Normal Topic Some Bad Advice on Polygraphs from National Security Attorney Sean M. Bigley (Read 2515 times)
Paste Member Name in Quick Reply Box George W. Maschke
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Some Bad Advice on Polygraphs from National Security Attorney Sean M. Bigley
Jun 12th, 2022 at 1:28pm
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National security attorney Sean M. Bigley, writing for ClearanceJobs in an article published today and titled "Three Ways to 'Fail' a Polygraph," gives what I think is bad advice and overlooks an important fourth way to fail a polygraph.

The first way Bigley says you can fail a polygraph is by making adjudicatively significant admissions, and this is certainly true. But he goes on to add:

Also of adjudicative significance are any admissions of researching how to “beat” the polygraph. Suffice it to say, the worst thing you can do is to read-up in advance on how the polygraph actually works or listen to any of the internet hucksters purporting to have a magic formula for success. For more on this, see the section on counter-measures below.

Bigley is correct that admissions of researching how to beat the polygraph are considered adjudicatively significant (and may well result in the subject's "failing"). However, it does not follow that "the worst thing you can do is to read-up [sic] in advance on how the polygraph actually works..."

On the contrary, it is prudent for anyone who faces polygraph screening to learn precisely how the polygraph actually works. Ignorance is no bliss, and those who don't understand polygraph procedure are at risk of unknowingly engaging in behavior that a polygraph operator might consider to be an attempted countermeasure.

For example, a subject who doesn't understand polygraph procedure might breathe slowly and regularly in an attempt to remain calm in a stressful situation. But doing so may well result in an accusation of using controlled breathing as a countermeasure.

As for "internet hucksters purporting to have a magic formula for success," I'm not sure who Bigley has in mind. I am not aware of anyone currently selling any such magic formulas.

However, there are things that one can do to mitigate the very real risk of a false positive outcome. Information regarding simple and effective countermeasures that polygraph operators have no demonstrated ability to detect is available for free here on (See Ch. 4 of our free book, The Lie Behind the Lie Detector).

The other two ways Bigley asserts one can fail a polygraph are technical calls (the polygraph operator says you lied) and countermeasures, regarding which Bigley states:

The final way an applicant can “fail” a polygraph is by using counter-measures in an attempt to defeat the test. Counter-measures can include tactics like controlled breathing or biting one’s tongue during the examination. If discovered by the examiner – either through observation or examinee admission – counter-measures are considered an integrity issue and a surefire way to have a security clearance denied or revoked. They can also be difficult to challenge on appeal, particularly where the applicant has admitted to the misconduct.

Bigley is correct that if the polygraph operator observes countermeasures, or the examinee admits to using them, that this will count as a polygraph failure. (In fact, it's considerably worse than merely failing.)

However, it should be noted that the kinds of polygraph countermeasures outlined in The Lie Behind the Lie Detector, are not observable to polygraph operators.

Importantly, Bigley omits a fourth way to fail the polygraph. The subject may not employ polygraph countermeasures at all, and indeed have no idea of what polygraph countermeasures even are. But that does not prevent a zealous polygraph operator from opining that the subject used countermeasures. And if the polygrapher opines that the subject used countermeasures, and "quality control" concurs, that opinion will be treated as conclusive.

A polygraph subject's decision not to research polygraphy offers no protection against the risk of being arbitrarily accused of lying or of having attempted countermeasures. By researching polygraphy, polygraph subjects can mitigate both of these risks.
« Last Edit: Jun 12th, 2022 at 1:54pm by George W. Maschke »  

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Re: Some Bad Advice on Polygraphs from National Security Attorney Sean M. Bigley
Reply #1 - Jun 13th, 2022 at 3:54pm
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Besides polygraphy, have you ever heard of another "test" where the people administering it strongly urge you not to research or become educated on the subject matter? 

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Some Bad Advice on Polygraphs from National Security Attorney Sean M. Bigley

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