“It’s Written All Over Your Face”

Susan Gaidos writes for New Scientist magazine about recent research at the Department of Defense Polygraph Institute. Excerpt:

IT IS hard not to feel a little nervous. Andrew Ryan is trained to catch liars, and I am sitting in his lab at the US Department of Defence Polygraph Institute, preparing to lay a bald-faced whopper on him.

Earlier today, I participated in a mock crime, a short-lived melee that ended in aggravated assault, attempted murder and robbery. The act of stabbing a dummy in the chest and rifling through its purse has left me feeling more than a little guilty. My accomplice has instructed me to reveal nothing. But will my discomfort give me away?

Settling into a wide, comfortable chair, I begin answering questions, while a high-resolution infrared camera scrutinises my face, watching the blood swirl just beneath the surface of my skin. The camera forms part of a prototype for a new generation of lie detectors being developed by the US government. One day, they could be used to help unmask criminals, improve screening at border crossings and checkpoints, and perhaps interrogate terrorist suspects.

The drive towards new devices comes from a desire for something a cut above the “polygraph”, the standard lie detector whose rubber tubes and wires are familiar from TV and the movies. Scientists have long attacked the device as inconclusive, and in 2002 a report commissioned by the National Research Council (NRC) in Washington DC found that the polygraph’s performance falls well short of what is needed to tell the guilty from the innocent. As a result, the US Department of Energy began scaling back the polygraph security checks it was running on its own staff.

“Creator of Brainwave Lie Detector Fears It May Be Misused”

Jenifer Johnston reports for the Sunday Herald:

THE creator of a new lie detector which scans brainwaves before a subject even speaks has admitted she fears what could happen if it falls into the wrong hands.

“We assume that the people asking the questions are going to be noble and working for something that is good , but of course that is not always going to be the case,” Dr Jennifer Vendemia told the Sunday Herald. This week she will address a major conference on crime at London’s Science Museum.

Vendemia’s new detector deduces from brainwaves whether a subject is preparing to answer a question truthfully.

Her work is funded by US government grants of $5.1 million (£2.7m), but at the end of her research she can choose to hand her device to the government or to a private company or individual.

“I stand to gain a great deal from it personally when it is completed, but I am very mindful of the uses it could be put to,” she said. “I have tried several times to get ethical investigations going into what we are doing here without success.”

The detector developed by Vendemia, a retained investigator with the Department of Defence Polygraph Institute, places 128 electrodes on the face and scalp which translate brainwaves in less than a second. Subjects only have to hear interrogators’ questions to give a response.

On groups, Vendemia has so far had an accuracy rate of between 94 and 100%.

Professor Paul Matthews, a neurologist at Oxford University who will also address the conference, said there are ethical concerns surrounding new lie detection technology. “In the US particularly the suspect has the right to remain silent — this technology obviously changes that.”

Dr. Vendemia’s lecture is scheduled for 13 January. The Lecture List provides the following announcement:

Naked Science: Criminal Memories

How would you feel about having your mind read by a machine? Is this the ultimate invasion of privacy? Find out more about the sophisticated memory testing or ‘brain finger-printing’ technologies currently used on criminals in the USA and discuss with experts whether we should use them here. This event is one in a series of debates on crime.

The Home Office has already begun trialing polygraphs, which typically measure heart rate, breathing rate, and blood pressure, as part of sex offenders parole in the North West of England – but what lies in the future of lie detectors? Will we soon test cheating partners and dishonest employees? Can we really ever trust technology which tells us what we are thinking?

Experts include Dr Jennifer Vendemia, Principal Investigator, Department of Defense Polygraph Institute, USA, who will discuss the potential pitfalls revolving around the misrepresentation of the research. Professor Paul Matthews, Neuroscientist, University of Oxford will also be on hand to discuss the science behind lie detectors. Tor Butler-Cole, King’s College London, will be talking about the ethical and legal implications of using new brain fingerprinting techniques to determine criminal responsibility. The event will be facilitated by Dr Dan Glaser, Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, UK. Gareth Jones, presenter of Tomorrow’s World and children’s show How2 will facilitate this event.

The Dana Center, which is hosting the conference, has an announcement on its website. Admission is free, but reservations are required.

“Terrorism Lends Urgency to Hunt for Better Lie Detector”

Richard Willing reports for USA Today. Excerpt:

PHILADELPHIA — In a quiet corner of the University of Pennsylvania campus, professor Britton Chance is using near-infrared light to peek at lies as they form in the brains of student volunteers.

Eventually, Chance hopes to see something else: a day when a device like his replaces the old, often inaccurate polygraph as the best way for the U.S. government to detect lies told by spies, saboteurs and terrorists.

Chance is among dozens of university and government researchers who have invigorated the hunt for a better lie detector, an effort that has been made more urgent by America’s focus on national security since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

In labs across the nation, researchers are using technologies originally developed to examine diseases, brain activity, obesity and even learning disorders to try to solve some of the mysteries of human conduct. The provocative idea behind some of the research is to go beyond measuring the anxiety of a liar — as polygraphs try to do — and to catch the lies as they form in the human brain.

“We need something; we have a country under stress” because of increased fears of terrorism, says Chance, 90, a biochemist and engineer who helped to develop military radar during World War II. “It might be fixed by finding out what people are thinking about.”

Even its staunchest defenders doubt that the polygraph is up to the job. Invented in 1915, the device uses wires, cuffs and a chest harness to measure changes in breathing, perspiration and heart rate. The presumption behind polygraph tests is that such changes can be brought on by the stress of telling a lie.

But researchers have long questioned the polygraph’s accuracy, in part because the test itself can make a person nervous enough to skew the results. In criminal cases, the accuracy of such tests can vary widely. Courts in only one state, New Mexico, routinely accept polygraph results as evidence.

And security screeners who use the machine to try to pick out would-be terrorists or spies have a more difficult challenge, polygraph critics say. Without details of a specific crime or security violation to ask about, polygraphs miss real spies and sometimes implicate innocent people.

Former CIA officer Aldrich Ames, who spied for the Soviet Union, and former Defense Intelligence Agency analyst Ana Belen Montes, who spied for Cuba, both passed polygraphs.

The polygraph is “a technology under duress,” says Frank Horvath, a Michigan State University professor of criminology and a Defense Department adviser. “The question is: Is there some way better, and how do you find it?”

The Defense Department, the FBI and the CIA are among the U.S. agencies trying to answer that.

Still no proven way

The Defense Department’s Polygraph Institute at Fort Jackson, S.C., is financing at least 20 projects aimed at finding a better lie detector. Another Pentagon office, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, is exploring magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and other technologies. The FBI and CIA are backing more research.

Because much of the work is secret, it is difficult to estimate how much is being spent.

All the projects are in their early stages, and they are shadowed by a glaring fact: Scientists still haven’t proven that there is a scientific way to catch a liar. If a device such as Chance’s were to become the standard, a range of ethical and legal questions would pop up over how it should be used.

For now, government examiners continue to rely on the old device.

So until something better comes along, agencies continue to use the polygraph. Horvath says the government would drop the polygraph “in a minute” if a more effective device were developed. Critics say it should be dropped anyway.

“Is it better than nothing, or worse?” asks Steven Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists, which has criticized government secrecy. “It’s worse if it creates a false sense of security or excludes qualified employees from government service. Any new technology has to pass that test.”

“Thermal Camera May Detect Lying”

United Press International (UPI) reports on the development of a new system that purports to detect lies. Excerpt:

An experimental new lie detector that measures sudden flashes of heat from around the eyes may soon provide another line of defense against terrorism . . .

“On the other hand, when thinking about the possibility of someone with explosives in his shoes boarding a plane, given the technology’s security potential, I think most of us would want this application to be accelerated as quickly as possible,” Levine added. “We’re making advances in science, and I think the ethical issues need to be dealt with when the advances are being made. Otherwise ethics gets left behind,” he said.

The device consists of a high-definition thermal imaging camera the size of a shoebox. The scientists also have developed a miniaturized version of the camera, roughly the diameter of a postage stamp. Both are hooked up to a filing cabinet’s worth of computer hardware.

“As people lie, there is a massive increase in blood flow around the eyes, and associated with that there is sudden warming around the eyes, where the color changes to white in the thermal imaging system,” Levine explained.

The research team had 20 volunteers commit a mock crime and then assert innocence under experimental conditions at the Department of Defense Polygraph Institute in Fort Jackson, S.C.

Eight of the volunteers stabbed a mannequin and stole $20 from it, while the rest had no knowledge of the crime. The device accurately detected lying roughly 80 percent of the time, a precision level comparable to standard lie detecting polygraph tests performed by experts.

Even if the device discussed in the article were 80% accurate, the extremely low base rate of terrorists would make it completely useless as a tool to screen airline passengers.


“The Truth About the Polygraph”

Veteran polygrapher Theodore Paul Ponticelli writes in Justice: Denied — The Magazine for the Wrongly Convicted. Although a supporter of polygraphic interrogation, Ponticelli offers pointed criticism of the polygraph community. Excerpt:

The American Polygraph Association (APA) in all appearance should be the watchdog of the industry, but it is no more than a trade association with minimal standards as to what a polygraph school should teach. The APA scratches the surface with school inspections and student review. As a matter of fact, the APA was denied authority by the Department of Education for academically accrediting polygraph schools, therefore, the APA possesses little or no authority to endorse a post-secondary educational institution.

The Federal Government has a polygraph examiner school. They train most federal agents from the FBI, CIA, Secret Service, Drug Enforcement, Defense Intelligence Agency and Military Investigative agencies. During 1970, this author participated in the government’s school course that was being systems engineered. Every potential student would receive the same scientifically standard training in order to maintain a high degree of reliability and validity. Since 1995 the school has liberalized its curriculum and does not seem concerned with graduates who return to their agencies and change the procedures without the benefit of scientific research. What was once known as a model school has now sunk to the low depths of academia.

Ironically, those polygraph examiners from federal and municipal law enforcement agencies hide behind their badges and want the public to believe in their accuracies, which isn’t the case. The majority of law enforcement polygraph examiners lack intellectual soundness and knowledge of human behavior as related to detecting deception. In addition, most presuppose a person’s guilt with lack of probable cause and tangible evidence. As an example, if a woman reported to the police that her estranged husband molested their child, law enforcement has been known to fail to investigate or attempt to prove or disprove the allegation made by the complainant. The estranged husband would then be administered a polygraph test and the results of the test become spurious in many cases. As another example, if a detective informs the polygraph examiner that the suspect is good for the crime, in many cases the polygraph results will be reported as deceptive. Why? Many reasons, although the first is dishonesty or incompetence. The same degree of incompetence in polygraph exists in the private sector and the reason is the same, inferior training and lack of integrity.

DoDPI General Question Test Documentation “Most Likely Has Been Discarded”

In response to to AntiPolygraph.org’s Freedom of Information Act request dated 10 June 2001 for all Department of Defense Polygraph Institute (DoDPI) materials describing the General Question Technique (GQT), whether on paper, videotape, computer media, or in any other format, the Defense Security Service (DSS) claims that DoDPI has probably discarded any information about this polygraph technique (a remarkable action for an ostensible “research” institute). The following is an excerpt from DSS’s response dated 14 August 2001:

Please understand that the material you are seeking is no longer utilized by DODPI and has not been a part of their instruction for four years. Therefore, it most likely has been discarded. Certainly a copy might conceivably exist, but if the DODPI staff can’t reasonably ascertain its location, DSS/DODPI is not going to conduct a wide-ranging, “unreasonably burdensome” search for it.

For further reading on the GQT, see the AntiPolygraph.org message board thread, DoDPI General Question “Test.”

DoDPI Director Michael H. Capps Allegedly Misappropriated Government-Earned Frequent Flyer Miles

Michael H. Capps
Michael H. Capps

Edward T. Pound of USA Today writes that the Department of Defense Inspector General has concluded that Department of Defense Polygraph Institute director Michael H. Capps misappropriated $4,100 worth of government-earned frequent-flier miles and misled investigators when questioned about the matter.

Mr. Pound’s article leaves unanswered the question, “Did the disgraced director of the Department of Defense Polygraph Institute take a lie detector ‘test’?” Mr. Pound doesn’t mention it, but one of Mr. Capps’ other noteworthy achievements as DoDPI director is the prompt disbandment of the Institute’s scientific advisory board upon his appointment in 1995.