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The Truth About the Polygraph, According To the NSA 452

Posted by timothy
from the do-you-think-this-test-is-psuedoscience? dept.
An anonymous reader writes "The NSA (the secretive intelligence agency that brought you wholesale warrantless wiretapping) has produced a public relations video about its polygraph screening program titled 'The Truth About the Polygraph.' But is the NSA telling the truth? AntiPolygraph.org provides a critique (video)."
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The Truth About the Polygraph, According To the NSA

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  • by Antisyzygy (1495469) on Sunday June 13, 2010 @04:38PM (#32559014)
    The polygraph has too many false positives and false negatives to be relied on 100 percent.
    • Re:Polygraph (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Mashiki (184564) <mashiki&gmail,com> on Sunday June 13, 2010 @04:39PM (#32559030) Homepage

      There's a reason why in Canada they're not considered an instrument reliable for court. But the RCMP use it for hiring you. Yep just gonna go over here...

      • Re:Polygraph (Score:5, Insightful)

        by iYk6 (1425255) on Sunday June 13, 2010 @05:08PM (#32559200)

        It's the same situation down here, too. Police forces and various government offices use polygraphs while hiring. It makes sense, really. They want to make sure that you can lie convincingly. I'm not really sure the purpose of putting sociopaths in power, though.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by gmhowell (26755)

          I'm not really sure the purpose of putting sociopaths in power, though.

          Like begets like.

        • The polygraph is an outdated technology which can be easily fooled.

          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by chronosan (1109639)
            Tighten that sphincter.
          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by Paul Jakma (2677)

            You're being sarcastic right? Using FMRIs for specific lie-detection is just as useless.

            The only point of polygraphs is that they're a *psychological* interrogation tool, used to induce people into confessing to things by making them think the interrogator actually knows they told a lie. All that matters is that the interrogee believes the test has some effect - the actual technology used is irrelevant.

            No known technology has been proven to have any significant efficacy at detecting lies under scientific co

      • Re:Polygraph (Score:4, Interesting)

        by mikewas (119762) <wascher.gmail@com> on Sunday June 13, 2010 @05:11PM (#32559228) Homepage

        Not allowed for court in the US either, though police do use it during their investigations.

        Really, all you need is to convince the person you're investigating that it works ... then if they refuse|agree to take a polygraph they're probably guilty|innocent.

        • Re:Polygraph (Score:5, Informative)

          by nbauman (624611) on Sunday June 13, 2010 @06:19PM (#32559654) Homepage Journal

          Really, all you need is to convince the person you're investigating that it works ... then if they refuse|agree to take a polygraph they're probably guilty|innocent.

          Actually, as AntiPolygraph.org pointed out, it convinces people to submit to an interrogation without a lawyer. Standard interrogation techniques can get you to confess to things (sometimes to things you're not guilty of). They can also collect information that they can use against you in combination with other (mis)information.

          See the Youtube video of a law school class by law professor James Duane http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=8167533318153586646# [google.com]. (Or see http://flexyourrights.com/ [flexyourrights.com])

          Duane said, don't talk to the police if you're innocent. Don't talk to the police if you're guilty. Don't talk to the police without a lawyer.

          You can tell the complete truth, and make a true statement that can be used against you to convict you.

          Like: "I never liked the guy."

          Or: "I was in the next town." Then they finds a witness who honestly thinks she saw you near the scene of the crime, and they use that to impeach your credibility.

          • Re:Polygraph (Score:5, Insightful)

            by stewbacca (1033764) on Sunday June 13, 2010 @09:17PM (#32560600)

            Don't talk to the police if you are innocent or guilty and without a lawyer...good advice.

            Don't take a poly from the agency you'd like to work for? Terrible advice.

            • Re:Polygraph (Score:5, Insightful)

              by nbauman (624611) on Sunday June 13, 2010 @10:19PM (#32560908) Homepage Journal

              If you want to work for the agency, you don't have any choice. Go ahead.

              But as AntiPolygraph.org documented, many of the organizations that give you a polygraph make get it wrong, make false accusations, and reject applicants because of false positives. The operators are even under an incentive to reject people, even falsely. Once you get rejected from one agency for failing a lie detector test, you're blackballed from others.

              AntiPolygraph.org had a story like that about a guy who applied to a police department in Texas. The examiner accused him of lying, the police department rejected him, and he couldn't do anything about it.

              The other thing I would point out was that the NSC in the video required its employees or applicants to sign a statement that their test was "voluntary." That was a lie. It was coerced. If you didn't take the test, you wouldn't get the job.

              One of the most annoying things about the procedure is that the whole thing is full of deception and unfairness. They even force you to lie.

              You can make your own decision. I wouldn't work for an organization like that. It's not what I'm after in life. What can they offer? You can work in places that are honest.

            • Re:Polygraph (Score:5, Insightful)

              by snowgirl (978879) on Monday June 14, 2010 @12:21AM (#32561406) Journal

              Don't take a poly from the agency you'd like to work for? Terrible advice.

              At risk of sounding like one of those asshole girls, "if they would discriminate against me, then I don't want to work for them" (because fundamentally, I have a right to)

              NO!

              Refusing to take a poly from anyone is the best choice you can make. Once you consent to the examination, there are two possibilities: you either pass and they believe you (neutral result compared to your position before) or you fail and they dismiss you (a result worse than you started at).

              Refuse ALL polygraph tests, there is no empirical evidence to support them, and you should absolutely object to any of them that are offered. If the entity requesting the poly then declines to hire you, then you are better off, than if you consent and they fail you on the poly.

              • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

                by Asic Eng (193332)
                If the entity requesting the poly then declines to hire you, then you are better off, than if you consent and they fail you on the poly.

                Yeah, but you are worse off than if you consent and pass - which is the most likely result. And you are not much worse off when you fail than if you don't consent. They might add your failing result to your records, but they would probably also add the refusal to your records (troublemaker + potentially hiding something). If you don't want to consent to the test you are b

                • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

                  by snowgirl (978879)

                  No. Placing yourself at risk of a false positive of a lie detector is not worth offsetting being flagged as uncooperative.

                  If you're worried about this, then point directly to the Green River Killer and point out that he passed a polygraph as well as numerous spies in the USA.

                  Then ask them why anyone being dishonest would want to point out that passing a lie detector test could still be lying.

                  State unconditionally your willingness to engage in prescreening interviews that do not violate your rights.

                  If they

            • Re:Polygraph (Score:5, Insightful)

              by jcr (53032) <jcr.mac@com> on Monday June 14, 2010 @02:15AM (#32561942) Journal

              Don't take a poly from the agency you'd like to work for? Terrible advice.

              Work for an agency that can't tell quackery from science? Terrible idea.

              -jcr

              • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

                by Asic Eng (193332)
                Well, the sanity level of any large organization (be it private or state-run) tends to be fairly low. If you want to restrict yourself to only apply at fundamentally sane employers, you don't have a lot of choices. Running your own company or working for a small (and sane) company, tends to mean that you'll have customers with rather restricted sanity - which is not much of an improvement.

                Typically your options are to learn to live with the surrounding madness, or try to change it in some small way - whic

              • Re:Polygraph (Score:4, Interesting)

                by stewbacca (1033764) on Monday June 14, 2010 @06:58AM (#32563230)

                Gee, a Libertarian who distrusts a government agency AND polygraphs? No way!

                They use the poly against the subjects as a placebo. The real evaluation comes from the interrogation. It's a good thing the agency is much smarter than you give them credit for, though.

        • Re:Polygraph (Score:5, Insightful)

          by Peach Rings (1782482) on Sunday June 13, 2010 @06:55PM (#32559862) Homepage

          if they refuse|agree to take a polygraph they're probably guilty|innocent

          I would refuse to take a polygraph test under any circumstances. Therefore, my cooperation has no correlation with my guilt or innocence.

          By the way, why would I refuse to take such a test? Simple. It cannot help you in any way. They can take the things you say in the test and use them against you in court, but no matter how flawlessly you pass the test, as a defendant you cannot call on any of that testimony in the court room. Only the prosecution can call testimony from police interviews. So basically, it can hurt you, but it legally cannot help you at all.

        • Re:Polygraph (Score:5, Insightful)

          by sumdumass (711423) on Sunday June 13, 2010 @07:00PM (#32559892) Journal

          Not really. I'm neither guilty nor innocent, I'm not even connected to a crime and I will refuse to take a polygraph test if ever asked- for any reason.

          It's the same when a cop pulls you over and asks to search the car or something. I always default to no you may not. They usually reply with something about something to hide and I reply that if they knew that, they wouldn't need my permission to nibshit through my stuff. I then ask if I'm free to go. Of course they will not find anything if they look, but I'm more worried about them finding something that wasn't there before they looked. If they are honest, then it won't be a problem. If they are not honest, then it's a door to escape the issues at their hand.

          It might be a different story is there was some trust surrounding the officers enforcing the laws, but a fe bad apples spoiled that a long time ago and continue to keep it rancid today. The problem is that you cannot tell which are the good cops and which are the bad cops and it's best to just not take chances. Especially when they want to search you or pin something on you that you had nothing to do with.

    • Polygraphs are used as interrogation tools. The subject believes that they work and the polygrapher CAN see changes that can indicate that the person under scrutiny is having an issue with something. It's not a true false stoplight but it gives them an indication that something is on the subject's mind and they pursue it. At that point it's a guided interrogation with the polygrapher using indications from the machine to try and figure out if there's subterfuge going on. If the subject is able to provide reasonable explanation for the readings and what goes through their mind when queried then a good polygrapher will let it go. If they see enough of this kind of reading or they just get a hinky feeling they will make the subject come back for another reading until they feel like they have gotten the truth.

      Used properly by someone who has a clue and who is trained to look at more than just the silly screen or stylus, someone who can listen to the timber of the voice or other tells the process (not the machine) can work. Someone who is a pathological liar isn't going to get caught. Neither is a person who has a change of heart after the process which is why the process is done on a regular basis by places that care about keeping their employees "clean".

      There ARE downsides. Some people have medical issues that provide goofy readings be it heart or sweat or breathing. Sometimes people are SO stressed out by the magic machine that they freak out and cannot give a good reading one way or the other. Some people are just guilty - about every freaking thing in the world! These kinds of folks aren't going to pass the testing easily, in fact they may never be able to pass and then I guess the employer has to make a judgement call. This is simply risk management and if you're Joe Blow secretary tough luck - you're toast! Oh, some drugs will screw with the machine too apparently so if you take those for whatever reason it's going to be weird, not sure what they do then. But if you're a normal well adjusted person and understand what's going on the test is not that big a deal.

      Frankly places like the NSA are using these things correctly from what I'm told - devices to get employees to talk about things that concern them from a security standpoint, skeletons in the closet, etc.. The silly stuff you see on TV where they ask you long rambling questions that require something other than a yes or no - that's bullshit and done wrong. Any employer that wants you to undergo something like that isn't using a service that's worth a shit and it's not going to work out. Run don't walk from those - it's crap and they will pull who knows what out of their ass.

  • by headkase (533448) on Sunday June 13, 2010 @04:39PM (#32559020)
    If I ever had to take a polygraph test I would do so under one condition: I get to add one question to the test at the beginning. The question would be: "Can this machine tell if I am lying?"
    • by DarkOx (621550) on Sunday June 13, 2010 @04:43PM (#32559056) Journal

      You do realize that even polygraph supports don't claim its truth detector right? The polygraph can at best detect the physiological changes that happen when a person is fabricating a response. If you really think the truth is however you answer that question as far as the polygraph is concerned you are being truthful, so I am not sure I understand what the point of your proposed exercise would be.

    • by wiredlogic (135348) on Sunday June 13, 2010 @04:44PM (#32559066)

      Polygraphs aren't lie detectors. They are used to assess truthfulness. Much of the magic is not in the machinery itself but in subjecting the person under assessment to unfamiliar, semi-stressful conditions while asking probing questions. It's basically a game of manipulation for the polygrapher.

      • Polygraphs aren't lie detectors. They are used to assess truthfulness.

        So how does that work exactly, assessing if someone is telling the truth without saying whether they're lying?

        • by Barrinmw (1791848) on Sunday June 13, 2010 @05:10PM (#32559222)
          There is a big difference between Absolute Truth and Personal Truth. Polygraphs detect Personal Truth. If you purposefully say something you believe to be untrue, there are generally certain biological responses made throughout your body and that is what the polygraph picks up.
          • by khasim (1285) <brandioch.conner@gmail.com> on Sunday June 13, 2010 @05:16PM (#32559264)

            If you purposefully say something you believe to be untrue, there are generally certain biological responses made throughout your body and that is what the polygraph picks up.

            #1. How accurate is the polygraph at measuring that?
            The answer is - not very accurate. As has been noted before, if you don't care about a subject, the polygraph will NOT be able to show you lying about it.

            #2. Are there other situations which would yield the same results?
            The answer is - yes. Having a stress reaction to a question (even if you're telling the truth) will produce the same results as lying.

            • by Barrinmw (1791848)
              Hence, that is why they try and make you as calm as possible before hand and try and make questions as neutral as possible to prevent a sudden rash of nervousness. And generally, they don't just administer polygraphs to people who are completely disinterested in something.
              • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

                In other words, they just pretend it works so they don't lose their make-believe work as a polygraph tester...
            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              by Maestro4k (707634)

              #2. Are there other situations which would yield the same results? The answer is - yes. Having a stress reaction to a question (even if you're telling the truth) will produce the same results as lying.

              Notably, being falsely accused of a crime can be enough to cause a stress reaction on questions about the crime, simply because the person's scared half to death from the accusation and/or investigation. So the sheer fact that you've been accused of a crime can be enough to make you fail a polygraph trying to prove your innocence, thus bringing more suspicion against you.

              Never, ever, take a polygraph as part of a police investigation. At best you'll have wasted time, at worst you'll make them even more co

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by Kitkoan (1719118)

        subjecting the person under assessment to unfamiliar, semi-stressful conditions while asking probing questions..

        So its like being abducted by aliens but with less anal probing and more question probing...

        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          So its like being abducted by aliens but with less anal probing and more question probing...

          You've obviously never been in the custody of the NSA before.

          Besides, they got all their interrogation and research tactics from the Grays, anyway. I know this since the voices in my head has telled me so.

      • by bjourne (1034822) on Sunday June 13, 2010 @06:29PM (#32559714) Homepage Journal
        So just down 20 cups of coffee before taking the test. When you yourself are caffeine speeded, shivering in cold sweat and not able to tell up from down, the machine will have a very difficult job assessing your truthfulness.
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by L4t3r4lu5 (1216702)
          It's very likely that you'll be having similar testing done on the same day. maybe even submitting samples for drug testing. Good luck explaining why you have so much caffeine in your system on a day you knew it was important to be free of any chemicals.

          Much better to picture an embarrassing situation, tense a muscle group (toes and buttocks were popular, but now you can be asked to remove your shoes and can be sat on a pressure-sensitive mat to prevent these tricks).
    • by jbengt (874751)
      The question I liked, was them asking the polygraph subject to sign a form that stated, among other things, that they were taking the polygraph test completely voluntarily. Being required to take a polygraph in order to get the job is stretching the definition of voluntary to the breaking point. So it seems they won't give you the lie detector test unless you lie about it being voluntary first.
  • Complete Bullshit (Score:5, Informative)

    by taustin (171655) on Sunday June 13, 2010 @04:40PM (#32559036) Homepage Journal

    Penn & Teller taught a random woman who answered a Craig's List ad how to fake a polygraph response in less than 30 minutes.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Robadob (1800074)
      I posted about that earlier in response to this when it had no comments, but my comment has gone walkies. I do not understand how slashdot works.
    • by Mike Buddha (10734) on Sunday June 13, 2010 @04:49PM (#32559102)

      It's easy to fake a polygraph test when the stakes are low. Its much more difficult when your job or freedom are on the line. Not impossible, but certainly much more difficult than what Penn and Teller did.

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Hmm, what would higher stakes do? Raise stress levels perhaps? Making the differences even harder to spot! Yeah, that's a great argument to make for invalidating their point.

      • Re:Complete Bullshit (Score:5, Interesting)

        by MichaelSmith (789609) on Sunday June 13, 2010 @05:04PM (#32559184) Homepage Journal

        It's easy to fake a polygraph test when the stakes are low. Its much more difficult when your job or freedom are on the line. Not impossible, but certainly much more difficult than what Penn and Teller did.

        I take an anticonvulsant drug [wikipedia.org] which is also prescribed as a mood stabiliser. Because I don't actually need mood stabilisation I get a double dose, so to speak. So I think there are a few normal drugs which when used in the right way would make it easier to stay cool, calm and collected in the situation you describe.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Kjella (173770)

        Yes, but the point is to measure lies not stress. If the person is stressed because their job or freedom is on the line, is it because they are falsely accused or guilty? I know I'd be pretty stressed out because I know mistakens happen and sometimes innocents get shafted. I'm not sure adding stress into the equation would make it harder to fake.

    • by AliasMarlowe (1042386) on Sunday June 13, 2010 @04:55PM (#32559134) Journal

      Penn & Teller taught a random woman who answered a Craig's List ad how to fake a polygraph response in less than 30 minutes.

      I guess you refer to one of these:
      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u9NSXy176oA [youtube.com]
      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bScv6kfxRyE [youtube.com]
      https://antipolygraph.org/cgi-bin/forums/YaBB.pl?num=1247844645 [antipolygraph.org]

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by moxley (895517)

      Well, as they say: "you don't beat the polygraph - you beat the polygraph examiner.

      As others have also pointed out on this thread, the higher the stakes, the more likely you are to have autonomic responses.

      I think if you practice with a machine, you can probably pull it off, but it's going to be harder with someone who REALLY understands how to use one....

      One thing that does help in almost all circumstances (as I understand it) is a dose of Benzodiazepines.

      • by arth1 (260657)

        As others have also pointed out on this thread, the higher the stakes, the more likely you are to have autonomic responses.

        Care to cite a reference?
        I'd think that you'd have a higher level of stress, and thus a higher number of false positives too.

      • by Kitkoan (1719118)

        One thing that does help in almost all circumstances (as I understand it) is a dose of Benzodiazepines.

        That would make for a great polygraph question. "Have you taken any Benzodiazepines to help cheat this test?"

      • by Foobar of Borg (690622) on Sunday June 13, 2010 @05:28PM (#32559338)

        Well, as they say: "you don't beat the polygraph - you beat the polygraph examiner.

        But, in Soviet Russia, polygraph examiner beats YOU!

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Kitkoan (1719118)

      Penn & Teller taught a random woman who answered a Craig's List ad how to fake a polygraph response in less than 30 minutes.

      For those interested, here are the videos of that: Part 1 [youtube.com] and Part 2./a. [youtube.com]

    • by crush (19364)

      Yep, this is pseudo-science bullshit on a par with water-dowsing

  • WTF? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 13, 2010 @04:40PM (#32559038)

    I think the video is to calm prospective NSA employees, not speak to the legitimacy of the polygraph in general. Do I need literacy training or just the editors of /.?

  • by Darkness404 (1287218) on Sunday June 13, 2010 @04:41PM (#32559042)
    According to the NSA we have no rights, confessions are best gotten by torture, oh and we are attacked by terrorists every 4.8 seconds if we would close illegal prisons and give all US citizens basic rights and conform to various international treaties.
    • by Rogerborg (306625)
      And if you asked an NSA goon "Are all the above true?" then a polygraph would show that they truly believe it.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 13, 2010 @04:48PM (#32559096)

    Polygraphs are basically a placebo to make you believe that they can detect your lies. A lot of theater and psychology goes into helping enhance that belief - things like using 'scientific looking' equipment (the more complex the procedure the stronger your belief will be that it 'works'), having the questioner dress in labcoat (it enhances our authority belief), using escalations in authority (switching to a more 'experienced' examiner part way through), pointing to a random squiggle and claiming that it shows you lied on some vague question to convince you to change your answer and admit to something.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 13, 2010 @05:07PM (#32559192)

      So its just like a Scientology body thetan test machine?

      •     I like those. I did one of their "test" once. The guy talked to me, and asked lots of questions. I remained calm, and answered every one of them any way I wanted. The needle didn't move. After a few minutes, he began doubting the machine, and then questioned me on if I was operating it right. With the simple instructions "hold these loosely in your hands", there wasn't much for me to mess up. Since he had turned the sensitivity all the way up because he couldn't get a response, when he told me to hold them a little tighter, the needle shot all the way to the right. I suggested he turn the sensitivity down. :)

            I held on a little tighter, and he adjusted the machine again, so it was now showing neutral. The questions resumed, and I didn't show any sort of reaction to any of the questions. He got real frustrated with me (Hey dude, reactionary mind. Practice what you preach.), and gave up on it. I guess I wouldn't be a good cult member, if they won't know that I'm lying to them or not. Too bad, I wanted to join up, so I could take over. ;)

            If you really don't care about what you're saying, everything will show you're answering truthfully. When you start overthinking the questions, that's where you'll run into trouble. Consider these questions during a polygraph.

          (Q = question. T = thought. A = verbal answer. R = Result)

            Q: Did you know the victim Bob?
            T: Ya, I know bob.
            A: yes.
            R: Pass

            Q: Are you aware that Bob is missing?
            T: Everyone knows Bob is missing, that's why I'm here. This is easy.
            A: Yes
            R: Pass

            Q: Do you know where Bob is?
            T: Buried in that empty field. Shit, they know I killed Bob. They're going to figure it out!
            A: No.
            R: FAIL!

            Q: Did you have anything to do with Bob disappearing?
            T: Oh shit, they know I did it. They know I shot him, and buried him. I'm going to prison forever.
            A: No.
            R: FAIL!

        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by hey! (33014)

          Reminds me of the early days of Scientology. I was attending MIT, and there used to be recruiters who'd harass you when you went through Central Square, asking, "Do you want to take a free personality test?"

          A friend of mine came up with the perfect response. He'd say, "Did you pass?" Without exception, the recruiters would respond (with a straight face), "Oh, no, it's not *that* kind of a test."

          It was freaky, like they'd lost their capacity to recognize irony along with their body thetans.

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by noidentity (188756)

        So [a polygraphi] is just like a Scientology body thetan test machine?

        Yeah, but without the volcanoes. Big difference.

  • by moxley (895517) on Sunday June 13, 2010 @04:54PM (#32559124)

    How about "The Truth About the NSA - According to the Polygraph."

      It would be a much better article.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 13, 2010 @05:13PM (#32559236)

    I think the girl analyst in NSA video (3:34 - 4 in the response video) (probably not a real analyst but an actress) is a model on a porn site (myfreecams). Not that it's pertinent or anything, though I suppose if they are NSA - they should do a better job of screening people that portray NSA personnel (and if she is an actual analyst then that polygraph testing NSA performs isn't worth very much)

  • by sizzzzlerz (714878) on Sunday June 13, 2010 @05:18PM (#32559284)

    These men, and others, were all employees of the CIA, NSA, or other intelligence agencies. All of them were subject to taking and passing one or more polygraph tests. They all ended up providing classified information to the Soviets for a relatively minimal amounts of money. The information they disclosed resulted in the compromise of highly useful, and costly, collection systems, data, and human assets, some of whom were killed as a result. In a number of these cases, Aldritch Ames, in particular, the agency they worked had suspicions that something was going on yet these men remained free to continue their spying. Ames was even tested again, passing the test to continue his work.

    The polygraph, in these instances, was worthless and, in fact, provided a false sense of security to the detriment of the country's well-being.

  • by bagboy (630125) <neo AT arctic DOT net> on Sunday June 13, 2010 @05:20PM (#32559302)
    The "Anti-Polygraph" folks are telling the truth about the Polygraph truth? Can we get them to take a poly?
  • by dissipative_struct (312023) on Sunday June 13, 2010 @05:24PM (#32559322)

    Not sure how this got a tagged as an NSA video, it's from the DSS. The DSS is the organization responsible for granting security clearances. The process they're describing is the polygraph you take to receive certain security clearances. Anyone who is taking this polygraph has applied for a Top Secret-level security clearance. This process is pretty much the same for anyone applying for these clearances, doesn't matter if they'll be working at the NSA, another three-letter agency, in the armed forces, or for a private defense contractor.

  • Missed the point. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by scaryjohn (120394) <john@michael@dodd.gmail@com> on Sunday June 13, 2010 @05:26PM (#32559336) Homepage Journal

    The response largely misses the NSA video's point: If you think you're a good fit for the NSA, the polygraph shouldn't stop you from applying for a job.

    It's crap science, but the NSA can erect whatever arbitrary hoops it wants for employees. Any fool watching the NSA video for insight into other uses of polygraphs does so at great peril. The response is most informative when he says, "This is true of NSA employment practice, but . . ." Seriously, someone with a principled objection to the NSA polygraphing prospective employees, is going to have a real eye-opener on his first day of work there.

    Accusing the NSA of intellectual dishonesty is as useful as accusing water of being wet. Polygraphic prospective hires doesn't have to catch anybody to serve a purpose. It's enough to drive the pissant commie sympathizers to bother someone else. Or maybe not. [nytimes.com]

  • I failed one.. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by SuperCharlie (1068072) on Sunday June 13, 2010 @06:24PM (#32559684)
    When I was 19 I worked at a pawn shop. After working there for 6-8 months something (I don't know what) happened and everyone was lined up from 3 stores for polygraphs. We were let know in no uncertain terms we would lose our jobs if we failed. I was so nervous that I bombed miserably and got fired. I had done nothing. Polygraphs are simply a way to kick you in the nads and see what responses they get.
    • Re:I failed one.. (Score:5, Informative)

      by Kirijini (214824) <kirijiniNO@SPAMyahoo.com> on Sunday June 13, 2010 @11:28PM (#32561182)

      When I was 19 I worked at a pawn shop. After working there for 6-8 months something (I don't know what) happened and everyone was lined up from 3 stores for polygraphs. We were let know in no uncertain terms we would lose our jobs if we failed.

      When was this? If this happened after 1988, it was very likely illegal under the The Employee Polygraph Protection Act of 1988. [dol.gov]

      Commercial businesses may not polygraph their employees on a generalized suspicion that someone did something. They may polygraph an employee if they have a "reasonable" suspicion that that employee did certain illegal things, like theft or embezzlement. Even in those situations, employers must follow specific, strict rules - the employee must be given the opportunity to review all questions in advance, consult with an attorney, and not must not be asked questions about things like his political beliefs, associations with unions, etc. Most importantly, the results of the test may not be used as the sole basis for disciplining/firing an employee - there must be independent corroborating evidence.

      And that's just the federal law on polygraphs. Alabama, Florida, Idaho, Illinois, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, Washington, and Wisconsin all have other, stricter laws regarding polygraph testing by private businesses. Governments, of course, generally do not limit their own use of polygraphs in such ways.

  • by Moof123 (1292134) on Monday June 14, 2010 @12:13AM (#32561378)

    It is one part of a process, and if you focus on the polygraph machine itself you'll miss out on the very intentional steps taken to get you to overreact if you lie. Basically the machine is half prop, and most of what is going on is a manipulation to get you to respond in a such a manner that the operator can feel some confidence in the the wiggles coming out of the POS.

    I was not impressed, and put very little faith in their outcome, positive or negative.

  • by jcr (53032) <jcr.mac@com> on Monday June 14, 2010 @02:13AM (#32561926) Journal

    Interesting bit of trivia: the polygraph was invented by the same fucking quack [wikipedia.org] who came up with the "Wonder Woman" comic book character. (She has a magic lasso that makes people tell the truth.)

    Using a polygraph is a piss-poor substitute for real investigation. Aldritch Ames [wikipedia.org] kept passing his polys while he was getting every CIA agent in Russia killed or turned. Because he was passing the polys, they never checked up on basic questions like "Hey, why's this guy rich? He sure isn't making that much on his government salary."

    -jcr

We warn the reader in advance that the proof presented here depends on a clever but highly unmotivated trick. -- Howard Anton, "Elementary Linear Algebra"

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