A 21st-Century witch trial

>> Wednesday, September 11, 2013

An Indiana man who made thousands of dollars teaching people how to beat lie detector tests was sentenced to eight months in federal prison on Friday. Though Chad Dixon argued there was nothing inherently illegal about teaching polygraph countermeasures, he couldn’t deny that he had continued to work with two students (actually undercover agents) even after they confided that they planned to use his methods to fraudulently obtain jobs with the federal government. Dixon might not be the last polygraph expert to land in jail: According to a report last month from McClatchy Newspapers’ Washington, D.C. bureau, the federal government has begun to deliberately target for prosecution people who teach polygraph-beating techniques. Why is the government so keen on pursuing anti-polygraph instructors? And why does it put so much stock in a technology that the rest of the world abandoned long ago?
You to Know How to Beat a Lie Detector Test"; Slate, September 9th, 2013.

An Indiana man who taught sex offenders and aspiring federal law enforcement officers how to cheat their court- or job-imposed lie detector tests was sentenced to eight months in prison Friday — a somewhat muted victory for authorities hoping to send a stern warning to those in the business of beating polygraphs.
September 6th, 2013.
Federal agents have launched a criminal investigation of instructors who claim they can teach job applicants how to pass lie detector tests as part of the Obama administration’s unprecedented crackdown on security violators and leakers. 
- Marisa Taylor and Cleve R. Wootson Jr., "Seeing threats, feds target instructors
McClatchy, August 16th, 2013.

I find this stunning.  Obscene, really.  Baffling in the sense that it's hard to get your brain around this really being a thing, even though you know some people--in this case, people in law enforcement and Federal government--are so smugly and self-righteously stupid about polygraphy that it only follows they'd wreck some poor bastard's life to defend their sacred mumbo-jumbo.

But that's what this is.  If there's a crime committed by Chad Dixon and others, it's possibly a fraud in telling anybody that the polygraph needs to be defeated.  The thing is bogus, claptrap, pseudoscience.  To worry about someone instructing people on how to "beat" the polygraph is like worrying about someone teaching hexes to protect against witchcraft, or teaching people how to hide springs on their property from dowsers.

Aldrich Ames passed polygraphs all the time when he was a Soviet mole embedded in the CIA.  It was easy as falling asleep.  No, really: "The KGB advised Ames to get 'a real good night's sleep. Be fresh and rested. Be cooperative. Develop rapport with examiner. And try to remain as calm and easy as you can.'"  Forget thumbtacks in your shoe, deep-breathing exercises, Zen meditation, autohypnosis, learning to control your autonomic nervous system à la Hannibal Lecter; no, just get a nice rest the night before, maybe take a nap in the morning, remember to say "Hi" to your interrogator and ask about his wife'n'kids.  I'm not sure what Chad Dixon was charging a fee for, but, hey, it doesn't sound like he was being charged with some kind of consumer fraud; it appears he was charged with obstruction of justice and collaborating with people to defraud the Department Of Justice by lying to get jobs.  I.e. Dixon's going to prison for bullshitting the bullshitters, not for charging someone a grand and teaching them to breathe instead of telling them to have something nice for dinner and go to bed early the night before.

What the fuck?

The National Academy Of Sciences has said, pretty much, that using a polygraph as a "lie detector" is horseshit.  Even wrote a 400-page book about it, and it was hardly the first time they looked at the damn thing and came to that conclusion.  I'm appealing to them as authorities because they're smart and their reports are easy to find and freely available online, but it's really kind of commonsensical that the polygraph-as-lie-detector is unproven at best and something of a fraud at worst: consider what the polygraph measures (pulse, respiration, skin conductivity) and whether polygraph examiners have ever proven their presumption that these things change in response to unconscious or autonomic changes in the nervous system caused by some kind of awareness one is speaking or thinking a falsehood (they haven't ever proven that); then ask yourself if there's anything else that could cause changes in physical state, known causes of changes in physical state, and whether the polygraph has any kind of mechanism to exclude causes like stress, fear, exhaustion, illness, indigestion et al. (and it doesn't).  Without proof of the premise that lying causes physical alterations and proof that the polygraph can exclude "false positives", you're left with the minimal conclusion that the polygraph measures respiration, pulse, skin conductivity, and so what?  Without proof the polygraph is reliable at identifying the cause of those physical changes, your minimal conclusion is there's something going on, but what?  And when law enforcement agencies and polygraph examiners continue to insist on nothing but faith and whimsy that the machine does something other than measure these alterations and they know better than the whole entire world why those alterations are occurring, you're left with the maximal conclusion there's a con being perpetrated, and the culprit ain't whomever is wearing the pressure cuff.

It works as an intimidation tool because people are ignorant: people are so frightened of what the machine hypothetically could reveal, they do it themselves.  "The polygraph says you're holding something back, Sam."  "I-i-i-it does?!  Aieee!  I stole candy when I was five!  I'm so sorry!"  Only instead of stealing candy, you know, it's killing a hooker or giving microfilm to the dread Chinese or whatever.  It's a bluff, though.  "The polygraph says you're holding something back, Sam."  "Meh," says Sam, "kiss my ass."  Call them and all they have is whatever spike or dip they're imbuing with meaning; which is something they'll do because they're drinking their own spiked hooch.  They think the machine is magic, but they're dumb about it.

And now they're sending a poor sap to prison for it.  Going by the reports, this is ridiculous and unconscionable.  I don't know what to do about it except to rant and rave in the wilderness, letting people who might have missed the news know, this is a thing, this happened, this is bull-sheeit.  They might as well be sending a man to prison for some kind of crime against magic.  He was selling hexes against our hoaxes, and this being the 21st Century and all, we'll send him to prison for eight months.

The fucking prosecutors were asking for two years.  Called Chad Dixon a "master of deceit".  Maybe the masters of deceit are the federal prosecutors who accused Dixon of teaching people how to beat a machine concerning which the Offices Of The United States Attorneys' own Criminal Resource Manual offers this incoherent jumble:

Despite the appeal of a mechanical technique to measure a person's veracity, the polygraph has met with limited judicial acceptance and use as a federal investigative tool. In light of present scientific evidence the Department of Justice continues to agree with the conclusion of the Committee on Governmental Operations of the House of Representatives, which held after extensive hearings in 1965:
There is no "lie detector." The polygraph machine is not a "lie detector," nor does the operator who interprets the graphs detect "lies." The machine records physical responses which may or may not be connected with an emotional reaction--and that reaction may or may not be related to guilt or innocence. Many, many physical and psychological factors make it possible for an individual to "beat" the polygraph without detection by the machine or its operator.
H.R.Rep. No. 198, 89th Cong., 1st Sess. 13 (1965). Following further hearings and study, the same conclusions were reached in 1976. The Use of Polygraphs and Similar Devices by Federal Agencies: Hearings on H.R. 795 Before the House Comm. on Government Operations, 94 Cong., 2d Sess. (1976). And in 1988, as a result of continuing doubts about the usefulness and accuracy of polygraphs as a means of detecting deceit, Congress restricted the use of polygraphs in employment decisions. 29 U.S.C. §§ 2001 et seq. Despite Congress's antipathy toward the polygraph, the Department supports the limited use of polygraphs for investigatory purposes.

The Department Of Justice agrees with Congress that there ain't no such thing as a "lie detector", but notwithstanding Congress' conclusion (which DOJ agrees with), the DOJ "supports the limited use of polygraphs for investigatory purposes."  Isn't that precious.  "There's no particularly good reason to use a coin flip as a prosecutorial tool (except maybe we've convinced some poor schlubs we have a magic quarter), but what the hell, it's kinda fun or something."

Masters of deceit, indeed.


Read more here: http://www.mcclatchydc.com/2013/08/16/199590/seeing-threats-feds-target-instructors.html#storylink=cpy

Read more here: http://www.mcclatchydc.com/2013/08/16/199590/seeing-threats-feds-target-instructors.html#storylink=cpy

Read more here: http://www.mcclatchydc.com/2013/08/16/199590/seeing-threats-feds-target-instructors.html#storylink=cpy


vince Thursday, September 12, 2013 at 9:04:00 AM EDT  

I worked for a time as a night auditor at a motel chain, and someone had stolen a master key to all the rooms. The company was headquartered in Wisconsin, and hired a polygraph firm to give all the employees a polygraph test to try and determine if this had been done by an employee. I refused, and was told that 1) it made them suspicious of me and 2) if I didn't take the polygraph, I would be terminated. I consulted a lawyer, who sent the manager a nice letter explaining how in Minnesota, it's against the law to require employees to take a polygraph test as a condition of employment, and if I was terminated, there would be a lawsuit. Both corporate headquarters and the manager were shocked to discover such a law existed, and very annoyed that I informed all the other employees of the law and suggested they contact my lawyer. Although a few employees had already taken taken a polygraph, the plan was abandoned and I kept my job.

I've never understood why the government and many police agencies put such stock in polygraphs, when then scientific evidence is so overwhelming that they don't work. Although, as you point out, they can be used to intimidate people.

Warner Thursday, September 12, 2013 at 4:40:00 PM EDT  

I was not in the White House Communications Agency, because I was told, in 1968, that no notice would be taken of my not volunteering (I had very high scores in Signal School), if I did volunteer I would be given a Polygraph, I would be asked if I used marijuana and either a positive answer or what they thought was a false one would cause me to fail, and cost me my Top Secret Clearance.

In 1968 they had a problem with new staff in WHCA, as I don't know of a single volunteer from my battalion in Signal School while I was there.

Mike Haubrich, FCD Saturday, September 14, 2013 at 12:10:00 PM EDT  

Well, I think you hit the nail on the head. The purpose of the polygraph is not to read the machine to know if you prevaricate or pontificate. It is to get you to confess through intimidation. "The Machine Knows, Kowalski, that you done it. Just 'fess up and we'll go easy on ya."

Having learned about this fucking machine the hard way, through a false positive, I have refused to take a polygraph for any reason since then. After my false positive I went to see an attorney, and he just said "If the cops want to question you any further, just tell them they have to book you because polygraphs mean nothing as far as evidence." Sure enough, a detective called two days later and asked me down for some questioning. I told him to send a squad and Mirandize me if he wanted me to talk to him anymore.

Never heard from said detective again.

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