“The Future of Lying”

Chris Summers of BBC News reports. Excerpt:

As the British government unveils plans to make lie detector tests mandatory for convicted paedophiles, some scientists in the US are working on more advanced technology which might be better equipped at detecting deception.

Imagine the Pentagon equipped with a machine which can read minds. Sound like the plot of a Hollywood thriller?

Well, it might not be that far away.

The US Department of Defense has given Dr Jennifer Vendemia a $5m grant to work on her theory that by monitoring brainwaves she can detect whether someone is lying.

She claims the system has an accuracy of between 94% and 100% and is an improvement on the existing polygraph tests, which rely on heart rate and blood pressure, respiratory rate and sweatiness.

Her system involves placing 128 electrodes on the face and scalp, which translate brainwaves in under a second. Subjects only have to hear interrogators’ questions to give a response.

But the system has a long way to go before it replaces polygraphs, which were invented almost a century ago and remain a tried and tested system of deception detection.

BBC reporter Chris Summers fails to note that while the polygraph may be “a tried and tested system of deception detection,” it has failed the test of scientific scrutiny. In its report, The Polygraph and Lie Detection, the U.S. National Academy of Sciences likened polygraph practitioners to a shamanistic priesthood.

“Creator of Brainwave Lie Detector Fears It May Be Misused”

Jenifer Johnston reports for the Sunday Herald:

THE creator of a new lie detector which scans brainwaves before a subject even speaks has admitted she fears what could happen if it falls into the wrong hands.

“We assume that the people asking the questions are going to be noble and working for something that is good , but of course that is not always going to be the case,” Dr Jennifer Vendemia told the Sunday Herald. This week she will address a major conference on crime at London’s Science Museum.

Vendemia’s new detector deduces from brainwaves whether a subject is preparing to answer a question truthfully.

Her work is funded by US government grants of $5.1 million (£2.7m), but at the end of her research she can choose to hand her device to the government or to a private company or individual.

“I stand to gain a great deal from it personally when it is completed, but I am very mindful of the uses it could be put to,” she said. “I have tried several times to get ethical investigations going into what we are doing here without success.”

The detector developed by Vendemia, a retained investigator with the Department of Defence Polygraph Institute, places 128 electrodes on the face and scalp which translate brainwaves in less than a second. Subjects only have to hear interrogators’ questions to give a response.

On groups, Vendemia has so far had an accuracy rate of between 94 and 100%.

Professor Paul Matthews, a neurologist at Oxford University who will also address the conference, said there are ethical concerns surrounding new lie detection technology. “In the US particularly the suspect has the right to remain silent — this technology obviously changes that.”

Dr. Vendemia’s lecture is scheduled for 13 January. The Lecture List provides the following announcement:

Naked Science: Criminal Memories

How would you feel about having your mind read by a machine? Is this the ultimate invasion of privacy? Find out more about the sophisticated memory testing or ‘brain finger-printing’ technologies currently used on criminals in the USA and discuss with experts whether we should use them here. This event is one in a series of debates on crime.

The Home Office has already begun trialing polygraphs, which typically measure heart rate, breathing rate, and blood pressure, as part of sex offenders parole in the North West of England – but what lies in the future of lie detectors? Will we soon test cheating partners and dishonest employees? Can we really ever trust technology which tells us what we are thinking?

Experts include Dr Jennifer Vendemia, Principal Investigator, Department of Defense Polygraph Institute, USA, who will discuss the potential pitfalls revolving around the misrepresentation of the research. Professor Paul Matthews, Neuroscientist, University of Oxford will also be on hand to discuss the science behind lie detectors. Tor Butler-Cole, King’s College London, will be talking about the ethical and legal implications of using new brain fingerprinting techniques to determine criminal responsibility. The event will be facilitated by Dr Dan Glaser, Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, UK. Gareth Jones, presenter of Tomorrow’s World and children’s show How2 will facilitate this event.

The Dana Center, which is hosting the conference, has an announcement on its website. Admission is free, but reservations are required.

“UNK to Receive $1 Million for Polygraph and Transportation Research”

SWNEBR.net reports. Excerpt:

KEARNEY, NE–In Kearney, Nebraska today Nebraska’s Senator Ben Nelson announced that the University of Nebraska at Kearney (UNK) will receive one million federal research dollars to study two important issues.

The first project is to improve the reliability of polygraph technology in an effort to make it more useful in law enforcement and national security settings. Approximately half a million dollars has been dedicated to this polygraph research venture.

UNK researchers will investigate the influence of polygraph testing on false confessions and the use of lie detectors in the evaluation and monitoring of post conviction behavior.

Development of this project is in direct response to recommendations made by the National Research Council and the Department of Defense Polygraph Institute.

It should be noted that the National Research concluded with regard to future polygraph research that “[t]he inherent ambiguity of the physiological measures used in the polygraph suggest that further investments in improving polygraph technique and interpretation will bring only modest improvements in accuracy.” (original emphasis)

“Atlas Researches, Ltd. Awarded Contract for a Polygraphy Chair”

The Defense Department’s Technical Support Working Group made the following announcement on 1 June 2004:

June 1, 2004 – The Investigative Support and Forensics (IS&F) subgroup of TSWG began a DHS-funded task for the development of a polygraphy chair and associated software. Atlas will develop a standoff measurement system that can unobtrusively gather physiological and/or behavioral data in real-time and characterize the level of potential threat based on the recorded measures.

Atlas Researches, Ltd., Hod Hasharon, Israel, will receive $744,528 for the 16 month effort.

“That’s No Lie: Wireless Polygraph on the Way”

Oded Hermoni reports for Ha’aretz:

The American government is funding the development of new technology for a polygraph machine that is capable of identifying whether a person is telling the truth, without physically attaching him to the equipment. There are also plans to develop a mat of sensors that will be used in airports to test the answers of passengers during questioning.

The technology, developed by an Israeli high-tech company, uses external sensors that cause minimum physical discomfort to the person being interrogated.

The Technical Support Working Group of the American Homeland Security authorized a grant of $750,000 earlier this week to fund the project, a joint venture of the Israeli Atlas and the American Whizsoft. The research and development stage is expected to be completed in 16 months with a single prototype that will be tested.

Atlas, an Israeli R&D company operating since 1977 which specializes in the analysis of psychophysiological phenomena and their impact, works mostly in outsourcing functions for medical equipment for both Israeli and foreign companies, but also for the Defense Ministry.

Atlas is joining the wave of dual-use technologies whose origins are in medical treatment and are also being used in the development of anti-terror equipment.

According to Gideon Miller, an adviser to Atlas in the project, what is unique in this project is the ability to process the information in real time and the ability of the sensors to evaluate from a distance the condition of the person interrogated.

This $750,000 grant seems to be made in connection with a Technical Support Working Group (TSWG) Broad Agency Announcement that was reported in Polygraph News on 23 October 2001. That announcement stated in relevant part:

R-111 Ports of Entry Passenger Screening Aid

Develop a deception detection device for use with counterterrorism based structured interviews for passengers of the various modes of transportation. The system should apply known relationships between electrodermal activity and the detection of deception in a polygraph to a portable device. Consideration will be given to alternate approaches and sensors. Emphasis should be placed on processing time.

The quest for a non-invasive lie detector for screening passengers seems to have been a knee-jerk reaction to the events of September 11, 2001. The TSWG should heed the finding of the National Academy of Sciences that polygraph screening is completely invalid and that further investments in polygraph research are likely to produce at best only modest improvement.

“It’s Temperature of Nose Rather Than Length That Tells if Person Is Lying: Ultra-Sensitive Infrared Cameras Could Be Alternative to Polygraph”

Frank Munger reports for the Knoxville News Sentinel:

OAK RIDGE – The detection of deception.

A little-known research group in Oak Ridge is developing an alternative to polygraphs, using subtle temperature changes on a person’s face to tell if he or she is lying. Early results are promising.

“We believe this technology that we have evaluated clearly has some excellent utility,” said Jerry Eisele, director of the Center for Human Reliability Studies.

Eisele said the U.S. intelligence community funded the feasibility project, but he declined to be more specific.

The Oak Ridge team tested the technique – infrared thermography – on 40 volunteer participants. In a carefully controlled test setting, participants were asked to take one of several objects from a crime scene and then try to conceal that information from questioners. An armed police officer was stationed in the room to make the interrogation more realistic.

Researchers used an infrared camera capable of detecting temperature changes of 15/1,000ths of a degree. Taking 10 or more picture frames per second, they were able to evaluate slight changes taking place on a person’s face – particularly around the nose, the most responsive area.

The team was able to correctly identify the item in a subject’s possession in about four out of five cases. In about 40 percent of the cases, the evidence was very strong.

The success rate compares favorably with polygraph tests, officials said.

“The polygraph has been around for like 67 years and is the culmination of developments (and) research over that time,” said Don Watkins, coordinator of the Oak Ridge project. “We’ve achieved similar results to the polygraph in two or three years. That is a significant achievement, and I think we can just get better.”

The Center for Human Reliability Studies is part of the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education, a U.S. Department of Energy facility.

For the thermography project, the center worked with Oak Ridge National Laboratory, drawing upon ORNL’s expertise in digital imaging, software development and statistical analysis. The research team also included two polygraph specialists, a plastic surgeon and a psychologist.

The polygraph relies on equipment to monitor blood pressure, pulse, respiration and galvanic skin response while a subject answers questions.

Like the polygraph, infrared thermography monitors physiological changes that may be tied to a subject’s stress from deception. However, unlike the polygraph, the technology does not require wires and cuffs and other monitors that may add to the stress level.

“These artificial stressors can compromise results,” the Oak Ridge team said in its research report. “The passive nature of thermal imaging renders this concern moot because it does not require any physical contact with the subject. The level of anxiety created by artificial stressors is thereby reduced or eliminated.”

Polygraph exams are widely used and widely controversial, and the U.S. government is interested in developing alternatives. That was one of the recommendations of a report last year by the National Research Council, which reviewed the scientific validity of polygraphs.

The premise for using infrared thermography is that the human body’s response to deception will leave telltale signs that are detectable in thermal images of the face. It’s anticipated skin temperature will drop as blood capillaries restrict as part of the nervous system’s response.

“The heat from the core of your body cannot get to the skin as fast as it normally will, so your skin should cool when you start to tell a lie,” said Ralph Dinwiddie, a senior research scientist at ORNL’s High Temperature Materials Laboratory.

Watkins said researchers looked at several areas of the face, primarily the forehead, cheeks, nose, around the mouth and the sides of the neck.

The team did two studies. The first effort focused on the technology itself and how it picked up changes in face temperature. The second was to evaluate responses among humans in deceptive situations. Researchers solicited volunteers by posting notices at local institutions, such as Methodist Medical Center and Pellissippi State Technical Community College.

In the thermal images of the face, the areas of most significant temperature change are shown in red. The more stable areas are white or lighter in color.

Some changes are associated with normal activities. For instance, the temperature may change around the mouth just from normal talking. The same is true of the area around the nostrils where respiration repeatedly changes the temperature.

During the early stages of the research, Dinwiddie was testing the infrared camera and various emotional responses. The ORNL scientist focused the camera on Watkins’ face and asked him to think about the day he heard that President John Kennedy had been shot.

“We just a waited a minute or so and looked at the data,” Dinwiddie said. “You could see this big decrease in the temperature of his skin. We said, ‘OK, there’s something here that can really pick up an emotional response.’ “

The Oak Ridge team has submitted proposals to a number of federal agencies to conduct follow-up research and develop the necessary software and data-analysis systems. The technology also would be tested on a larger scale under more diverse conditions.

With sufficient funding, a prototype system could be available within about two years, Watkins said. It could take up to five years to have a system broadly available, he said.

The biggest cost factor is the infrared camera. Current systems cost from $10,000 to $150,000.

“But they’re getting smaller and cheaper all the time,” Dinwiddie said.

At first blush, this thermal imaging lie detector appears to be fraught with all the same methodological shortcomings as CQT polygraphy.

“Terrorism Lends Urgency to Hunt for Better Lie Detector”

Richard Willing reports for USA Today. Excerpt:

PHILADELPHIA — In a quiet corner of the University of Pennsylvania campus, professor Britton Chance is using near-infrared light to peek at lies as they form in the brains of student volunteers.

Eventually, Chance hopes to see something else: a day when a device like his replaces the old, often inaccurate polygraph as the best way for the U.S. government to detect lies told by spies, saboteurs and terrorists.

Chance is among dozens of university and government researchers who have invigorated the hunt for a better lie detector, an effort that has been made more urgent by America’s focus on national security since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

In labs across the nation, researchers are using technologies originally developed to examine diseases, brain activity, obesity and even learning disorders to try to solve some of the mysteries of human conduct. The provocative idea behind some of the research is to go beyond measuring the anxiety of a liar — as polygraphs try to do — and to catch the lies as they form in the human brain.

“We need something; we have a country under stress” because of increased fears of terrorism, says Chance, 90, a biochemist and engineer who helped to develop military radar during World War II. “It might be fixed by finding out what people are thinking about.”

Even its staunchest defenders doubt that the polygraph is up to the job. Invented in 1915, the device uses wires, cuffs and a chest harness to measure changes in breathing, perspiration and heart rate. The presumption behind polygraph tests is that such changes can be brought on by the stress of telling a lie.

But researchers have long questioned the polygraph’s accuracy, in part because the test itself can make a person nervous enough to skew the results. In criminal cases, the accuracy of such tests can vary widely. Courts in only one state, New Mexico, routinely accept polygraph results as evidence.

And security screeners who use the machine to try to pick out would-be terrorists or spies have a more difficult challenge, polygraph critics say. Without details of a specific crime or security violation to ask about, polygraphs miss real spies and sometimes implicate innocent people.

Former CIA officer Aldrich Ames, who spied for the Soviet Union, and former Defense Intelligence Agency analyst Ana Belen Montes, who spied for Cuba, both passed polygraphs.

The polygraph is “a technology under duress,” says Frank Horvath, a Michigan State University professor of criminology and a Defense Department adviser. “The question is: Is there some way better, and how do you find it?”

The Defense Department, the FBI and the CIA are among the U.S. agencies trying to answer that.

Still no proven way

The Defense Department’s Polygraph Institute at Fort Jackson, S.C., is financing at least 20 projects aimed at finding a better lie detector. Another Pentagon office, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, is exploring magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and other technologies. The FBI and CIA are backing more research.

Because much of the work is secret, it is difficult to estimate how much is being spent.

All the projects are in their early stages, and they are shadowed by a glaring fact: Scientists still haven’t proven that there is a scientific way to catch a liar. If a device such as Chance’s were to become the standard, a range of ethical and legal questions would pop up over how it should be used.

For now, government examiners continue to rely on the old device.

So until something better comes along, agencies continue to use the polygraph. Horvath says the government would drop the polygraph “in a minute” if a more effective device were developed. Critics say it should be dropped anyway.

“Is it better than nothing, or worse?” asks Steven Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists, which has criticized government secrecy. “It’s worse if it creates a false sense of security or excludes qualified employees from government service. Any new technology has to pass that test.”

Senate Bill Envisages Research into Polygraph Alternatives

U.S. Senate Bill 1025, the Intelligence Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2004, envisages future research into alternative technologies to the polygraph. The relevant section of S. 1025 is cited in full here:


    (a) WORKSHOPS FOR COORDINATION OF RESEARCH- The National Science Foundation and the Office of Science and Technology Policy shall jointly sponsor not less than two workshops on the coordination of Federal Government research on the use of behavioral, psychological, and physiological assessments of individuals in the conduct of security evaluations.
    (b) DEADLINE FOR COMPLETION OF ACTIVITIES- The activities of the workshops sponsored under subsection (a) shall be completed not later than March 1, 2004.
    (c) PURPOSES- The purposes of the workshops sponsored under subsection (a) are as follows:
    • (1) To provide a forum for cataloging and coordinating Federally-funded research activities relating to the development of new techniques in the behavioral, psychological, or physiological assessment of individuals to be used in security evaluations.
    • (2) To develop a research agenda for the Federal Government on behavioral, psychological, and physiological assessments of individuals, including an identification of the research most likely to advance the understanding of the use of such assessments of individuals in security evaluations.
    • (3) To distinguish between short-term and long-term areas of research on behavioral, psychological, and physiological assessments of individuals in order maximize the utility of short-term and long-term research on such assessments.
    • (4) To identify the Federal agencies best suited to support research on behavioral, psychological, and physiological assessments of individuals.
    • (5) To develop recommendations for coordinating future Federally-funded research for the development, improvement, or enhancement of security evaluations.
    (d) ADVISORY GROUP- (1) In order to assist the National Science Foundation and the Office of Science and Technology Policy in carrying out the activities of the workshops sponsored under subsection (a), there is hereby established an interagency advisory group with respect to such workshops.
    (2) The advisory group shall be composed of the following:
    • (A) A representative of the Social, Behavioral, and Economic Directorate of the National Science Foundation.
    • (B) A representative of the Office of Science, and Technology Policy.
    • (C) The Secretary of Defense, or a designee of the Secretary.
    • (D) The Secretary of State, or a designee of the Secretary.
    • (E) The Attorney General, or a designee of the Attorney General.
    • (F) The Secretary of Energy, or a designee of the Secretary.
    • (G) The Secretary of Homeland Security, or a designee of the Secretary.
    • (H) The Director of Central Intelligence, or a designee of the Director.
    • (I) The Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, or a designee of the Director.
    • (J) The National Counterintelligence Executive, or a designee of the National Counterintelligence Executive.
    • (K) Any other official assigned to the advisory group by the President for purposes of this section.
    (3) The members of the advisory group under subparagraphs (A) and (B) of paragraph (2) shall jointly head the advisory group.
    (4) The advisory group shall provide the Foundation and the Office such information, advice, and assistance with respect to the workshops sponsored under subsection (a) as the advisory group considers appropriate.
    (5) The advisory group shall not be treated as an advisory committee for purposes of the Federal Advisory Committee Act (5 U.S.C. App.).
    (e) REPORT- Not later than March 1, 2004, the National Science Foundation and the Office of Science and Technology Policy shall jointly submit Congress a report on the results of activities of the workshops sponsored under subsection (a), including the findings and recommendations of the Foundation and the Office as a result of such activities.
    (f) FUNDING- (1) Of the amount authorized to be appropriated for the Intelligence Community Management Account by section 104(a), $500,000 shall be available to the National Science Foundation and the Office of Science and Technology Policy to carry out this section.
    (2) The amount authorized to be appropriated by paragraph (1) shall remain available until expended.

The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence has also published a Report on the Intelligence Authorization Act for FY 2004 that explains the provisions of Section 355 as follows:

Coordination of United States Government research on security evaluations

In October 2002, the National Academies of Science released a report entitled, `The Polygraph and Lie Detection’–`a scientific review of the research on polygraph examinations that pertains to their validity and reliability, in particular for personnel security screening.’ In the report–the first comprehensive assessment of the polygraph since the 1983 study by the U.S. Office of Technology Assessment–the National Academies stated:

[W]e recommend an expanded research effort directed at methods for deterring and detecting major security threats, including efforts to improve techniques for security screening. * * * We cannot guarantee that research related to techniques for detecting deception will yield valuable practical payoff for national security, even in the long term. However, given the seriousness of the national need, an expanded research effort appears worthwhile. * * * The research program we envision would seek any edge that science can provide for deterring and detecting security threats. It would have two major objectives: (1) to provide Federal agencies with methods of the highest possible scientific validity for protecting national security by deterring and detecting espionage, sabotage, terrorism, and other major security threats; and (2) to make these agencies fully aware of the strengths and limitations of the techniques they use.

In Section 355, the Committee authorizes $500,000 from the Intelligence Community Management Account for the National Science Foundation and the Office of Science and Technology to convene components of the U.S. Government to provide a forum to catalogue and coordinate Federally-funded research activities relating to the development of new techniques in the behavioral, psychological, or physiological assessment of individuals to be used in security evaluations. This effort is intended to serve as an important step in developing a more focused research effort leading to the development of alternatives to the polygraph as a security evaluation tool for the U.S. Government. By March 1, 2004, the National Science Foundation and the Office of Science and Technology are required to jointly submit to Congress a written report identifying the research most likely to advance the understanding of the use of such assessments of individuals in security evaluations; distinguish between short-term and long-term areas of research in order to maximize the utility of short-term and long-term research on such assessments; identify the Federal departments and agencies best suited to support such research; and develop recommendations for coordinating future Federally-funded research for the development, improvement, or enhancement of security evaluations. The components of the Federal Government who will participate in this effort include DoD, DoE, the Department of State, the Department of Justice, the Department of Homeland Security, the Director of Central Intelligence, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the National Counterintelligence Executive.