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The Truth About the Polygraph, According To the NSA 452

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? provides a critique (video)."
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The Truth About the Polygraph, According To the NSA

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  • WTF? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 13, 2010 @05:40PM (#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 Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 13, 2010 @05:48PM (#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.

  • Re:Complete Bullshit (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 13, 2010 @05:58PM (#32559154)

    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 @06:04PM (#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 [] 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:Polygraph (Score:4, Interesting)

    by mikewas ( 119762 ) <<wascher> <at> <>> on Sunday June 13, 2010 @06:11PM (#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.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 13, 2010 @06:13PM (#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 khasim ( 1285 ) <> on Sunday June 13, 2010 @06:16PM (#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 sizzzzlerz ( 714878 ) on Sunday June 13, 2010 @06:18PM (#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.

  •     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!

  • stress test (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 13, 2010 @07:10PM (#32559586)

    so the machine shows that a person under stress is...stressed. Very useful. If you are taking a polygraph, it means that someone believes that you may be guilty of a crime, or that you may be at risk of divulging sensitive information. Stressful for any reasonable adult who actually understands what is going on, whether "guilty" or not.

    If you confess as a result of a polygraph result, there's a fair chance you are guilty. If the machine says you are "lying" or "under stress" or "exhibiting behavior indicative of misrepresentation" it are an intelligent adult in a bad position. I've taken several. They all came back as "inconclusive". Polygraphs NEVER exonerate, they only deliver or "null" or condemn.

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

    by SuperCharlie ( 1068072 ) on Sunday June 13, 2010 @07:24PM (#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:Complete Bullshit (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Kjella ( 173770 ) on Sunday June 13, 2010 @07:29PM (#32559718) Homepage

    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.

  • Re:Polygraph (Score:2, Interesting)

    by sumdumass ( 711423 ) on Sunday June 13, 2010 @10:36PM (#32560704) Journal

    I live in a county where the second to last sheriff got elected by declaring how corrupt the previous sheriff was and how straight and narrow he was going to be. This worked out good until the new sheriff was arrested, prosecuted, and convicted for corruption in office, embezzlement, and a few other charges that had to do with getting to buddy-buddy with the criminals in the area and abusing his power to either aid them or punish them. The current sheriff is from the same good ol'boys club as he was the lead deputy of the one who just got put in the slammer. It's unclear if he is corrupt or not as he was customarily next in line to replace the old sheriff if anything should happen to him in the line of duty. Interestingly, the investigation by the state into the old sheriff was started by a credible anonymous tip. How someone can determine the credibility of an anonymous person without knowing who he was is beyond me but the current sheriff was close enough to all the action to see what was happening.

    But wait, it gets better, the current police department has lost two- not one but two chief of police in the last 15 years because of illegal actions ranging from embezzlement to guess what, corruption in office. One of them is serving time, the other worked out a deal where they resigned and all inquiries happened to be dropped. And if that isn't enough, I have personally been threatened by an officer in the lobby of the police department when attempting to file a complaint about another officer the night before who harassed me for no reason as I was entering a building to do some work. Well, the official story is that he had a reason, but only after 4 attempts to create something that would survive any scrutiny.

    I know it's just a few of the law enforcement officers I need to worry about and it may be flawed logic, but I really do not give a shit. It's life and I live in it and I do not trust them. Your little branch of Mayberry R.F.D may not contain these elements but mine does.

  • Re:Polygraph (Score:4, Interesting)

    by BLKMGK ( 34057 ) <> on Sunday June 13, 2010 @11:08PM (#32560850) Homepage Journal

    Umm, there isn't actually a big green or red light that lights up to say you lied. That chill? It probably moved a needle a little bit. Maybe the person asks deeper questions. Maybe you tell them how pissed off you get at the thought of someone harming national security and acting against the nation - you know the truth. The fact that NSA uses the polygraph is pretty well known, I think some other Govt offices use it too. If you are so freaked out by taking the test then the solution is simple - don't apply for those jobs where it's a requirement.

    FWIW when I was younger I was subjected to what was surely an illegal interrogation by a security guy for a drugstore where I worked. This guy did everything but beat me with a rubber hose. He had already interrogated many of the other employees and one by one they were fired. I had been told that I wasn't under suspicion for the missing controlled drugs (!) and not to worry. But after this guy fired like 6 people my number was up. I was in a tiny room seated, he stood over me and yelled. He told me he had video, he had witnesses, he had proof I was stealing and why didn't I just admit it. This went on for WELL over an hour and I was maybe 19 at the time. I asked to see the video, I asked to have witnesses come forward, I denied having stolen anything because I hadn't. I was sweating and scared and thought he was going to send me to jail - he was threatening to do so. He threatened to take the green-card of one guy's mother to get him to admit to something. Finally after forever he slammed down a piece of paper and told me to sign it. I asked what it was and he told me it was my ticket to keep my job. That piece of paper really said that he hadn't physically beaten me or coerced me and I stupidly signed it and was allowed to leave. I should have refused and sued the crap out of them but I was terrified. I was the ONLY person that fucker interviewed that wasn't fired! They later found out who was stealing - it was one of the temp pharmacists. Dumb-ass should have known they do a COUNT of every single pill in the controlled cases regularly - hell *I* knew that!

    I also went through an interrogation in junior-high when an item went missing in a class. They claimed that the "anonymous papers" turned in by everyone in the class during the investigation (wtf?!) had pointed to me and that they recognized the handwriting as being from trustworthy students blah blah. I hadn't done it, I said as much. They got down to "okay if you didn't steal it but wanted to where would you hide it" kinds of questions - I told them to goto hell. That was actually easier than the interrogation by the security guy even though this was TWO teachers in a small room berating me. My parents took care of that one, I was told that if they ever tried that again I was to walk right the heck out the front door and keep on trucking - they also reamed the administrators. That was 8th grade for kripes sakes and I remember it like it was today. That too was over an hour and in today's schools is probably deemed okay since they have checked in girls panties and whatnot for Advil.

    My kid EVER gets into a situation like either of those I will come down on someone with a hammer, that shit can scar you for life!

    Those kinds of interrogations are far worse than any polygraph could possibly be. If someone asking you a question about something you didn't do scares you so badly then dude you need to get a grip. If you didn't do it say no and stick to it, better yet tell them you want a lawyer. If you're that scared of a machine test required for a job then don't apply for jobs that require it - how hard is that?

  • Re:Polygraph (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Asic Eng ( 193332 ) on Monday June 14, 2010 @05:19AM (#32562464)
    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 - which is better than nothing but will not work all that frequently.

    Also if all sane people avoid these agencies, then things will definitely not get better there. This might be an important consideration for people willing to apply to them.

  • Re:Polygraph (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Asic Eng ( 193332 ) on Monday June 14, 2010 @05:27AM (#32562504)
    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 better off not applying.

  • Re:Polygraph (Score:4, Interesting)

    by stewbacca ( 1033764 ) on Monday June 14, 2010 @07:58AM (#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.

  • by bodhisattva ( 311592 ) <> on Monday June 14, 2010 @09:26AM (#32564036)

    Beating a polygraph test is piece of cake. Aldrich Ames was worried about man an upcoming polygraph and his Russian handlers told him to get a good nights sleep and be friendly to the people administering the test. You can practice relaxing with biofeedback equipment which is essentially the same as a polygraph. You can take drugs like beta-blockers and tranquilizers that will make you dead to stress which is the mechanism of the polygraph. There are people on whom a polygraph doesn't work. My God, google "how to beat a polygraph".

The party adjourned to a hot tub, yes. Fully clothed, I might add. -- IBM employee, testifying in California State Supreme Court