As Clear as an Azure Sky

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Note: It seems I’ve slid into a few personal experience stories…  I'll be back to normal soon...

 

Has anybody out there ever taken a polygraph test?  I mean a real lie detector test for a criminal investigation?  I have.  Before all the statements of "Aaahhh, that explains a lot!" and "I knew it!"; it was a long time ago and I was not the guilty party.

 

 

When I was in college, I worked for a grocery store.  It was a good experience for me and helped pay the bills of a young IT student.

 

Anyway, some cash came up missing from the office one of the nights I was on the clock.  I remember it was over a grand, so it was considerable enough to be a felony.

 

The manager called all of us in that worked that night and offered a chance for the culprit to do the right thing.  That person would be fired, BUT no charges would be filed.  The crime had already been reported and I remember a police officer there, so I'm assuming they had agreed to it.  Thinking back... most of us in that room were young; college age with a few high-school kids.

 

The guilty party decided no deal, so it was on to step two.  The company had arranged for each of us to take a polygraph test over the next few days, we were given a sign-up sheet to pick the day/time of our test.  To his credit, before handing the clipboard to us... the manager placed his name in the first available time-slot.

 

So, my date/time arrived, and I showed up to my appointment.  I remember it being very professional, with the technician putting little clips on my fingers and an elastic band around my chest before explaining what was going to happen.  He said he would ask me a few "control questions" up front and then get to questions concerning the theft... and off we went.

 

I'll be honest, I was nervous.  Who really trusts these things?  Who really knows anything about them?

 

I don't know if the questioning even lasted ten minutes.  I do remember the final questions being "Did I steal the money?" and "Did I know who stole the money?"

 

I was actually surprised when it wrapped up and the technician simply stated point blank "OK, you passed."  I guess I was expecting not to be told anything about the results at that time.

 

He was about to unhook me, then he paused... and said "If you've got a minute I want to show you something..."

 

I agreed, and he sat back down at the controls.

 

He said, "Pick a number between one and ten"; which I did.

 

He then proceeded to ask me sequentially if I picked 1...2...3... and when he got to my number he stopped and said... "That's it".  There was no need to go any further.  And, of course, he was right.

 

He then gave me some advice, saying, "Don't ever break the law.  YOU are the worst liar I've ever seen.  This machine is made for people like you." :) 

 

Thinking back on that experience, I was told I could not beat such a test.  BUT I must think one could train to beat it; and I have to think some could do it naturally; thus, the correct application of such tests being a tool, but not admissible in courts of law.  Finally, I would also think that you could shop around for a company/technician who could give you the results (pass/fail) you want.  Science and technology are wonderful, but both can just as easily be used to deceive as to illuminate.

 

Side Note: A young man (a senior in high-school at the time) was not told at the end of his test that he passed.  He was confronted with the negative results of his polygraph and confessed.  I do not remember the disposition of the criminal case.  I just remember that it was a shame he was starting out his young life with such a disadvantage.

Comments

opher goodwin Added Sep 23, 2018 - 9:59am
Tex - I didn't realise those tests were that good. If they work that well they should use them more.
Leroy Added Sep 23, 2018 - 10:23am
Thanks for relating your experience.  I have often wondered if I could pass such a test as it would make me nervous.  Pathological liars have an advantage when taking such tests.  As you indicate, it is designed to catch people who don't ordinarily lie.
 
Good thing they didn't have a polygraph test handy when I was seven years old.  I would have been in trouble.  I went to summer camp.  I was a little too young, but they let me go anyway.  The counselors undoubtedly were drill sargents in real life.  They took us on a long hike in the brutal sun.  It must have been ten miles, so it seemed to a seven-year-old.  We arrived at our destination.  They had weenies to roast over the fire.  As I pulled my hand out of the package, the bun broke in half.  I grabbed another one.  When the drill sergeants found the broke bun, they lined us up and demanded the guilty party step forward.  I was about to do so...I swear, really.  But, then they made a threat.  If someone didn't step forward, no one would get ice cream.  I thought about it.  The had no way to get the ice cream back before it melted.  There's no way they are going to let it melt, I thought.  Finally, I was proved right and I was not punished for my crime.  If they had a polygraph present, I am sure I would have failed and thrown into the brig.
Ward Tipton Added Sep 23, 2018 - 11:08am
If you really hate something it will also raise the indicators to say you are lying. If they ask if you have ever stolen anything and you have a deep seated hatred of thieves, it will cause the machine to register that as a lie. 
 
They are NOT reliable. 
TexasLynn Added Sep 23, 2018 - 1:03pm
OG >> I didn't realise those tests were that good.
 
On the right people under the right circumstances... they're that good.
 
But don't miss my final paragraph.  I think they could be beaten, via training, via someone naturally good a lying, via a technician wanting a certain result.
 
With this in mind, I agree that they should not be allowed as evidence in a court of law, and should be viewed with skepticism when the one reporting the results has total control (like picking the company/technician) that gives them the test.
 
OG >> If they work that well they should use them more.
 
My opinion is let the market decide.  In my example the company decided to pay the expenses of the tests.
TexasLynn Added Sep 23, 2018 - 1:04pm
Leroy >> I have often wondered if I could pass such a test as it would make me nervous.
 
I think the tests and technicians are supposed to be able to mitigate for nervousness, but who knows how well that works.  I will say, I was very nervous when I took the test I described.  I was a 20 something year old kid at the time.  Imagine how nervous the guilty party was.
 
Leroy >> As you indicate, it is designed to catch people who don't ordinarily lie.
 
Absolutely.  I wonder is someone like me could be trained to beat one?
 
Interestingly enough; I'm a better than average poker player.  BUT if I'm in a real game, I wear reflective poker glasses.  I also NEVER bluff.  As I've said many times at the table... "I'm the most honest poker player I know." :)
 
Leroy >> Good thing they didn't have a polygraph test handy when I was seven years old.
 
Or worse a teenager.  I shudder at the thought.  But then again, Mom was a pretty good lie detector all on her own; I just treasure those few I got away with
 
I liked your story and am impressed a boy your age was able to put two and two together on the ice-cream.  Adults just sometimes issue a bluff that even a kid can see through... "I call" (a poker term)
TexasLynn Added Sep 23, 2018 - 1:04pm
Ward >> If you really hate something it will also raise the indicators to say you are lying.
 
I could definitely see that.  Their tools like any other.  Understanding their abilities and flaws makes them better tools.
 
I would never put the force of law behind them.
Jeff Michka Added Sep 23, 2018 - 1:17pm
Wonder if a lie detector would expose hypocrisy and fabricated articles we're starting to see here?  Hmmm....are you a super patriot, or just another traitor wanting to break up the Union?
TexasLynn Added Sep 23, 2018 - 1:37pm
Fabricated articles?
 
I risk of acknowledging and poking the resident troll...
 
I'm a super patriot, who would like to save the ideals of the founding fathers, even if it requires breaking up the union (cutting out the cancer that infects her).
Mustafa Kemal Added Sep 23, 2018 - 1:50pm
TexasLynn,
yes, I have taken two for a Q-clearance at a National Laboratory. These things are well known to have a high FALSE POSITIVE rates, namely, saying you are lying when you are not. Namely, some very honest people get very nervous and appear to lie. And yes, you can train to beat them.  


Moreover, honesty is a strange thing. On one occasion they asked me:
 
Do you admire the clever criminal that gets away with the clever crime?
My answer was: yes, of course, I am an American. We like our  Bonnie and Clyde, Jessey James, Cole Younger and Billy the Kid.
 
Ooooh, that did not go well.
 
Mustafa
Jeff Michka Added Sep 23, 2018 - 2:00pm
I didn't accuse you of fabricating articles, TraitorLynn, and you've finally admitted your hypocrisy, calling it noble, of course.  Yeah, "those awful NFL players, but I want to break up the Union. to get my way."  Yeah, real patriot, TL.  You want to boost your rightist creds, so will retreat to hypocrisy if you think you'll get by on WBers, but can't believe anyone takes your bumpsticerker confederatism seriously as a result.  You want people to buy into "we have to destroy it in order to save it."  Hmmm.  We took a trip down that road before, so are you a hypocrite or hero? I know you think your position heroic, but you need better bumperstickers to make you more easily identifiable to drones.  "Just aim for their bumpers..."
opher goodwin Added Sep 23, 2018 - 2:28pm
I'd like to have a go on one of them!
Neil Lock Added Sep 23, 2018 - 2:35pm
Good work, Lynn. Yes, these things can be manipulated.
 
The technician said: YOU are the worst liar I've ever seen. I would take that as a badge of hono(u)r, as I'm sure you did too. But you were lucky; you had an honest technician.
George N Romey Added Sep 23, 2018 - 2:38pm
I took one many years ago administered by no less FBI agents. It wasn’t a very pleasant event particularly as one agent beforehand accused me of being guilty. I was young and naive at the time and thought surely my innocence of the crime would have saved me. Today I wouldn’t show up without an attorney present even though the test cleared me as a suspect. 
John Minehan Added Sep 23, 2018 - 3:02pm
When I was in Military Intelligence, the CI-types had to take them, but SIGINT and All-Source people (I was trained in both) did not.
 
Can't say I was displeased.  
Ward Tipton Added Sep 23, 2018 - 10:30pm
Train to beat them? A few people I knew in my youth would just take a valium or three before taking the test. Never failed to work as I recall. 
TexasLynn Added Sep 24, 2018 - 11:30am
Mustafa >> These things are well known to have a high FALSE POSITIVE rates, namely, saying you are lying when you are not.
 
Yes, that would not surprise me.  I was nervous, but I can imagine others being much more nervous.  I would suspect, as Ward mentioned, a couple of Valium would help.  But then, the last time I took a couple of Valium (for eye surgery), I stumbled around a bit.
 
Mustafa >> And yes, you can train to beat them.
 
For those times when Valium is not an option. :)
 
Mustafa >> Do you admire the clever criminal that gets away with the clever crime?
 
Hmmmm... How would I answer; Depends on the criminal and the crime. :)
 
Beating "the man" out of something "the man" isn't entitled to?  Absolutely.
TexasLynn Added Sep 24, 2018 - 11:31am
Neil >> Yes, these things can be manipulated.
 
That is my thought.  The guy paying the technician the money I suspect can have him skew the results one way or another.
 
Neil >> The technician said: YOU are the worst liar I've ever seen.
 
I don't think it was a statement on my honesty, but rather my inability to regulate the signs they read.  I consider myself an honest man, who doesn't?  But als, who is without that sin in that particular area?
 
Neil >> But you were lucky; you had an honest technician.
 
I had a technician paid by people who wanted the truth.  It's easy to be honest when that is the state objective.  If I had a technician paid by those who wanted to frame me... THEN, his honesty would have come into play. :)
TexasLynn Added Sep 24, 2018 - 11:31am
George >> I took one many years ago administered by no less FBI agents.
 
The big boys.
 
George >> It wasn’t a very pleasant event particularly as one agent beforehand accused me of being guilty.
 
Now, see... my immediate thought when I read this is "Was that part of the test?"
 
George >> I was young and naive at the time and thought surely my innocence of the crime would have saved me.
 
Wait?  Does that mean I'm old and naive?  Innocence must count for something.
 
George >> Today I wouldn’t show up without an attorney present even though the test cleared me as a suspect.
 
I wouldn't testify before Congress for the same reason.  All it takes is for some ass to disagree with you (and thus decided you lied) and you're in trouble.
TexasLynn Added Sep 24, 2018 - 11:31am
John M >> When I was in Military Intelligence, the CI-types had to take them, but SIGINT and All-Source people (I was trained in both) did not.
 
I've heard that as well.  The MI obviously puts some stock in them.  But if I was a double agent, wouldn't the first thing they do is train me to beat that test?
Jeffry Gilbert Added Sep 24, 2018 - 7:13pm
That you never question the illegitimacy of the demand lends further credence to my assertion that inculcating children with religion is child abuse.
 
Further, were you protected by a contract the demand could not have been enforced. 
TexasLynn Added Sep 24, 2018 - 7:35pm
JG >> That you never question the illegitimacy of the demand lends further credence to my assertion that inculcating children with religion is child abuse.
 
Uggg, this again?  Yet you ignored the last counterpoint that regimes that embrace atheism have mandated more fealty and dealt out more misery and death (to tens of millions) than even the most violent of religious fanatics (namely Islam).  Let me correct that.  Such atheistic regimes have killed more (for not submitting) than ALL religious fanatics in history COMBINED.
 
So, give it a break...
 
And... to be honest JG... I didn't find Christ for almost a decade after the event described.
 
And... I never considered the polygraph mandatory.  The company had every right to require it as a condition of employment.  I had every right to refuse.  There was nothing unreasonable demanded or expected at any time.
The Burghal Hidage Added Sep 24, 2018 - 8:53pm
Good story Tex. Polygraphs remind me of part of the entrance interview for new arrivals in hell:
 
Q:  What does the legal principle of innocent until proven guilty mean to you?
 
A:  It means that if you are smart enough to commit a crime that leaves no evidence to convict you of said crime, there is always a chance to get away with it. This means that there are no innocents. There are only the dishonest and the lucky.
Ward Tipton Added Sep 24, 2018 - 11:01pm
There is no presumption of innocence for US Citizens under the "rights and privileges" of the fourteenth amendment. Not read your Miranda rights? So? Plead the fifth? You already pleaded under their jurisdiction and "waived" that right when you did so. If they let it slide, it is because they will use it to make you look guilty whether you are or not. 
Rick W. Added Sep 25, 2018 - 4:46pm
I was required -- illegally, as it turned out -- to take a polygraph as part of a job application, in college, in California. (I didn't know the request was illegal.) It was at an electronics store that had experienced a lot of theft. It was a horrible experience. I was nervous and angry, and failed. I should have just said "no" and left.
 
The polygraph is not reliable, modern, or scientific. It's a 19th century carnival toy. The only reason to take one is to sway public opinion. If the FBI still relies on them, then I just lost a lot of respect for them.
The Burghal Hidage Added Sep 25, 2018 - 6:06pm
just!?
wsucram15 Added Sep 25, 2018 - 6:26pm
My Father made me go down and get a job as a temp cop once. Then all you had to do was know someone to get in for the test and training.  Some of them got to stay on and he liked his kids in the military, since I could not do that, he had been a cop..next best thing.
I took a lie detector  for that job on the police force to work as a receptionist in the department until assigned to the call center.  I passed with no problem but hated the people and knew I would be a terrible cop in any capacity.
But I know the test is somewhat less comprehensive than a check fraud test I had to take when I had a federal check stolen in 1989 for a sizable amount which btw had been cashed.  But it was not my signature and other things so they had me come in for a polygraph and other questioning.
 
A polygraph test is odd, they tell you to stay calm and people that read them with experience know the various spikes. At least thats what they told me.
Michael B. Added Sep 26, 2018 - 12:08am
This seems to be another case of, "Well, if I'm not doing anything wrong, then what's the problem with excessive government and/or corporate surveillance completely TRAMPLING my civil rights?", and, "The Bill of Rights protects you from the Gubmint, but not US!" And, let's not forget, "Better secure and safe than, well, free." Polygraphs are a higher-tech version of the rack and the thumbscrew, nothing more and nothing less.
Ward Tipton Added Sep 26, 2018 - 1:39am
Did you know that the vast storage facility in Utah that the NSA has, actually has a sign out front stating "If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear!" 
 
I have nothing to hide, but I still find that truly frightening and deeply disturbing. 
Rick W. Added Sep 26, 2018 - 12:09pm
TBH>just!?
 
Awkward phrasing. "Just lost a lot more" would be better. The Parkland shooting is on their hands.
TexasLynn Added Sep 26, 2018 - 12:44pm
All,
I guess I just don't consider it unreasonable to require a polygraph when a crime has been committed.  And... management was not excluded from this. 
 
Now, being required to take one every week or month or whatever for no reason, you guys would have more of a point. IMO.  The popo picking you up and demanding you take one would also fit the bill.
 
I see most of the complaints taking a mole hill and turning it into a mountain.  There is little or no equivalence between what I described and the Orwellian abuse attributed to it.
 
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WT >> Did you know that the vast storage facility in Utah that the NSA has, actually has a sign out front stating "If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear!" 
 
My skeptical spidey senses are tingling on that one.  Other than a sign (that could be easily photo-shopped), I'm not finding a lot of credible references to that fact.  Please feel free to share what I'm missing if you have more that a blog post or the sign.
 
I'm pretty good a graphics programs myself... I can add Big Foot in there is need be.
 
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Rick W (and TBH) - Awkward phrasing. "Just lost a lot more" would be better. The Parkland shooting is on their hands.
 
Like with any agency you're going to miss stuff and the Parkland shooting was a cluster ^&%$ by multiple agencies.  The FBI was one of them; the local police department (with the coward cop) another.