Normal Topic Berlin case:  True positive or false positive? (Read 7832 times)
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Berlin case:  True positive or false positive?
Jun 4th, 2001 at 2:54am
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Chuck and I were members of Military Intelligence stationed in Berlin in the fall of 1962 during the Cuban missile crisis.  At that time Berlin was the capital of the spy world.  Every intelligence service in the world was active there, particularly the Soviet KGB & GRU, and the East German MfS.  Before the wall was built, the Soviets occasionally kidnapped people off the streets of West Berlin and sped them into East Berlin for interrogation or imprisonment.  Everybody in our unit was strictly forbidden to enter East Berlin, lest we be apprehended by a hostile intelligence service.

Early one morning Chuck was found unconscious on a downtown street, apparently passed out from too much alcohol.  Col. L, our unit commander, had to consider the possibility that Chuck may have been seized by the Soviets, taken to East Berlin, interrogated using hypnosis or drugs, then dumped back across the border doused in alcohol to keep the unit from being aware of what had happened.  Chuck agreed to take a polygraph test to verify his claim that it was a simple case of over drinking.

I don’t know the precise wording of the relevant questions, but they were along the lines of “Were you in East Berlin?”  The test came up showing deception.  When confronted with the results, Chuck continued to deny having been taken to East Berlin and interrogated.  However, he said that on a couple of occasions he had ridden a subway line that passed underneath a portion of East Berlin in going from the American Sector to the French.  It made two stops in the Soviet Sector, but he had never gotten off, and nothing untoward had ever happened.  He hadn’t told the examiner that during the pretest interview because he knew that we were forbidden to take that line.

Once Chuck got that off his chest, the examiner ran another test to verify that he was not concealing any additional information about being in East Berlin.  He passed the second exam.  The examiner reported to Col. L the outcome of the two exams.  The greatly relieved Colonel told Chuck never to use that subway line again and to be more careful about how much he drank, and the incident was closed.

I have two questions I should like to get your opinions on.  First, was the first exam a false positive or a true positive?  How should the test have turned out for it to have been correct?  Why ?  Is the precise wording of the question important here, or should any reasonable variant have produced the same result?

Second, given that the test showed deception, should Chuck have dummied up and refused to explain what went through his mind each time the relevant questions were asked, or was he better off by explaining the situation?

I’m sincerely interested in the rationale for your answers.  I’ll give you my opinion and rationale after you’ve had an opportunity to offer yours.

Peace.
  

Gordon H. Barland
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Re: Berlin case:  True positive or false positive?
Reply #1 - Jun 4th, 2001 at 5:38am
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Gordon,

I'm on vacation with only occasional Internet access now, but will post my thoughts on the question you raised when I return home at the end of the week.
  

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Re: Berlin case:  True positive or false positive?
Reply #2 - Jun 4th, 2001 at 3:03pm
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Gordon,

     Your story is interesting and has more import than whether your former colleague acted in his own best interest through his actions regarding polygraph examinations, etc.  You, of course, are raising this story that readers of this web site might consider it in connection with their own polygraph scenarios and related behavioral choices.  You ask two specific questions.  Because I believe they both deserve some significant analysis (particularly the latter), I would like to post separate answers for them.  I will address the two questions separately on successive days.   With regard to a possible false positive result having occurred on Chuck’s first polygraph exam,  (1) without knowing the precise wording of a polygraph question(s) on Chuck’s first exam, it is impossible to know whether a false positive result occurred.  There exists the possibility that a false positive may have occurred in the subject area/question you mention (depending on the precise wording of the question) and more importantly there may well have been a false positive regarding questions/subject material that you are either unaware of or have not mentioned (see point # 2) (2) It would be hard to predict what type polygraph questioning format was used by Army Military Intelligence (MI) in 1962; that would make a substantial difference in determining whether a false positive occurred.  I suspect for the following reasons it is unlikely that a simple bi-zone zone comparison test (or other narrow focus single-issue control question test) was used by MI at the time focusing only on Chuck’s presence or absence in Berlin: (a) This test was in its infancy at the time and I suspect a much more subjectively evaluated (perhaps not even numerically- scored) multiple issue test was employed, and (b) Most importantly, because the real concern of MI was foreign contact, not merely geographical location, I find it extremely hard to believe that the latter subject was the sole focus of the first test and that the former issue was completely ignored.  Because this information is not given in your scenario, it is impossible to know whether a false positive occurred on the first exam.  It may well have though….
  
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Re: Berlin case:  True positive or false positive?
Reply #3 - Jun 4th, 2001 at 5:04pm
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This occurred some eight years before I became a polygraph examiner.  I do not know what format was used, how many relevant questions there were, or precisely how they were worded.  I know I'm dense, but I fail to see how the test format would determine whether the outcome of the first test was a true or false positive.  One could well argue that the precise wording of the relevant questions is the determining factor.  Conceivably they might have been worded very precisely, specifying "last night" or some such thing.  It is possible they may have included "being taken by force" but they would also need to cover his going voluntarily.  Let's not make it too complicated.  I've given the facts as I understand them to have been; there's no need to read more into the situation.  But feel free to state assumptions and answer on that basis.

Regarding the details of what happened to Chuck, I don't know if Col. L's admonishment was verbal or whether a letter of reprimand went into Chuck's personnel file.  I suspect the former was the more likely.  All that I know is that Chuck continued to work in my section with no apparent repercussions.

I'm not so much interested in a tally of votes "true positive" or "false positive."  The most important thing is the rationale underlying your opinion.

Peace.
  

Gordon H. Barland
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Re: Berlin case:  True positive or false positive?
Reply #4 - Jun 4th, 2001 at 10:36pm
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Gordon,

     The relevance of polygraph format to your question is as follows:  Although, as you quite correctly point out, format will not determine ground truth about a given matter nor specifically identify the presence of a true or false positive polygraph result, the nature of the polygraph format will provide more or less opportunity for a false positive result to occur and be subsequently revealed.  For instance, if we assume that (1) Chuck was in the Soviet zone of  East Berlin (as reported to have subsequently confessed following the first polygraph exam) via subway and that (2) he did not stop while on the subway at Soviet stops and (3) he had no unauthorized contacts with foreign nationals and (4)  that he was examined with a bi-zone ZCT in which the two relevant questions were “Did you go into Soviet East Berlin?” and “Did you go into Soviet East Berlin while stationed in Germany?”, and that (5) he was found to be deceptive regarding this issue redundantly presented in this polygraph exam/format, then I believe this would be a correct determination and a TRUE POSITIVE result.  If conditions one through five were met except that a multi-issue polygraph exam, e.g. MGQT was administered and Chuck was additionally found to be deceptive about unauthorized foreign contacts, then I would find his initial polygraph experience to contain a FALSE POSITIVE result even though a portion (subset) of the exam contained a correct finding/result.  Although your story is based on a real occurrence, because there are many unknown details about investigative ground truth and what polygraph questions were asked and what results were obtained, it would almost be as easy to begin with a fictional account, state all of your assumptions and then ask for your requested determination.  Although you limit the possibilities to true and false positives, I suspect it would be extremely difficult to tell from further investigation (i.e., to prove a negative) that (1) Chuck never disembarked from the subway in non-approved areas and (2) that he never had unauthorized contact with foreign nationals.  The point being there exists the possibility that there may have been a false negative result with either the first or second exam.  Again, unless we have more business to attend to with false/true positives at this point, I will take up again tomorrow with the advisability of pre and post test admissions/confessions.  Best till then…
  
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Re: Berlin case:  True positive or false positive?
Reply #5 - Jun 5th, 2001 at 3:36pm
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Good Morning Gordon,

     Returning to the second issue/question of your scenario, i.e., the advisability of admissions and confessions on the part of Chuck and others facing similar situations….  Before I do, just a word or two about your phrase “dummied up.”  I presume this phrase is not an intentional pejorative, but merely your shorthand for describing one alternative available to Chuck, i.e., a decision not to reveal information based on a rational thought process.  This process is, in fact, not unlike your decision not to fully discuss counter-countermeasures and, of course, may or may not be the correct decision, but is in no way intuitively a dumb decision.  Alright, to the question at hand…

     In general, I would never advise anyone to make post-test admissions or confessions.  By and large, such amounts to nothing but blood in the water in the presence of sharks.  Polygraph examiners laugh amongst themselves about their superiority to used car salesman, the latter only selling automotive lemons with the former priding themselves in selling jail time.  The modus operandi for selling jail time is the elicitation of admissions and confessions and in general the process (a post test interrogation following a deceptive polygraph result) is viewed as successful if and only if a confession/admission is obtained and in general more and more extensive is better than less.  In fact, it has been reported that some polygraph examiners are evaluated by their departments for the number of admissions and confessions following deceptive polygraph results.  Clearly an area of bias the unsuspecting polygraph examinee dare not venture in…To get involved in such a process (either as a guilty or an innocent examinee) is quite risky and fraught with peril.  The guilty examinee who believes that a tidbit of information serves to disguise and defuse and the honest and truthful examinee who seeks to provide a rationale explanation for why an irrational procedure (polygraphy) left him incorrectly branded deceptive are both engaging in unsafe behavior. 

     All of this having been said, I still believe any such decision is really a cost/benefit decision.  There are actually situations where a carefully thought-through admission is appropriate.  Because we do not know many of the details surrounding Chuck and his scenario, it is hard to advise about his specific situation.  It may well have been that he realized several hundred people had seen him on the verboten subway and that this would come to light anyway.  Such a factor might well lead one to do as you claim he did…however, and AS STRONGLY AS I CAN POSSIBLY EMPHASIZE, and as can be testified to by many on this site, independent of such a rationale,  a blush of honesty and good intentions leading to some admission is no guarantee of success through additional polygraph exams, related investigation and the subsequent decision making of authority figures (e.g., hiring decisions, etc.).  Best…
  
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Re: Berlin case:  True positive or false positive?
Reply #6 - Jun 7th, 2001 at 1:32am
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Gordon,

You asked:

"Second, given that the test showed deception, should Chuck have dummied up and refused to explain what went through his mind each time the relevant questions were asked, or was he better off by explaining the situation?"

I have taken about 6 polygraph examinations as an applicant and as an FBI Agent.  The test formats varied (CQT, Relevant -Irrelevant, Peak of Tension, Directed Lie), the examiners varied, the interrogations varied, but they all have one thing in common: 

Any attempt to "explain the situation" was re-characterized, miscontrued, re-formulated, contorted, and distorted into an "admission." 

Gordon, you are wilfully deluding yourself if you think the post-test interrogation is a good faith attempt to arrive at the truth.  My experience was that it was ALWAYS an Orwellian attempt to turn my honesty into a weapon against me.  The experience of others on this site and elsewhere corroborates this.

MM

  
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Re: Berlin case:  True positive or false positive?
Reply #7 - Jun 9th, 2001 at 7:10pm
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Gordon,

As promised, here are my thoughts on this subject...

As a preliminary matter, I note that Chuck's polygraph interrogations were not "tests" within the scientific meaning of the term. As Professor John J. Furedy of the University of Toronto notes in his article, "The North American Polygraph and Psychophysiology: Disinterested, Uninterested, and Interested Perspectives" (International Journal of Psychophysiology, 21(1996): 2-3):
Quote:
The fact that the procedure is not a test, but an unstandardizable interrogatory interview, means that its accuracy is not empirically, but only rhetorically, or anecdotally, evaluatable. That is, one can state accuracy figures only for a given examiner interacting with a given examinee, because the CQT [as well as the relevant/irrelevant format, which might have been used in your Berlin case] is a dynamic interview situation rather than a standardizable and specifiable test.

Your description of the polygraphic interrogations to which Chuck was subjected as "tests" is incorrect from a scientific standpoint, and this fundamental conceptual error invites systematic error in analyzing polygraphy.

As Anonymous pointed out, you do not provide enough information regarding the specific relevant question(s) Chuck was asked to say whether the outcome of his first polygraph interrogation was a false positive. If the relevant question was indeed, "Were you in East Berlin?" and Chuck replied, "No" when, in fact, he had been in East Berlin twice (passing through via the subway), then the polygrapher's opinion that Chuck was deceptive with regard to that question was correct, and no false positive occurred. Had the relevant question been "Were you in East Berlin within the past 48 hours" (and Chuck truly had not been there, or at least had no knowledge of having been there), then the polygrapher's opinion that Chuck had been deceptive with regard to that question would have been incorrect: a false positive determination. I think that the importance of the precise wording is obvious here.

You note that after Chuck passed his second polygraph interrogation after he admitted having twice passed under East Berlin via the subway. It should be noted that telling the truth is no guarantee that one will "pass" a polygraph "test." Chuck's admission may or may not have resulted in his passing his second polygraph interrogation. Had the polygrapher opined that Chuck was still being deceptive after his second "test," then his initial admission may have been used as the basis for disciplinary action against him. One cannot determine based on the available evidence whether or not Chuck was better off making the admission he made. (Personally, I think Chuck had an ethical duty to answer the relevant questions regarding his whereabouts truthfully, whether or not it was in his personal interest to do so. He did not, however, have an ethical duty to agree to have his truthfulness assessed based on a pseudoscientific polygraph "test.")

In The Lie Behind the Lie Detector, Gino Scalabrini and I note in Chapter 4 that those submitting to polygraph screening "tests" who contemplate using countermeasures should prepare in advance some innocuous explanation (that cannot be turned into a damaging admission) for any physiological reactions the polygrapher may allege they showed with regard to the relevant questions. But as I observed in my post, "How to Pass the DoD CI-Scope Polygraph," the Department of Defense Polygraph Program report for FY 2000 clearly shows that the only persons who ultimately "failed" their counterintelligence-scope polygraph interrogations in that fiscal year were those who made "substantive admissions." This being the case, it is clearly in the interest of any person facing a DoD counterintelligence-scope polygraph "test" to "dummy up" (to borrow your expression) and make no admissions.

Any member of the U.S. armed forces who is asked/ordered to submit to a polygraph "test" with regard to a specific incident should seek legal counsel from the Judge Advocate General's office.
  

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Re: Berlin case:  True positive or false positive?
Reply #8 - Jun 27th, 2001 at 11:56pm
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Sorry I’ve taken so long to reply.  When I returned from a trip my server (Road Runner) has been down more often than up.  In fact, it’s down again now as I type this offline.

Anonymous wrote:

Quote:
I suspect it would be extremely difficult to tell from further investigation (i.e., to prove a negative) that (1) Chuck never disembarked from the subway in non-approved areas and (2) that he never had unauthorized contact with foreign nationals.  The point being there exists the possibility that there may have been a false negative result with either the first or second exam


Anonymous, you have nicely pointed out one of the reasons why the accuracy of the polygraph is still controversial after many decades of scientific research.  It is impossible to establish ground truth in the vast majority of subjects in a field study.  When the polygraph clears somebody, you rarely know with 100% certainty if the polygraph was correct.  Similarly, when a field polygraph identifies somebody as being deceptive and an extensive investigation fails to substantiate it, you rarely know with 100% certainty whether it was the polygraph or the field investigation that was wrong.

One way to conceptualize the dilemma of establishing ground truth with every subject in field studies is that there is nothing known to be more accurate than the polygraph against which to measure the polygraph. Confessions apply only to a subset of subjects and there is reason to believe that the extremely high accuracy rates (typically at or near 100%) established in that subset probably not apply to the remainder of the population; it is likely that many or most errors were systematically excluded from the sample, as Dr. Iacono has pointed out.

Judicial outcomes are deliberately skewed toward clearing guilty subjects (judicial false negatives) to avoid convicting innocent persons.  If a jury frees a suspect who failed the polygraph, is it a false positive for the polygraph or a false negative for the judicial process?  And so it goes with other possible criteria.

About 12 or 15 years ago when I was in charge of the Research Division at the DoD Polygraph Institute, we funded a major study with a group of researchers in Minnesota to advance the state of the art in scientific research by developing more effective research paradigms for field validtion studies.  Dr. Iacono served as a consultant on that study and contributed a great deal of value to it.  Unfortunately, the study did not come up with practical solutions to the many problems of field studies.  Partly as a result of that study, I am convinced that field studies, by themselves, will never be fully able to determine the accuracy of the polygraph technique.  Laboratory research, where ground truth is known for all subjects, will continue to be an important source of information about accuracy and variables which can affect it.  Similarly, laboratory research will never be able to provide a definitive answer about the accuracy of the polygraph technique in the field.  Both avenues of research complement each other and are necessary to advance our understanding of this intractable issue.

Peace.
  

Gordon H. Barland
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Re: Berlin case:  True positive or false positive?
Reply #9 - Jul 6th, 2001 at 5:17am
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Anonymous wrote:

Quote:
...just a word or two about your phrase “dummied up.”  I presume this phrase is not an intentional pejorative, but merely your shorthand for describing one alternative available to Chuck, i.e., a decision not to reveal information based on a rational thought process.  This process is, in fact, not unlike your decision not to fully discuss counter-countermeasures and, of course, may or may not be the correct decision, but is in no way intuitively a dumb decision.  


By "dummied up" I meant pretending not to know something which in fact you do know.  My decision not to discuss how we detect countermeasures was something quite different.  Dummying up is the core of the advice being given to examinees when the examiner is trying to ascertain why a person reacted to a relevant question on the test...was it something truly significant or something minor.   Dummying up may serve the best interests of the person who is holding back information that is truly significant, but I believe it ill serves the person who, like Chuck, is concealing information that is relatively minor.  I will expand on this in my next post to this thread.

Peace.
  

Gordon H. Barland
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Re: Berlin case:  True positive or false positive?
Reply #10 - Jul 6th, 2001 at 1:54pm
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I will be unable to continue this thread until I return from a trip, as what I wish to say is too complex for a hurried post.
  

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Re: Berlin case:  True positive or false positive?
Reply #11 - Jul 6th, 2001 at 3:14pm
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By "dummied up" I meant pretending not to know something which in fact you do know.  My decision not to discuss how we detect countermeasures was something quite different....


Gordon, I most assuredly realize that the two are quite different. In the case of the polygraph examinee, he has rationally decided not to reveal information about that which exists. In the case of you and counter-countermeasures, you have decided that by being coy (refusing to comment) that you might be able to suggest that something exists when in fact nothing exists (i.e., there currently exists no meaningful and reliable way(s) to detect appropriately applied polygraph countermeasures). This action may well be rational too, for it is the only, albeit weak position/defense available to you.

Till next time...
  
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