AntiPolygraph.org Home Page > Polygraph News
20 December 2003 "Lie Tests for Spy Suspects"
Niles Lathem reports for the New York Post. This short article is cited here in full:
December 20, 2003 -- WASHINGTON - Army counterintelligence agents are forcing many Iraqi employees of the U.S.-led civilian authority in Baghdad to submit to polygraph tests after a list of Saddam Hussein's spies was discovered in his briefcase, The Post has learned.
Military officials said yesterday "several" Iraqis working as translators and low-level functionaries for the Coalition Provisional Authority and some who have been hired for the police are being given lie-detector tests this week on suspicion they are giving inside information to Ba'athist terrorist cells.
Army counterintelligence officers are investigating whether Saddam's nest of spies inside the coalition may have helped set up unsuccessful assassination attempts on top civilian leader Paul Bremer and Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, military sources told The Post.
Officials said those who fail the test will lose their jobs and will could be arrested and charged as enemy combatants for aiding terrorist campaign to undermine the rebuilding of Iraq.
U.S. officials confirmed a list of double agents who have penetrated the coalition was discovered in documents found in Saddam's briefcase during his arrest last week.
"We experienced the same problems in Vietnam. And given that the CPA was in such a rush to get set up after the war and was desperately looking for English speakers, it should come as a surprise to no one that there was penetration," said retired Lt. Col. Patrick Lange, a former Middle East chief for the Defense Intelligence Agency.
That U.S. Army counterintelligence officials would fire and arrest an employee for "failing" the polygraph, or choose not do so because the employee "passed," evidences the counterintelligence community's continuing misplaced faith in the lie detector.
17 December 2003 CIA to Polygraph Saddam Hussein?
In an article titled, "CIA Poised to Quiz Hussein," Washington Post staff writers Dana Priest and Thomas E. Ricks mention that the CIA team that has planned the interrogation of ousted Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein includes "operations officers, polygraphers and psychiatrists." It thus seems likely that CIA polygraph operators will at some point "flutter" Saddam in an attempt to divine truth versus deception. In the words of Professor Stephen E. Fienberg, chairman of the Committee to Review the Scientific Evidence on the Polygraph, National Academy of Sciences, "National security is too important to be left to such a blunt instrument."
11 December 2003 CIA Using Polygraph to Screen New Iraqi Intelligence Agency
In an article titled, "Iraq Spy Service Planned by U.S. To Stem Attacks," Washington Post staff writers Dana Priest and Robin Wright mention that "[t]o vet Iraq's former intelligence officials, the CIA has flown polygraph machines to Iraq." Agents for the "new" Iraqi intelligence service are to be recruited largely from the ranks of Saddam Hussein's former organization, the dreaded Mukhabarat. In relying on the polygraph, the CIA is blatantly disregarding the conclusions of the National Academy of Sciences, which found polygraph screening to be completely invalid and warned that a belief in its accuracy not justified by the evidence poses a danger to national security objectives. Note also that the Washington Times has previously reported that Baath Party loyalists are "proving adept at beating lie-detector tests."
3 December 2003 West Australia Court of Criminal Appeal Rejects Polygraph "Evidence"
The Australian Associated Press reports in an article titled "Mallard to stay behind bars" that the West Australia Court of Criminal Appeal, upholding Andrew Mark Mallard's conviction for the murder of Perth jeweler Pamela Lawrence, has ruled polygraph "evidence" to be inadmissible. The WA Court of Criminal Appeal is the highest Australian court that has ruled on the admissibility of polygraph results. The court's ruling may be downloaded as a 340 kb PDF file here:
1 December 2003 "Expert Blasts Use of Polygraph Tests at Joliet Sex Offender Center"
Associated Press writer Mike Robinson reports on the use of polygraphs by the state of Illinois in this article reported by KARE11.com:
Polygraph tests used to help decide whether to free sexually violent offenders held at a state center in Joliet after finishing prison sentences are unscientific and even "biased against truthful people," according to an expert's report.
There is doubt as to whether such tests "can ever be highly accurate" because they aren't "anchored to sound psychological theory," says William G. Iacono, a psychology professor at the University of Minnesota.
His report was prepared for the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois, which is suing the state, asking improved treatment and conditions at the center for violent sexual offenders.
The unit is attached to the Joliet Correctional Center but is operated by the Illinois Department of Human Services -- not the Department of Corrections.
According to another recent report prepared for the ACLU, 129 people are being held there. They are called patients and are supposed to receive treatment.
Susan Locke, a spokeswoman for the human services department, said it doesn't comment on pending lawsuits and therefore would have no comment on Iacono's report.
State law allows authorities to hold the offenders at the center until experts deem their treatment so successful they are unlikely to commit more sexually violent crimes.
Polygraph, or lie-detector, tests play a crucial role in measuring such progress.
Iacono has served as a polygraph consultant to the congressional Office of Technology Assessment, the Central Intelligence Agency and the Defense Department, among others.
In his 15-page report he expressed skepticism on whether so-called control-question tests using polygraphs are reliable.
In such a test, the subject is asked control questions, such as: "Have you ever told a lie?"
Once his response to such questions is noted, he is asked more relevant questions, such as whether he has told authorities about all of the sexually violent crimes he has ever committed.
Responses such as sweating palms and higher blood pressure are supposed to indicate lies.
Iacono said, however, that such tests can be misleading.
He said patients are likely to attach considerable emotional weight to the relevant questions and show signs of heightened physical activity even if they are telling the truth.
"Truthful examinees are often more bothered by the emotionally charged accusations in the relevant questions than in the trivial issues raised by control questions," he said. "The inadequacy of the control questions causes the (test) to be biased against truthful people."
Research shows that more than 40 percent of those who tell the truth will produce symptoms that suggest they are lying, he said.
Moreover, the tests as given in Joliet could be even more suspect, Iacono said.
He said just one of the center's employees is responsible for polygraphing all of the patients and that person does not record the sessions so that they can be reviewed by experts.
"This entire polygraph program is in the hands of a single person whose accurate administering tests is unknown and whose errors have no way of ever being detected," he said.
1 December 2003 "Suspect awaiting polygraph"
Christopher Bobby reports for the Warren, Ohio Tribune Chronicle. Excerpt:
WARREN - Murder defendant Gentry Freeman has agreed to take a polygraph exam that his attorney says could free him.
Common Pleas Judge Andrew Logan authorized the agreement last week between prosecutors and defense attorney Sarah Kovoor.
The test will be administered sometime Wednesday by William Evans of Akron, who has previously worked with the Trumbull County prosecutor's office. Results will be available at a later time, and since the test is stipulated, those test results could be used as evidence in Freeman's trial scheduled for Jan. 12, 2004.
Freeman, 25, of Allenwood Avenue S.E., pleaded innocent to aggravated murder and kidnapping charges. He is accused of stabbing Denise Angelo of Warren numerous times and leaving her body in a ditch off North Road S.E. in late April 2002.
Kovoor said Freeman earlier took a polygraph, given to him by an expert who works with the Cuyahoga County Sheriff's Department. However, Kovoor said she thinks there is another killer responsible for the murder.
Without revealing the results of that earlier, unstipulated polygraph, Kovoor said she also wants Evans to have the benefit of viewing the results of the first test. This could be a hint those results could be considered favorable to Freeman, who remains in Trumbull County Jail without bond.
Kovoor contends DNA tests done on semen and skin samples under the fingernails and found on the victim's body have excluded her client as a suspect.
''I think police might have acted too quickly to charge someone in this case. Gentry's story has never changed from the beginning, and there are never any inconsistencies in what he says,'' Kovoor said.
Freeman reportedly said Angelo got into his car about 3 a.m. April 24, 2002, while he was stopped at a light on Atlantic Street. Angelo told him she wanted to go to her hotel room, but he refused to take her.
Freeman said he eventually dropped her off on North Road, and he told police he returned home briefly before taking a walk on North Road. Freeman said he happened upon Angelo walking on North Road and that he pushed her into a ditch and beat her unconscious.
A coroner's report indicated the victim had 44 stab wounds from some sort of sharp object. Freeman told investigators he never stabbed her.
Freeman admitted to placing two calls to the 911 center two days after the murder, which tipped off police to finding the body.
''Gentry claims he struck the victim once and that was after she struck him. I'm convinced he picked her up and they had a fight and then he dropped her off, worrying about her later,'' Kovoor said.
Kovoor said that considering the number of times Angelo was stabbed, her death could be linked to other unsolved murders in the city in which women were stabbed dozens of times.
That the defense and prosecution have stipulated to the admissibility of the lie detector "test" to be administered in this case does not confer any reliability on this invalid procedure. Polygraph results should never be admitted as evidence in a court of law.
16 November 2003 Jamaica: "More J'can firms using lie detector tests: But detractors sceptical about polygraph reliability"
Jamaica Observer staff reporter Ann Margaret Lim reports.
WHEN the Electoral Office of Jamaica (EOJ) discovered that 13 of its expensive laptop computers were missing, it called in a lie detector expert. Seven suspects were run through the polygraph test and one was identified as the culprit. Following his confession, he and four people who bought the computers were arrested.
The EOJ is only one of a growing number of Jamaican entities which are regularly turning to lie detectors or polygraph tests to help solve problems of theft and corruption at various levels of their businesses, a local polygrapher discloses in an interview with the Sunday Observer.
Grace, Kennedy; Cool Oasis; Sandals; and Mothers are among the big companies that are regular customers, says Captain Basil Bewry, who is one of four polygraphers operating here. Bewry, a forensic psycho-physiologist who was trained in California, says he has applied lie detector tests to over 1,500 people in Jamaica in the last four years.
Polygraph or lie detector tests grabbed the spotlight last week when Police Commissioner Francis Forbes, clearly desperate to stem corruption in the constabulary, revealed plans to have ambitious cops seeking promotion to sensitive areas of the force undergo integrity tests, including polygraph tests, prior to acceptance.
Forbes' plan, while seeming to win the approval of some police officers, lawyers and psychologists interviewed by this newspaper, drew scepticism from human rights groups such as Jamaicans For Justice (JFJ) and Families Against State Terrorism (FAST), and the Opposition Jamaica Labour Party (JLP), ostensibly over concerns about the reliability of the lie detector tests.
"The commissioner spoke about other relevant and important measures and instead this has been latched on to. These tests are not even used in the US court, partially because of the doubt surrounding their accuracy," remarks Carolyn Gomes, executive director of JFJ, stressing that here is need for a quick implementation of more pressing reforms.
Gomes disagrees with the attention being paid to polygraph testing as a major corruption deterrent, insisting that the procedures for hiring and firing cops need to be examined and that the Police Public Complaints Authority should implement corruption prevention measures more quickly.
Detractors generally point to the United States where polygraph testing has been dogged by controversy. Since the 2001 scandal which broke over the arrest of an FBI agent, Robert Hanssen, who was charged with spying for Russia, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) routinely require new applicants to undergo lie detector tests.
But the controversy worsened after it emerged that serial killer, Gary Leon Ridgway, passed the polygraph test in 1984, but was afterwards found guilty of 48 murders, through DNA testing. The man long held to be guilty, Melvin Foster who had in 1982 failed the test, was acquitted.
Opponents also argue that the test can be duped or studied for and thus cheated, and point to the fact that lie detector tests are not permissible as evidence in courts of law.
"Some people who are used to lying easily without flinching may pass the test," argues Kingston-based Christian psychiatrist, Anthony Allen. "Those who don't habitually lie can be trained to do so. You can be specifically trained to alter or mask your psychological responses through self-hypnosis, thus inhibiting an anxiety response," Allen adds.
Not unusual in a polygraph debate, Allen's colleague, Charles Thesiger, disagrees. "Only a few can actually train themselves to deal with the change in skin resistance, therefore as a screening device, it is reasonable and it is unlikely to get false positives if properly administered," he counters.
Speaking for the JLP, Derrick Smith, the spokesman on national security, commends the commissioner for wanting to deal with corruption, but is sceptical about the use of polygraph tests.
"Any method used to identify and weed out corrupt policemen is welcome," says Smith. "However, there is too much uncertainty regarding the effectiveness of this process and it is inadmissable in court."
Smith would prefer to see corrupt policemen fired from the force instead of the current practice of assigning them "a desk job on Duke Street".
Insisting that machines are not the way to uproot corruption, Yvonne Sobers, head of FAST, thinks that sting operations aimed at specific individuals would be more effective. "Polygraphing is a net-fishing approach which may actually catch innocent cops, whilst the guilty may actually pass," she says.
"It has been called junk or voodoo science because it is unreliable, plus you can learn how to pass the test from books on sale via the Internet."
Scepticism over polygraphing, however, has not prevented its growing popularity, both inside and outside the US, and now Jamaica, aided and abetted by TV talk shows which use them in a bid to boost ratings.
A BBC Internet article appearing on October 30, 2003 reported that a UK insurer had cut its car claims by 25 per cent since employing polygraphing.
Based on the popularity of the tests, a booming business on how to beat polygraphing has mushroomed. A How to beat the Polygraph Compact CD goes for a retail price of US$51 online, and the Lie Behind the Lie Detector can be downloaded free from www.antipolygraph.org.
Bewry, who is managing director of Atlas Protection and a certified member of the American Polygraph Association, swears by the tests: "The test is 95 per cent accurate, but only under the assumption that the examiner is competent," he tells this newspaper.
According to Bewry, 70 per cent of those found lying on the test confess afterwards. He adds that larceny makes up 72 per cent of the cases and cites a poll sample of 700 that shows the failure rate amongst men is 60 per cent and women 49 per cent.
Bewry operates two US$5,000 polygraph machines. He charges from US$150 to US$250 for a series of three tests. The polygraph looks for changes in blood pressure, sweat, breathing and heart rate over the three and sometimes four tests, and then compares them.
Responding to claims that people can beat the machines through deliberate means or nervousness, Bewry insists: "Nervousness will not skew the test; what the machine looks for is fear, as nervousness is constant, but fear appears at specific questions."
There was no apparent nervousness among police officers interviewed by the Sunday Observer. "We agree with anything that is being done to aid accountability and improve the image of the force and since there is a need for this, we welcome the decision," says Inspector Sonia James, the number two at the Constabulary Communication Network, (CCN), information arm of the police force.
Inspector Stephen Moodie, secretary of the Police Federation which represents rank and file cops, also supports the commissioner's plans, saying that "the test could be a criterion for promotion at senior superintendent and high command levels, to ensure that corruption and abuse of office will decrease".
Moodie says it will serve as a deterrent to a policeman who is prone to accept 'gifts' and who is seeking promotion, and will "hopefully stem the rise of begging in the force".
"Because we need to ensure that the right person is in the right place, there needs to be a series of security clearances for persons who have access to facilities which have sensitive information," Moodie adds. "If they can't clear these hurdles, the system of checks and balances must ensure that they be kept out of these sensitive positions."
Lawyer Courtney Kazembe believes that "given the nature of corruption, especially in the higher ranks of the force, polygraphing may be helpful". He thinks they can assist in making administrative decisions, and supports the view that polygraph tests cannot be easily cheated.
Attorney Clinton Morgan, not yet a fan, notes that there is no specific Jamaican law which can compel a person to submit to a lie detector test, as this is mainly a voluntary exercise. "In contrast to the Fingerprint Act, you are not compelled to take a lie detector test, although the private sector is already using it," says Morgan..
But Bewry, while acknowledging that lie detector tests were inadmissible in court, emphasises that a confession garnered after the test is acceptable to the court.
12 November 2003 Israel: "Bills to Prevent Compelled Polygraph Exam"
IsraelNationalNews.com reports in a short article that is cited here in full:
(IsraelNN.com) The Knesset Social Affairs & Health Committee is preparing two bills for a first reading in the Knesset, both aimed at making a compulsory polygraph exam for job applicants illegal. The bills are authored by MKs Yehiel Hazan (Likud) and Zahava Gal-On (Meretz).
The two legislators believe compelling one to take a lie-detector test is a violation of onešs rights.
8 November 2003 Jamaica: "Lie detector tests for cops: Forbes outlines new measures to stamp out police corruption"
Staff reporter Karyl Walker reports for the Jamaica Observer.
THE police chief warned yesterday that cops seeking promotion to senior ranks or to assignments in sensitive areas will be subject to lie detector and other integrity tests as part of his programme to root corruption out of the constabulary.
Earlier the Police Services Commission (PSC) confirmed that it was considering a proposal to have officers, from the rank of senior superintendent, served fixed-term contracts which will be renewable based on performance. The commissioners, however, said that no decision had been taken on this or any matter regarding the promotion of senior police officers.
"The implications of any such change would require extensive research, legal advice and consultations," the PSC said as it sought to head off agitation in the constabulary over a report that a freeze had been placed on promotions.
The commissioners said that they have been exploring such ideas as part of efforts to introduce "greater transparency and accountability" to the police force.
Driving corrupt cops out of the force and getting most talented officers into senior positions have been central to on-going debates here over reform of the Jamaican constabulary and Forbes used a graduation ceremony for 119 new members to underscore his often-repeated aim to have a constabulary whose members the public can trust.
"I intend to introduce a series of integrity tests, including polygraph tests, for those wishing to be promoted to certain ranks within the Jamaica Constabulary Force or to be selected to sensitive areas that are prone to corruption," Forbes said at the ceremony held at the Jamaica Police Academy in Twickenham Park, St Catherine.
Forbes also announced that software to prevent data being deleted from the traffic ticketing system was bought, in an attempt to foil the attempts of crooked traffic cops who accept bribes from motorists.
Said the police chief: "I have a message for every police officer whether you are taking a $500 bill not to write up a traffic ticket or you are engaged in more sophisticated methods of corruption: your time is up.
"We intend to remove every corrupt police officer, one by one, until a firm and equivocal message is sent that the JCF is not a comfortable place for rogue cops."
Of the 119 officers who graduated yesterday, 84 will be deployed in the tourist resort areas of Ocho Rios, Montego Bay and Negril.
The remaining 35 will be deployed in the parish of Clarendon, which according to a senior officer, is presently short of personnel.
The rookie cops were trained for eight months and is the third batch of recruits to have graduated this year, as part of an effort by the authorities to build the force back to its establishment of 8,000.
While Jamaica's police have a reputation for corruption and extra-judicial killings, it is also recognised that they work in a very dangerous environment, where about 1,000 murders a year are reported. More than a dozen police, on average, are killed in Jamaica annually in the line of duty and several others are injured, usually shot.
Forbes warned the new officers of the dangers they faced and suggested that they should expect no demonstration of support and demand for justice received by alleged victims of police excesses.
"You walk with death every day when you do this job," he said. "And when you die there are no demonstrations, no one to light a candle for you -- no chorus of condemnation."
The fear that Forbes expressed for the lives of those who wear the police uniform was also shared by families of some who graduated yesterday.
Kadian Davis, of Richmond, St Mary had a son of among the graduates. She is worried that he could become a victim of gunmen.
"I fear for him because I know it is a dangerous job," Davis told the Observer.
But mostly the families were proud. Many came from far to share the afternoon with sons and daughters and extended family.
Rodland Thomas came from Litchfield, Trelawny to share the occasion with his son, Alwayne -- but he didn't come alone. He brought 28 others.
"It feels good," Thomas said. "This is my son's moment. Is 29 of us come here and we have to support him."
7 November 2003 "After ricin scare, FBI polygraphs postal workers"
Tim Smith reports for the Greenville Times. Excerpt:
The FBI has begun polygraphing Greenville postal workers and truck drivers as the investigation into who delivered a package containing the deadly poison ricin to a Greenville mail facility moves into the third week, the president of the local postal workers union said Thursday.
Dennis Zimmerman, president of Local 168 of the American Postal Workers Union, said the polygraph tests began Wednesday at the Greenville Spartanburg International Airport's mail center off Pelham Road, where the poison was found.
He said his union has concerns over whether postal officials properly protected workers when the poison was discovered and may file a grievance.
The polygraph testing has included at least one truck driver, Zimmerman said, who he said became upset during the test and ripped off his attachments.
Tom O'Neill, the spokesman for the FBI's South Carolina headquarters, declined to comment on Zimmerman's statements, saying FBI agents cannot discuss an active investigation.
Postal officials could not be reached for comment Thursday.
The union president, who works at a downtown branch, said he has talked with workers at the airport facility about the testing. Zimmerman said workers have complained of stress from the polygraphs. He said at least two workers have complained about questions in the tests concerning their home life.
The union president said while the tests are supposed to be voluntary, workers feel pressure to take them.
"People who opt out are being questioned as if they have something to hide," Zimmerman said. He said one worker has seen a doctor about his stress and is now on medication.
"We're telling our people if you don't care to participate in that, don't do it but they are feeling a lot of pressure to do it," he said. "It seems ironic and almost cruel that the people who had their lives threatened are now being intimidated by the government forces."
5 November 2003 Idaho Supreme Court Rejects Polygraph Testimony
In a ruling handed down Wed., 5 November 2003 in Idaho v. Perry, the Idaho Supreme Court ruled polygraph evidence inadmissible. Craig T. Perry had sought the admission of testimony by Dr. Charles R. Honts regarding a polygraph examination that he administered. Download Idaho Supreme Court 2003 Ruling No. 109 (33 kb PDF).
5 November 2003 Green River Killer Gary Leon Ridgway Passed Polygraph "With Flying Colors"
Chris Summers reports for BBC News Online in an article titled, "Confessions of a serial killer." Excerpt:
When Gary Leon Ridgway stands up in a Seattle court on Wednesday and admits 48 counts of aggravated first degree murder he will officially become America's most prolific serial killer.For discussion of this case, see the AntiPolygraph.org message board thread, Deadliest Killer in U.S. History Beat Polygraph.
It is not a very good advertisement for the polygraph, or lie detector test.
In 1987 the man suspected of being the Green River Killer took such a test and passed with flying colours.
Just hours before he appears in court his attorney, Eric Lindell, gave an exclusive interview to BBC News Online, in which he explained why his client had admitted to murdering 48 women and what it might mean for others on Death Row.
The Green River Killer is remarkable in the annals of serial killers in many ways, but none more so than Ridgway's ability to pass a polygraph in which he denied responsibility.
Mr Lindell said: "I have asked him about it. The Green River Killer Taskforce asked several suspects to take a polygraph test and he passed it.
"He said he didn't do anything special to pass it. He just relaxed. But then he is a unique individual."
5 November 2003 Illinois Man, Innocent of Armed Robbery, Failed Lie Detector
Daily Herald Legal Affairs Writer Christy Gutowski reports on the case of Kevin Liszka in an article titled, "'The perfect mark.'" Excerpt:
As Kevin Liszka sat in a police department holding cell for three days, he remained confident authorities would realize they had the wrong man.
Instead, police hauled Liszka off to the DuPage County jail on the fourth day after a trail of evidence, including witness identification, led back to him.
"I just started crying," the Bolingbrook man said. "I said, 'You're all wrong. You guys are making a big mistake.'"
Police said Liszka was one of three assailants who burglarized a city official's residence in Warrenville in a violent home invasion that involved rape. The crime shook the close-knit community to its core.
From the onset, the 20-year-old man proclaimed his innocence. Forty-two days later, prosecutors confirmed he had been telling the truth. They cleared Liszka after charging the final of three suspects.
The case is just one example of the fallibility of the criminal justice system -- a system in which innocent people are sometimes caught in the middle. It also is the reason eyewitness testimony, long a trusted fixture in the courtroom, has come under increasing attack.
Liszka, though, had a lot more than mistaken identity working against him. A pizza delivery, police sketch, failed lie-detector test and a shaky reputation with police also played a role.
Liszka said he understands why innocent people confess. The interrogations, at times, grew heated. At one point, authorities warned they were giving him one last chance to come clean.
"They told me if there's no deal now, there will never be one," he said. "At that point, considering I was facing 40 years in prison, I was almost thinking about admitting to something I didn't do."
5 November 2003 "Terrorism lends urgency to hunt for better lie detector"
Richard Willing reports for USA Today. Excerpt:
PHILADELPHIA -- In a quiet corner of the University of Pennsylvania campus, professor Britton Chance is using near-infrared light to peek at lies as they form in the brains of student volunteers.
Eventually, Chance hopes to see something else: a day when a device like his replaces the old, often inaccurate polygraph as the best way for the U.S. government to detect lies told by spies, saboteurs and terrorists.
Chance is among dozens of university and government researchers who have invigorated the hunt for a better lie detector, an effort that has been made more urgent by America's focus on national security since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
In labs across the nation, researchers are using technologies originally developed to examine diseases, brain activity, obesity and even learning disorders to try to solve some of the mysteries of human conduct. The provocative idea behind some of the research is to go beyond measuring the anxiety of a liar -- as polygraphs try to do -- and to catch the lies as they form in the human brain.
"We need something; we have a country under stress" because of increased fears of terrorism, says Chance, 90, a biochemist and engineer who helped to develop military radar during World War II. "It might be fixed by finding out what people are thinking about."
Even its staunchest defenders doubt that the polygraph is up to the job. Invented in 1915, the device uses wires, cuffs and a chest harness to measure changes in breathing, perspiration and heart rate. The presumption behind polygraph tests is that such changes can be brought on by the stress of telling a lie.
But researchers have long questioned the polygraph's accuracy, in part because the test itself can make a person nervous enough to skew the results. In criminal cases, the accuracy of such tests can vary widely. Courts in only one state, New Mexico, routinely accept polygraph results as evidence.
And security screeners who use the machine to try to pick out would-be terrorists or spies have a more difficult challenge, polygraph critics say. Without details of a specific crime or security violation to ask about, polygraphs miss real spies and sometimes implicate innocent people.
Former CIA officer Aldrich Ames, who spied for the Soviet Union, and former Defense Intelligence Agency analyst Ana Belen Montes, who spied for Cuba, both passed polygraphs.
The polygraph is "a technology under duress," says Frank Horvath, a Michigan State University professor of criminology and a Defense Department adviser. "The question is: Is there some way better, and how do you find it?"
The Defense Department, the FBI and the CIA are among the U.S. agencies trying to answer that.
Still no proven way
The Defense Department's Polygraph Institute at Fort Jackson, S.C., is financing at least 20 projects aimed at finding a better lie detector. Another Pentagon office, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, is exploring magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and other technologies. The FBI and CIA are backing more research.
Because much of the work is secret, it is difficult to estimate how much is being spent.
All the projects are in their early stages, and they are shadowed by a glaring fact: Scientists still haven't proven that there is a scientific way to catch a liar. If a device such as Chance's were to become the standard, a range of ethical and legal questions would pop up over how it should be used.
For now, government examiners continue to rely on the old device.
So until something better comes along, agencies continue to use the polygraph. Horvath says the government would drop the polygraph "in a minute" if a more effective device were developed. Critics say it should be dropped anyway.
"Is it better than nothing, or worse?" asks Steven Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists, which has criticized government secrecy. "It's worse if it creates a false sense of security or excludes qualified employees from government service. Any new technology has to pass that test."
AntiPolygraph.org Home Page > Polygraph News