In 2001, I was preparing to take a polygraph exam with the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA). I had passed every stage of the pre-employment testing with flying colors and had only the polygraph and background investigation to go. I was curious about the polygraph and asked a couple of my police officer friends what to expect. One told me to just be honest, and as long as I was honest and "clean," I would be fine, because the polygraph does not lie. The other told me to research the polygraph and find out what I am getting into. Well, I took the second friend's advice and went online and found AntiPolygraph.org. Of course when I saw The Lie Behind the Lie Detector I was curious. I printed it off the Web and read it. It was amazing! I could not believe the polygraph was so predictable and unreliable.
After reading the book, the following part of Chapter 4 stood out in my mind... "In this chapter, we will discuss three basic methods for protecting yourself against a false positive outcome:
I knew that before going to the exam I had to decide how to approach it. Obviously refusing to take the exam was not an option if I wanted to have a chance of being hired. I also did not believe it was right for me to employ countermeasures. So, for me there was only one option. I decided to tell the polygrapher that I knew the secret behind the polygraph. And that's what I did.
During the pre-test interview the polygrapher asked me if I have had any experience with the polygraph. I told her that I read a book and completely understand how the polygraph works. I told her I understand the difference between control and relevant questions. I also told her that the book I read taught me about countermeasures. After that she became very annoyed. I asked her if this happens often and she ignored me. I then asked her if this will make the exam more difficult and she shook her head yes, but did not say a word. (Oh, by the way, the exam was being audio taped.) I then explained to her that the book I had read basically said that I have two options. I can submit to the polygraph, and use countermeasures to pass it, or be honest and tell the polygrapher what I know. I made it clear to her that I chose the honesty approach. She asked me what book I read and then told me to go wait in the lobby until she figures out what to do with me.
I went to the lobby and waited for approximately 20 minutes before she finally called me back into the room. She said something to the effect of "we will just do the best that we can." She went through every stage of the directed-lie "Control Question Test," just as The Lie Behind the Lie Detector described. From the beginning of the test I was confused because I could not help thinking of each question as control or relevant. When she asked me a control question I was calm, because I knew it could only help me. But when she asked me a relevant question, I felt my pulse start to beat in my stomach because I knew the question was "real," and I became nervous.
After the second round of questions, she called me back into the room and asked how I thought I did. I said I thought I did okay. And then I asked how she thought I did. She said, "I know how you did" and started to accuse me of lying. She must have talked for at least 10 minutes, trying to convince me to admit to a lie. I sat there the entire time shaking my head no. I told her a number of times that I did not lie. I even said at one point, "I take the fact that I am an honest person very seriously." She responded by saying that she takes her job very seriously. She kept referring to how long she had been giving polygraph exams, as if that makes them more accurate. She finally gave up and said that she is stopping the exam and that she will submit the results of the two completed rounds to headquarters. She told me that my fate is out of her hands. Right after the exam I called my girlfriend of 6+ years and told her what happened. She laughed hysterically at the irony, exclaiming, "you of all people."
The experience was devastating to say the least. I have never been so degraded in my life. I find it truly ridiculous that our government uses a device -- so obviously unethical and unreliable -- against the very people who want to keep our country safe.
From my experience I can say with complete certainty, that the only way a person (honest or not) who knows the truth behind the polygraph can "pass" the polygraph, is to use countermeasures. If nothing else, the agencies that use the polygraph, should excuse any person, who, prior to taking the exam, reveals that he or she knows the secret behind the polygraph. Of course as word of this spreads, use of the polygraph would soon become obsolete. But isn't that inevitable anyway?
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