Former NSA Polygraph Division Chief Says Polygraphs Should Not Be the Deciding Factor in Visa Determinations for Afghan Interpreters

Thomas P. Mauriello

Thomas P. Mauriello, who once headed the NSA’s Polygraph Division, tells Newsy national security reporter Sasha Ingber that while he thinks the U.S. government should use polygraphs, they alone shouldn’t be the determining factor in decision-making. Mauriello’s remarks came in the context of a video report titled, “Ex-Polygraph Chief: Polygraphs Need Not Deny Afghan Interpreters Visas.” The following is a transcript excerpt:

Are Afghan interpreters who risked their lives to help U.S. forces now being consigned to death because of a flawed test?

“They just told me, ‘you failed the polygraph test,'” Afghan interpreter Omid Mahmoodi said.

Many tell Newsy they’ve been denied Special Immigrant Visas after failing the required polygraph.

“The use of the polygraph has been very helpful, but it’s unfair many times” Tom Mauriello, Former Chief of Polygraph at the Department of Defense said.

This all comes as the U.S. troop withdrawal in Afghanistan is almost complete and the Taliban is gaining ground.

All the reason, Mauriello says, a polygraph shouldn’t make-or-break an interpreter’s chances of coming to the U.S.

“Should the government be using it? Yes,” Mauriello said. “But they should be using it as a tool, among other things, so if they’re not successful on a polygraph test, but they’ve done an extensive background investigation and there’s no reason to have any concerns or problem, they should weigh those two things and then decide whether a person should have access or be approved for whatever they’re being evaluated for.”

Newsy additionally sought comment from the federal polygraph school, the National Center for Credibility Assessment, which did not respond to its calls or emails.

George W. Maschke

Ingber also spoke with AntiPolygraph.org co-founder George Maschke about the policy of denying visas to Afghans who served with U.S. forces based on polygraph results:

“It is, in fact, a cop-invented pseudoscience,” former Intelligence Officer George Maschke said. “The claim that polygraph has no scientific basis is supported by the National Academy of Sciences, which conducted an exhaustive review of the scientific evidence on polygraphs and in its 2002 report ‘The Polygraph and Lie Detection’ expressly recommended against polygraph screening by federal agencies.”

Polygraphs aren’t admissible evidence in most courtrooms. The major exception is New Mexico. So why are they being used here?

“I feel it’s unconscionable that the United states government is denying evacuation to Afghans who served honorably with our forces simply because they failed a polygraph test,” Maschke continued. “And I think it would be appropriate for President Biden to take executive action to reverse that policy immediately.”

The entire video report may be viewed below:

Part 2 of the Pretend Podcast’s Interview with Doug Williams

In season 7, episode 7 (The Lie Detector part 2) of the Pretend true crime documentary podcast, Javier Leiva concludes what is likely the last public interview of the late polygraph critic, Doug Williams. AntiPolygraph.org co-founder George Maschke and private polygraph operator Andrew Goldstein were also interviewed.

In this episode, Leiva addresses Williams’ decision to continue providing polygraph countermeasures training to an undercover federal agent after the agent stated that he had engaged in illegal behavior that would preclude him from the federal job he was pretending to be seeking. Additional text commentary and a video clip from the undercover operation are available on the Pretend podcast’s web page for this episode.

“Lying in Wait”

Congressional Quarterly national security editor Jeff Stein discusses a jihadist article on polygraph countermeasures recently discovered and translated by AntiPolygraph.org:

Lying in Wait: Al Qaeda “knows that polygraphs are unreliable and has an idea of how to beat them,” says a former U.S. Army linguist.

George W. Maschke, a translator fluent in Arabic and Farsi, discovered an article on an al Qaeda-linked Web site last week that instructs followers on specific countermeasures to use when U.S. interrogators hook them up to polygraph machines.

“There are many tricks for fooling the device,” says “The Myth of the Lie Detector,” originally posted on the al-Tawhed Web site in 2004. “We must realize that the idea of the device is based on measuring the body’s physiological changes. Thus, if the mujahid [holy warrior] is able to control these changes, it will enable him to fool the device.”

The article goes on to describe numerous methods a prisoner can use to control his breathing and blood pressure, evidently taken from articles and discussions challenging the science behind polygraphs posted by former U.S. intelligence and law enforcement personnel at an anti-polygraph Web site in the United States.

Maschke, who also worked with the FBI on terrorism cases in the 1990s, posted the original Arabic version along with his translation at the site.

He and other former intelligence personnel, including a retired senior FBI scientist, maintain that certain kinds of polygraph tests are unreliable and can be defeated easily. U.S. interrogators have been using them in Iraq with mixed results.

“Polygraphs Reduced by DOE Order”

Roger Snodgrass of the Los Alamos Monitor reports on the Department of Energy’s proposed changes to its polygraph rule.

The Department of Energy will significantly reduce the number of individuals now subject to lie detectors, according to a revision of the proposed rule published Friday.

Random use of polygraph tests will take place, however, although sole reliance on polygraph results for adverse actions against employees will be strictly prohibited.

More than two years after floating a polygraph proposal that essentially repudiated the findings of a study by the research body of the National Academies of Science, the rule is back again with supplemental revisions.

“My immediate observation is that the DOE has largely misconstrued the findings of the National Academies of Science regarding polygraphy and unduly relied on the counsels of bureaucrats with a vested interest in the perpetuation of polygraphy,” wrote George W. Maschke of AntiPolygraph.org, in an e-mail shortly after the latest draft rule was published.

Moreover, he added, “DOE still fails to address the fact that information on how to beat the polygraph is readily available to anyone who seeks it, and that no polygrapher has ever demonstrated any ability to detect polygraph countermeasures.”

DOE’s notice acknowledges that the question of using polygraphs is “the latest manifestation of this perennial struggle” – between openness and national security concerns.

“There are no easy answers to the dilemma of how best to reconcile these competing considerations,” the notice states in an introduction to the background of the rule.

Despite the NAS’s concerns about the “validity” of polygraph testing, DOE continues its call for a testing program that includes what the proposal characterizes as, “substantial changes” in response to previous critics.

“DOE proposes to conclude that the utility of polygraphs is strong enough to merit their use in certain situations, for certain classes of individuals and with certain protections that minimize legitimate concerns,” the document states.

In its proposal of April 2003, DOE reduced the number of people designated for mandatory screening from 20,000 to about 4,000, and then added another pool of 6,000 employees who would be tested randomly.

The latest proposal does not estimate the number of employees eligible for random testing but says the total tested would be much lower.

After a previous version of the rule met with criticism from employees and the scientific community, Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham asked Deputy Secretary of Energy Kyle McSlarrow to consider longer-term changes.

McSlarrow told a Senate committee at the time that he found many of NAS’s concerns to be well taken.

Dr. Stephen Fienberg, who chaired the National Research Council committee that authored the white paper critical of polygraphing, reminded senators at that time of its conclusions.

“The scientific foundations of polygraph screening for national security were weak at best,” he said, “and are insufficient to justify reliance on its use in employee security screening in federal agencies.”

A public hearing at DOE headquarters in Washington has been scheduled for Mar. 2. Written comments (10 copies required) are due Mar. 8.

The rule can be read or downloaded from the Federal Register, http://a257.g.akamaitech.net/7/257/2422/01jan20051800/edocket.access.gpo.gov/2005/05-248.htm .

To discuss DOE’s proposed rule changes, see the AntiPolygraph.org message board thread, DOE Proposed Rulemaking on CI/Polygraph Policy.

“Loved Ones’ Doubts Allow Truth to Be Sold”

Leonora LaPeter reports for the St. Petersburg Times. Excerpt:

TAMPA – Here are a few of the questions that polygraph examiner Mike Alaiwat asked a 60-something woman during a lie detector test recently:

“Did you leave a razor in Mr. Jones’ bathroom?”

“Do you know who put the razor in Mr. Jones’ bathroom?

“Are you lying about the shaver?”

The woman had asked for the test because the Mr. Jones in question had accused her of leaving her razor in his shower to make another girlfriend jealous.

The woman denied the accusations but wanted proof.

She paid Alaiwat $350 for the test. She cried with relief upon learning the results, which said she was truthful, and took Alaiwat’s report to her boyfriend.

Once the purview of law enforcement officials, attorneys and employers, lie detector tests now are becoming a popular way for the public to resolve personal issues.

Polygraph examiners all report more and more calls to resolve questions of infidelity, theft, cheating on fishing or golf tournaments and just about any other fact that two people can dispute.

Did the 16-year-old throw a hard-boiled egg at his aunt’s car?

Did the employee put feces in his co-worker’s lunch container?

Did a woman have sex with her boyfriend’s best friend?

Polygraph examiners, who now number a dozen in local phone books up from two a decade ago, attribute the newfound popularity of the polygraph to its use on daytime talk shows such as Ricki Lake, Maury Povich and Sally Jessy Raphael.

Meet the Parents, a show in which parents question three prospective mates for their son or daughter while they are hooked up to a polygraph, also has produced a lot of interest in lie detector tests, examiners say.

But some question the legitimacy of using the polygraph in making decisions that can alter lives.

“I think it’s a waste of these people’s money because the results of the polygraph are unreliable,” said George W. Maschke, co-author of The Lie Behind the Lie Detector and a founder of www.antipolygraph.org “Why? Because the whole procedure has no scientific basis at all. It’s pseudoscience. The public needs to know about this, especially people making major life decisions about marriage and relationships – or, God forbid, children – based on lie detector tests.”

“CIA Does Not Reveal Truths Regarding Polygraph Tests”

The Daily Northwestern published the following letter by George Maschke in response to Sheila Burt’s 16 May 2003 article, “CIA recruiters more Moneypenny than Bond”:

CIA recruiter Elizabeth was less than candid when she told Northwestern students that “those who tell the truth have nothing to worry about” regarding the polygraph. The National Academy of Sciences recently completed a thorough review of the scientific evidence and concluded that polygraph screening is completely invalid and that governmental reliance on it is a danger to national security.

Elizabeth’s failure to mention the NAS report is not surprising. As a matter of policy, the CIA does not inform those seeking employment (or even its own employees) that polygraph “testing” actually depends on the polygrapher lying to and otherwise deceiving the person being “tested” about the nature of the procedure. Nor does the CIA inform applicants that polygraphy has an inherent bias against the truthful. (Perversely, the more honestly one answers the so-called “control” questions, and as a consequence shows weaker physiological reactions to them, the more likely one is to fail.) This notwithstanding, anyone can pass (or beat) the polygraph using easily-learned countermeasures that polygraphers cannot detect. And importantly, the CIA does not inform applicants in advance that their polygraph interrogators may ambush them with questions about the most intimate details of their private lives.

Persons considering employment with the CIA should ponder just how intimate a relationship they are willing to have with their government.

George W. Maschke
Co-founder, AntiPolygraph.org

“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.”

“Pentagon Foresees Expanded Polygraph Testing”

Steven Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists’ Project on Government Secrecy discusses the National Academy of Science’s polygraph report in his Secrecy News e-mail publication:

PENTAGON FORESEES EXPANDED POLYGRAPH TESTING

Despite escalating criticism concerning the validity of polygraph testing, the Defense Department may seek to increase reliance on the polygraph as a security and counterintelligence tool, according to a new report to Congress.

In 1991, Congress authorized the Pentagon to conduct no more than 5,000 counterintelligence-scope polygraph (CSP) tests annually (not including tests on intelligence agency personnel, which are performed under the authority of the Director of Central Intelligence).

But “since that time, the Department has identified additional vulnerabilities and threats to classified information that did not exist over a decade ago,” according to the new report.

In particular, “the broad based use of information technology systems, coupled with the development of information sharing capabilities over the internet and through other electronic media, require the updating of DoD information assurance policies and practices to keep pace with this emerging threat.”

“These enhanced security requirements may require a CSP polygraph examination for access to DoD information systems.”

Accordingly, “an increase in the CSP ceiling … may be requested from Congress,” the report stated.

The Defense Department’s “Annual Polygraph Report to Congress, Fiscal Year 2002,” contains recent program statistics, anecdotal summaries of cases in which polygraph testing aided investigators, and descriptions of current polygraph research initiatives. The report is available here:

http://www.fas.org/sgp/othergov/polygraph/dod-2002.html

“It is important to note that the NRC report… concluded that the polygraph technique is the best tool currently available to detect deception and assess credibility,” the Pentagon said. But this is quite disingenuous.

What the NRC report actually said, critic George Maschke of Antipolygraph.org pointed out, is that “[s]ome potential alternatives to the polygraph show promise, but none has yet been shown to outperform the polygraph” (p. 8-4). As for the polygraph itself, “[t]here is essentially no evidence on the incremental validity of polygraph testing, that is, its ability to add predictive value to that which can be achieved by other methods” (p. 8-2).

While the majority of persons who undergo polygraph testing do so without incident, it is a career-ender for some and a deeply disconcerting experience for quite a few others. And at least some polygraph examiners apparently engage in occasional free-lance interrogation of their own.

One recent applicant for employment at the CIA told Secrecy News that his polygraph examination included the question “Do you have friends in the media?”

Israel: “A Lying Test”

Ha’aretz published the following letter from AntiPolygraph.org co-founder George Maschke:

A lying test

Regarding “Cellcom CEO puts execs under the grill” by Hadar Horesh, February 7:

Yitzhak Peterburg’s decision to force senior Cellcom executives to submit to polygraph tests or be fired is a mistake. Polygraph “testing” is simply unreliable. The dirty little secret behind the polygraph is that the “test” depends on trickery, not science. The polygrapher exhorts the examinee to answer all questions truthfully, but secretly assumes that denials to certain questions – called “control” questions – will be less than truthful.

One commonly used control question is, “Did you ever lie to get out of trouble?” The polygrapher steers the examinee into a denial, warning that anyone who would do so is the kind of person who would be guilty in the incident under investigation. But secretly, it is assumed that everyone, even innocent people, have [sic] lied to get out of trouble.

The polygrapher scores the test by comparing physiological reactions to these probable-lie control questions with reactions to relevant questions (e.g., “Did you talk to any reporter about those business plans?”) If the former reactions are greater, the examinee passes; if the latter are greater, he fails. This simplistic methodology has no grounding in scientific method.

Polygraph tests also include irrelevant questions like “Is today Saturday?” The polygrapher falsely explains that such questions provide a “baseline for truth,” but in reality, they are not scored at all and merely serve as buffers between sets of relevant and control questions.

Investigators value the polygraph because naive and gullible examinees sometimes confess. But many truthful persons fail the “test.” Perversely, the test is biased against the truthful because the more candidly one answers the control questions, and as a consequence feels less distress when answering them, the more likely one is to fail. Conversely, liars can beat the test by augmenting their physiological reactions to the control questions. This can be done by constricting the anal sphincter muscle, biting the side of the tongue, or merely thinking exciting thoughts. Although polygraphers frequently claim they can detect such countermeasures, no polygrapher has ever demonstrated any ability to do so, and peer-reviewed research indicates that they can’t.

George W. Maschke
http://antipolygraph.org

“The ‘Dirty Little Secret’ About Polygraph Tests”

The Washington Times published a letter by AntiPolygraph.org co-founder George Maschke in response to Ann Geracimos’ 9 Jan. 2003 article, “Interpreting a polygraph test.” Excerpt:

“Interpreting a polygraph test” (Metropolitan, yesterday) only scratches the surface in explaining how polygraph tests are interpreted. The dirty little secret of the polygraph community is that the “test” depends on trickery, not science. The polygrapher exhorts the examinee to answer all questions truthfully, but secretly assumes that denials to certain questions — called “control” questions — will be less than truthful….