Very Hot Topic (More than 25 Replies) The Polygraph and the Case of Dr. Thomas C. Butler (Read 37347 times)
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The Polygraph and the Case of Dr. Thomas C. Butler
Oct 20th, 2003 at 9:12am
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Dr. Thomas Campbell Butler


On Sunday, 19 October 2003, CBS 60 Minutes aired a segment titled "The Case Against Thomas Butler," a world renowned Texas Tech scientist accused of lying to the FBI about bubonic plague samples he reported missing from his lab. Here's an excerpt from the CBS website's summary:

Quote:
(CBS) Early this year, government investigators, who have yet to determine who was responsible for the anthrax attacks, were faced with another scare with another possible bio-terrorism weapon: deadly bubonic plague.

This scare involved 30 vials of the plague bacteria that had disappeared from a research laboratory.

There had been intelligence reports that Osama bin Laden had an active program to weaponize plague for use in the United States. And so, when the 30 vials turned up missing from the laboratory of a world-renowned scientist at Texas Tech in Lubbock, the president was briefed, and a full-scale investigation was launched.

The scientist is Dr. Thomas Butler, who was working on a new antidote for plague when he discovered the 30 vials missing from his lab. Butler gives his only interview to Correspondent Lesley Stahl.
Butler feared the vials were stolen. "It was my leading concern," he says.

He reported to university officials that the vials were missing, and in no time, 60 FBI agents showed up. Butler was questioned for nine hours, and his lab and his home searched thoroughly. After finding no evidence of a break-in, the FBI concluded there had been no theft and honed in on Butler.

"They presented me with their evidence of the investigation that pointed to only one possibility, and that was accidental destruction," says Butler.

Butler says if he had destroyed the vials, he'd remember, which he didn't. But he says the FBI pressed him anyways to sign a statement that he had "accidentally destroyed" the vials -- and that he had done so long before he reported them missing. In other words, that he had lied.

"They told me that I would not be charged if I were able to confirm the accidental destruction," says Butler.

He says they told him if he signed a confession, he could go home, case closed. So he signed, even though no attorney was present. But instead of going home, Butler was hauled off to jail in handcuffs and leg irons. The charge? Lying to the FBI.

"I was tricked and deceived by the government. I feel I was nave to have trusted them and the assurances they gave me," says Butler.

"They wanted to conclude the investigation and, they told me, reassure the public that there was no danger to the public."

Today, at 61, Butler's long and distinguished career is in ruins. He's a physician, a professor, and perhaps the nation?s leading researcher on plague.

"I was working with a specific antibiotic called gentimycin, which our FDA wants, if effective in plague, to add to the national stockpiles for use in a possible bio-terrorist attack," says Butler.


What the web version of this story doesn't mention is that Dr. Butler's "confession" was obtained following a polygraph interrogation by FBI Special Agent Dale Green.

The interrogation tactics of pressure and false promises that Dr. Butler alleges appear to be consistent with federal polygraph practice, as documented in the Department of Defense Polygraph Institute's Interview & Interrogation handbook (5.2 mb PDF):

http://antipolygraph.org/documents/dodpi-interrogation.pdf

A 25 September 2003 article by Associated Press writer Betsy Blaney suggests that the FBI also used sleep deprivation tactics against Dr. Butler. And although it is generally accepted in the polygraph community that a polygraph examination should not be conducted after a suspect has been subjected to intensive interrogation, that didn't stop FBI polygraph operator Dale Green, who polygraphed Dr. Butler after 10 hours of prior interrogation. Blaney's article, titled "Judge denies defense motion to suppress statement ," was published in the San Angelo Standard-Times and is cited here in full:

Quote:
LUBBOCK, Texas- A federal judge on Thursday refused to suppress a statement given to authorities by Dr. Thomas C. Butler, the Texas Tech University professor who reported vials of plague bacteria stolen from his laboratory.

In Butler's statement, he admitted a "misjudgment" in not telling his supervisor that 30 vials of bacteria he had reported missing in January had been "accidentally destroyed."

His defense attorney contended that the statement was coerced after nearly 24 hours of interrogation, and a lack of sleep and food. But a judge ruled Thursday that there was no evidence of coercion.

Butler, who is free on $100,000 bond until his Nov. 3 trial, declined to comment as he left the courtroom after the hearing on whether to suppress the statement.

He faces 69 counts stemming from the investigation that began shortly after he reported 30 vials of the plague bacteria stolen from a university lab. The report, coming amid public worry over biological attack, triggered a terrorism-alert plan and prompted the FBI to rush dozens of agents to this West Texas city.

During the hearing, FBI agent Dale Green testified that he told Butler to go home and get some rest after a Jan. 15 polygraph test, and that Butler never claimed to be hungry or tired. The polygraph came after Butler was questioned for more than 10 hours about his report of missing vials.

Green testified that he told his supervisor he had sent Butler home to rest. A short time later, agents went to Butler's house and got his consent to search his car and home. They finished at about 5:30 a.m. At 10 a.m. agents returned to take Butler for more questioning

"They went (to conduct the search) for one purpose: to keep him up," defense attorney Chuck Meadows said. "It's beyond belief that that agent in charge didn't know exactly what he was doing."

Green also testified that Butler showed "red flags" that indicated he was deceiving authorities about the whereabouts of the missing vials during the first of two polygraph tests.

Butler spoke in a "very monotone voice" when he said the vials could have been stolen by "a student or terrorist or someone from the cleaning crew," Green testified. "He had no fear or worries about this at all."

Results from the polygraph led Green to believe Butler was lying, and when he returned the following morning Green told him so.

"He smiled," Green testified. "That's someone who realizes the game is up."

After further questioning, Butler admitted to accidentally destroying the vials, Green testified.

But in their motion to suppress the statement, defense attorneys wrote that federal agents "manipulated Dr. Butler into agreeing to the FBI's suggestion that he accidentally destroyed the vials."

Butler is accused of smuggling samples of plague bacteria from Tanzania, illegally transporting them within the United States and abroad, and then lying about it to authorities. He was indicted this month on charges that allege theft, embezzlement and fraud.

If convicted on all counts, Butler could spend the rest of his life in prison and face $17.1 million in fines.

He remains on paid administrative leave from Tech, but has been notified by school officials that his dismissal has been recommended.

After U.S. District Judge Sam Cummings made his ruling, Floyd Holder, another of Butler's team of attorneys, declined to comment. Assistant U.S. Attorney Dick Baker also declined to comment.


Note that the judge's finding that "there was no evidence of coercion" is the natural result of the FBI's deliberate practice of ensuring that no such evidence is created. The FBI follows the insidious practice of not recording polygraph interrogations, which prevents documentation of abusive interrogations from ever being aired in a court of law. It is high time that the FBI ended this shameful practice and began routinely recording all interrogations (whether or not a polygraph is used).

The case docket further indicates (at #147 dated 2 October 2003) that the government was successful in convincing Judge Sam R. Cummings to withhold the FBI's polygraph manual from the defense:

Quote:
ORDER AFTER FBI POLYGRAPH MANUAL IN CAMERA REVIEW as to Thomas Campbell Butler : Court FINDS no inconsistencies in Agent Greens' testimony when compared with the contents of the Manual that would constitute inconsistent statements or other material which would constitute impeachment material. The Court FURTHER FINDS that the FBI Polygraph Manual does not contain Brady material, is classified "Secret" and is not subject to disclosure to the defense. Accordingly, the Government does not have to provide the FBI Polygraph Manual to the defense. It is Ordered that the FBI Polygraph Manual be returned to the custody of FBI Special Agent Dale Green. It is Further Ordered that the Clerk provide a copy of this "Order After FBI Polygraph Manual In Camera Submission" to prosecution and defense counsel. Copies to all counsel of record. (Signed by Judge Sam R Cummings on 10/2/03) (klw, ) (Entered: 10/02/2003)


Dr. Butler has received widespread support from the scientific community, which is aghast at the government's behavior in this case. See, for example, the Federation of American Scientists' "In Support of Dr. Thomas Butler" page, which includes case documentation:

http://www.fas.org/butler/
« Last Edit: Oct 21st, 2003 at 8:14am by George W. Maschke »  

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Re: The Polygraph and the Case of Dr. Thomas C. Bu
Reply #1 - Oct 20th, 2003 at 9:39pm
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George

What's your point?  You seem to be making conclusions after seeing one side of the coin.  Why don't you let this play out in court before drawing conclusions.  It's a quite common practice for defense attorney's (and defendants) to cry false confession due to coercion after the fact.  If that's the case then it will come out in the wash.  If not, the good Doc will get his just dessert.  False confessions are generally a product of police abuse (beatings), drugs, or mental capacity (or lack thereof) of the defendant.  Doesen't sound like the Doc's case fits any of these.  You would think such an intelligent guy would be wise enough not to provide a false confession.  Wouldn't you? Wink
  
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Re: The Polygraph and the Case of Dr. Thomas C. Bu
Reply #2 - Oct 21st, 2003 at 12:01am
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Saidme

The point that came across to me was that the FBI used lies, trickery and deception on Dr. Butler. Then they hauled him off to jail for lieing to them. Why did they not  get hauled off to jail for the same thing? Something is wrong with this picture.

The FBI hiring process demands truthfulness. Why? They are going to taught to lie. Is it because they are not bright enough to go heads up and solve a crime?
  
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Re: The Polygraph and the Case of Dr. Thomas C. Bu
Reply #3 - Oct 21st, 2003 at 8:19am
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Saidme,

You assert that "[f]alse confessions are generally a product of police abuse (beatings), drugs, or mental capacity (or lack thereof) of the defendant." On the basis of what evidence do you make this claim?
  

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Re: The Polygraph and the Case of Dr. Thomas C. Bu
Reply #4 - Oct 21st, 2003 at 3:24pm
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Twoblock

Tickery and deception are authorized interrogation techniques and supported by the supreme court.  You seem to be mixing hiring practices in with a criminal investigation.  They're apples and oranges.


George

It's common knowledge those are the primary causes of false confessions.  I think if you took the time to look into it you would find plenty of literature that supports that.  You seem to believe there may be some other cause for false confessions.  What would that be?
  
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Re: The Polygraph and the Case of Dr. Thomas C. Bu
Reply #5 - Oct 21st, 2003 at 4:26pm
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Saidme wrote on Oct 20th, 2003 at 9:39pm:
George

False confessions are generally a product of police abuse (beatings), drugs, or mental capacity (or lack thereof) of the defendant.


As a polygrapher, what are your firsthand experiences with any of the above, saidme? How many false confessions have you extracted?
  

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Re: The Polygraph and the Case of Dr. Thomas C. Bu
Reply #6 - Oct 21st, 2003 at 4:28pm
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That would be none.  I also suspect the good Doc's confession was probably not false.
  
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Re: The Polygraph and the Case of Dr. Thomas C. Bu
Reply #7 - Oct 21st, 2003 at 4:29pm
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That would be no false confessions.  I also have never observed a false confession first hand.  I believe the primary reason for that is because they are quite rare.
  
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Re: The Polygraph and the Case of Dr. Thomas C. Bu
Reply #8 - Oct 21st, 2003 at 5:06pm
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Another article on the subject:

Professor accuses FBI of lies

"They told me I would not be charged if I were able to confirm the accidental destruction. ... (They) wanted to conclude the investigation and, they told me, reassure the public that there was no danger."

Nice whopper by the way, saidme.
  

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Re: The Polygraph and the Case of Dr. Thomas C. Bu
Reply #9 - Oct 21st, 2003 at 6:14pm
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We're looking at one side of the story here.  Competent investigators will not make promises such as the good Doc suggests.  Unless ofcourse they were working with a prosecutor.  I suspect the Doc rationalized his illegal behavior (intentional destruction) by admitting to the "accidental" destruction.  Quite common behavior.
  
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Re: The Polygraph and the Case of Dr. Thomas C. Bu
Reply #10 - Oct 21st, 2003 at 6:50pm
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Saidme

I notice, inresponse to my post, that you left out lies. A lie is neither apples nor oranges. To me, a lie (by ANYONE) is Caster Oil and Black Draught. All three gives me the sh--s.

From what I have been able to determine, an interrogation goes something like this: "if you will confess,(true or false) I will talk to the prosecutor on your behalf because a confession saves the government a lot of money". If the talk ever occurs, doesn't it go something like "lets give the SOB the maximum possible. He confessed". BTW, (true or false) are my words. Not the interrogator's.

Another BTW. I am not anti-LE. Do the crime, then do the time. However, if the "glove doesn't fit, you have to aquit". I believe that LE, like everyone else, should be saddled with high integrity.
  
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Re: The Polygraph and the Case of Dr. Thomas C. Bu
Reply #11 - Oct 21st, 2003 at 7:57pm
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Sorry for leaving the word lies out.  I thought I covered it with the word deception.  I also believe LE should have a high level of integrity.  Don't equate OJ's acquittal with innocence.
  
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Re: The Polygraph and the Case of Dr. Thomas C. Bu
Reply #12 - Oct 21st, 2003 at 11:05pm
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Saidme

I only used the glove term to illustrate a point. That type of interrogation should not be allowed. The subject should be told " we are gathering evidence that will likely prove you guilty. Do you want to confess"?. If the subject says no, then let him have his day in court. If found guilty, then rack him.

If I had been the prosecutor, the glove thing would not have flown. The prosecutors were so involved in hanky panky that they didn't realize that wet leather shrinks when allowed to dry. The glove had been wet with blood and allowed to dry. Another mistake by the investigators. Another dumb mistake was allowing the jury to be stacked 100% in OJ's favor. Hell yes he's guilty.

Dr. Butler's case is again proof that all interrogations should be audio and vidio taped. If interrogators was as interested in justice as they are in convictions, there would no we said they said flap. If I was the interrogator, every interaction that I had with a subject would be recorded. There would be no chance of lies, baggering a confession, etc. My case would be locked up tight or the subject would a have chance to walk when the judge and jury heard what evidence we had to present.
  
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Re: The Polygraph and the Case of Dr. Thomas C. Bu
Reply #13 - Oct 22nd, 2003 at 8:56am
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Saidme wrote on Oct 21st, 2003 at 3:24pm:
...

It's common knowledge those are the primary causes of false confessions. I think if you took the time to look into it you would find plenty of literature that supports that. You seem to believe there may be some other cause for false confessions. What would that be?


I was not readily able to locate any documentation that "[f]alse confessions are generally a product of police abuse (beatings), drugs, or mental capacity (or lack thereof) of the defendant," as you maintain.

In any event, there are other factors that may lead to false confessions, such as the subject's belief in false promises made by interrogators and sleep deprivation, both of which seem to have been factors in the Butler case.

Dr. Butler told CBS 60 Minutes "They presented me with their evidence of the investigation that pointed to only one possibility, and that was accidental destruction." Dr. Butler maintains he was told he would not be charged if he could confirm that the missing vials had been accidentally destroyed. So in signing the statement confirming the accidental destruction of the plague samples, Dr. Butler was not knowingly confessing to a crime. Rather, he signed what he was falsely led to believe was an innocuous statement that would allow him to finally go home.

In view of Dr. Butler's prompt repudiation of the statement he signed, and the apparent lack of any evidence that would corroborate his having "accidentally destroyed" the specimens, his explanation of the circumstances that led to his signing that statement is entirely plausible.

The case of Dr. Butler calls to mind the cases of the Marine Embassy guards, Petty Officer Daniel M. King, and Abdallah Higazy. In all of these cases, which are documented in Chapter 2 of The Lie Behind the Lie Detector, federal polygraph operators extracted incriminating statements that the subjects repudiated once free of their polygraphers and which later turned out to be false.
  

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Re: The Polygraph and the Case of Dr. Thomas C. Bu
Reply #14 - Oct 22nd, 2003 at 3:07pm
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Twoblock

I believe a contributing factor in the audio/video wars has more to do with the reluctance of interviewees wanting to be audio/video taped than with investigators resisting.  I for one believe audio/video would be good.  Defense attorney's would still find reasons to label good confessions as false.

George

Dr Butler's repudiation means nothing.  Quite common for suspects to recant as soon as they leave the interrogation room.  After all, the pressure's off.  It's just as plausible his confession is true as not.
  
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