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Definition for polygraph


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One of the real values of the polygraph is that few understand its capabilities and therefore it is assumed the machine could see deep into people`s minds to prize out even the most hidden secret. This was far from the truth and if he had known the reality Ames could have afforded to be much more relaxed. A special report prepared by James K. Murphy special agent of the Laboratory Division of the FBI states that the polygraph is a reliable albeit imperfect piece of investigative technology when used properly." Murphy cites several problems with gauging the precise reliability of the polygraph. First it is cliffficult to simulate psychophysiological reactions of a criminal suspect in a laboratory study it is difficult to imitate emotions such as fear and guilt when no crime or deceptive act teas been committed. Additionally it is not possible to fully determine the accuracy of the polygraph by studying results in actual cases because the complete truth regarding the crime and its circumstances remains unavailable.

There have been a number of formal studies focusing on the validity of the polygraph. One published in 1978 which measured the results of polygraph exams under laboratory conditions concluded that they have an accuracy rate of more than 90 percent when properly conducted. Psychology and neuroscience professor William Iacono of the University of Minnesota has written that statistics provided to Congress by the Department of Defense on its use of counter intelligence polygraphs revealed that of 12306 tests only 23 were failed and 8 of these 23 received their security clearance anyway. If the polygraph were even 90 percent accurate one would have expected about 1000 people to fail just by chance. The Defense Department has suggested that sometimes examiners believing the rate of spying to be low try hard to pass people on their polygraphs. Unknown to polygraph examiners in this study nearly half of the 207 research subjects had engaged in simulated acts of espionage prior to taking the test. Of these 66 percent were passed by polygraphers from four different intelligence agencies including the CIA.

Iacono indicates that there are two basic types of polygraph tests: "control question" or "specific incident" tests and national security tests.The former type typically is used in criminal investigations to question subjects about a particular problem or event. The subject is first asked a control question which investigators assume will elicit a predictable response in the subject. The polygraph measures this response in terms of the subject`s breathing heart rate and galvanic skin response. The subject is then asked a question relevant to the specific incident or event and again the polygraph records the subject`s response. Investigators compare the responses to the two questions and any discrepancies may indicate that the subject is Iying. O. J. Simpson for example might be asked the control question "Have you ever considered hurting someone to get revenge?" and then be asked a relevant question
such as "Did you stab Nicole Simpson?" in order to compare his respective responses.
"If the responses to the relevant question (assuming the subject answered`no`) are much larger than the responses to the control question then one assumes the subject was lying. If the responses to the relevant question are more or less similar to those on the control subject then one assumes the subject is telling the truth" said lacono.

The national security test differs from the control question test "in that it concerns not specific behavior but general misbehavior." Because the subject is not asked a particular control question investigators have developed other methods of assessing discrepancies in the subject`s responses. One such method is called a "card test" in which investigators ask a subject to pick one card from a pack of twenty to twentyfive held by the polygraph examiner. The examiner then goes through the pack and asks the subject if each card was the one he had picked. The subject is instructed to answer "no" to every question even when the examiner asks about the card he had indeed chosen. Because the machine is rigged to record which card the subject did pick his response when he answers "no" to the card he had chosen is evaluated.

Another method for establishing a `control set` of responses" in a national security test is to "let the questions serve as controls for one another." Investigators typically ask a subject questions in groups of ten and covering a variety of topics such as "Have you ever had a homosexual encounter?" or "Do you take illegal drugs?" or perhaps "Have you ever intentionally divulged any classified information?" The investigators measure the responses to these questions and if one response seems more intense or more vivid than any of the others in the group the investigator presses the subject to discuss that particular question in more detail. This heightened response is significant because "given a variety of threatenmg stimuli a person will give greater psychological attention to that area which he perceives to hold the greatest threat to his weDbeing at that time."Iacono explains that this method is effective because investigators pose the questions "without telling the subject which of the questions the examiner believes is associated with an untruthful response so the subject starts talking about anything they think might have cause the alleged problem."

Because the national securiq test lacks a control question/relevant question scenario it is not specifically designed to be a liedetector test. Instead it is useful for obtaining admissions as investigators evaluate subjects based on their ability to explain themselves. Iacono believes that the national security test is a particularly effective investigative tool because "it is intimidating enough and people take it seriously enough because the stakes are high a job on the line etc. that they start divulging things about their personal or professional lives that no one had known."

During his polygraph Ames was tested on a series of issues having to do with unauthorized contacts with a foreign intelligence service unauthorized disclosure of classified information and financial irresponsibility. He gave consistently deceptive responses to issues related to whether he had been "pitched" (i.e. solicited for work) by a foreign intelligence service. The CIA examiner noted Ames`s reaction to the pitch issue—but apparently detected no reaction to the other counter intelligence issues covered by the test. When Ames was asked about his reaction during the session he explained that he was indeed sensitive to the pitch issue because he stated "we know that the Soviets are out there somewhere and we are worried about that."

Next the CIA examiner asked a series of followup questions relating to the pitch issue in order to ascertain why Arnes had appeared to give a deceptive response. Ames responded that since he had worked in ClA`s SE Division he had been involved in pitches to potential assets. Also he hypothesized that he might be known to the Soviets because of a recent defector. He further stated that he thought he might be reacting because he was preparing to go to Rome in 1uly 1986 and had some concerns that he might be pitched there. From this the polygrapher surmised that Ames had gotten his concerns off his chest and there was nothing more to tell. Once again the polygrapher went through the Cl questions on the polygraph machine focusing on the pitch issue. This time the CIA examiner deemed Ames truthful and concluded the examination characterizing Ames as "bright and direct." The examiner`s supervisors concurred with the assessment that Ames was nondeceptive.

Even though the CIA examiner passed Ames on this exam the deception indicated in Ames`s response to the pitch issue in 1986 was never resolved according to the FBI which examined Ames`s polygraph charts in June 1993. Also in the opinion of the FBI significant deceptive responses by Ames were detectable to questions dealing with unauthorized disclosure of classified material. No additional testing or explanations for these deceptive responses however were noted in Ames`s polygraph file.

For many years the CIA along with many other American government departments has placed a heavy reliance on the polygraph as the machine that can detect the liar. This dependence on technology rather than human instinct or knowledge is peculiarly American (British intelligence rejected the use of the polygraph in the late 1980s because of its unreliability). However the CIA should have known to look beyond the results of the polygraph test since even Bill Casey admitted to acquaintances that "with some Valium and a sphincter muscle trick he learned in the OSS he could flatten the spikes before they occurred on any lie detector machine.""

Others are just as skeptical. "Polygraphs can be somewhat effective against Americans who usually feel guilty when they sin lie or have too much fun. They break into a sweat and breathe erratically. But against foreigners Cubans for example the machine is absurd. The fact that the institution even talks about the polygraph after all its failures just shows how conservative arrogant and lame the place has become.""

Iacono suggests that Muslims or perhaps other Middle Eastern peoples who may believe that it is a duty to lie about certain issues to a nonbeliever could elude such a test. "If I were in charge of a foreign intelligence service" he says "I would certainly spend a few thousand dollars for a polygraph machine hook my agents up to it and explain what sorts of questions the Americans would ask as well as what the countermeasures are. I could train anybody to defeat the exam."

Although there are studies that "have concluded the polygraph to be 99 percent accurate with an almost matching reliability rate" Iacono warns that the test is by no means immune from deceit.. He contends that an "easy way" to distort the polygraph results is to "exaggerate the responses to inconsequential questions." Subjects who tried to subtract small increments from a large number without making any mistakes as soon as an examiner began asking them an inconsequential question were found to be able to generate enough stress to match their response to a relevant question. On an even more basic level subjects simply began pushing their toes onto the floor when a control question was asked which lacono reports "also leads to a larger response to the control question than one would ordinarily find.""

In fact a relative dearth of studies about the polygraph and its use in subjen testing has hampered the debate about its effectiveness or validity. Most people involved in the administering of such tests are bound to secrecy about their work making definitive results difficult to obtain. Iacono does cite one prominent study from the Department of Defense Polygraph Institute in Alabama in which about two hundred subjects were told to breach security and release information from a topsecret file. When they were later polygraphed two thirds of the supposed offenders were not even detected by polygraphers from a host of intdligence agencies and groups. There were however several confessions about unrelated previously occurring security breaches by the participants in the study. As lacono explains it the validity of the test lay in the fact that "people were intimidated enough by the poly that they volunteered damaging information even though they were aware doing so could hurt them." Clearly the test does wield some legitimate power. But because of the criticism these results received in the press the DOD has since deemed all further studies from this institute as classified.

Other electronic terms somewhat related to polygraph
lie detecting telephone lie detector porkie talkie

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