After spending much of the past four years investigating the U.S. Government’s use of credibility assessment technologies, I was shocked to read a McClatchy News report late Friday about federal agents launching a criminal investigation of individuals engaged in the virtual cottage industry of teaching others how to pass polygraph exams.
I’m not concerned about whether or not the investigation is, as McClatchy’s Marisa Taylor and Cleve R. Woodson Jr. report, part of the Obama Administration’s unprecedented crackdown on security violators and leakers. Instead, I’m distressed by the fact that several U.S. Government agencies — including 17 intelligence agencies under Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper Jr.‘s umbrella — are still relying upon a century-old technology (i.e., polygraph) when it’s been proven vulnerable to defeat by a wide range of countermeasures.
In my recently-published book, THE CLAPPER MEMO, I share details from my exclusive interview with a long-time law enforcement professional who told me about his experience using a non-polygraph tool to interrogate members of Saddam Hussein’s inner circle, a group of individuals known collectively as the “Deck of Cards.”
This man, who I call “Ed,” because I cannot share his real name for reasons of his personal security, spent 90 days interrogating Deck of Cards members in Baghdad after the April 2003 collapse of the Iraqi dictator’s regime.
“I did Tariq Aziz. I did the vice president of the country. I did Saddam’s little brother,” Ed said. “Every one of those people had been (polygraph) tested before I got there, and every (polygraph exam) was ‘inconclusive.’”
Most of the high-value people in the dictator’s inner circle had been educated in the United States and were familiar with countermeasures to defeat the polygraph, Ed explained.
“They knew all about it, so they weren’t scared at all about the polygraph.”
Things were altogether different when Ed used a non-polygraph technology during questioning of the high-value subjects.
“I was able to convince them that this was the latest equipment from the United States of America, very few people know how to do this, and my government has sent me over here to see if you’re withholding any information — and, if you are, I’ll know immediately.
“I was able to tell them immediately, and I was able to get a lot of good information from them.”
In addition to the Deck of Cards, Ed said he also tested members of the Taliban and al-Qaeda during the years that followed.
One of those sessions took place in a distant foreign country — the name of which he could not share due to security reasons — and involved testing a high-value terror suspect who, despite being interrogated for seven days prior to Ed’s arrival, had revealed nothing.
“I tested him and, within five minutes after the examination, he started talking and, basically, gave (up) all kinds of stuff,” Ed said.
The non-polygraph technology had clearly worked for Ed, who is also an expert polygraph examiner. While answering questions about why and how it worked, he outlined his belief that one of the biggest differences between the polygraph and non-polygraph technologies is that individuals can use several types of countermeasures to affect the polygraph.
“They can control their breathing,” he explained. “Any muscle movement will affect the polygraph chart; and, certainly, if (suspects) have been schooled and they can do it at the right time, they can come up, at least, with an inconclusive chart where the examiner has a very difficult time making a decision.
“With the (non-polygraph technology), there are virtually no countermeasures. There’s really nothing (a person) can do that wouldn’t be obvious to the examiner — you know, raise and lower their voice, refuse to answer the control questions or just basically not answer.
“To me, it’s a lot better instrument,” Ed continued. “It’s a lot more user-friendly, and I certainly have a lot more confidence using the (non-polygraph technology) as well as analyzing the charts. They’re just so much easier to handle.”
Documents obtained from lead interrogators at Guantanamo Bay revealed similar sentiments.
Would someone tell me why the U.S. Government continues to rely upon easy-to-defeat polygraph technology when a more reliable and effective alternative exists?
I share the answer to that question and many others in THE CLAPPER MEMO.