Drew Richardson, RIP

Drew Richardson speaking at Georgetown University
Drew Richardson speaking at Georgetown University in 2013 (Georgetown University Journal of Health Sciences photograph)

It is with deep sadness that we report that retired FBI scientist and supervisory special agent Dr. Drew C. Richardson, who has for many years been a friend and mentor to AntiPolygraph.org’s co-founders, was killed in a tragic accident at his home in Greenville, Virginia on Thursday, 21 July 2016. He was 65 years old.

Dr. Richardson, who spent his FBI career in the Bureau’s laboratory division, was also a polygraph expert and the Bureau’s most outspoken internal critic of polygraphy. In 1997, speaking before a subcommittee of the U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary, Dr. Richardson testified that “[polygraph screening] is completely without any theoretical foundation and has absolutely no validity” and that “anyone can be taught to beat this type of polygraph exam in a few minutes.”

In February 2001, after the arrest of FBI Robert P. Hanssen on espionage charges, Dr. Richardson sent a memorandum to then FBI Director Louis Free advising him that “there is NO evidence whatsoever that polygraph screening has any validity as a diagnostic tool” (original emphasis) and cautioning against any temptation to embrace polygraph screening. Director Free regrettably chose to ignore Dr. Richardson’s advice.

In October 2001, Dr. Richardson was an invited speaker at a public meeting of the National Academy of Sciences/National Research Council Committee to Review the Scientific Evidence on the Polygraph. The critique of polygraphy he provided then remains as pertinent today as it was fifteen years ago.

In 2002, Dr. Richardson issued his challenge to the polygraph community to prove their claimed ability to detect polygraph countermeasures. No polygraph operator ever exhibited the confidence to accept Dr. Richardson’s challenge.

We cherish Drew’s memory.

Among other pursuits, Dr. Richardson was an avid paraglider. We leave you with his most recent posting to his YouTube channel:

Update: A discussion thread has been started on the AntiPolygraph.org message board.

“The Moment of Truth: Polygraph Firm Banks on Separating Fact from Fiction”

Washington Post staff writer Michael Alison Chandler profiles Northern Virginia Pre-Employment and Polygraph Services. Excerpt:

Light filters through the heavy morning clouds and into the cramped waiting room, shining on Lawrence J. Mangan as he shifts in his chair, waiting to be grilled.

Just before 9 a.m., Darryl L. DeBow comes for him. They walk through a storage room and into a windowless office, where DeBow will attach Mangan to a computer, via two chest straps that will monitor his breathing and put a blood pressure cuff on his arm and metal plates on his fingertips to gauge perspiration.

Mangan has gone through an 800-question psychological exam and taken a drug test. He now faces his final barrier to employment at the Leesburg Police Department: a lie detector test.

He’ll be one of about 1,000 people tested this year by Northern Virginia Pre-Employment and Polygraph Services, which is affiliated with the Virginia School of Polygraph, based in downtown Leesburg.

If he passes, Mangan can quit his job with the Vienna Police Department, with its alternating schedule of nights and days, and work saner shifts closer to home and his wife and three children.

“We’ve weeded out a lot of bad candidates. They come in spit shined and look good on paper, then fall apart during the polygraph,” DeBow said in an interview. “Sex crimes, theft from employers, falsification of records. . . . You name it, people have done it.”

The beginning of the test is informal. No wires, no digital monitors. Just a couple of guys talking. DeBow inquires about Mangan’s 21 years as a New York City correctional officer and asks him to rate how happy his childhood was and how many drinks he has in a given week.

“We don’t work with angels here,” DeBow told him. “You got to give me the 100 percent truth. You got to get it out there.”

Before he entered the controversial field of polygraphy, DeBow was a Loudoun County sheriff’s deputy. In the early 1990s, shortly after a promotion to sergeant, he fell off a ladder during a SWAT team drill and landed on his back. His injuries caused chronic pain and confined him to a desk job. DeBow went to polygraph school and returned to the department as an examiner.

“When one door shuts, another door opens,” he said. “I was given a second chance.”

In 2003, he bought the Virginia School of Polygraph, one of 19 schools in the world accredited by the American Polygraph Association, and moved the headquarters from Virginia Beach to Leesburg. The school annually trains 20 to 35 examiners, who come from as far as Costa Rica and Canada.

DeBow and four other examiners administer tests, monitoring the activities of convicted sex offenders, aiding criminal investigations, testing potential hires for local police or fire departments and checking the fidelity of clients’ potential spouses.

“Everybody has that deep, dark little secret that they want to keep hidden,” DeBow said. His job is to expose buried misdeeds through his probing questions and, later, through his technological fluency.

The informal, introductory questions continued:

Did you ever commit the act of burglary?

Assault and battery? Domestic abuse?

Rape, forcing someone to have sex who was drunk or drugged?

Exposing yourself or peeping in someone’s window?

Petty larceny; theft of anything?

After a string of no’s, Mangan hesitated at the last question. The hum from the computer filled the room.

“I guess when I was a kid, maybe candy,” Mangan finally said.

“When you lie, you have what is called a sympathetic response; your body goes into fight-or-flight mode,” DeBow said. “It affects the pulse rate, blood pressure, respiratory and galvanic skin response [sweatiness]. We measure these things.”

“That’s nonsense,” said Drew C. Richardson, a former FBI agent with a PhD in physiology. He has testified before the Senate, challenging the government’s use of polygraph testing. “There isn’t an isolated ‘lie response,’ ” he said.

Such emotions as anger, surprise or revulsion also can trigger similar physiological responses, Richardson said. When a job is on the line, someone could be responding in fear “to the consequences of being branded a liar, rather than being caught in a lie,” he said.

Dr. Richardson is right. There is broad consensus amongst scientists that polygraph “testing” has no scientific basis, and false positives are all too common.

Polygraph “Evidence” Rejected in Federal Detention Hearing

John Cook reports for the Seattle Intelligencer in an article titled “Judge frees Znetix pair from prison; death plot discounted.” Excerpt:

Znetix defendants Michael Culp and Steven Reimer have been released from prison after a federal judge discounted statements of convicted bank robber Darres Park, who testified that the two men discussed killing an FBI agent while incarcerated at the Sea-Tac Detention Facility this spring.

U.S. District Judge Marsha Pechman said Monday that there was not clear and convincing evidence that Culp and Reimer were conspiring to kill special agent Joe Quinn, who has played a key role in the investigation of the Znetix stock fraud.

Pechman reversed a ruling by U.S. Magistrate Judge Monica Benton, who ordered the men detained May 27 in connection with the alleged plot.

Free on bond, Culp and Reimer are awaiting trial on multiple counts of fraud and money laundering for the roles they allegedly played with Bainbridge Island-based Znetix and affiliated companies.

The case, described as the largest stock swindle ever to originate in the state, includes more than 5,000 investors and up to $100 million.

The detention hearing hinged on the testimony of Park, a martial arts expert and self-described tough guy who shared a cell block with the Znetix defendants from March 27 to April 1.

During that period, Park alleged that Culp and Reimer discussed killing special agent Quinn on many occasions. Reimer was so “fixated” on the idea that he went so far as to ask how much it would cost and where he could send the money, according to Park’s testimony.

But attorneys for Culp and Reimer attacked Park’s credibility and his past, which included three armed bank robberies and a faked racial incident outside a Belltown nightclub in 1990. As part of the defense, attorneys also submitted a letter from Park’s sister that described him as a “chronic liar.”

“Usually criminal defense attorneys don’t get a chance to cross-examine witnesses like this, who are so easy to cross-examine in the sense that their lies are so easy to expose,” said James Vonasch, the attorney representing Culp.

“From my point of view, it was very obvious that you couldn’t make a decision based on this person’s testimony.”

While Park passed a lie detector test administered by the FBI, the defense team called an expert witness who said so-called control question tests are flawed.

Drew Richardson, a former FBI agent who specializes in lie detection, said the tests can be defeated if a person employs simple physical tasks such as biting his cheek or mental exercises such as doing complex arithmetic.

“The results of this polygraph should not be indicative of the truth,” Richardson said.

“Polygraphs – Truth or Lie?”

Chris Ingalls reports for KING5.com. Excerpt:

SEATTLE – The polygraph promises to find the answer and that’s why it is widely used in Washington state to screen potential employees for high-security jobs.

But there are new doubts about whether lie detectors really work. In today’s security-conscious environment, much of the tax money is used to pay for lie detector tests.

Now, scientists who put polygraphs to the test came up with surprising results.

Since its invention decades ago, the polygraph has earned a place in the American imagination and psyche.

The computer-based descendant of the so-called lie-detector is widely used in Washington state – and not just for criminal investigations.

Many government agencies – like Tacoma Police – use lie detectors to screen potential employees. They say the instrument does weed out some applicants.

“I think it’s very reliable and I have complete confidence in it,” said Det. Steve Shake, Tacoma polygraph examiner.

But hard science is raising new questions about the polygraph’s reliability.

The prestigious Academy of Sciences has released its long-awaited study on the “truth” about lie detectors.

Congress ordered a thorough review after a spy scandal rocked the Department of Energy, which uses polygraphs to screen employees.

The study’s conclusion was that the lie detector is a “blunt” instrument and its “serious limitations” in employment screening underscore the need to look for more effective methods.

“I pretty much at that point went in there knowing I was gonna get this job. There was nothing that was gonna stop me from getting this job,” said Karen who has no criminal record. But she was wrong.

Earlier this year, she was accepted for a job by King County Juvenile Detention, subject to a polygraph.

After the test, she was told she failed a standard question about inappropriate contact with minors.

“I went white. I couldn’t breathe and I felt like I was gonna throw up,” she said.

Karen says she became too distrustful of the polygraph to agree to a follow-up exam, and she lost the job.

Bob, on the other hand, a former casual drug user, admits he lied during a polygraph, but still was offered a job as a King County jailer.

“They told me that I had passed, right there on the spot,” said Bob.

“From my perspective, I would describe is as quackery,” said Dr. Drew Richardson, former FBI agent.

Dr. Richardson, who studied polygraphs for the bureau, says the instrument cannot help answer the types of broad questions that are asked when screening employees.

“It’s nothing but a fishing expedition. When used to screen people about large numbers of issues, about national security, of personal life style, I think it has absolutely no diagnostic value,” he added.

The KING 5 Investigators found that hundreds of thousands of tax dollars are spent on lie detector screenings.

The American Polygraph Association says the recent scientific findings are flawed, but that pro-polygraph organization did not respond to repeated interview requests from KING 5, nor did the Northwest Polygraph Examiners Association. The Association of Police Polygraphists and the King County Sheriff’s Department declined interviews.

“Lies, Damned Lies … and Truth?”

Jeff Daniel reports for the Saint Louis Post-Dispatch. Excerpt:

Now that the Modesto, Calif., case involving Laci Peterson has evolved into the latest high-profile murder turned media spectacle, one of the questions surrounding defendant/husband Scott Peterson will likely be this: Why hasn’t he taken a lie detector test to back up that “not guilty” plea?

At this point, we expect such a move. After all, the polygraph has a history of making its way into these crime-of-the-century cases. Lindbergh baby kidnaper Bruno Hauptmann reportedly wanted to take one, but never got the chance. O.J. Simpson supposedly failed his but denied that it ever took place. John and Patsy Ramsey passed one administered under their own terms, as did former congressman Gary Condit – but skeptical authorities questioned the defendants’ home-field advantage in both instances.

As for the public expecting a polygraph to enter the picture once again … well, actual events and those portrayed on television and in the movies – from “Law and Order” to “Meet the Parents” – have teamed up to make that little box of wires a pop culture icon. This, despite the fact that the vast majority of us will never come into personal contact with a polygraph. This, despite the fact that the validity of the process itself has sometimes come under fire.

“Popular culture and the mass media often portray lie detectors as magical mind-reading machines,” the National Academy of Sciences said in a research report released last year. “The mystique surrounding the exams – instead of a solid scientific foundation – may account for much of their usefulness to authorities.”

To be fair, the report also said that in specific event testing, as opposed to general screening, the results are “well above chance, but they are far from perfect.”

What comes across in the media, then, obviously is a lot less complicated than the behind-the-scenes reality of the lie detection business. On TV and on the big screen, results come quickly and are rarely challenged. Accused adulterers get swift justice after being tested on the daytime talk-show carnivals. Criminals break under the polygraph pressure on the nightly detective shows.

“What people are seeing is probably about 80 percent myth and strictly for entertainment purposes,” says Dan Sosnowski, a board member of the American Polygraph Association. “The vast majority of criminal polygraph examinations take anywhere from an hour and a half to three hours. Sometimes longer.”

A correctly administered test also shouldn’t involve multiple questioners and rapid-fire questions, a staple of the fictional lie detector process, Sosnowski says.

Test operator “is key”

What is pretty much true to form, however, is the look of the machine itself. Rubber tubes are placed around the subject’s abdomen and chest, and a blood pressure cuff goes on the arm. Tiny metal plates are clipped to the finger tips. During the exam, the polygrapher records breathing rate, heart rate and perspiration rate. These are measured in response to a series of relevant questions (“Did you harm your wife?”), control questions (“Have you ever harmed anything before?”) and irrelevant questions (“Is your shirt blue?”).

Sosnowski says the accuracy rate of a test designed for a specific incident – say, a murder – is about 94 percent.

“That’s if you follow the rules and the procedures,” explains the former Chicago-area police officer. “The individual giving the test is the key. If that person can’t formulate the proper questions, then the other guy is going to beat him.”

Those formulating the questions will have completed training at one of the approximately 20 schools that the polygraph association recognizes and accredits. As for government regulation, 29 states require a license for operation. Illinois does, Missouri does not. While Sosnowski has a private practice, a large number of polygraphers in the United States work for federal, state and local agencies. Many are hired to do internal screening of employees and potential employees at such places as the FBI and CIA, a process barred in private workplaces by Congress in 1988.

The polygraph screening tests, as evidenced by the NAS report, have regularly come under fire, and even Sosnowski admits that not enough evidence exists to completely support the process: “All our studies and research, for the most part, have addressed criminal type cases.”

Former FBI agent Drew Richardson, now a leading opponent of the polygraph tests that he once researched at the FBI, calls the examinations not only worthless, but harmful.

“Polygraph depends on a universal bluff,” Richardson says. “And that bluff is that there is some diagnostic value to (the test.) Of course, that bluff is continually reduced as people become more aware of the whole thing.”

Those who are aware include some of the testers, adds Richardson, but he feels they ignore this because they see utility in terms of getting confessions.

“Well, in order to do that, you have to maintain this almost comical bluff that it does have meaning – or else nobody would confess to something that didn’t have any.”

“Trickery – not science”

Richardson’s writings and congressional testimony often end up on the Internet site Antipolygraph.org. Co-founded in 2000 by Gino Scalabrini and George Maschke, the site serves as a clearinghouse for news stories and personal testimonials that challenge lie detection’s credibility.

Maschke’s involvement stems from a polygraph test that he says kept him from joining the FBI in 1995. He was accused of deception – a charge he vehemently denies. He soon discovered that others out there shared his fate.

“I think most Americans see the polygraph as I once did: as an admittedly imperfect but nonetheless science-based technique that has some, perhaps even a high degree, of validity,” the Netherlands-based Maschke wrote in a recent e-mail exchange. “We’re trying to change that perception by informing the public about the trickery – not science – behind the polygraph.”

“Spies, Lies and Polygraphs”

Dr. Drew C. Richardson calls for the abolishment of polygraph screening in this Washington Times op-ed piece. Excerpt:

Recently, the National Academy of Sciences issued a landmark report regarding the use of polygraphy by various federal agencies. Although many issues were explored and several conclusions were drawn, none was more important than the finding that polygraph screening is completely invalid as a diagnostic instrument for determining truth regarding counter-terrorism, counter-espionage, past activities of job applicants and other important issues currently so assessed by our various federal, state and local governments.

During an Associated Press briefing, it was stated by various panel members very clearly and emphatically that no spy had ever been caught as a result of polygraphy, none would ever be expected to be so revealed, and that although a precise figure cannot be assigned to the number of false-positive results, large numbers of the tens of thousands of people subjected yearly to this sort of “testing” are likely being falsely accused about their backgrounds and activities.

The jury is in and the evidence is clear and compelling. The American people should insist and our executive and legislative branches of government should ensure that the technological and sociological embarrassment we have come to know as polygraph screening should be immediately stopped. Not one more innocent applicant or employee should be falsely accused and not one more spy should be given cover through having passed a polygraph exam. The notion (as will be suggested by some in government agencies using polygraph screening) that this is just one tool among many being used to address problems is wrong and dangerous mumbo-jumbo. The results of polygraph screening examinations are either believed or they are not. If they are believed, they are acted upon and, furthermore, these actions, if based upon erroneous polygraph results, will continue to lead to the sorts of grave injury to country and citizens as previously noted.

“Telling the Truth About Lie Detectors”

Dan Vergano reports for USA Today. Excerpt:

A long-time law enforcement favorite, the lie detector, now finds itself sweating the hot lights of scientific inquiry.

Crime dramas have long depicted the polygraph’s tangle of wires and wiggling chart lines uncovering lies during a hard-boiled criminal interrogation. As suspects are questioned, the device checks for sweaty skin or racing hearts to root out deception, but the machine’s accuracy has long been in dispute.

Nonetheless, the polygraph has a higher-than-ever profile. It’s an ongoing bone of contention on Capitol Hill and a factor in recent spy investigations of FBI turncoat Robert Hanssen and physicist Wen Ho Lee. In the Lee case, the FBI’s contention the physicist had lied on a polygraph test in 1998 led to 59 charges, all but one dropped in a plea bargain two years later. That sparked a request for a National Academy of Sciences (NAS) report, due as soon as the first week of October, on the validity of the polygraph.

Now, some of the same politicians who called for polygraphs of federal employees are involved in an FBI investigation aimed at finding who’s responsible for a classified intelligence leak about two intercepted messages that hinted at the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Many House-Senate intelligence committee staffers and legislators, perhaps most prominently Sen. Richard Shelby, R.-Ala., have declined to take polygraph tests.

“Allowing the executive branch to submit the legislative branch to lie-detector tests raises constitutional issues of separation of powers,” Shelby says, in a statement.

Polygraph critics such as Alan Zelicoff of Sandia National Laboratory in New Mexico find the sensitivity of Shelby and his committee peers ironic, noting two years ago that the committee helped instigate the polygraph screening of weapons scientists designed to root out spies.

A physician biodefense researcher at the weapons lab, Zelicoff has led opposition to the polygraph there, saying that for screening purposes, the device’s measures — pulse, blood pressure, breathing and sweating — reveal deception about as well as a coin flip. He likens the polygraph to a defective medical test, one whose high false-positive rate, depicting honest people as liars, makes it unreliable as a diagnostic tool. Last year, Attorney General John Ashcroft estimated the false-positive rate of polygraphs at 15%, about a one-in-six chance, at a news conference.

Polygraphs are perhaps the most controversial tool in law enforcement. Some states and federal court judges now accept lie-detector results, but many states ban them outright. A 1998 Supreme Court decision allowed such bans, but read in part, “There is simply no consensus that polygraph evidence is reliable: The scientific community and the state and federal courts are extremely polarized on the matter.”

The disagreements have become so entrenched that the NAS deliberately sought members for its report committee who had never staked out a position on the issue. “My primary qualification is I’ve never worked on the topic,” noted committee chair Stephen Fienberg, a statistics expert at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh.

The key question before his committee is whether the lie-detector test is a scientific test of deception.

“Cuban Spy Passed Polygraph at Least Once”

Miami Herald Washington correspondent Tim Johnson reports. Excerpt:

WASHINGTON – Even though confessed Cuban spy Ana Belen Montes already outwitted a lie-detector test, the government plans to rely on polygraph exams to check her honesty as they debrief her about her 16-year spying career while working for U.S. military intelligence.

Montes took a polygraph examination at least once during her career as an analyst at the Defense Intelligence Agency, her attorney says.

”At the time she was polygraphed, she passed it,” said prominent Washington attorney Plato Cacheris, who added that he did not know when the exam was given.

Critics of polygraph exams, which are designed to snare liars, say they are astounded that U.S. officials would rely on them to determine if Montes is telling the truth.

”Isn’t this incredibly ironic?” asked Drew C. Richardson, a retired FBI agent who wrote a doctorate dissertation on polygraph research. “She beats the polygraph and now we’re going to use a polygraph to assess the damage? It’s utterly, unbelievably stupid.”

Montes, 45, is the most senior spy for Cuba ever caught. FBI agents arrested her Sept. 21 at her workplace. In a plea agreement with the Justice Department, Montes confessed March 19 to spying for Cuba and offered to reveal all details of her betrayal to investigators before her Sept. 24 sentencing. If polygraph exams show that she has been honest and candid, she will get a 25-year jail term, with five years of parole.

Montes isn’t the first turncoat in the U.S. intelligence community to beat the polygraph, or lie-detector, exam, and her case is sure to add to controversy over whether the government can rely on the polygraph to catch spies.

Some critics assert that the polygraph tests lure counterintelligence units into a false sense of security, and should be abandoned for other methods.

The Defense Intelligence Agency, which is the preeminent military intelligence arm of the Pentagon, declines to say whether — or when — Montes was given a polygraph exam after her hiring in September 1985. It also refuses to provide details of results of any exams given to Montes.

”All DIA employees are subject to polygraphs,” said an agency spokesman, Lt. Cmdr. James E. Brooks, declining further details.

For discussion of the Montes case, see the AntiPolygraph.org discussion thread Source: Cuban Spy Montes Passed DIA Polygraph.

“Can They Fool the Polygraph?”

Diana Ray reports in the 2-9 June 2001 issue of Insight magazine. Excerpt:

The FBI is requiring employees to undergo increased polygraph testing as a result of security lapses, but cool liars are able to evade detection by the simple machines.

Polygraph testing did not keep Aldrich H. Ames from selling CIA secrets to the Russians before his arrest in 1994. He passed the tests with flying colors while employed by the agency. And testing didn’t prevent FBI counterspy Robert Philip Hanssen from reported treason — because, during his entire 25 years with the bureau, he never was required to take one. Recently indicted, Hanssen is charged with selling secrets to the Soviet Union and then Russia during a period of 16 years, right up to his arrest in February.

After the uncovering of Hanssen, former FBI director William Webster was tasked to investigate FBI security procedures. In the interim, the bureau announced, it would require 500 employees with access to confidential data to undergo polygraph tests during a 60-day period, including Louis Freeh, the bureau director. That was to begin late in March. Although the 60-day deadline wasn’t met, only Freeh remained to be polygraphed as Insight went to press, according to FBI spokesman Paul Bresson. Freeh announced he would retire in June after 27 years with the FBI.