Home Page > Polygraph News

24 April 2003 "Computer voice stress analysis test, lie-detector tests come under question"
Mark Dadigan reports for the Vero Beach Press Journal. Excerpt:

The pace of your heartbeats quickens, your breaths deepen and beads of sweat slide down your skin.

According to some law-enforcement circles, you've probably just lied.

Since the 1930s, polygraphs, or lie-detector tests, which theoretically link physiological changes to honesty, have been used as investigative tools in guiding detectives to suspects and eventual arrests.

However, the accuracy of these tests is the subject of much debate some detectives swear by the tests while critics proclaim lie detectors as nothing but "pseudoscience."

"It's simply an investigative tool," said Lt. Dan Cook of the Vero Beach Police Department, which uses the polygraph tests. "It helps us key on an area of question where a subject might not be truthful. Normally, to be honest, it's very accurate."

The computer voice stress analysis test, which correlates the amount of stress in a voice recording to the truthfulness of the speaker, came under scrutiny from within the Indian River County Sheriff's Office after Detective Jim Hyde was suspended for five days last month, partially because he failed a voice test, according to Sheriff's Office records.

Hyde was being interviewed because an inmate accused Hyde of assaulting him, and it was the stress of dealing with the allegation that led to the poor test results, he said.

The Sheriff's Office uses the voice stress tests as a tool as the police use the polygraphs, said Sheriff's Office spokesman Deputy Joe Flescher, and subjects applicants to the tests.

"It's a very useful tool, especially when people say they have vague memories of the past," Flescher said.

But there are those against the use of the tests even in internal investigations. "It's ridiculous that a disciplinary action would be taken on an officer based on those tests," said George W. Matschke [sic], cofounder of an Internet-based group Antipoly-, which lobbies for the abolishment of the test by law-enforcement and other agencies.

18 April 2003 Polygraph: DOE Decides to Simply Reissue Its Old Policy
Bob Park of the American Physical Society comments on Department of Energy polygraph policy in his weekly What's New column:

The National Academy of Sciences completed its review of scientific evidence on the polygraph (WN 15 Dec 00). The NAS report, "The Polygraph and Lie Detection" (NAS Press, 2003), found polygraph tests to be unacceptable for DOE employee security screening because of the high rate of false positives and susceptibility to countermeasures. Congress instructed the Department of Energy to reevaluate its policies on the use of the polygraph in light of the NAS report. DOE carefully reevaluated its policies and reissued them without change, arguing that a high rate of false positives must mean the threshold for detecting lies is very low. Therefore, the test must also nab a lot of true positives. Since that's the goal, the DOE position seems to be that the polygraph tests are working fine and false positives are just unavoidable collateral damage. But there is still a countermeasures problem: anyone can be trained to fool the polygraph in just five minutes. WN therefore recommends replacing the polygraph with a coin toss. If a little collateral damage is not a problem, coins will catch fully half of all spies, a vast improvement over the polygraph, which has never caught even one. Moreover, coins are notoriously difficult to train, making them impervious to countermeasures.

17 April 2003 "We must fight lie that labs need polygraphs"
The Albuquerque Tribune comments on the Energy Department's decision to ignore the conclusions of the National Academy of Sciences regarding polygraph screening. Excerpt:

It's like the sequel to a goofy movie: "DOE - Dumb, Dumber, Dumbest."

Sometimes - even giving it the vast benefit of the doubt - the U.S. Department of Energy is infuriating and needs the equivalent of a national security slap upside its bungling, bureaucratic head. If the White House refuses to do it, Congress should deliver the blow without delay.

In the most recent example, DOE announced in the Federal Register this week that it will maintain the internal use of polygraphs to try to combat espionage at the nation's three nuclear weapons laboratories. Not smart. Worse, it's a really big lie.

Science clearly shows polygraphs - or lie-detector tests, as some call them - are valueless in such applications. But DOE's stubborn addiction to using the tests on its scientists and engineers also is likely to compromise U.S. national security. DOE will end up wasting its time investigating false positives, while leaving real spies in peace. If the best scientists don't quit their jobs in anger, or stay and succumb to declining morale, they will communicate less freely with fellow-scientists, and their work will suffer as a result.

Based on the best available science that shows polygraphs are hardly better than crystal balls:

DOE's own scientists - led by Al Zelicoff at Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque - have advised strongly against their use as a threat to national security.

Various independent scientists across the country say that using them routinely to screen DOE employees is a bad idea, because the tests are not reliable.

An independent science review, by no less than the highly regarded National Academy of Sciences, officially debunked the tests in such cases.

DOE's decision is not surprising, coming as it does during the second half of the Bush administration. The current White House and its Cabinet appointees routinely ignore science in making tough decisions for the nation - particularly in the realms of environmental protection, energy policy and natural resource management.

But for an agency that relies as heavily on hard science as DOE does to maintain national security, this decision completely boggles the mind. It illogical and counterproductive to the mission. And it would fail any fair and reasonable court test. DOE is saying, essentially, "We are DOE; we say so; therefore, it is."

This is not the way this agency expects its nuclear weapons scientists and engineers - reportedly the nation's best and brightest - to perform, and it is not the way Americans should expect the overseer of their civilian nuclear weapons laboratories and nuclear bomb stockpiles to act.

16 April 2003 Ex-FBI Agent Who Had Affair With Suspected Double Agent Passed DOE Polygraph has learned that William "Bill" Cleveland, Jr., a retired FBI counterintelligence agent who has admitted to having had a longterm sexual relationship with FBI informant and suspected Chinese double agent Katrina M. Leung, passed a Department of Energy (DOE) counterintelligence-scope polygraph examination. The "Test for Espionage and Sabotage" polygraph format used by DOE includes a question about unauthorized contact with any representative of a foreign government.

Cleveland became chief of counterintelligence and later, security, at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory after his retirement from the FBI in 1993.

An informed source has told that Cleveland was among the first to be polygraphed under the expanded DOE polygraph screening program adopted in 1999. Cleveland was polygraphed in Albuquerque, New Mexico and passed.

See also:

For discussion of this story, see the message board thread, Ex-FBI Agent and Informant Accused in Spy Case.

16 April 2003 "Polygraph policy draws heat: DOE to continue using"
Lisa Friedman of the Tri-Valley Herald Washington Bureau reports. Excerpt:

WASHINGTON -- Federal lawmakers and lab weapons scientists said Tuesday they are disappointed with Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham for disregarding an 18-month, $800,000 study by the nation's top scientists that found polygraph testing does not work.

"It shows how bankrupt they are," said Livermore thermonuclear bomb designer David Dearborn. "They're under pressure to do something -- they want to do anything -- and so they keep this test that (the National Academy of Sciences) says doesn't work. It's gross stupidity."

U.S. Rep. Ellen Tauscher, D-Alamo, said she was shocked by Abraham's formal decision this week to continue subjecting nuclear weapons scientists and intelligence analysts to lie detector tests.

Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M. said, "This is definitely not the more focused polygraph policy I had hoped DOE and the NNSA would develop."

Both Tauscher and Domenici, who represent districts that are homes to Lawrence Livermore and Los Alamos national laboratories, respectively -- where thousands of employees have been and will be ordered to take lie detector tests -- urged Abraham to reconsider his stance.

Tauscher on Tuesday wrote a letter to House Armed Services Committee Chairman Duncan Hunter asking for a hearing on the issue.

"Polygraph testing can be useful for specific investigative purposes, but cannot be effectively used on a widespread basis," Tauscher said. "I continue to fear that the widespread use of polygraphs only promotes a false sense of security and does nothing to foster good science at the labs."

The Energy Department requested the National Academy of Sciences study and Congress ordered the agency to consider its finding in deciding whether to keep or change its longstanding policy of using polygraphs as a way to ferret out spies and other national security breaches.

In its 310-page report, a panel of scientists found that the research supporting lie detector tests is weak, and the tool tarnishes innocent workers as spies while letting actual saboteurs slip through undetected.

"The DOE has essentially disregarded congressional direction," said Steven Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists.

"There might as well have been no National Academy of Sciences study because it led to no change in policy," he said.

Energy Department spokesman Jeanne Lopatto defended the agency's decision to reject the report.

"Congress' requirement was that we take it into consideration and we fulfilled that requirement," Lopatto said.

In its proposed rule, the Energy Department said it had no choice but to keep using the test, particularly now "when the United States is engaged in hostilities precisely in order to address the potentially disastrous consequences that may flow from weapons of mass destruction falling into the wrong hands."

The agency, officials wrote, "is under a particular obligation to make sure that no action that it takes be susceptible to misinterpretation as a relaxation of controls over information concerning these kinds of weap-ons."

Scientists were annoyed that officials justified Abraham's decision using based on the "the current national security environment" and the war on terrorism. Said Dearborn: "If you like people who come up with non sequiturs, that works. But what the polygraph was for was to find people engaged in spying, and it's ineffective for that."

Stephen Fienberg, who chaired the NAS panel, acknowledged the Energy Department's political bind.

"It's a high-anxiety time," Fienberg said. But, he added, "I think this is a misguided policy. It ignores the content of our report, it actually makes erroneous statements about what we concluded and didn't conclude."

15 April 2003 "DOE Spy Hunters Faithful to Polygraphs"
John Fleck reports for the Albuquerque Journal. Excerpt:

The Department of Energy wants to continue polygraphs to hunt for spies, bucking a report from federal science advisers who said the technique is flawed.

In a notice published Monday, the department announced it wants to keep its polygraph program, which screens nuclear weapons workers in a blanket hunt for spies.

That runs counter to advice last October from the prestigious National Academy of Sciences, which concluded the polygraphs the DOE was using were unscientific, missing spies while implicating the innocent.

"I can hardly believe this decision," said Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M. It ignores the scientific evidence marshaled by the National Academy, Bingaman said in a statement Monday afternoon.

DOE was required by law to re-evaluate the polygraph program following the release of the Academy report. That review led to Monday's notice that the department wants the polygraphs to continue.

In papers filed Monday announcing the decision, DOE officials said they still believe polygraphs are useful in preventing espionage.

"As the steward of the nation's nuclear weapons stockpile, the Department has an obligation to use the best tools available to protect the most sensitive information from being compromised," Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham said in a statement announcing the polygraph policy.

Implemented by then-Energy Secretary Bill Richardson in 1999, the polygraphs were a response to controversy surrounding espionage allegations against former Los Alamos National Laboratory scientist Wen Ho Lee.

DOE employees with access to many types of classified information are subject to polygraphs. Employees of contractors such as Sandia and Los Alamos national labs are also tested.

Critics, led by Sandia National Laboratories scientist Al Zelicoff, complained that the polygraphs are unscientific, ensnaring innocent workers while missing spies.

They won support last October in a report from the National Academy of Sciences. Commissioned by Congress at Bingaman's behest, the academy report concluded that polygraphs used for employee screening did more harm than good.

The tests are so unreliable that a significant percentage of innocent workers will be implicated, while a significant percentage of actual spies will avoid detection, the Academy report found.

"National security is too important to be left to such a blunt instrument," said Carnegie Mellon University professor Stephen E. Fienberg, who led the study.

15 April 2003 "DOE disregards scientists' advice on polygraphs"
Los Alamos Monitor assistant editor Roger Snodgrass reports. Excerpt:

The Department of Energy has rejected the results of an $870,000 study by the National Research Council on the validity of polygraph tests for screening national security risks.

DOE said that unless something unexpected arises from public comments, it will continue its current program as is.

A proposed rule published Monday in the Federal Register thickened the plot of a lengthy policy struggle between Congress and DOE over the department's use of polygraphs, commonly known as lie detectors, for protecting classified secrets.

"I can hardly believe this decision," said Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-NM, who requested the report along with Sen. Pete Domenici, R-NM, in legislation passed in December 2000.

"There is no question that DOE is under pressure because of problems involving security and lab management," said Domenci in a statement Monday. "This, however, should not be the basis for continuing a polygraph program that has been studied and found wrong."

DOE's response sidestepped a 400-page study performed by the National Science Foundation's agency in charge of providing objective, science-based advice about politically charged subjects.

The report, "The Polygraph and Lie Detection," issued in October 2002, found "little basis for the expectation that a polygraph test could have extremely high accuracy." Among other findings, the report found that capable spies could probably defeat the system and that too many innocent people would be punished by suspicions based on the inaccuracy of the polygraph.

The department's rebuttal agreed with the study that the available scientific evidence is generally of low quality. But DOE used that finding to conclude that the department "does not believe the issues raised by NAS about the polygraph's accuracy are sufficient to warrant a decision by DOE to abandon it as a screening tool."

DOE pointed to the circumstances of current war in Iraq to argue the inappropriateness of relaxing controls over weapons of mass destruction at this time, suggesting that polygraphs used in conjunction with other investigative activities may still have value for national security.

DOE criticized NAS for examining the relative costs and benefits of polygraph study, concluding that "inevitably rested in no small part on value judgment made by the NAS."

Since the department was only obliged to take the study into account, it did not interpret that mandate "to preclude the retention of some or all of" the current regulations.

Indeed, the rule states, "DOE does not now contemplate any change in this policy."

The response from New Mexico's senators, some LANL employees and public interest groups involved in the issue of polygraphs appears largely unfavorable.

Stephen Aftergood, who heads the Project on Government Secrecy for the Federation of American Scientists, called it "a remarkable testament to the stubbornness of the security bureaucracy and its resistance to external criticism."

A Senate staffer on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee said DOE's position raises questions about its philosophy. "If the agency believes in science-based stockpile stewardship," he asked, "shouldn't it believe in science based security stewardship?"

"DOE has thumbed its nose at Congress," said George W. Maschke, a co-founder of (, a Web site opposed to polygraphs. Maschke was one of the speakers invited to testify during a series of public hearings conducted by NAS on the issue.

15 April 2003 "Energy Department wants to keep lie-detector tests"
The Associated Press reports in this article published by the Oakland Tribune.

WASHINGTON -- The Energy Department decided Monday to continue using lie detector tests to protect the nation's nuclear arms stockpile, despite a scientific study that found severe shortcomings in the tests' accuracy.

Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham said the department must use the best tools available to protect sensitive information about the stockpile.

Critics said the department is making a mistake by ignoring recommendations of the study of polygraph effectiveness done six months ago.

Saying she was "shocked" Rep. Ellen Tauscher, D-Alamo, called for Abraham to reconsider "in fairness to science and the men and woman who work at our labs."

"Polygraph testing can be useful for specific investigative purposes, but cannot be effectively used on a widespread basis," she said.

"I continue to fear that the widespread use of polygraphs only promotes a false sense of security."

Congressional staffers predicted the agency will have to defend its decision in hearings.

"I can hardly believe this decision," said Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., who authored language in a 2002 defense bill requiring the energy secretary to propose a new polygraph rule in light of the academy's findings.

The study, Bingaman said, "pointed out the essential dilemma of applying polygraphs to DOE employee security screening -- either too many loyal employees will be judged deceptive or too many security threats will be left undetected."

Jeff Colvin, a worker advocate and fusion scientist at Lawrence Livermore weapons lab, said "It was clear to me from the start that they were going to interpret this the way they wanted to. People in the security community are so wedded to polygraph testing that they are just going to ignore the scientific facts about this. So I'm not surprised but I am disappointed."

15 April 2003 Sen. Pete Domenici Assails DOE Polygraph Screening
Senator Pete Domenici of New Mexico criticizes the Department of Energy's decision to continue its reliance on polygraph screening:


APRIL 14, 2003                  (202) 224-7082


WASHINGTON -- U.S. Senator Pete Domenici today questioned the Department of Energy intention to continue heavy reliance on the use of extensive polygraph tests as a security screening tool for its employees, including workers at Sandia and Los Alamos national laboratories.

"There is no question that DOE is under pressure because of problems involving security and lab management. This, however, should not be the basis for continuing a polygraph program that has been studied and found wanting," Domenici said.

"This is definitely not the more focused polygraph policy I had hoped DOE and the NNSA would develop. I continue to believe that the system is too much and an affront especially since the polygraph program was so thoroughly criticized by the National Academy of Sciences. I hope the department will rethink this situation," he said.

Domenici authored legislation, later incorporated into the FY2002 Defense Authorization Act, that required the DOE secretary and National Nuclear Security Administration administrator to implement a new DOE polygraph program based on the conclusions of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) Polygraph Review. Senator Jeff Bingaman cosponsored the legislation.

The NAS subsequently issued a report concluding that while polygraph tests have proven effective under some circumstances, they are not an effective way for DOE to screen current and prospective employees.

Domenici is chairman of both the Energy and Natural Resources Committee and the Senate Energy and Water Development Appropriations Subcommittee that funds DOE and its national laboratory network.


15 April 2003 Rep. Ellen Tauscher Urges Energy Department to Reconsider Polygraph Decision
Representative Ellen Tauscher, whose district includes Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, has issued a press release on the Energy Department's decision to ignore the conclusions of the National Academy of Sciences:

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE           CONTACT: April Boyd, 202/225-1880

April 14, 2003

Statement by Rep. Ellen Tauscher on Polygraph Testing

Below is a statement by Rep. Ellen Tauscher on the Department of Energy's notice in the Federal Register today that the agency will reissue identical regulations on polygraph testing:

"I am shocked that in spite of the National Academy of Sciences coming forward and saying that there is no scientific basis for indiscriminate polygraph testing, Secretary Abraham still intends on pursuing lie detector tests as a matter of Energy Department policy.

"Polygraph testing can be useful for specific investigative purposes, but cannot be effectively used on a widespread basis. I continue to fear that the widespread use of polygraphs only promotes a false sense of security and does nothing to foster good science at our national labs.

"In fairness to science and the men and women who work at our labs, I urge Secretary Abraham to immediately reconsider this decision."

# # #

15 April 2003 "Agency uses polygraph despite shortcomings"
The Associated Press reports in this story published in the Washington Times. Excerpt:

The Energy Department decided yesterday to continue using polygraph tests to protect the nation's nuclear-arms stockpile, despite a scientific study that found severe shortcomings in the tests' accuracy.

Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham said the department must use the best tools available to protect sensitive information about the stockpile. Critics said the department is making a mistake by ignoring recommendations of the study of polygraph effectiveness conducted six months ago at the urging of Congress.

"Basically they've ignored the evidence," said Stephen Fienberg of Carnegie Mellon University, who was chairman of the National Academy of Sciences study.

A spokesman for Sen. Jeff Bingaman, New Mexico Democrat, said the Energy Department's response to the National Academy of Sciences is a "surprising and disappointing result" that is hard to understand.

The Energy Department imposed polygraph requirements on employees several years ago in the aftermath of the Wen Ho Lee spy situation at the department's nuclear weapons laboratory in Los Alamos, N.M. Many scientists at department labs objected that the tests were inherently inaccurate, which prompted congressional inquiries and the scientific review.

Congress ordered the Energy Department to take the study's findings into account.

In a proposed rule, however, the department says that retaining the program is well-suited to fulfilling national security needs.

The scientific review led by Mr. Fienberg concluded that federal agencies should not rely on polygraphs to screen workers and job applicants because the machines are too inaccurate.

The likelihood of ignoring a spy because he passed a polygraph test is so high that relying on the tests is probably a greater danger to national security than discarding them, Mr. Fienberg said in response to the proposed Energy Department rule.

"It's bureaucratic impudence," said Steven Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists. "Energy said, 'We'll replace the existing policy with precisely the same policy.' "

By refusing to change, Mr. Abraham is expressing unwillingness to make life difficult for intelligence agencies and the Pentagon, which made the mistake long ago of using polygraphs as their primary counterintelligence tool, said Dr. Alan Zelicoff, senior scientist in the Center for National Security and Arms Control at Sandia National Laboratory.

Dr. Zelicoff, whose laboratory is covered by the Energy Department policy, said the careers of some scientists have been ruined because of false positive results on polygraph tests.

14 April 2003 "DOE to Reissue Unaltered Polygraph Regs"
Steven Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists' Project on Government Secrecy discusses the National Academy of Science's polygraph report in his Secrecy News e-mail publication:


In a remarkable testament to the stubbornness of the security bureaucracy and its resistance to external criticism, the Department of Energy is proposing to reissue the identical regulations governing polygraph testing that Congress told it to repeal two years ago, despite a withering independent critique from the National Academy of Sciences.

In a Federal Register notice today, DOE argued that although the congressional repeal "would eliminate the existing authority which underlies DOE's counterintelligence polygraph regulations... [it] would not preclude the retention of some or all of those regulations through this rule-making...." So retaining "all of those regulations" is what DOE will do.

Congress had instructed DOE to reevaluate its polygraph policies based on the findings of a polygraph study conducted by the National Academy of Sciences (NAS). That study, completed last year, was harshly critical of polygraph testing as a tool for screening of employees and found that it will generate "either a large number of false positives or a large number of false negatives."

DOE did not dispute this, but observed in faint praise of the polygraph that it is not wrong 100% of the time. In some cases, it actually "will identify true positives who are being deceptive."

"Accordingly, DOE does not believe that the issues that the NAS has raised about the polygraph's accuracy are sufficient to warrant a decision by DOE to abandon it as a screening tool," the Federal Register notice explained.

"While fully respecting the questions the NAS has raised about the use of polygraphs as a screening tool, DOE does not believe it can endorse the NAS's conclusion that the tool should be laid down."

DOE invited public comment on its proposal to retain its polygraph regulations in unaltered form. See this April 14 Federal Register notice:

To discuss this story, see the message board thread, DOE Rejects NAS Polygraph Report Findings!

11 April 2003 "F.B.I. Never Gave Agent in Spy Case a Polygraph"
Eric Lichtblau reports for the New York Times. Excerpt:

WASHINGTON, April 10 - A former F.B.I. agent arrested on Wednesday in an espionage case had not been given a polygraph test in his nearly 30 years with the bureau, and lax oversight of his relationship with an informer now accused of being a Chinese double-agent appears to have violated numerous policies, bureau officials said today.

The officials added that the informer, Katrina Leung, a Los Angeles political fund-raiser who was paid $1.7 million by the F.B.I. for information on her native China over the last two decades, had not been asked to take a polygraph test since the 1980's.

Ms. Leung and the former agent, James J. Smith, were arrested at their homes. Mr. Smith, was charged with gross negligence in his handling of national military documents. Ms. Leung, who officials said was Mr. Smith's longtime lover, was charged with the unauthorized copying of national military information with the intent to injure the United States or benefit a foreign nation, in this case, China.

Historically, the F.B.I. has resisted the use of polygraph, or lie detector, tests for its employees, in part because many agents have viewed the procedure as a sign of distrust. In the mid-1990's, the bureau began broadening its use of polygraph tests for employees with access to secret intelligence after the espionage arrest of a C.I.A. official, Aldrich H. Ames, and it significantly increased their use again after the 2001 arrest of an F.B.I agent, Robert P. Hanssen, on charges of spying for Moscow.

An F.B.I. official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that because polygraph tests were not routinely used in the 1980's and 1990's, it appeared that Mr. Smith had never been asked to take one, while Ms. Leung had not taken one for many years.

"We just didn't really do it much back then," the official said. "It wasn't a focus."

Robert S. Mueller III, the F.B.I. director, has requested internal reviews to determine what went wrong.

Officials outside the F.B.I. questioned whether more aggressive use of polygraph tests by the bureau might have raised questions much earlier about whether Mr. Smith and Ms. Leung were having an affair and whether she was improperly gaining access to secret intelligence that could do damage to American national security interests in the hands of the Chinese.

For discussion of the Smith-Leung case, see the message board thread, Ex-FBI Agent and Informant Accused in Spy Case.

5 April 2003 DNA Clears Ex-Soldier Who Failed Polygraph
In an article titled, "DNA testing clears name of Kansan in rape case," the Associated Press reports on the case of Eddie James Lowery, who falsely confessed to rape after failing a polygraph "test." As a result of the polygraph-induced false confession, Lowery, a soldier then stationed at Ft. Riley, Kansas, spent ten years in prison and received a dishonorable discharge. Excerpt:

Lowery was linked to the rape when he was involved in a traffic wreck in Ogden. Police questioned Lowery, then a soldier stationed at Fort Riley, because they knew he had been in the area. He denied any connection.

Lowery agreed to take a polygraph test. Police told him he failed. Hours of police interrogation followed. Desperate to get out of the situation, Lowery confessed.

"They broke me down," he said Thursday. "I told them what they wanted to hear."

Jurors found him guilty and sentenced him to 11 years to life in prison.

Polygraph "testing" is a pseudoscientific fraud used by police as a pretext for interrogating a suspect in the absence of legal counsel. Anyone asked to submit to a polygraph "test" in connection with a crime should refuse and seek competent legal advice.

4 April 2003 "Lying About Polygraphs"
Noted skeptic James Randi comments on polygraphy in this week's Swift newsletter:

We've assailed the use of polygraph ("lie detector") technology here, many times. It is simply an area of failed technology, one that seemed promising, but then proved to be not only faulty, but quite dangerous to those upon whom was inflicted. State and federal governments, however, opted to embrace it despite the facts. Why are we not surprised? We can't forget that jailed nuclear physicist Wen Ho Lee was misled by federal investigators who told him he had failed a Department of Energy lie-detector test. During a lengthy interrogation, FBI agents pressured Lee to admit to passing nuclear weapons secrets to China. Lee said he had not and insisted he was telling the truth. His interrogators, however, never told him that DOE polygraph operators had actually given him a high score for honesty. Lee is only one victim of this mis-use of technology.

Now, in the latest reality check, Dr. Stephen E. Fienberg, chairman of the statistics department at Carnegie-Mellon University in Pittsburgh, concluded that "almost a century of research has produced a pseudoscience good for tricking naive people into blurting out the truth, but not much else."

Fienberg headed up a panel appointed by the National Academies of Science to evaluate the worth of polygraphy, and found it used by "every three- and four-letter agency you can imagine, including the US Postal Service." The report was released last October, but the US Department of Defense (DOD) happily found a loophole that allowed them to notify Congress that it might ask for authorization to conduct more than the 5,000 polygraph exams now allowed per year under Public Law 100-180, passed in 1991, because the NAS report said that the polygraph technique is "the best tool currently available to detect deception and assess credibility." "Yes sir, we're still going to remove your appendix, even though we have to use a pickaxe the best available tool, don'tcha know?"

As Fienberg noted, the DOD is only one of many government agencies that use polygraph examinations on employees and contractors. When asked, a spokesman for the Office of Inspector General (OIG) at the Department of Health and Human Services would not discuss whether polygraph tests were in their investigative arsenal, but the DOD spokesman did name OIG as one of the government bodies that use polygraphs.

Fienberg's panel was organized at a time when scientists were protesting the use of lie detector tests at Los Alamos National Laboratory, and as a science recruiter has warned, the use of this failed technology "causes so much more turmoil than it solves. The big concern is that you're going to chase away scientific talent. It's not an environment scientists want to work in, where pseudoscience can end your career."

I would add that any responsible scientist would balk at working for an organization that uses pseudoscience to test his suitability for the position. That would also apply to tarot cards, tea leaves, and fortune-cookies as tools of the Truth Trade. Not much sillier, folks!

26 March 2003 "Pseudoscience applied to scientists: US government agencies still using discredited polygraphy in security checks."
Peggy Brickley reports for The Scientist. Excerpt:

Life scientists who work on sensitive government projects could find themselves hooked-up to polygraph machines in spite of continued criticism of the science behind such lie-detector tests.

"It's everywhere -- every three- and four-letter agency you can imagine, including the US Postal Service," said Stephen E. Fienberg, chairman of the statistics department at Carnegie-Mellon University in Pittsburgh.

Fienberg led a panel appointed by the National Academies of Science to evaluate the worth of polygraphy. Released in October, their report concluded that almost a century of research has produced a pseudoscience good for tricking naive people into blurting out the truth, but not much else.

So Fienberg was surprised to find his panel's report cited in favor of potentially raising the number of lie detector tests the Department of Defense (DOD) is allowed to administer. In the annual report it filed with Congress in January, DOD stated it had administered more than 11,500 of the tests in fiscal year 2002. Of that total, 4,219 were "counterintelligence-scope polygraph," or CSP, exams, subject to a 5,000-exam-per-year limit under a Public Law 100-180, passed in 1991.

In its January report, DOD put Congress on notice that it might ask for authorization to conduct more than the allowed 5,000 polygraph exams per year, and cited the NAS report in support, according to Steven Aftergood, who monitors polygraph policy for the Federation of American Scientists.

"[I]t is important to note that the NRC Report also concluded that the polygraph technique is the best tool currently available to detect deception and assess credibility," the DOD FY2002 report stated. "The Department will continue to use the polygraph technique as it has in the past, until improved technologies or methodologies are developed as a result of scientific research."

Fienberg called DOD's reference to the NAS report "disingenuous." A DOD spokesman said it was drawn directly from the NAS panel's conclusion that, while more promising technologies are on the horizon, none yet has supplanted polygraphy.

For discussion of this article, see the message board thread, Polygraph article.

25 March 2003 "Coward! Jacko Rejects Star's $1m Lie-detector Challenge"
The tabloid Star magazine reports that musician Michael Jackson has declined its challenge to submit to a lie detector "test" regarding his sex life. Excerpt:

SCANDAL-plagued superstar Michael Jackson has turned up his deteriorating nose at Star magazine's $1 MILLION offer to take a lie-detector test that would clarify his relationships with children.

And his refusal to accept Star's challenge has child-welfare experts now blasting the pop oddity as a coward.

"This is typical Michael Jackson, not to want to take a lie-detector test, because in my opinion he has been lying for many years," declares psychiatrist Dr. Carole Lieberman -- who recently lodged a formal complaint with Child Protection Services in Santa Barbara, Calif., over Jackson's relationship with his three children.

"It was a golden opportunity if he had nothing to hide, but obviously he's not that brave."

Famed lawyer Gloria Allred -- who is also demanding a probe by child welfare authorities -- agrees. "It would be potentially very good for him if he passed (a lie detector test)," she says. "But the flipside is that if he didn't, then there could be more bad PR.

Psychiatrist Carole Lieberman and lawyer Gloria Allred should know better than to put stock in lie detector "testing." Mr. Jackson's rejection of Star's challenge, if it is indicative of anything, merely demonstrates that he has the good sense not to entrust his reputation to such charlatanry.

25 March 2003 "Inland private investigator mans machine of truth"
John Welsh of the Press-Editor profiles NBC "Meet My Folks" polygraph operater Nick Savastano in this puff piece. Excerpt:

RIVERSIDE - Private investigator Nick Savastano gets double takes all the time.

In airports, malls, supermarkets, wherever. Folks always think he looks like that guy on television. The one from "NYPD Blue." You know, Detective Sipowicz.

No disrespect to actor Dennis Franz, but now Savastano can say he is that guy on television.

"And I have more hair than that guy," said Savastano, 56.

Reality TV came knocking on Savastano's door when a buddy dropped his name as a good candidate for a show needing a polygraph examiner. The show, called "Meet My Folks," needed someone to run a lie detector much in the same manner Robert DeNiro's character did in the 2000 film "Meet My Parents."

Savastano is a 20-year law enforcement veteran who runs his investigations business, The Amherst Group, out of a converted house on Arlington Avenue in Riverside.

He scored the NBC gig for his experience and his looks.

"What a face, what a personality," said Executive Producer Scott Satin. "He has one of those serious expressions but as soon as he opens his mouth and smiles, it's the exact opposite. He's a teddy bear."

Savastano has taped more than 20 episodes of the NBC show. The program is scheduled to return this May, said a spokeswoman, Jill Carmen.

While most reality television shows strain the definition of what's considered reality, the producers told Savastano to play his role straight as moms and dads ask questions to their childrens' potential suitors. The questions are loony, but Savastano is as serious as a Sipowicz interrogation.

"Bear in mind, they're still making television," said Savastano. "They're still making entertainment. But it's probably the realest part of the show."

Lies, lies, lies

People lie.

Savastano catches them.

The ex-Massachussetts state police officer has earned a living working specifically for companies doing pre-employee screening and investigations when corporation officials think they've got some in-house thievery happening.

American companies lose an estimated $60 billion annually related to internal employee dishonesty, said Savastano, citing U.S. Department of Commerce statistics.

He's interviewed countless employees who he's determined were bilking their bosses, whether it was a fast-food worker taking from the till or a forklift operator adding an extra pallet onto the back of a familiar customer's truck.

Savastano, who claimed a polygraph examination is 98 percent efficient, is ever in wonder when dishonest people think they can beat the machine.

"If I had a dollar for everyone who shouldn't have taken it, I'd be a rich man," Savastano said.

Nick Savastano has previously claimed that polygraphers can detect countermeasures. Now he purports to be "ever in wonder" that dishonest people think they can beat the polygraph. Why then does Savastano refuse to support his claimed ability to detect countermeasures? See George Maschke's message board post, A Public Challenge to Nick Savastano.

10 March 2003 "The telling truth about polygraphs"
Polygraph operator Dee Moody is interviewed by credulous San Mateo County Times staff writer Erin Sherbert. Excerpt:

Q: How do you know if someone is lying or telling the truth, just by a polygraph test?

A: We're measuring significant changes in your physiological responses. Your responses are involuntary. You can be sitting totally still and your perspiration can change in your finger, and you may not feel it.

Q: Can someone pass the polygraph even if they are lying?

A: The rate of accuracy is about 98 percent. It's very much dependent on the competency of the examiner, the equipment and whether the examiner is updated on techniques and whether they follow those techniques.

The other 2 percent are usually inconclusive, which means we couldn't tell. It could be because it's not readable, or it was all over the place, or we got nothing. That's when people may have extreme psychological problems or maybe just a really bad cold.

There are also countermeasures. With the Internet today, all you have to do is type in 'beat the polygraph' and you can find books for $100 on how to beat the polygraph. But polygraph examiners know about those books, and if they come in and use countermeasures, then we know it.

There are some in that 2 percent who pass when they are guilty or fail when they are not guilty. Those are called false negatives and false positives, but it's very rare.

7 March 2003 Russia: "Lie Detector, a Silent Talker"
Ilya Tarasov interviews reserve intelligence colonel Vladimir Galkin for Excerpt:

Would it make sense to take a decision to oblige Kremlin officials to undergo lie detector tests?

First of all, we must clearly understand what purpose we pursue by organizing such tests. As experience of American special services shows, lie detector tests are obligatory for executives in the CIA, the FBI, in the Foreign Ministry and other departments, in other words, for employees who are directly or indirectly connected with state secrets.

In these cases, lie detector tests are held with a view to reveal possible contacts of such employees with criminals and the possibility of their connection with espionage. Lie detectors are widely used in US's private sector for employment. And this is not prohibited, as employment contracts contain an item saying that people employed for work must agree for a lie detector test.

All employees working at jeweller's and at enterprises connected with production of precious goods undergo lie detector tests. This is done only with one purpose to find out whether people contacted with law enforcement authorities, no matter is the contacts were positive or negative. The very fact that people try to keep back their contacts with police is registered with the lie detector rather quickly; and this certainly influences decision of employers concerning employment of such people.

Did Ames undergo a lie detector test?

Yes, he underwent the test, but probably the operator was not experiences enough; what is more, as history reveals, Ames' preliminary lie detector test was positive, but the operator was pressed to declare the test invalid. They considered that such a man like Ames couldn't be connected with espionage. These facts arose later, after Ames was denounced for espionage in favor of the Soviet Union.

Do you think that Russian agents arriving from abroad must also undergo lie detector tests?

Yes, I think they should. What is more, some methods closely connected with the principles of lie detector tests are used for admission of students to the Foreign Intelligence Academy. This is done to find out professional qualifications of candidates for intelligence work.

5 March 2003 Khalid Shaikh Mohammed to Be Interrogated with Polygraph?
In an article titled, "You can bet Mohammed will talk," New York Daily News columnist Zev Chafets suggests that alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed will be subjected to polygraphic interrogation. Excerpt:

Polygraphs...are not only admissible but indispensable. "They won't let him say a single word without being hooked up to a lie detector," says X. "It may not be a perfect scientific device, but it's close enough. And it will make him feel vulnerable, transparent."

It is to be hoped that Khalid Shaikh Mohammed's interrogators are not under the illusion that the lie detector is anything remotely close to being a "perfect scientific device." Al Qaeda knows it isn't: see the extract on instrumental lie detection from Al-Qaeda's Encyclopedia of Jihad. U.S. intelligence officials' misplaced faith in pseudoscientific lie detector "testing" is a danger to national security.

3 March 2003 "The Disappearance of Laci Peterson: Why Her Husband, Even If Innocent, Should Not Agree To A Lie Detector Test"
Attorney Jonna M. Spilbor writes for Excerpt:

In recent weeks, news shows have frequently turned to the notorious case of Laci Peterson - the pregnant Modesto woman who disappeared on Christmas Eve from the home she shared with her husband, Scott. While watching one such bulletin, I turned to my own husband, and said, "Honey, promise me something. If I ever go missing without a trace, and the police are breathing down your neck, do not, I repeat, do not, take a lie detector test. Okay?"

On the advice of counsel, he agreed. Sometimes it helps to be married to a lawyer - even if you are subject to cross-examination for not taking out the garbage.

It's not as clear that Scott Peterson will follow the same advice. Thus far, he's done a lot of talking; indeed, he's even confessed to having carried on an adulterous affair just weeks before his wife's disappearance. A few stretches and pulls by police, and a morsel like this becomes a possible motive. Still, Scott Peterson has yet to hire counsel.

Now Peterson is being pressured to take a polygraph. So far, he's refused. But authorities are continuing to lean on him, arguing that he is not "cooperating." He should keep on refusing - even if he's entirely innocent. Home Page > Polygraph News