Book Review: False Confessions: The True Story of Doug Williams and His Crusade Against the Polygraph Industry

In 2012, former Oklahoma City Police Department polygraph operator-turned-critic Douglas Gene Williams published his autobiography under the title, From Cop to Crusader: My Fight Against the Dangerous Myth of “Lie Detection.” In 2014, he released a second edition, adding an account of the raid conducted by federal agents on his home and office as part of Operation Lie Busters, a federal investigation that targeted individuals providing instruction on how to pass or beat a polygraph “test.”

In 2015, Williams was sentenced to two years in prison for teaching undercover agents how to pass the polygraph. While incarcerated, he met Jack Straw, a fellow inmate and former Chicago police captain, with whom he has collaborated to retell his life story, now published under the title False Confessions: The True Story of Doug Williams and His Crusade Against the Polygraph (Unit 2 Creations: 2020).

Asked for comment about the choice of title (the book does not specifically go into any particular false confessions), Williams explained that he and Straw, in discussing problems with the polygraph in the criminal arena, both agreed that “it is the primary thing most responsible for all false confessions.”

In the introduction to From Cop to Crusader, Williams stated “This book is a recounting of actual events that have occurred during my crusade against the multi-billion dollar scam called ‘lie detection’ perpetrated by the polygraph industry. It is written to the best of my memory. But as someone once said, ‘Memory is a complicated thing, a relative to the truth, but not its twin.’ So, the characters, conversations, and entities depicted may be composites or fictitious.” This no doubt applies to False Confessions, as well, which reads very much like an oral history, with reconstructed conversations.

Straw’s retelling of Doug Williams’ story is without question better organized and told than the original. Divided into 34 chapters, it chronicles Williams’ time working as a U.S. Air Force enlisted man in the White House Communications Agency during the Johnson and Nixon administrations, his joining the Oklahoma City Police Department, and how he made the decision to apply for a polygraph position, which culminated in his attending the late Dick Arther’s National Training Center of Lie Detection in New York City.

Williams relates (in Chapter 4) one of the memorable incidents that led him to question what he was doing as a polygraph operator:

…A particularly haunting memory of a woman seated in my office, sobbing while I railed on her for a confession, returned to my mind almost daily. I had been pushing her for a confession.

“The polygraph says you’re lying!” I shouted…

“I didn’t do it,” she’d cried…

I screamed back, “The machine is not wrong. You are lying. The machine is never wrong!”

After hours of mental pummeling, she’d balled up into a near-fetal position, almost convulsing in anguish. Suddenly, this woman turned her face to look squarely at me and cried out, “I did not do it! What are you trying to do? My God, what is wrong with you?”

There it was. Very plain, and corrosive as acid. What WAS wrong with me? And, that question led to more questions, bigger questions. What was wrong with all of this lie-detection trickery and the massive cult of operators who held so much power? Where had it started? How had it grown? How had it lasted all this time? I knew I needed answers to these questions.

Williams goes on to describe his 1979 departure from the Oklahoma City Police Department, his objections to polygraphy, and his decision to go public with his concerns. In Chapter 7, Williams recalls a press event he held at an Oklahoma City hotel not long after his resignation. Among other notable things, Williams recalls:

I felt that it was important to give the crowd some foundation to my claims, so I explained my background and told them how I had come to learn about this abusive behavior. I explained that, aside from my job with the police department, I had also worked part-time for a private polygraph company, so I had firsthand knowledge of the abuses within the industry. I explained that the company I had worked for had actually encouraged us to fail as many people as possible in order to charge the employer more money for administering more polygraph exams. It was common practice among private polygraph examiners.

Williams also notes that not all companies that required polygraph screening at that time did so voluntarily:

…polygraph operators were a necessary evil for the owners and managers of businesses that required their employees to submit to this grueling ordeal. Many of the business owners resented having to give the test; however, they were required to do so by the insurance companies that covered their businesses against losses from theft by employees….

Williams goes on to recount the beginning of his crusade against polygraphy, starting with an appearance on a popular talk show on Oklahoma’s largest radio station, KTOK. He details his development of a “three-prong strategy” embracing education, legislation, and litigation. As part of the education prong, Williams wrote the original edition of his manual, “How to Sting the Polygraph,” which explains how to pass or beat a polygraph “test”:

To launch the Education Phase of my attack, I needed a textbook. So, I compiled information into a manual I called, How to Sting the Polygraph. It was a detailed, start-to-finish handbook on how to defend yourself from the polygraph and its operator. The techniques were simple, and a person could perform them with relative ease. But, I had one more thing to do in order to craft the manual into the ultimate textbook I wanted it to be. In order to round out my research so that the manual was completely authenticated, I decided to utilize all the techniques “undercover,” as you might say. I would take polygraph exams from different polygraphists, pass them, document them, and notify the operators that had given me the test of the said results.

In order to do this, I would have to relocate. Oklahoma City wouldn’t work. All the polygraph operators knew me, and they weren’t going to let me anywhere near their little rooms of deceit. So, after I left the P.D., I moved to Houston, Texas to launch my campaign….

Notably, the complete text of the latest edition of Williams’ “How to Sting the Polygraph” is included as an appendix to False Confessions.

While working in Houston as an apprentice machinist, Williams embarked on a letter-writing campaign, also giving radio interviews. He later returned to Oklahoma City where for a time he worked as a paralegal and attended (though did not ultimately complete) law school at Oklahoma City University.

As part of the litigation prong of his antipolygraph campaign, Williams convinced his employer, attorney and former Oklahoma City Police Officer Chris Eulberg, to represent a polygraph victim bringing a wrongful discharge suit against oil field services company Halliburton Services. While the case was ultimately not successful, depositions were held, and the case helped to bring attention to workplace polygraph abuse. Although Williams does not mention the name of the plaintiff, upon inquiry, he confirmed that it was Michael Crowley, whose plight was the subject of an 11 July 1983 article in The Oklahoman titled, “Test wipes out job.”

Another highlight is Williams’ account of his participation in the CBS 60 Minutes investigative report, “Truth and Consequences,” which aired on Sunday, 11 May 1986 (Chapters 21 and 22). In that report, three different polygraph operators chosen from the New York telephone directory accused three different individuals of theft, even though no theft had occurred.

Regarding the “legislative prong” of his campaign against the polygraph, Williams recounts (in Chapters 16 and 17) the story his 1985 testimony before the U.S. House of Representatives, which helped lay the foundation for passage of the Employee Polygraph Protection Act of 1988.

The last four chapters are of special interest. They concern a federal investigation called Operation Lie Busters that targeted Williams for entrapment. Williams recounts the raid on his home and office conducted on 21 February 2013, his indictment more than a year later, his difficult decision to plead guilty two days into trial, his incarceration from 30 October 2015 until 26 July 2017, and his plans for the future.

A minor criticism is that book could have benefited from additional copy editing (for example, in decades, such as “the 1980s” there should be no apostrophe, and “more wizened” does not mean “made more wise.”) In addition, it is erroneously implied in Chapter 5 that William Moulton Marston introduced his blood pressure-based lie detector test in 1930, nearly a decade after John A. Larson had assembled the first polygraph instrument in 1921. Marston in fact had documented his idea for a lie detector as early as 1915, and Larson was inspired by Marston’s work. But again, these are minor points.

False Confessions is a must-read for students of the history of polygraphy. Doug Williams is indisputably among the most influential persons in polygraphy’s nearly century-long history. His revelation of the polygraph trade’s secrets has earned the wrath of polygraph operators across the United States, and his manual “How to Sting the Polygraph” has long been part of the curriculum for the federal polygraph school’s countermeasures course.

In addition, the targeting of Williams for entrapment by overzealous federal agents—who began their investigation in the absence of any evidence that he had committed any crime—has civil liberties implications that go well beyond the polygraph world.

On a final note, polygraph operators (and those contemplating attending polygraph school) are well-advised to reflect on Williams’ saga and to think long and hard about the ethical implications of practicing this fraudulent pseudoscience.

False Confessions is available directly from the publisher. At the time of writing, discounted copies are also available via Outskirts Press, as is an Amazon Kindle version (presently free with Kindle Unlimited).

Update 19 June 2020: AntiPolygraph.org readers may obtain copies of False Confessions signed by Jack Straw and Doug Williams at a $3 discount by using code E29J9EE when ordering directly from Unit 2 Creations.

DEA Contractor Metropolitan Interpreters and Translators Found Liable for Breach of Anti-Polygraph Law

metlang-logoMcClatchy reporter Marisa Taylor reports that a federal judge has found Metropolitan Interpreters and Translators liable for violation of the Employee Polygraph Protection Act, which restricts the use of polygraphs and other purported “lie detectors” by non-governmental employers. Excerpt:

— At the behest of the Drug Enforcement Administration, a leading court translation service forced its employees to take lie-detector tests in violation of federal law, a federal judge has found.

U.S. District Judge Jeffrey Miller concluded that the New York-based company, Metropolitan Interpreters and Translators Inc., was liable for requiring nine translators in San Diego to take what they described as highly invasive polygraph tests to keep their jobs as contractors with the DEA.

The ruling paves the way for a trial in which a jury will determine how much the company will have to pay in damages. Miller also found the company’s vice president, Joseph Citrano, liable. Five other translators already have settled with the company.

The decision, which was issued Oct. 24, comes after the DEA agreed to pay the 14 plaintiffs a total of $500,000 to settle the lawsuit. The contract employees translated Spanish conversations collected during court-authorized wiretapping of the DEA’s criminal suspects. Metropolitan fired the employees after they failed or refused to take the polygraphs.

A 1988 law banned most private employers from polygraphing their workers because of scientific questions about the technique’s reliability and after accounts of employer abuses.

“This ruling shows companies are responsible for their own actions when they violate the law,” said San Diego lawyer Gene Iredale, who represented the plaintiffs. “It also shows courts are ready, willing and able to enforce this law.”

The Employee Polygraph Protection Act of 1988 still allowed the federal government to polygraph its employees and applicants. It also lists certain intelligence and law enforcement agencies as permitted to test their contractors. However, it does not list the DEA.

Read the rest of the story here.

DEA to Pay $500,000 to Settle Polygraph Lawsuit

dea-sealMcClatchy investigative reporter Marisa Taylor reports that the Drug Enforcement Agency has agreed to pay 14 contract translators $500,000 to settle a lawsuit brought under the 1988 Employee Polygraph Protection Act (EPPA).

While the EPPA includes exemptions that allow individuals under contract to the FBI, NSA, DIA, and CIA, among others, to be polygraphed, no such exemption exists for DEA contractors.

The translators also filed suit against their direct employer, Metropolitan Interpreters and Translators, Inc., and that legal action remains ongoing with respect to nine plaintiffs. An April 2012 statement of claim in that litigation may be downloaded here. One translator’s polygrapher asked her “if she had engaged in sexual activity with animals” and another’s polygraph examination “included a question regarding his sexual conduct and whether he cheated on his partner.”

DEA Contractor Sued for Violation of the Employee Polygraph Protection Act

San Diego City Beat staff writer David Maass reports on the case of 10 translators formerly employed by Metropolitan Interpreters and Translators, a company that provides services to the Drug Enforcement Agency among other federal agencies. The translators were terminated for either failing, having inconclusive results on, or refusing to submit to, polygraph interrogations conducted by DEA polygraph operators. In a federal lawsuit, attorneys for the translators allege (convincingly, in AntiPolygraph.org’s view), that Metropolitan violated the Employee Polygraph Protection Act, which severely restricts the use of polygraphs by private companies. The DEA itself and individual DEA employees may eventually be added to the list of defendants in this case.

No Lie MRI Claims EPPA Exemption!

No Lie MRI, which has begun marketing fMRI-based lie detection services, has suggested to prospective clients that its lie detection tests are not governed by the Employee Polygraph Protection Act (EPPA) of 1988:

Corporations

U.S. law prohibits truth verification/lie detection testing for employees that is based on measuring the autonomic nervous system (e.g. polygraph testing). No Lie MRI measures the central nervous system directly and such is not subject to restriction by these laws. No Lie MRI is unaware of any law that would prohibit its use for employment screening.

No Lie MRI might want to get a second legal opinion. The EPPA makes no distinction between devices that measure the autonomic versus the central nervous system, broadly defining “lie detector” thus:

The term ”lie detector” includes a polygraph, deceptograph, voice stress analyzer, psychological stress evaluator, or any other similar device (whether mechanical or electrical) that is used, or the results of which are used, for the purpose of rendering a diagnostic opinion regarding the honesty or dishonesty of an individual.

No Lie MRI’s fMRI-based lie detector seems clearly to fall within the scope of this definition. Is No Lie MRI’s scientific research any better than its legal research?

“Liar’s Poker”

Brendan I. Koerner writes for The Village Voice. Excerpt:

Q: I’ve been asked by a potential employer to take a lie-detector test. There was a fair amount of pot smoking in my distant past, and I’m worried it’ll disqualify me from the job, which I desperately need. Aren’t there ways to beat the machine?

Before we start discussing techniques for fooling Mother Tech, let Mr. Roboto play lawyer for a sec. You don’t mention who this potential employer is, but unless it’s Uncle Sam, there’s no way in Hades you can be coerced into taking the test. A 1988 federal law, the Employee Polygraph Protection Act, forbids private-sector firms from using lie detectors to screen applicants, though some unscrupulous bosses will try and bully you. (Word to the wise: Don’t cave—worse comes to worst, you’ll have a sure-thing discrimination suit to file.)

No such legal protections exist when it comes to government jobs, however, despite mounting evidence that polygraphs are about as reliable as 17th-century dunking stools. Good thing the Web teems with tips on how to ace any lie-detector test, regardless of the numerous blunt-puffing skeletons in your closet.

As fans of cheesy detective fare already know, polygraphs work by measuring the physiological reactions of testees. The theory goes that a heightened pulse and sweaty palms invariably mean a person’s not on the up-and-up. Problem is, that assumption is rooted mainly in medical folklore. Not a single study exists to support a universal correlation between lying and excessive perspiration, or a speedier heart rate. Some people are just more anxious, and will exhibit the physiological signs of deception when telling the absolute truth—especially when they’re strapped into a machine and brusquely ordered, “Tell us how many times you smoked dope. Tell us!” (For federal jobs, 15 times or more over a lifetime is usually an automatic disqualifier.)

The other great polygraph flaw is its reliance on the “control question.” This is the question a polygrapher asks in order to establish what your lie looks like on the machine. A popular one is “Have you ever driven a car after drinking?”—the assumption being that no adult imbiber’s ever been a perfect angel. But if you’re really the conscientious type, and your answer of “no” is truthful, then you’re royally screwed for the remainder of the test.

“Ex-Employee Sues Smithfield Over Polygraph”

Tim McGlone reports for the Virginian-Pilot. Excerpt:

NORFOLK — A former Smithfield Packing Co. saleswoman has sued the meat giant and two supervisors, claiming the company illegally tried to force her to take a lie-detector test after she filed a sexual harassment complaint.

Julie M. Bannister, a married mother of three, also claims in court papers that a supervisor defamed her by spreading false rumors that she had been having an affair with a customer.

Bannister has filed two lawsuits in Norfolk federal court. One suit, filed Friday against Smithfield and a former supervisor, Joseph Weber, claims Weber defamed her. The other, filed Sept. 13, claims violations of the federal Employee Polygraph Protection Act. Bannister is seeking $18 million.

The polygraph lawsuit hinges on a federal law that prohibits private companies in most instances from requiring or even asking an employee to take a lie-detector test. Exemptions exist for security and armored car companies, nuclear power plants, government workers and anyone in the national security field. The test also is allowed for certain suspected criminal offenses.

“Do Lie Detectors Belong at Work?”

Bob Rosner writes for the Wall Street Journal Center for Entrepreneurs Startup Journal. Excerpt:

I recently received a letter from a small-business owner who responded to a rash of small thefts in the workplace with company-wide lie-detector tests. Before you start any fishing expeditions with your employees, I thought you’d benefit from hearing the following fish story.

One day a Russian angler caught a huge pike. Of course, the fisherman felt a great deal of pride, but he also felt something else — pain. Not content to be another fish out of water, the pike had bitten the fisherman on the nose and held on. Fortunately, according to newspaper accounts, Russian doctors were eventually able to pry the fish from the man’s face.

Well, just like that Russian fish, a lie detector has the potential to bite back. And if that happens, the lawyers you’ll need to hire to pry you loose from a potential or actual lawsuit will cost a heck of a lot more than any Russian doctor. William Hubbartt’s book, “The New Battle Over Workplace Privacy” (Amacom, 1998), is a good source of information on issues related to workplace privacy. I’ve adapted the following questions from it for business owners….

American Polygraph Association Considers Polygraph “Testing” of Airport Personnel

Issue #58 of PolygraphPlace.com’s biweekly e-zine, The Polygraph Chronicles, includes mention that the American Polygraph Assoction may seek an amendment rolling back the 1988 Employee Polygraph Protection Act (EPPA), which restricts private sector use of polygraphy in the workplace. Excerpt:

The American Polygraph Association (APA) Newsletter of Sept/Oct 2001 contains several comments from members of the Board of Directors showing recognition by the professional polygraph community that quality polygraph testing of airport personnel can and should be one way polygraph can serve society. There is an active committee examining the use of polygraph in airport (transportation) security with an eye on possible amendments to the Employee Polygraph Protection Act. The APA committee is comprised of the APA General Counsel, researchers, statisticians, a labor specialist, and several polygraph examiners.

As previously reported in the Polygraph News, an earlier edition of The Polygraph Chronicles reported a similar proposal by National Polygraph Association president Kenneth J. Whaley.

National Polygraph Association Calls for Polygraph Screening of Airport Employees

In an article titled, “Airlines – Part of National Security” published in issue #55 of the biweekly e-zine, The Polygraph Chronicles, National Polygraph Association president Kenneth J. Whaley argues for mandatory polygraph screening of airport employees. Excerpt:

September 11, 2001, firmly established that the airline industry is involved in national security. Not only the airlines, but those who provide them with support and assistance such as pre-departure screening personnel, caterers, janitors and other air-terminal employees.

On September 13, 2001 the National Polygraph Association (NPA) and its members all over the United States were encouraged to make contact with their State Labor Administrators to solicit their opinions regarding the “Employee Polygraph Protection Act of 1988” (EPPA), and its application to ALL airport employees. NPA President, Kenneth J. Whaley, also sent letters to the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA), Regional Counsel in Los Angeles, who then forwarded it to Washington D.C., reminding them of the EPPA law and it not exempting security guards or retailers within the airport buildings.

The National Polygraph Association is in communication with Federal Aviation Authority and the National Security Council to attempt to develop guidelines for administering polygraph examinations in the pre-employment screening of employees at and on airport facilities. Letters to those agencies also discuss specific tests related to suspect activity in which employees may be involved in activity possibly detrimental to the security of our nation.

The Polygraph Chronicles is not archived on-line, but subsription is free and is available by submitting one’s e-mail address to The Polygraph Place.