Massachusetts Police Face Polygraph Dragnet

Although pre-employment polygraph screening of law enforcement officers is prohibited by law in the state of Massachusetts, such protection against the pseudoscience of polygraphy evidently ceases upon hiring. In the town of Dracut, some 40 police officers either have been polygraphed or face polygraphic interrogation regarding the disappearance in 2003 of a quantity of marijuana that was stored by police as evidence. Reporter Dennis Shaughnessey covers the story for the Lowell Sun in “Police tested on lost drugs”:

DRACUT — With time running out, police have turned to lie-detector tests to find out who was behind the disappearance of $80,000 in marijuana stored as evidence behind the old police station in 2003.

Up to 40 people have taken, or may be called to take, the test. Several told The Sun they are nervous, not because they have something to hide, but because polygraph tests are not perfect.

“It’s like in the old movies where they put you in a room with a big black box with a light bulb on it,” said Tony Archinski, a lieutenant who retired Dec. 31. “They say it’s just an additional tool in the investigative process, but even if it’s 90 percent accurate, and that’s being generous, who wants to be on the short end of a false positive?”

Indeed, it is absurd to suggest that polygraphy is anything near 90% accurate. A statistical analysis (255 kb PDF) of the best field studies of polygraphy suggest that “if a subject fails a polygraph, the probability that she is, in fact, being deceptive is little more than chance alone; that is, one could flip a coin and get virtually the same result for a positive test based on the published data.”

“How do you do this in good conscience?” said one officer, on condition of anonymity. “There were people on the force at the time who are gone now. How do you conduct an investigation?”

But another said the tests have divided the department.

“We want to get rid of the people in this department who have no integrity,” the officer said. “Look around. Look who is running scared. That should tell you something.”

It should tell you who understands that polygraphy has no scientific basis and who, like this anonymous officer, is ill-informed.

The full-scale administrative internal investigation, which includes polygraph tests, is being conducted by the North East Massachusetts Law Enforcement Council‘s Internal Affairs Division, headed by Tewksbury Police Chief Al Donovan. Donovan declined comment, and would not discuss specifics of the tests, administrators or procedures.

Repeated attempts to reach Dracut Police Chief Kevin Richardson and Deputy Police Chief David Chartrand were unsuccessful.

In 2007, Selectman George Malliaros pushed to require any officer who was on the force when the drugs went missing to submit to the lie-detector test.

State police and the Middlesex District Attorney’s Office last year investigated the disappearance of the evidence and did not press criminal charges. Richardson then called for an internal investigation to preserve the “integrity of the department.”

Resorting to a polygraph witch hunt will not preserve the “integrity of the department.” Instead, it is likely to further erode what is left of it: polygraphy is inherently biased against the truthful. Nonetheless, liars can pass using simple countermeasures that polygraphers have no demonstrated ability to detect.

George Maschke, a polygraph expert in the Seattle area who has written extensively on polygraph tests, said a polygraph dragnet is “more likely to misdirect the investigation.” He points to the investigation into the 2000 disappearance and murder of 16-year-old Molly Bish, of Warren, Mass.

“At least 11 individuals failed polygraphs in that investigation,” said Maschke, who writes for a Web site, “There is no raging debate among scientists over its accuracy. There is broad consensus that it’s junk science.”

It should be pointed out that while’s voice mail and fax number (1-206-666-2570) is indeed in the Seattle area, George Maschke lives and works in The Hague, The Netherlands.

A little more than two months remain before the statute of limitations runs out in the Dracut case.

The North Eastern Massachusetts Law Enforcement Council would be wise to abort its polygraph dragnet and instead pursue traditional investigative techniques. Relying on such magical thinking as polygraphy is more likely to misdirect investigators than identify the culprit(s). This situation speaks to the need for a Comprehensive Employee Polygraph Protection Act that would extend to all Americans the protections enjoyed by most under existing federal law.

Greensboro City Council Votes to Polygraph Itself

Greensboro, North Carolina News Record staff writer Eric Swensen reports in a 19 April article titled, “Council Says Yes to Polygraphs” that with a lone dissenting vote, the Greensboro City Council has voted to voluntary subject itself to lie detector testing in an effort to determine who amongst them leaked a police report to the News Record. Excerpt:

GREENSBORO — The City Council voted 8-1 Tuesday night to ask itself to voluntarily take lie-detector tests on whether a council member leaked an investigative report on former police Chief David Wray to the News & Record.

Dianne Bellamy-Small cast the lone no vote. Bellamy-Small said she didn’t appreciate having her integrity questioned and is offended that people may think she was involved in leaking the report.

“It’s divisive,” she said.

If the council is focused on infighting, she said, “we’re not going to get the focus on cleaning up the Greensboro Police Department.”

She declined to comment further after the meeting.

Sandy Carmany, who has been the most outspoken critic of the leak among council members, said her decision to volunteer for a lie-detector test isn’t meant to point fingers at other council members, “but to confirm my own integrity.” Carmany said in March that “we’re 95 percent sure” that a council member leaked the report to the newspaper.

Tom Phillips, who entered the motion to conduct the tests, said the uncertainty over who leaked the report “has really strained the ability of the (city) manager to work with council dealing with sensitive information.”

Yvonne Johnson echoed that notion.

“It’s important that the manager be able to trust the council,” she said.
But Mayor Keith Holliday and other council members said the request for lie-detector tests came from council members, not from City Manager Mitchell Johnson.

Each lie-detector test will cost about $500. Councilman Mike Barber suggested the cost of the tests be taken from council members’ travel budgets; no other council members objected.

Kudos to Greensboro Councilwoman Dianne Bellamy-Small for being a lone voice of reason on a ship of fools. The Greensboro News-Record editorial staff skewers the City Council for its polygraph vote in today’s editorial, aptly titled “Exercise in Incredulity.”’s George Maschke has sent the following e-mail to the entire Greensboro City Council:

The Greensboro News-Record reports that the City Council has voted to subject itself to lie detector testing regarding the leak of a police document.

I’m a co-founder of, a non-profit, public interest website dedicated to exposing and ending waste, fraud, and abuse associated with the use of lie detectors. As you have foolishly decided to subject yourselves to this procedure, you should be aware that there is consensus amongst scientists that polygraph “testing” has no scientific basis:

You should also be aware that polygraphy has an inherent bias against the truthful, and yet the “test” can be easily passed by liars employing simple countermeasures that polygraph examiners cannot detect. You’ll find polygraph procedure and countermeasures explained in’s free e-book, The Lie Behind the Lie Detector, which may be downloaded here:

I would be happy to address any questions you may have in this regard.


George W. Maschke

PS:A copy of this e-mail will be forwarded to the News-Record.

California Judge Suggests Apple Computer Should Have Used Lie Detectors to Find Leaker

Thumbs down to California Court of Appeal Associate Justice Franklin D. Elia, who yesterday suggested that Apple Computer, which is seeking access to e-mail archives that could help identify an employee believed to have leaked trade secrets, should have done due diligence by subjecting its employees to lie detector testing to find the leaker.

Matthew Honan reports in Macworld:

Noting that Apple had neither subjected its employees to a lie detector test, nor had them deposed under oath in order to find the guilty party, Elia also speculated as to the court’s role in the case.

“All you want is the name of the–excuse me–the snitch,” said Elia. “We are not here to be the super personnel committee for your company.”

To begin with, lie detectors don’t work. Moreover, under the federal Employee Polygraph Protection Act, private employers, like Apple Computer, may not compel their employees to submit to such pseudoscientific nonsense. Judge Elia should know better.

Polygraph Dragnet in Idaho Industrial Sabotage Investigation

KPVI News Channel 6 reports in an article titled, “Wastewater Investigation” regarding an investigation into sabotage at a water treatment facility in the city of Blackfoot, Idaho. This short item is cited here in full:

The Federal Bureau of Investigation is still searching for any information on those responsible for tampering with Blackfoot’s wastewater treatment facility’s gas line.

FBI agents administered lie detector tests to employees and former employees of the Blackfoot facility to help find out who may have tampered with the gas line. Officials say that say that seven or eight people took the test over the weekend and Monday.

In late November, someone opened the natural gas line at the Blackfoot wastewater treatment plant. An employee could smell the gas in the facility and quickly shut off the gas to the facility. By doing this it may have prevented an explosion that could have left the city without water for months.

Blackfoot police say they expect to hear from the FBI sometime after Christmas about the results from the tests.

The Idaho State Journal reported on this planned polygraph dragnet on 9 December 2004 in an article by Debbie Bryce titled, “Blackfoot looks into gasline tampering,” which is cited here in full:

BLACKFOOT – Blackfoot Chief of Police Dave Moore said the investigation of an incident last week at the city’s waste water treatment center has heated up.

Someone tampered with a gas line at the Blackfoot Waste Water Treatment Center, Moore said. An employee shut off the gas line averting a potential explosion that would have disrupted services to the entire city.

“The only reason that plant is still standing is because it was so saturated with gas it sucked all the oxygen out of the building,” Moore said.

Blackfoot investigators interviewed full-time, part-time and past employees and this week contractors who worked at the facility will be questioned.

Blackfoot officers, in cooperation with the FBI will begin conducting polygraph examinations to narrow their investigation.

“We will pick certain key people and conduct polygraphs to eliminate them,” Moore said. “There are no suspects and everyone is a suspect.”

The department is making the ongoing investigation a priority due to the seriousness of the situation.

A $10 million project to upgrade the Blackfoot facility was recently completed.

Investigators in the case are working to determine who had knowledge and motive to commit the crime.

Chief Moore’s notion that the polygraph can be used to eliminate suspects is a dangerous delusion. Polygraph “testing” has no scientific basis, and the results not a reliable indication of truth or deception. Moreover, the “test” is easily circumvented through the use of simple countermeasures. Indeed, the long lead time between the public announcement of the planned polygraph dragnet and the administration of the polygraph interrogations ensured that the perpetrator would have ample time to learn how to pass the polygraph.

Polygraphs Reportedly Ordered in Los Alamos Probe

In an article titled, “Entering unknown territory,” Los Alamos Monitor assistant editor Roger Snodgrass confirms that some employees at Los Alamos National Laboratory have been ordered to undergo polygraph “testing” as the Deparment of Energy investigates the disappearance of two removable data storage devices. Excerpt:

According to sources, the investigation of lost computer recording data has narrowed suspects in the weapons physics department to 11 people. There were reports that some people were sobbing and others were sick to their stomach at the news that they would be subjected to a polygraph test and that some would likely be fired.

Yet Another Polygraph Dragnet at Los Alamos?

An Associated Press report published by under the title, “UC Halts Los Alamos’ Classified Work” mentions the possibility of a polygraph hunt for potential security violators as Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) attempts to locate two data storage devices containing classified information. Excerpt:

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. July 16, 2004 — All classified work at Los Alamos National Laboratory has come to a halt while officials conduct a wall-to-wall inventory of sensitive data.

The unprecedented stand-down began at noon Thursday, and the inventory of CDs, floppy disks and other data storage devices is expected to be completed within days, lab spokesman Kevin Roark said.

The stand-down comes after the lab reported last week that two items containing classified information turned up missing. The items were identified only as removable data storage devices.

It is the latest in a series of embarrassments that have prompted federal officials to put the Los Alamos management contract held by the University of California up for bid for the first time in the 61-year history of the lab.

The Energy Department has announced that Deputy Energy Secretary Kyle McSlarrow and Linton Brooks, head of the National Nuclear Security Administration, will personally oversee the probe into the latest security lapse.

Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham said he told McSlarrow earlier this week to use “all available mechanisms” to find the missing items, including polygraphs.

And in an article titled, “Lost nuke disks sting lab,” Oakland Tribune staff writer Ian Hoffman reports that House Energy and Commerce Committee chairman Joe Barton is demanding that some 200 LANL employees be polygraphed. Excerpt:

SAN FRANCISCO — For the third time in five years, Los Alamos National Laboratory is shutting down all classified work and hunkering down for investigations and political lashings over the loss of two disks of nuclear-weapons related secrets.

Berated Thursday by University of California regents for the latest security failing, even senior university executives were in no mood to defend the birthplace of the bomb.

“I don’t like the culture at Los Alamos,” said UC Vice President for Lab Management Robert Foley. “I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I don’t like the culture.”

As if replaying the lab’s painful sagas of 1999 and 2002, two members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee — Chairman Joe Barton, R-Texas, and Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Colo. — arrive at Los Alamos on Monday to investigate, accompanied by Deputy Energy Secretary Kyle McSlarrow and National Nuclear Security Administration chief Linton Brooks.

Barton on Tuesday demanded lie-detector tests for 200 lab employees and stiffer security measures on classified material safes.

It will be recalled that the Department of Energy conducted a polygraph dragnet of Nuclear Emergency Search Team (NEST) members at LANL’s X Division back in the spring of 2000 in an attempt to determine who was responsible for the disappearance of two classified hard drives (which were later discovered behind a copier in a room that had been searched by the FBI). The polygraph failed to solve the mystery.

“State Fire Marshal’s Office Polygraphs Gallatin Firefighters”

Gallatin News Examiner editor Deborah Highland and staff writer Jane Stegmeier report:

An investigator from the Tennessee Fire Marshal’s office is conducting polygraph tests on Gallatin’s firefighters to determine who, if anyone, among their ranks is a quarter thief.

“I decided that we would find whether we had somebody that wasn’t telling the truth,” Gallatin Fire Chief Joe Womack said.

On April 28, a firefighter noticed that a roll of the Florida state quarters minted in Denver had been stolen from a firefighter’s bed at the downtown fire hall, Womack said.

The Denver-minted coins had not yet been released in this part of Tennessee, Womack said. The coins were to become part of a coin collection, though they are not yet worth anything other than their face value.

A short time later, a firefighter found a neat stack of $5 to $7 worth of Denver-minted Florida quarters in the “honor box” set up at the fire hall for people to buy snacks, Womack said.

Womack believes that the quarters may have been taken and then placed back into the honor box by someone within the 44-person department who wanted to play a joke, and now that person is afraid to come forward.

“It’s not the $10 value I’m looking at. It’s the principle of it,” Womack said.

Also, Womack wants his personnel to be able to trust one another.

That’s why he decided that a polygraph test of all personnel was warranted. So far about nine or 10 firefighters have been tested, Womack said. The polygraph testing will continue until someone either steps forward or all employees are tested for their truthfulness in the matter. If nothing pans out from the polygraph testing, finger printing of the coins will occur next, he said.

Law enforcement officials were not called in to investigate, Womack said. Instead, he asked for the services of the state fire marshal’s office.

Dana Turner, spokeswoman for the state fire marshal’s office said her office “can’t confirm one way or the other” regarding the state’s firefighting resources being used to investigate a theft.

Bob Pollard, assistant director of the bomb and arson investigation section — the same section that oversees fire marshal’s polygraph examiners, said that their office fields numerous requests daily for a variety of different assistance.

“If we have something in our means to assist the local agencies and we are requested to do that, we evaluate each request individually and provide assistance where we can,” Pollard said.

Womack confirmed that a state investigator based in Cookeville is conducting the tests and was here as recently as Tuesday. The Gallatin Fire Department is not being charged for the fire marshal’s services, Womack said.

However, the starting pay of a special agent criminal investigator at the fire marshal’s office is $2,350 a month. That breaks down to a little more than $14 per hour.

Each polygraph exam for this type of investigation lasts at least 90 minutes, said Dan Sosnowski, spokesman for the American Polygraph Association based in Chattanooga.

That means that if all of the employees at the GFD are tested, the polygraphs will wind up costing state taxpayers at least $940.

B.R. Hall, president of the Local Union 140 of the Nashville Firefighters Association called the investigation “almost completely ridiculous.”

“To me, it’s much ado about nothing,” Hall said.

Mayor Don Wright and Womack disagree and said that even though the investigation involves a roll of quarters, it’s important to know who took the money.

“If someone will steal $10, they will steal $10,000,” Wright said. “My concern about firefighters is if we have one who can do this, I would sure be concerned about sending that person into someone’s home.

“I’m surprised and disappointed that this happened,” he said.

Several firefighters contacted about this story declined to comment.

Chief Womack’s polygraph dragnet is unlikely to reveal the identity of the Gallatin Fire Department’s quarter thief: polygraph “testing” is simply unreliable. If Chief Womack is truly concerned about ethics, then instead of subjecting his firefighters to voodoo science, he should simply proceed with testing the stolen-and-returned coins for fingerprints.

“Summit Elections Worker Fails Polygraphs”

Akron, Ohio Beacon Journal staff writer Julie Wallace reports. Excerpt:

A Summit County Board of Elections employee quizzed as part of a probe into a candidate’s missing petitions failed two polygraph tests after admitting using drugs and alcohol before the tests, law enforcement officials said.

Several sources familiar with the investigation identified the employee — who was not named in a news release issued Tuesday by the Summit County Sheriff’s Office — as Deputy Director John Schmidt, a Democrat who holds the No. 2 position in the board’s office.

Schmidt declined to comment. His lawyer, Carmen Roberto, said Schmidt did not fail the polygraphs; he said the results were inconclusive on both tests.

Sheriff Drew Alexander, a Republican, said 11 full-time employees were asked to submit to lie-detector tests in the investigation into the June disappearance of election petitions belonging to Akron City Councilman Joe Finley, D-2. Finley is a maverick often at odds with his party’s local leaders.

Eight of those 11 full-time employees easily passed the polygraph.

Three others were tested twice. Two of them had results that initially were labeled inconclusive but later were determined by polygraph examiner Bill Evans to be truthful.

The third employee also underwent two voluntary tests — showing up and acknowledging to Evans that he had used marijuana and alcohol prior to the appointments, Alexander said.

Alexander, who declined to confirm that the employee is Schmidt, said no charge would be filed against the employee over his admitted drug use because the tests were voluntary.

“Both times, he failed miserably at over $500 a pop,” Alexander said. “That’s enough polygraph examinations. I have no confidence that he’d come in and take a third or fourth and not try to beat it.”

Although it is not mentioned in this article, the Summit County Sheriff’s Office’s news release accuses the employee who “failed” the test of having employed countermeasures:


Ohio: “Probe for Missing Petitions Now Using Polygraph”

Beacon Journal staff writer Julie Wallace reports. Excerpt:

The investigation into the missing petitions at the Summit County Board of Elections has moved to a new level — lie-detector tests.

This week, investigators from the Summit County Sheriff’s Office started picking employees from the roughly 35 full-timers and 21 part-timers and asking them to submit to the test, Capt. Larry Momchilov said.

The tests are voluntary, but no one has refused so far, Momchilov said. He said he cannot say how many of the tests will be administered or if everyone will be asked to submit to one.

South Africa: “IFP Resorts to Lie Detectors”

Jaspreet Kindra reports for the Mail and Guardian. Excerpt:

The Inkatha Freedom Party apparently wants to subject its national council members to a lie detector test to establish whether they have leaked confidential information to the media and other organisations.

The IFP’s intentions were disclosed at its council meeting during the party’s national conference in Ulundi two weeks ago, the Mail & Guardian has established.

The M&G has learnt that the IFP had engaged the services of Durban-based company LieTech to conduct the tests, and the company had already started doing some work for the party.

National council members at the conference were asked to fill in a questionnaire prepared by the company. Among the questions were:

  • “Will you be willing to undergo a lie detector test?”
  • “Have you ever leaked National Council minutes?”
  • “Have you ever leaked the speech of our president, Prince MG Buthelezi?”
  • “Who do you suspect is the mole within our party?”
  • “What must happen to the mole? Must he be suspended from the party?”

The IFP’s national organiser, Albert Mncwango, said he was not aware that the party had hired the services of a lie detecting concern, nor had he filled in any questionnaire.

He said, however, that the party had the “right to do whatever it takes to beef up its internal security”.

LieTech’s Ben Lombaard said he could neither confirm nor deny that the IFP had hired the services of his company. “We respect our client’s confidentiality,” he said.

The IFP’s lie detector tests come shortly after the M&G revealed that the party was plotting to use taxpayers’ money to enhance the profile of its provincial ministers and to weaken the African National Congress ahead of the 2004 elections.