Brian August 28, 2013 3:24 PM

Maybe I watch too many movies, but doesn’t the CIA teach their agents how to defeat polygraph tests?

George Maschke August 28, 2013 3:42 PM


I’m a co-founder of, a non-profit, public interest website dedicated to exposing and ending waste, fraud, and abuse associated with the use of lie detectors. I’m among those cited in the McClatchy article.

As I mentioned to McClatchy, I received suspicious e-mails in May of this year that may have been part of an attempted sting operation.

I think the federal government’s attempt to criminalize the imparting of knowledge regarding the vulnerabilities of the pseudoscience of polygraphy has serious 1st Amendment implications and would be happy to discuss this in further detail with you or anyone else who may be interested. I can be reached at

Bob August 28, 2013 3:49 PM

In other news, the government is targeting people who give instruction in how to use plastic surgery to defeat palm-readers and phrenologists…

Will Shetterly August 28, 2013 4:02 PM

I was once told I wouldn’t have to face a trial for drug possession if I passed a polygraph. I failed it. Thank god, the guilty person confessed soon after that, so I didn’t end up being tried. But ever since then, I’ve had no sympathy for people who believe polygraphs are useful tools. The government should be sharing the information that they can be beat, not hiding it.

Nobodyspecial August 28, 2013 4:55 PM

Polygraphs provide a vital source of unimpeachable evidence about a person or an organisation’s gullibility.
Rather like a christian fundamentalist – you know everything they are going to say is stupid without the bother of having to listen to them.

Top Secret Help August 28, 2013 4:59 PM

When I applied for my jobs at the CIA and FBI over a decade ago, I wish someone would have told me what to expect. I think a former security clearance adjudicator could make an excellent business out of “security clearance applicant consulting.” In such a business, the adjudicator would give the security clearance applicant a mock security interview and a mock polygraph. They would explain what kinds of information typically turn up during a background investigation and how deep an investigation typically goes.

The consulting firm would also explain that the polygraph is pure voodoo science and the key rule in any security clearance investigation is this: Never, EVER change your story from what is on the SF-86. If you have a sin to confess, the time to confess it is when filling out the SF-86. If the background investigators turn up “derogatory information” in your history, it better be on the SF-86. Failure to disclose “derogatory information” is a 100% sure way to have a clearance denied.

Carlo Graziani August 28, 2013 5:11 PM

In other, other news, Federal prosecutors are rumored to be preparing indictments against individuals providing training in how to defeat ouija boards and magic eight balls. These devices, which perform equivalently to polygraphs in blind tests, are expected to be introduced by the government for screening personnel with security clearances, as inexpensive alternatives to polygraphing.

NobodySpecial August 28, 2013 6:46 PM

@carlo – Careful, revealing top secret operational intelligence like that got Ms Manning into a lot of trouble

Dirk Praet August 28, 2013 7:42 PM

If the USG really believes that polygraph tests are an essential tool against liars to the point that teaching countermeasures can land you up to 25 years in jail, then I propose these tests to be applied to any and all politician making official statements/speeches in Congress or on TV, including officials and other witnesses that have been invited to testify in committees etc. While we’re at it, why not extend it to anyone taking a formal oath when sworn into office ? But I guess I’m dreaming again.

Cases like this one, that of Aaron Swartz, James Risen and so many others are a sign on the wall that the USG no longer differentiates between prosecution and persecution, which is a hallmark of a totalitarian regime, not of a functional democracy.

franc August 28, 2013 8:21 PM

///“Most certainly our nation’s security will be enhanced.” … “There are a lot of bad people out there. . . . This will help us remove some of those pests from society,” he added.///

Indeed – nice choice of language. The process of weeding out. Who’s next? Actors, yogis and stage magicians?

NobodySpecial August 28, 2013 8:52 PM

@dirk – it ‘works’ by detecting the stress of the person lying – it doesn’t work with people who believe they are always in the right such as politicians or psychopaths

Gweihir August 28, 2013 9:40 PM

Well, I think they could just ask the right questions, and score better. Like

  • “Do you know how to beat a polygraph?” (yes,no => inconclusive)
  • “Are you stupid?” (yes, no => inconclusive)
  • “Do I have halitosis?” (yes, no => inconclusive)

And so on.

Hey, I think I fixed this thing down to a 0% error rate!

Figureitout August 28, 2013 9:48 PM

–I attended one of the CIA’s recruiting meetings, I didn’t like what I heard but wasn’t surprised when the agent said “our job is to cheat,lie, and steal for America’s interests”. I must say I was impressed w/ the female agent, didn’t talk to the male agent personally.

So I wonder how in the world anyone could have a significant and trusting relationship w/ someone working in the intelligence services when they make statements like that.

And I don’t know how they could all go to work for an agency whose stated purpose is to “lie, cheat, and steal”; pretty disgusting.

Anonymous service member August 28, 2013 10:38 PM


Do you believe intelligence agencies should approach suspected Al Qaeda members and say, “Hello, I’m an American Intelligence Officer and believe you may be a terrorist plotting to kill innocent individuals. Is that true and if so, would you please introduce me to your associates?” Do you really think such an “honest” approach would work? Infiltrating and defeating such networks requires many tactics, techniques and procedures including deception.

When they say they need to “lie, cheat and steal” its in the context of getting information from those that are working to kill innocent people.

Figureitout August 28, 2013 11:06 PM

Anonymous service member
–No, but I guess they should arm them and provide training to fight Syria or whatever stupid story we’re being told to get us ready for another war and then another war to fight the “enemy” we just armed.

I don’t support it as a citizen, it doesn’t get the trust of people of the world, and this isn’t how citizens of the world interact w/ each other.

They can come and blow innocent people up; they’ll probably be too stupid to get the bomb to work in the first place and burn their nuts.

observer August 29, 2013 3:22 AM

I like how Anonymous service member equates “suspected Al Qaeda members” with “those that are working to kill innocent people”.

Too many people automatically and unconsciously equate suspicion with proof of guilt.

E.g. the evil Orwellian justification by the US government that any adult male killed by a drone strike is – ipso facto – a “militant”.

R2D2 August 29, 2013 4:13 AM

You can read in public books (eg. author jack nasher) how to fake a lie to a polygraph.

Peter A. August 29, 2013 6:00 AM


“In theory there is no difference between theory and practice. In practice there is.”

There’s one thing reading a book about techniques to defeat polygraph. Another thing is practicing these techniques on actual polygraph, with actual (ex-)polygrapher who knows the dirty psychological tricks played by the practitioners of the black art.

This is the latter what .gov tries to suppress.

wiredog August 29, 2013 6:03 AM

“this isn’t how citizens of the world interact w/ each other”
You need to put down the bong and get out of the college dorm room, man. 😉 Because lying, cheating, and stealing most certainly is how many citizens of the world interact with each other. All you have to do is read this blog to know that.

“People sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf.”
George Orwell

kingsnake August 29, 2013 7:48 AM

The problem, wiredog, is when those rough men stand ready to do violence to their own people …

jones August 29, 2013 7:53 AM

@ wiredog

A lot of people confuse “human nature” with “the western capitalist mindset.”

Human nature is to get along. Humans are equally closely related to chips as we are to bonobos. If you put 20 chimps in a room, you get a bloody mess. If you put 20 bonobos in a room, you get an orgy. Bonobos have an elaborate social hierarchy worked out around the granting of sexual favors.

Humans are more like bonobos. If you put 20 random humans in a room, you don’t get a bloody mess, you get a few people complimenting eachother on their hair, clothes, accessories; people inquire about employment; people tell jokes. People get along.

The fact that so many researchers pick chimps to study instead of bonobos has to do with assumptions about human history as a history of conflict — under certain terms. We tend to read the present into the past. Darwin wrote about competition, but he meant the term metaphorically.

In Darwin’s words:

I use this term in a large and metaphorical sense including dependence of one being on another, and including (which is more important) not only the life of the individual, but success in leaving progeny. Two canine animals, in a time of dearth, may be truly said to struggle with each other which shall get food and live. But a plant on the edge of a desert is said to struggle for life against the drought…. As the mistletoe is disseminated by birds, its existence depends on birds; and it may metaphorically be said to struggle with other fruit-bearing plants, in order to tempt birds to devour and thus disseminate its seeds rather than those of other plants. In these several senses, which pass into each other, I use for convenience sake the general term of struggle for existence.

Darwin was probably a provincial Brit too heavily under the influence of Malthus, and Darwin’s successor, Thomas Huxley, read a Hobbesian “state of nature” into Darwin that has stuck with us:

From the point of view of the moralist the animal world is about on a level of a gladiator’s show. The creatures are fairly well treated, and set to fight – whereby the strongest, the swiftest, and the cunningest live to fight another day. The spectator has no need to turn his thumbs down, as no quarter is given.

Conflict arises out of scarcity. Scarcity creates value. Capitalism is about the accumulation of economic value. Capitalism creates value by creating scarcity. Human nature is to get along. Capitalism makes people enter into conflict over scarce resources.

Kafka August 29, 2013 8:15 AM

Ridiculous, didn’t Penn & Teller do an episode on how fraudulent the polygraph is? It’s just a prop used in interrogation much like the fake phone the East Berlin Stasi would use to trick people into thinking they were receiving real time Intel. A “lie detector” is much like Voodoo, it only works if you think it’s real.

Kafka August 29, 2013 8:49 AM

Forgot to mention, there’s no special breathing tricks or anything to beating a polygraph. It’s just a prop randomly scribbling nonsense. The interrogator pretends you are failing to elicit a confession, they could be rattling dice in a cup and rolling it just the same “uhoh, seems that response has problems, I rolled a 7 so you must be lying, better come clean”. If you walk in with confidence that the polygraph is a joke you will pass. No silly breathing tricks are needed (or clenching your sphincter).

Obelix August 29, 2013 9:47 AM

Would a polygraph pose a larger problem for a person that suffers from slight version of endocrine hypertension? (i.e. tendency to occasional rapid heartbeat etc)

Chilling Effect August 29, 2013 11:07 AM

The security community sees value in pretending that the polygraph is a reliable “lie detector,” because it avoids admitting the inconvenient fact that there is no such thing as a reliable “lie detector.” They need something to detect lies (and to intimidate suspects and/or potential employees), so a fraudulent device is better than nothing.

It’s the same way we need a highly intrusive TSA, NSA, and FBI to demand that we surrender our liberty and privacy so they can protect the Homeland from terrorism. That’s better by far than admitting that it’s impossible to completely protect the Homeland from terrorism.

Mailman August 29, 2013 12:00 PM

1.) Deploy lie detectors in law enforcement agencies
2.) Spread the fear of the lie detector test
3.) Create lie-detector evading courses
4.) Promote courses by claiming that the teachers are “under investigation”
5.) Put people who enroll in the classes under closer scrutiny by law enforcement agencies.

James August 29, 2013 1:58 PM

The angle is really classic lawful-evil. Beating the polygraph is legal, teaching how to beat it is legal, so they get into this business of claiming the teacher knew the student was learning to beat the polygraph to conceal a crime. That’s conspiracy.

Now who do you believe? The teacher claiming entrapment or the brave undercover operative exposing this treachery who surely wouldn’t lie to achieve the objectives of his job…

Though, with all these pro-teaching articles in the newspapers, it sure is going to be a lot tougher to prosecute these cases. Who will believe the cops?

Investigators confiscated business records from the two men, which included the names of as many as 5,000 people who’d sought polygraph-beating advice.

’nuff said?

Stanislav Datskovskiy August 29, 2013 9:50 PM

Voodoo is still practiced enthusiastically, but wait till they start using ‘lie detectors’ which stand a chance of actually working (fMRI and the like.)

Chances are, the bureaucrats are trying to establish legal precedent for neutralizing those who might fight back against ‘genuine black magic,’ rather than mere 20th-century placebos. (There will almost certainly be ways to game an fMRI: ‘think blue, count two’ or something in that spirit.)

Clive Robinson August 30, 2013 1:49 PM

@ A. Former cons00mer,

    Why can’t polygraphs be “science”?

The polygraph machine is an instrument of “science” it fairly acuratly records some base physiological measurments such as movment of the chest, skin resistance, heart rate, blood preasure etc. Just as well as the medical instrumentation of 20-30 years ago.

But that is where the science stops.

What follows from taking these readings is ill informed opinion dressed up as science which it most definatly is not. But this is nothing new, much forensic evidence is likewise faux science.

The main reason for this in both cases is, arguing backwards from effect to cause, and as there can be many causes producing (apparently) similar effect, science in general rejects this sort of activity as distinctly suspect.

Primarily because it is not proof of anything in particular due to the many potential causes of the effect. To become acceptable you have to show with acceptable proof why the many other potential causes are not in this case the cause of the effect. In a properly controled and documented laboratory experiment this is usually not difficult, but when the conditions are neither controled or properly documented “all bets are off”.

With the poly it’s easily possible (many causes) for an experianced operator to cause the test subject to have changes in their base physiological readings (effect) without them being signs of telling lies, thus it’s not in any way science prior to any other considerations such as there are a sizable percentage of the population who don’t change their base physiological readings when lying.

In both cases a person can be trained to give appropriate responses, so the poly is compleatly bogus when it comes to detecting if a person is answering a question true or false…

R.P. September 2, 2013 6:08 PM

@Obelix: Yes. Many — if not most — endocrine disorders affect heart rate, body temperature, blood pressure, etc., and therefore prevent you from initially getting a security clearance. I’ve heard it’s ok if you already have a security clearance and then develop a disease.

I initially applied to the CDC for an HIV/AIDS project, and got rejected for just this reason. In fact, they took one look at my BP and they wouldn’t even let me take the polygraph. Now if someone could please explain to me what statistical analysis of HIV/AIDS in West Africa has to do with American national security, I’d love to hear it. Because I have a PhD in the subject and I don’t get it.

But what it did convince me of is that psychology really is nothing more than a bs pseudoscience.

JohnP September 3, 2013 3:53 PM

There is all sort of information that the US government doesn’t want shared. Often, they control much of the technology by having programs around it OR by being the largest client so they can wrap up the tech in military clearances.

For example, people who understand radar aren’t allowed to teach classes to just anyone on how to minimize radar signatures. You have to have a “need to know” before being allowed. Then walk in, take no paper, no recording devices, no writing utensils – whatever you can memorize is yours. There are no handouts.

As technologies become older, locking up knowledge about them makes less and less sense.

I’ve taken 2 polygraph tests and have seen good, honest, people fail. It destroyed their careers, just because they are nervous people. If I practiced just a few more times, I think I could lie and get away with it.

BTW, I’m a terrible liar and suck at poker.

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