An Attempted Entrapment

bear-trapIn May 2013, I was the target of an attempted entrapment.1 Whether it was a federal agent attempting to entrap me on a contrived material support for terrorism charge or simply an individual’s attempt to embarrass me and discredit AntiPolygraph.org remains unclear. In this post, I will provide a full public accounting of the attempt, including the raw source of communications received and the IP addresses involved.

As background, it should be borne in mind that a federal criminal investigation into providers of information on polygraph countermeasures, dubbed “Operation Lie Busters,” has been underway since at least November 2011, when an undercover U.S. Customs and Border Protection agent, posing as a job applicant, contacted Chad Dixon of Marion, Indiana for help on passing the polygraph. In December, 2012, Dixon pleaded guilty to federal charges of wire fraud and obstruction of an agency proceeding, for which he has been sentenced to 8 months in federal prison.

Doug Williams of Norman, Oklahoma, a former police polygrapher who has been teaching people how to pass polygraph examinations for some three decades and operates the website Polygraph.com, was also the target of a sting operation and in February 2013, U.S. Customs and Border Protection executed search warrants on his home and office, seizing business records. He has been threatened with prosecution but to date has not been charged with any crime.

With this in mind, I received a most curious unsolicited communication on Saturday, 18 May 2013 from <mohammadali201333@yahoo.com>. The message was sent to my AntiPolygraph.org e-mail address <maschke@antipolygraph.org> and was titled “help help help please” (155 kb EML file.) The message body was blank, but there was a PDF attachment with a short message written in Persian, the language of Iran:

I know Persian, a fact of which the writer was evidently cognizant. Here is a translation:

Greetings and respect to you, Mr. George Maschke,

I am Mohammad Aghazadeh and have been living in Iraq for five years. I am a member of an Islamic group that seeks to restore freedom to Iraq. Because the federal police are suspicious of me, they want to do a lie detector test on me. I ask that you send me a copy of your book about the lie behind the lie so that I can use it, or that you help me in any other way. I am very grateful to you.

The book to which the message refers is The Lie Behind the Lie Detector (1 mb PDF), AntiPolygraph.org’s free e-book that, among other things, explains how to pass (or beat) a polygraph “test.” Factors that made me highly suspicious about this message include:

  • Why would someone who supposedly fears the police send an unencrypted e-mail acknowledging that he’s a member of an Islamic group that is trying to change the government of Iraq?
  • Why would such a person also provide his full name and how long he’s been in the country?
  • To my knowledge, there aren’t any Iranian-backed Islamic groups seeking to “restore freedom to Iraq.” In fact, Iran and Iraq have good diplomatic relations.
  • Why did this person ask me to send a book that is freely available on-line? Note that this message didn’t ask for a “Persian edition” of The Lie Behind the Lie Detector.

I suspected the message was a likely attempt to set me up for prosecution on charges of material support for terrorism (or something similar).2 It seemed highly unlikely that the message could be genuine. Nonetheless, about half an hour after receiving the message, I provided “Mohammad Aghazadeh” the same advice I would give to anyone accused of a crime who has been asked to take a polygraph test:

Dear Mr. Mohammad Aghazadeh,

Our advice to everyone under such circumstances is not to submit to the so-called “test” and to consult with a lawyer and comply with applicable laws.

George Maschke

Evidently, that response was not satisfactory, for the following day, Sunday, 19 May, about 24 hours after receipt of the first message, I received the following reply (11 kb EML file):

It reads:

Greetings and great respect, Mr. Maschke,
I am very grateful to you for your reply about the lie detector test.
I am not in circumstances where I can refrain from taking the test.
I saw your book on the Internet, but because I don’t know English, I wasn’t able to use it.
I will be very grateful to you if you would send me the Persian edition of it.
I don’t know how I will pass the test.
They have frightened me greatly. What am I to do????

I replied, “Unfortunately, said book has not been translated to Persian.” I have received no further communication from this person.

I Googled the e-mail address <mohammadali201333@yahoo.com> and found no mentions. Both e-mail messages originated from the same IP address: 159.255.160.115.
This address traces to Arbil (also spelled Erbil), Iraq, where the United States has a consulate.

I checked AntiPolygraph.org’s server access log for the IP address 159.255.160.155, and here is what I found:

9 May 2013

08:24:48 (GMT), someone at this IP address landed on AntiPolygraph.org’s publications page after a search on Google.iq (search terms unknown) using Google Chrome under Windows NT 6.1 (Windows 7).

08:24:59 lands on home page after searching Google.iq for: george maschke antipolygraph.

08:25:37 downloads The Lie Behind the Lie Detector.

10:09:15 fetches The Lie Behind the Lie Detector a second time after searching “george counter polygraph” but this time with Firefox 2.0.0.12 under Windows NT 5.1 en-US (Windows XP 32-bit).

18 May 2013

07:04:18 Lands on home page after unknown search on Google.iq using Microsoft Internet Explorer 10 under Windows NT 6.1 (Windows 7).

07:04:41 Fetches Federal Psychophysiological Detection of Deception Examiner’s Handbook.

07:05:46 Fetches The Lie Behind the Lie Detector.

07:06:27 Fetches DoDPI  Law Enforcement Pre-Employment Test Examiner’s Guide.

07:06:55 Fetches DoDPI Interview and Interrogation Handbook.

07:07:29 Fetches DoDPI Numerical Evaluation Scoring System.

11:07:04 Returns to home page using Microsoft Internet Explorer 10 under Windows NT 6.1.

11:07:08 Views recent message board posts. (Note: this action suggests the visitor is familiar with the site.)

11:08:10 Does a message board search (search terms not logged by server).

11:08:25 Searches message board again.

11:08:36 Searches message board again.

11:08:48 Searches message board again.

11:09:27 Searches Google (terms unknown) and lands on message board thread, Al-Qaeda Has Read The Lie Behind the Lie Detector.

11:10:02 Gets message board thread, Al-Qaeda Documentation on Lie Detection (which is linked early in the previous thread).

Note that both of the foregoing message threads include accusations against me of disloyalty to the United States.

11:10:34 Gets document Al-Qaeda Documentation on Lie Detection.

11:10:41 Returns to message board thread, Al-Qaeda Documentation on Lie Detection.

11:30:20 Last load of any page.

The browsing behavior documented in the server log does not suggest to me an individual who doesn’t know English. Also, the use of different web browsers and operating systems suggests to me that the IP address might belong to an organization rather than an individual.

I also found a few other visits from other nearby IP addresses (first three numerical blocks of the IP addresses are the same):

On 3 May 2013 at 10:51:20, IP 159.255.160.5 landed on an image of Tyler Buttle after searching Google.iq with an iPhone for “photo+sebel+can+sex”.

On 7 May 2013 at 18:08:25, IP 159.255.160.80 searched Google.iq for unknown terms and landed on the blog post Is Patrick T. Coffey Fit to Be Screening Police Applicants? using Firefox 20 under Windows NT 5.1 (Windows XP).

Twenty-six seconds later, at 18:08:51, the same IP moved on to the blog post Polygrapher Patrick T. Coffey Threatens Lawsuit, Demands Retraction.

I can well understand why someone in Iraq might search for sexy pictures of Sibel Can, a Turkish singer. (The searcher, who misspelled “Sibel,” must have been disappointed to find a picture of Tyler Buttle instead.) But why would anyone in Iraq be interested in Patrick T. Coffey, a private polygraph examiner based in Burlingame, California?

Patrick T. Coffey in Iraq
Photograph posted by Patrick T. Coffey to Facebook on 1 May 2013. The Arabic caption under the American and Iraqi flags reads: “Together We Achieve Success”

Coffey has done contract work in the Middle East before, and I wondered whether he might have been on contract in Iraq during the relevant period. Coffey lost his contract for pre-employment polygraphs with the San Francisco Police Department in the aftermath of S.F. Weekly’s reporting about bigoted and intemperate remarks he made on AntiPolygraph.org. Coffey clearly despises me, as you’ll observe from comments he posted under the nom de guerre TheNoLieGuy4U in the message thread Al-Qaeda Has Read The Lie Behind the Lie Detector. Those comments begin at page 2 and include a demand to know whether I have “personally ever translated or assisted any person in the translation of anti-polygraph materials or literature into Arabic, Farsi [Persian], or any other language?” (As if that were some sort of a crime. In fact, I haven’t.)

I was able to confirm that Coffey was indeed in Iraq for three weeks, including the relevant period when the visits to AntiPolygraph.org were made and the e-mails were sent. I called him on the morning of 26 May to ask whether he might have enlisted the aid of a Persian-speaking colleague while in Iraq in a personal effort to test and perhaps discredit me. Coffey denied any involvement with, or indeed, any knowledge of, the e-mails. He even refused to confirm that he had been in Iraq.

Coffey did volunteer that he understands from hearsay that the Department of Defense has an “open case” about me with respect to “the countermeasure question.” His implication was that it’s a criminal case. However, I have been out of the Army reserve for nine years and am not subject to the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

So was this attempted entrapment part of the U.S. government’s Operation Lie Busters, or the intrigue of a polygraph examiner with an axe to grind, or possibly a combination of both? I don’t know, but I welcome comment from any readers who might.

  1. McClatchy newspaper group investigative reporter Marisa Taylor first reported on this matter on 16 August 2013 in “Seeing threats, feds target instructors of polygraph-beating methods.” The present article explains this incident in fuller detail. []
  2. I should note that an “Islamic” group is not necessarily a terrorist group, or even a militant one, though I suspect that in the sender’s mind, they are the same thing. []

Cruel Joke: U.S. Exports Polygraphy to Iraq

AFP: An American solider sits strapped to a lie detector during a press conference in Baghdad's secure 'Green Zone'In an article titled, “Iraq Turns to Lie Detectors to Outsmart Al-Qaeda,” Agence France Presse (AFP) reports on the graduation of the first class of U.S. Government-trained Iraqi polygraph operators. But to outsmart Al-Qaeda, doesn’t one need to be smarter than Al-Qaeda? As AntiPolygraph.org has documented, Al-Qaeda and Iraqi insurgents — unlike the U.S. and Iraqi governments — understand full well that the lie detector is a pseudoscientific sham. See Al-Qaeda Documentation on Lie Detection and The Myth of the Lie Detector for the proof.

Iraq turns to lie detectors to outsmart Al-Qaeda

BAGHDAD (AFP) — Faced with infiltration of state organs by wily insurgents and Al-Qaeda jihadists, Iraq’s government has turned to a detection method highly favoured by the United States — polygraphs.

The first eight officials of the defence and interior ministries to be trained by US experts in the use of sophisticated lie detection equipment graduated last month after a six-month course.

“It is vital that we ensure that our employees in key services are trustworthy,” General Hamier, of the national police force, said at a small graduation ceremony in Baghdad’s highly-fortified Green Zone.

“Until now we have made employees fill in questionnaires on paper, and then we questioned them. It is very easy to lie. But now (with the new equipment) that will be much more difficult,” said Hamier.

Because polygraphy has no scientific basis to begin with and is vulnerable to simple countermeasures, it is not at all clear that it will be much more difficult for liars to get hired by the Iraqi government. Making matters worse, polygraph screening is inherently biased against the most truthful persons and is likely to screen out the very kind of straight arrows the Iraqi government desperately needs. Continue reading Cruel Joke: U.S. Exports Polygraphy to Iraq

Senate Report Disputes Press Accounts of CIA Polygraph of Iraqi Informant

As mentioned by Washington Post staff writer Walter Pincus in a recent article, the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence‘s recently released report, The Use by the Intelligence Community of Information Provided by the Iraqi National Congress (9.5 mb PDF), documents three intelligence sources who provided unreliable information but nonetheless passed DIA polygraph screening examinations.

One of these intelligence sources, identified in the report as Source One, appears to be Adnan Ihsan Saeed al-Haideri (عدنان احسان سعيد الحيدري), whom author James Bamford discussed in his Rolling Stones investigative article, “The Man Who Sold the War”:

The road to war in Iraq led through many unlikely places. One of them was a chic hotel nestled among the strip bars and brothels that cater to foreigners in the town of Pattaya, on the Gulf of Thailand.

On December 17th, 2001, in a small room within the sound of the crashing tide, a CIA officer attached metal electrodes to the ring and index fingers of a man sitting pensively in a padded chair. The officer then stretched a black rubber tube, pleated like an accordion, around the man’s chest and another across his abdomen. Finally, he slipped a thick cuff over the man’s brachial artery, on the inside of his upper arm.

Strapped to the polygraph machine was Adnan Ihsan Saeed al-Haideri, a forty-three-year-old Iraqi who had fled his homeland in Kurdistan and was now determined to bring down Saddam Hussein. For hours, as thin mechanical styluses traced black lines on rolling graph paper, al-Haideri laid out an explosive tale. Answering yes and no to a series of questions, he insisted repeatedly that he was a civil engineer who had helped Saddam’s men to secretly bury tons of biological, chemical and nuclear weapons. The illegal arms, according to al-Haideri, were buried in subterranean wells, hidden in private villas, even stashed beneath the Saddam Hussein Hospital, the largest medical facility in Baghdad.

It was damning stuff — just the kind of evidence the Bush administration was looking for. If the charges were true, they would offer the White House a compelling reason to invade Iraq and depose Saddam. That’s why the Pentagon had flown a CIA polygraph expert to Pattaya: to question al-Haideri and confirm, once and for all, that Saddam was secretly stockpiling weapons of mass destruction.

There was only one problem: It was all a lie. After a review of the sharp peaks and deep valleys on the polygraph chart, the intelligence officer concluded that al-Haideri had made up the entire story, apparently in the hopes of securing a visa.

But the Senate report contradicts Bamford, stating at p. 41: “DIA administered a polygraph of Source One in early 2002, which he passed.” Following three full lines of redacted text, the report continues: “There were no other Intelligence Community polygraphs of Source One prior to the DIA administered polygraph.” A footnote then adds: “Press stories alleging that Source One failed a CIA polygraph in December 2001 are inaccurate.” Thus, it appears that the case of Adnan Ihsan Saeed al-Haideri is no polygraph success story.

Iraqi Fabricators Passed DIA Polygraph

On Saturday, 9 September 2006, Washington Post staff writer Walter Pincus reported on the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence’s recently released review of pre-war intelligence on Iraq in an article titled, “Report Details Errors Before War.” Excerpt:

The long-awaited Senate Intelligence Committee report released yesterday sheds new light on why U.S. intelligence agencies provided inaccurate prewar information about Saddam Hussein and his weapons programs, including details on how Iraqi exiles who fabricated or exaggerated their stories were accepted as truthful because they passed Pentagon lie detector tests.

The two newly declassified chapters of the report fueled political accusations yesterday that the Bush administration lied to justify invading Iraq, but the documents’ nearly 400 pages contain several examples of how bad information wound up accepted as truthful in intelligence assessments at the time.

A section includes the results of an evaluation by the CIA of its performance, which concludes that, despite repeated prewar assessments that the Iraqis were practicing deceit and deception to hide their weapons, there actually were no such efforts because there were no weapons.

The CIA concludes: “There comes a point where the absence of evidence does indeed become the evidence of absence.” That statement is a play on a remark Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld made frequently in the months before the war — after U.N. inspectors in late 2002 and early 2003 could find no weapons — that “the absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.”

One 208-page chapter from the Senate committee report covers the use of intelligence provided by the Iraqi National Congress and its leader, Ahmed Chalabi. The panel wrote that three Iraqi exiles gave the Pentagon inaccurate information about Hussein’s alleged training of al-Qaeda terrorists, as well as about the existence of mobile biological weapons factories and an alleged meeting between the Iraqi leader and Osama bin Laden. All three exiles passed lie detector tests given by the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), adding credibility to their stories.

In each case, the information proved to be questionable, if not inaccurate….

One of the three polygraph-passing fabricators, identified as Source Two in the report, The Use by the Intelligence Community of Information Provided by the Iraqi National Congress (9.5 mb PDF), is former Iraqi army major Mohammad Harith, who has been previously discussed on AntiPolygraph.org in the message board thread, Iraqi Fabricator Passed Polygraph.

It should be noted that former DIA employee Ana Belen Montes, a Cuban double agent who penetrated the agency and rose to become the Pentagon’s senior analyst on matters related to Cuba, passed at least one polygraph screening examination while spying for Cuba.

Special Forces Reportedly Using CVSA in Iraq, Afghanistan

A report about Computer Voice Stress Analysis (CVSA) on the website of Central Ohio television station WBNS (“Tool Catches Fibbing Suspects”) concludes by mentioning that the Special Forces are using CVSA to interrogate suspected terrorists in Iraq and Afghanistan. The entire report is reproduced here:

More and more police departments in Ohio are turning to technology used in war zones to question suspected terrorists and to determine if someone is telling the truth.

Critics call it “junk science,” but a central Ohio detective swears it turns suspects into confessors.

When Detective Dave King walks into an interrogation room, he brings a secret weapon. It’s a computer that measures stress in a person’s voice.

Detective King says the computer never lies. “These computers are now used in more than 140 Ohio police departments. At $10,000 a piece, they are actually a cost saver to departments that can’t afford a full time polygraph unit,” says King.

Critics say the voice stress computer is junk science and officers are using trickery to gain confessions.

10-TV Reporter Kevin Landers put the computer to a test.

Detective King hooked a microphone to him, and answered two questions. One question he answered truthfully and one with a lie. King says the results from the machine tell him when Kevin is lying.

King says, “There have been times when people come in and I totally bought their story.”

Then he turns the machine on.

“Had it not been for CVSA, I, and other investigators, would have believed what they told us and they would have gotten away with it,” says King.

Voice stress analyzers are also in use in Iraq and Afghanistan. Special Forces units use them to interrogate suspected terrorists.

The critics who call CVSA junk science are supported by the National Institute of Truth Verification (the company that peddles CVSA) itself, which has reportedly acknowledged in a court filing that CVSA “is not capable of lie detection.”

That the U.S. Government is relying on the junk science of voice stress analysis to interrogate suspected terrorists is corroborated by the testimony of a former Guantanamo detainee. See the AntiPolygraph.org discussion thread, Polygraph & Voice Stress Test Relied on at Gitmo.

Iraqi Fabricator Who Passed Polygraph Identified

The Iraqi fabricator who provided false information that Iraq possessed mobile biological warfare laboratories and was believed in part because he had passed a polygraph “test” has been publicly identified as Major Mohammad Harith. Secretary of State Colin Powell used Harith’s bogus information in an attempt to justify the planned invasion of Iraq in a pre-war speech before the United Nations.

Knight Ridder reporters Jonathan S. Landay and Warren P. Strobel disclose Harith’s identity in an article titled, “Former CIA director used Pentagon ties to introduce Iraqi defector.” For discussion, see the AntiPolygraph.org message board thread, Iraqi Fabricator Passed Polygraph.

“Polygraphing Rumors”

Joel Mowbray writes for the Washington Times. Excerpt:

To a number of civilian employees at the Pentagon, a New York Times story on June 3 came as quite a jolt: Some of them apparently already had been polygraphed as part of an investigation into Iraqi Governing Council member Ahmed Chalabi.

But it never happened. Nearly three weeks later, it appears that the implicated civilian employees at the Pentagon have not been polygraphed.

And the Times is unapologetic in the face of substantial evidence that it got the story wrong.

As you may surely remember, Iraqi Governing Council member and longtime U.S. ally Ahmed Chalabi was all over the news late last month and early this month for allegedly passing classified information to Iran. According to various news accounts, an Iranian intelligence agent in Baghdad supposedly cabled Tehran to inform officials that Mr. Chalabi had tipped them off that the United States had cracked their code — a message sent using the same cracked code.

The Times scored a significant scoop, running the details of the code scandal on page one on June 2. The following day, the paper of record had the scoop of the follow-up, reporting that the FBI had started polygraph examinations on a “small number” of civilian employees at the Pentagon.

Common knowledge inside the Beltway is that the Times’ story identification of the “small number” of “civilian employees” was a thinly veiled reference to people working for Deputy Secretary Paul Wolfowitz or in the policy shop, headed by Undersecretary Douglas Feith. (Most in that group are political appointees and were hawks on Iraq.)

The practical result was a smear of State’s and CIA’s political enemies — Mr. Chalabi and the Pentagon’s hawks. That’s undoubtedly the exact outcome for which the Times’ sources hoped.

In fairness to the Times, it appears that the FBI has initiated some sort of investigation, including limited use of polygraph testing — but on people who were based in Baghdad.

“Who’s Lying?”

In their “Inside the Ring” column, Washington Times reporters Bill Gertz and Rowan Scarborough question a recent New York Times report that the FBI has begun polygraphing DoD civilians regarding an alleged leak of classified information:

Who’s lying?

The breathless headline in a major daily newspaper read yesterday, “Polygraph Testing Starts at Pentagon in Chalabi Inquiry.”

Trouble is, no one at the Pentagon with whom we checked knows of anyone in the building being polygraphed by the FBI. Nor has the Pentagon been notified by the FBI that it is investigating the supposed leak of classified information to Ahmed Chalabi, who heads the Iraqi National Congress.

“No official has been polygraphed or told to expect to be polygraphed,” a Pentagon official said. The official and others said there has been no notification from the FBI that anyone is under investigation and needs to be questioned, in the Chalabi matter.

The case broke open when the United States intercepted a cable from an Iranian spy in Baghdad to Tehran saying that Iran’s code had been broken by the Americans and that Mr. Chalabi was the source for this information.

An FBI spokesman said he did not know whether anyone at the Pentagon had been questioned. He said the bureau is investigating whether any government official leaked classified information to Mr. Chalabi or his group that found its way to Iran.

Why, ask Pentagon officials, would the Iranians disclose such a development in a cable they know will be read by the United States? Some suspect the whole episode is a plot by Tehran to discredit Mr. Chalabi, a Shi’ite who opposes Tehran’s hard-line, Shi’ite theocracy.

Alleged Spy for Iran Reportedly Passed U.S. Government Polygraph

Knight-Ridder reporters Warren P. Strobel and John Walcott report in an article published in the Contra Costa Times titled, “U.S. probes Chalabi’s ties to Iran” that U.S. Government officials allege that evidence suggests that Iraqi National Congress leader Ahmad Chalabi’s security chief, Arras Habib, is an Iranian spy who passed highly sensitive U.S. secrets to Iran’s intelligence service, the Ministry of Intelligence and Security, also known by the Persian (Farsi) acronym, VEVAK. The article cites Francis Brooke, a former subcontractor on a CIA program in northern Iraq, as stating that Habib had passed a counterintelligence-scope polygraph screening examination. Excerpt:

To qualify [for a Defense Intelligence Agency funded intelligence gathering program], Habib and other Iraqi National Congress figures were required to take polygraph tests that focused almost entirely on his connections with foreign intelligence agencies.

“He passed,” said Brooke. He said Habib acknowledged during the screening that as an intelligence professional, Habib has connections with intelligence services in Syria, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Iran.

“Polygraphs Don’t Give True Story”

Noah Schachtman reports for Wired News. Excerpt:

The military may have ways — gruesome ways — of making people talk, as the Abu Ghraib prison scandal has shown. But it still doesn’t have a reliable method for figuring out whether those people are telling the truth or not.

Nearly 75 years since the introduction of the polygraph, there’s still nothing close to a foolproof lie detector. Traditional methods for catching a fibber have been battered by scientific study. And, despite endless waves of hype, the high-tech alternatives — brain scans, thermal images and voice analysis — have withered under scrutiny, or remain largely unproven.

“Everybody would love to have a lie detector that works. But wanting it isn’t going to make it happen,” said Stephen Kosslyn, a Harvard University professor of psychology.

“You can flip a coin, and get the same results,” said Mike Ritz, a former Army interrogator who now trains people to withstand questioning.

In a 2002 report, the National Academy of Sciences concluded that traditional polygraph screening was so flawed that it “presents a danger to national security.” The group found that too many innocent people who took polygraphs were labeled guilty, and too many guilty people slid by undetected.

Federal and local governments have carried on with polygraphs anyway. U.S. military investigators, armed with the devices, have been deployed to Iraq, to question candidates for detention. The Energy and Defense departments give out thousands of the tests every year to filter out potential security threats. And the Supreme Court has ruled that it’s up to the states to decide whether evidence from lie detectors is admissible in court.

Polygraphers contend that — especially when they start out with a piece of damning evidence — they can catch liars at rates of 90 percent or better. The problem is that polygraphs check only for physical responses that indicate deceit: heavy breathing, high pulse rate, sweat. But panting or sweating don’t necessarily mean that a person is guilty of anything. All these responses indicate is that someone is anxious, said University of Arizona psychology professor John JB Allen. And innocent people get jumpy, too — especially when there’s a bull-necked interrogator in the room.