of deception. Polygraph operators routinely call people liars simply because they had a nervous reaction on the wrong question – and I was only trying to avoid what the polygraph operators euphemistically refer to as “false positives.” I had demonstrated the terrible problem with false positives on CBS 60 Minutes thirty years ago. In that investigative expose of the abusive nature of polygraph testing, three out of three different polygraph operators called three different people liars on a crime that never even happened. Go to the media of www.polygraph.com to see that program – and other media clips which prove my statement that the polygraph, when used as a “lie detector,” is nothing but a sick joke.
As a matter of fact the problem with “false positives” is worse than it has ever been. The government’s own records indicate that two thirds of all applicants for federal positions requiring pre-employment polygraph exams are accused of deception and denied employment. That is entirely unacceptable – especially when you consider that those figures represent tens of thousands of people who have had their lives ruined and their careers destroyed by the thugs running this evil polygraph scam!
I hate the polygraph industry because they are perpetrating an evil fraud that has destroyed the lives of literally millions of people during the one hundred year history of the scam of “lie detection.” It is the longest running con game in the history of this country and it must be exposed and stopped! And, of course, the polygraph industry hates me because for forty years I have been actively exposing the waste, fraud and abuse that is rampant in this evil industry.
Now, let’s explore the motives of the government polygraph operators who were behind Operation Lie Busters. Their motivation is no secret. Customs and Border Protection polygraph chief John R Schwartz clearly stated what their motives were. He said that “those who protest the loudest and the longest against polygraph testing are the ones what we need to focus our attention on.” And he was desperately trying to stop people from getting the training that I had been providing. Training that they had always claimed was ineffective. Prior to this, everyone in the polygraph industry had staunchly maintained that it was impossible for me to train a person to pass the polygraph test – and further that they could easily detect any attempt to do so by using my technique.
So, now I’m in prison for doing something that all the polygraph operators have heretofore said was impossible to do – and that is to teach a person to “beat” the polygraph. So, the basis of the charges against me is that I taught people to “beat” the polygraph – but let me reiterate, if I can indeed teach a person to “beat” the test, that is prima facie evidence that the polygraph is absolutely worthless as a lie detector.
So, you can attribute to me whatever motive you like – but the fact remains that this is the first time the polygraph industry has admitted that a person can be taught to “beat” the polygraph. And by making that admission, they also admit that they have been lying all these years about their ability to detect when a person is using these so-called “countermeasures” – and more importantly that they have been lying about the accuracy and validity of the polygraph as a “lie detector.”
So let me ask you, who is more patriotic? The government polygraph operators who insist that we should trust our national security and the integrity of our criminal justice system to the polygraph – or me, who warns that it is foolish and dangerous to put our trust and confidence in an instrument that has been proven to be unreliable? Who is telling the truth? The polygraph operators who falsely claim to be able to detect deception with the polygraph and claim it is accurate 98% of the time – or me, who has proved the polygraph only detects nervousness and that nervousness has no systematic correlation to deception – and further who has proved that it can be beaten rather easily? Think about it!
In the private sector, it is a violation of federal law to even ask a person to submit to a polygraph test. But in the government, the polygraph is considered to be an “official process” – and I am serving time in a federal prison for teaching people how to “beat” it. Think about that! Does that make any kind of sense? Polygraph testing is outlawed in the private sector because it is no more accurate than the toss of a coin. The courts do not allow it to be used as evidence for the same reason. Yet when the government uses it to screen applicants and employees and to determine the truth in criminal and internal investigations, the polygraph test somehow magically transforms from a test, the administering of which is a federal crime in the private sector, into an “official process” that is deemed to be 98% accurate and reliable. What a crock of shit!
I appeal to those in positions of power in the government to take note of what my prosecution actually means. By prosecuting me for teaching people how to “beat” the polygraph, polygraph operators have admitted that the polygraph is absolutely worthless as a lie detector. So, please tell me – why in hell do you still rely on it? Wake up! You are the victims of the polygraph operator’s fraud. Stop the madness! Stop relying on this fraudulent polygraph procedure!
It is foolish and dangerous to continue to trust our national security and the integrity of the criminal justice system to what amounts to an outrageous – and criminal – scam. In fact it is criminally negligent of you who are in positions of power to continue to use and rely on the results of the polygraph “examination.” There is no excuse for you to be deliberately ignorant about the waste fraud and abuse which is rampant in the polygraph industry.
I also appeal to our elected officials. Stop this insane waste of government resources on something that is a proven fraud. Educate yourselves! Go to www.polygraph.com – read the articles I have posted there, read my manual, my book, watch my DVD and watch the media clips – educate yourselves!
In September 2014, retired Defense Intelligence Agency counterintelligence agent Scott W. Carmichael accused Donald Krapohl, then the number two official at the National Center for Credibility Assessment (NCCA, the federal government’s polygraph school), of violating the Espionage Act by indirectly making classified information about the U.S. government’s methodology for polygraph countermeasure detection available to the government of Singapore. Carmichael alleged that the classified information was contained in a document published under the name of retired FBI Special Agent Robert Drdak that was in fact plagiarized from a 2003 NCCA paper authored by Dan Weatherman and the late Paul Menges1.
AntiPolygraph.org has obtained a copy of the document in question (14 MB PDF), which is currently distributed to purchasers of the Lafayette Instrument Company’s polygraph software. Although the document purports to be copyrighted, if, as Scott Carmichael credibly asserts, the document is in fact plagiarized from an NCCA paper, any copyright claim is without foundation.
The allegedly NCCA-derived document further confirms that the polygraph community has no coherent methodology for detecting sophisticated polygraph countermeasures such as those outlined in Chapter 4 of AntiPolygraph.org’s free book, The Lie Behind the Lie Detector or in Doug Williams’ manual, How to Sting the Polygraph.
It should be noted that the countermeasure “detection” criteria outlined in the allegedly NCCA-derived document are so vague and ambiguous that any polygraph operator reviewing a recorded polygraph examination might find “indications of countermeasures,” if desired:
There are verbal and non-verbal cues commonly observed in examinees who prove to be deceptive. The examiner should be observant during the entire testing process for these non-chart related markers of deception:
The examinee made an attempt(s) to avoid taking the polygraph examination
The examinee was late arriving for the examination without a legitimate excuse
The examinee tries to limit the length of the polygraph session
The examinee expresses distrust or non-belief in polygraph
The examinee tries to dominate the conversation and talks incessantly
The examinee complains of some physical ailment or medical condition prior to being asked about his health and physical condition
The examinee is quick to volunteer information regarding medications and then asks “will that effect the test”
The examinee tries to oversell his honesty / truthfulness / character / reputation, etc.
The examinee gives excuses why he might fail the examination
The examinee’s story is absurd, illogical or in direct conflict with case facts
The examinee provides little details regarding critical parts of his story
The examinee uses memory qualifiers to excess when answering questions
The examinee answers relevant questions with half-truths
The examinee minimizes the seriousness of the allegation / crime
The examinee blames the person making the allegations or victim and provides reasons why he has been wrongfully accused
The examinee avoids answering direct questions about the relevant issues with “yes” or “no” and provides evasive answers to those questions
The examinee answers with a question
The examinee tries to buy thinking time before answering relevant questions
The examinee uses defensive statements when asked a direct question
The examinee exhibits excessive physical indicators of unconscious stress relief such as yawning, stretching, knuckle cracking, throat clearing, sniffling, burping, etc.
The examinee is “overly” anything
The examinee deviates from his norm at critical times
The examinee exhibits clusters of non-verbal cues
The examinee makes small admissions designed to cloud the relevant issue
The examinee exhibits an unusual interest or knowledge about polygraph
How Orwellian that any expression of distrust or non-belief in polygraphy may be interpreted as an indication of countermeasure use (and thus result in permanent blacklisting). That polygraphy is without scientific basis is well-established and not controversial among educated persons.
AntiPolygraph.org has also received and is making public the U.S. Air Force Office of Special Investigations Polygraph Countermeasure Handbook (3.2 MB PDF). This document, authored by the late AFOSI polygraph examiner Larry Victor Streepy (1933-2007), appears to have been authored in the mid-1980s and is the most candid governmental assessment of polygraph countermeasures that AntiPolygraph.org has yet reviewed. Streepy acknowledges (at pp. 2-3):
Examiners should not become complacent by holding to the idea that all countermeasures will be readily distinguishable. They should, instead, recognize that it may be difficult to identify countermeasures use…
AntiPolygraph.org welcomes both commentary and submission of relevant documents. Information on how to contact us securely is available here.
In 2002, Menges argued in a paper published in the American Polygraph Association’s quarterly publication, Polygraph, (then edited by Donald Krapohl) that it is unethical to make information about polygraph countermeasures available to the public and suggested that it should be made illegal. See AntiPolygraph.org co-founder George Maschke’s public response to Menges’ piece. [↩]
A week before he is to begin serving a two year federal prison sentence, Doug Williams, the founder of Polygraph.com, has made a final appeal to the U.S. government to end its misplaced reliance on the pseudoscience of polygraphy. Williams, a former police polygraphist who offered training and instructional materials on how to pass a polygraph “test,” was targeted for entrapment in a sting operation dubbed Operation Lie Busters conceived by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection polygraph unit.
Williams, himself a former police polygraph examiner, has been a vocal critic of polygraphy for some 35 years and is the author of How to Sting the Polygraph, a manual that explains the trickery on which polygraph “testing” relies and offers strategies for passing. Williams had no criminal record when federal polygraph examiners set out to engineer a crime for which to prosecute him. Explaining the effort to entrap Williams in 2013, John R. Schwartz, who heads the U.S. Customs and Border Protection polygraph unit, told fellow law enforcement polygraphers that he thought that those who “protest the loudest and the longest” against polygraph testing “are the ones that I believe we need to focus our attention on.”
In May 2015, Williams pled guilty to five felony counts. He awaits sentencing.
A few points in the article merit special note. Sterbenz writes:
Most jurisdictions, including the government, have also forgone the use of probable-lie comparison, Nelson said, and now rely on “directed lie comparison,” which doesn’t require any manipulation when asking control questions.
It is AntiPolygraph.org’s understanding that the probable-lie control question test remains the primary technique relied upon by federal, state, and local governmental agencies in the United States. It is true that the U.S. Departments of Defense and Energy have adopted the directed-lie Test for Espionage and Sabotage, but to the best of our knowledge, these agencies are outliers, and the CIA and NSA continue to rely on the Relevant/Irrelevant technique while federal law enforcement agencies rely on the probable-lie CQT as embodied in the Law Enforcement Pre-Employment Test. Moreover, even the directed-lie technique entails numerous instances of examiner deception of the examinee, as explained by retired FBI polygraph expert Dr. Drew Richardson more than a decade ago.
“It’s less scientifically, ethically, legally, and socially complicated,” Nelson said.
The directed-lie technique is arguably less ethically complicated than the probable-lie technique, but it has no stronger scientific or legal basis. It’s still pseudoscience.
In 2002, the National Academy of Sciences published one of the most comprehensive studies of polygraph accuracy, concluding that while the tests could “differentiate lying from telling the truth at rates well above chance,” they weren’t accurate enough for security purposes.
Regrettably, Sterbenz’s citation of the National Academy of Sciences’ report omits crucial caveats. What the NAS report actually states, at p. 214, is:
Notwithstanding the quality of the empirical research and the limited ability to generalize to real-world settings, we conclude that in populationsof examinees such as those represented in the polygraph research literature, untrained in countermeasures, specific-incidentpolygraph tests for event-specific investigations can discriminate lying from truth telling at rates well above chance, though well below perfection.
Accuracy may be highly variable across situations. The evidence does not allow any precise quantitative estimate of polygraph accuracy or provide confidence that accuracy is stable across personality types, sociodemographic groups, psychological and medical conditions, examiner and examinee expectancies, or ways of administering the test and selecting questions. In particular, the evidence does not provide confidence that polygraph accuracy is robust against potential countermeasures. There is essentially no evidence on the incremental validity of polygraph testing, that is, its ability to add predictive value to that which can be achieved by other methods.
Some in the polygraph community have attempted to hang their hat on the first sentence of the above citation to support the claim that polygraphy “works.” But note that the Committee’s conclusion that “specific-incident polygraph tests for event-specific investigations can discriminate lying from truth telling at rates well above chance” is conditioned upon the subject population being similar to “those represented in the research literature,” that is, ignorant of polygraph procedure and countermeasures. Such ignorance cannot be safely assumed, especially with information on both polygraph procedure and countermeasures readily available via the Internet.
It follows from the Committee’s conclusion that “the evidence does not allow any precise quantitative estimate of polygraph accuracy” that software algorithms peddled by polygraph manufacturers such as Axciton and Stoelting that purport to determine with mathematical precision the probability that a particular individual is lying or telling the truth are unreliable. And because, as the Committee concludes, “the evidence does not provide confidence that polygraph accuracy is robust against potential countermeasures,” it is not safe to assume that anyone passing a polygraph “test” has told the truth.
The last sentence of the above-cited passage is the key one with respect to polygraph validity (as opposed to accuracy): “There is essentially no evidence on the incremental validity of polygraph testing, that is, its ability to add predictive value to that which can be achieved by other methods.” What this means is that there is no evidence that polygraph “testing” provides greater predictive value than, say, interrogating a subject without the use of a polygraph, or with a colander-wired-to-a-photocopier that is represented to the subject as being a lie detector.
Indeed, in the first chapter of their report, in a subsection titled, “The Lie Detection Mystique” (pp. 18–21), the Committee members compare polygraphy with superstitious lie detection rituals in primitive societies, likening the polygraph community to a shamanistic priesthood “keeping its secrets in order to keep its power.”
A discussion thread regarding this article has been opened on the AntiPolygraph.org message board.
The less click-baity title suggested by the article URL, “How to pass a polygraph test,” would have been more appropriate. There are numerous things that anyone hoping to pass a polygraph “test” should know. [↩]
In a memo nominating his friend and colleague Special Agent Fred C. Ball for a polygraph association award, U.S. Customs and Border Protection polygraph unit chief John R. Schwartz claimed that “[Operation Lie Busters] revealed that sophisticated countermeasures can be routinely identified when all best practices are employed, including proper training of examiners and stringent Quality Control.” Operation Lie Busters is a criminal investigation initiated by the CBP polygraph unit that sought to entrap individuals offering instruction to the public on how to pass or beat a polygraph test.
Case files (104 MB ZIP archive) leaked to AntiPolygraph.org1 contradict Schwartz’s sophisticated countermeasure detection claim. AntiPolygraph.org’s review of the representative sample comprising 65 CBP “confirmed countermeasure cases” from August 2013 to January 2014, that is, the period leading up to Schwartz’s January 2014 memorandum, reveals that not a single case involved sophisticated countermeasures such as those delineated in AntiPolygraph.org’s free book, The Lie Behind the Lie Detector (1 MB PDF) or in Doug Williams’ manual, How to Sting the Polygraph.
On the contrary, in each of the 65 confirmed countermeasure cases, the examinee admitted to or engaged in activity indicating that he or she lacked a sophisticated grasp of polygraph procedure, such as dissociation, moving arms, legs, or hands, taking deep breaths, or targeting irrelevant questions. In one particularly egregious case (13-11886), an applicant who stated that he “thought of a ‘positive image’ such as his daughter’s face after answering questions and while awaiting the next question” was chalked up as a “confirmed countermeasure case” (and presumably barred from CBP employment).
The evidence of these case files is entirely consistent with the statement in a 2010 polygraph community training presentation that the notion that polygraph countermeasures are easy to detect and ineffective against an experienced examiner is fiction, and that it is a fact that “[i]t is easy to make realistic reactions” and that “[i]t is difficult to detect [countermeasures] when skillfully applied by trained subjects”:
Among the 65 CBP “confirmed countermeasure” cases, not one can credibly be described as having been skillfully applied by a trained subject. Eighteen previously published Defense Intelligence Agency confirmed countermeasure cases similarly suggest that DIA has no ability to detect sophisticated polygraph countermeasures. Because CBP and DIA, like all federal agencies with polygraph programs, use methodologies taught by the National Center for Credibility Assessment (the federal polygraph school), it is unlikely that any other federal agency is any more capable of countermeasure detection.
There is no evidence that Operation Lie Busters has resulted in any increased ability to detect polygraph countermeasures. Indeed, if sophisticated countermeasures could be routinely identified, there would have been no need for federal investigators to construct and circulate a polygraph watch list based on customer records seized from Doug Williams and Chad Dixon, an Indiana electrician also targeted in the investigation. Indeed, there would have been no perceived need for Operation Lie Busters at all.
The federal government’s inability to detect sophisticated countermeasures helps to explain its decision to target Williams, a former police polygraph examiner who has been teaching individuals how to pass or beat the polygraph since 1979, for entrapment and prosecution. Jury selection in his trial is scheduled to begin on Wednesday, 6 Tuesday, 12 May 2015.
Instead of seeking to suppress the public’s knowledge and understanding of polygraph procedure and countermeasures, and to imprison those who make such knowledge available, the United States Government should terminate its misplaced reliance on the pseudoscience of polygraphy. Make-believe science yields make believe security.
Expand the ZIP archive to review the CBP confirmed countermeasure case files. The files associated with each case are organized in separate folders, each of which includes the charts associated with the case (in a folder titled “Documents”), the examinee’s statement admitting to countermeasure use, and the text of an e-mail message from the CBP polygraph unit transmitting the files to the National Center for Credibility Assessment. In a handful of cases, one of these — charts, statement, or cover message — is not available. You will also find a tab-delimited text file with an overview of each case and the countermeasures employed. [↩]
It should be noted that the DIA polygraph screening program has never caught a spy. In 2001, the DIA’s senior analyst for Cuban affairs, Ana Belen Montes, was arrested, charged, and ultimately convicted of spying for Cuba. She had in fact been acting as a Cuban agent from the very beginning of her DIA employment: she had been trained by Cuban intelligence how to fool the polygraph, and she succeeded in doing precisely that throughout her DIA career.
A 2006 Senate Select Committee on Intelligence report documents the fact that three fabricators with Ahmed Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress also passed DIA lie detector tests.
Despite these monumental failures of the polygraph, and in utter disregard of the National Research Council’s conclusion 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,” the DIA has in recent years moved to expand and outsource its polygraph screening program.2
The documents provided to AntiPolygraph.org consist of 18 sequentially numbered “confirmed countermeasure” case files involving 17 examinees (one was polygraphed twice) from late 2013. Confirmed countermeasure cases are those in which the examinee has admitted to doing something in an attempt to manipulate the outcome. Federal agencies routinely forward such case files, stripped of the examinee’s identity, to the federal polygraph school, the National Center for Credibility Assessment (NCCA), at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, for study purposes.
Countermeasure admissions, when they occur, typically result from an accusation by the examiner followed by interrogation in an attempt to elicit an admission. Countermeasure admissions are rare and are a feather in the cap for polygraph examiners, who are typically rated based on the admission rates they obtain. By examining the polygraph charts from these representative cases, we can infer what activity by an examinee is likely to arouse the examiner’s suspicions, leading to an accusation of countermeasure use (and ultimately, perhaps, an admission).
We will analyze each case in turn, but the bottom line is that the key tip-offs that lead to countermeasure accusations appear to be 1) physical movement that shows up on the seat and/or foot pad tracings and 2) deep breathing. Neither of these are techniques that any knowledgeable spy, terrorist, or saboteur would employ. Nor are they consistent with the techniques for passing the polygraph documented in The Lie Behind the Lie Detector and How to Sting the Polygraph.
Instead, the countermeasure attempts that DIA polygraphers are “detecting” are so-called “spontaneous countermeasures” (attempts to influence polygraph outcomes with little or no forethought or planning). Moreover, none of these confirmed countermeasure cases appear to involve anyone who has actually committed an act of espionage, sabotage, or terrorism. Indeed, it appears, based on the sorry state of countermeasure “detection,” that the DIA polygraph unit has little prospect of ever unmasking a genuine spy, terrorist, or saboteur.
Moreover, because DIA polygraph examiners receive their training at the same school as do all other federal polygraphers (NCCA), it is likely that DIA’s shortcomings in polygraph countermeasure detection also beset other federal agencies.
A case-by-case analysis of the files follows. To follow along, download and extract the archive (40 MB .zip file). In it, you will find 18 folders, each with a sequential serial number (from #26 to #43) that includes the date the examination was conducted and (in all but one case) the examiner’s initials. Each folder contains the data associated with the examination, which is readable using the Lafayette Instrument Company‘s LXSoftware. In addition, you’ll find a Microsoft Word document with a brief description of the case, and a folder titled “Documents” which contains a PDF file for each polygraph chart collection associated with the examination. Each PDF chart file includes at the end a list of the actual questions asked. Continue reading “Leaked Documents Point to DIA’s Inability to Detect Sophisticated Polygraph Countermeasures”
In this context, “sophisticated” doesn’t mean that the countermeasures are complicated or difficult to learn. They’re not. It simply means that they are the kind of countermeasure that a subject with knowledge of polygraph procedure–and its vulnerabilities–would choose to employ. Polygraph subjects are not supposed to know about polygraph methodology, in particular, the true function of the so-called “control” or comparison questions. [↩]
A contributor to the AntiPolygraph.org message board has recently alleged, with documentation, that “[s]ince March 2010, The Defense Intelligence Agency’s (DIA) Chief of Credibility Assessment, Brett Stern, has spent over 40 million dollars of US Tax Payer money funding a polygraph contractor…whose institution in addition to their entire current management team…have each been [civilly] charged with committing numerous counts of financial fraud….” [↩]
The federal trial of Doug Williams for teaching people how to pass a polygraph, which had been scheduled to begin on Tuesday, 14 April 2015, has been moved to Tuesday, 12 May 2015. Williams’ attorney, Stephen H. Buzin, requested the continuance, citing among other things the receipt of 425 pages of new discovery materials from the U.S. government and the expectation that additional discovery materials would be delivered in coming weeks. In an order dated 25 March 2015, Chief United States District Judge Vicki Miles LaGrange issued an order granting the request, which was unopposed by the U.S. government.
Williams is featured prominently in two recent news columns. In “Insidious Orwellian Machines,” VICE Magazine co-founder Gavin McInnes, who met with Williams last August, writes about his interactions with Williams, his success in beating the polygraph for a television pilot, and his concern about the civil liberties aspect of the upcoming trial.