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Lie Detector’s Shaky Story

by noahmax on July 7, 2005

The American military is using a new-fangled lie detector in Iraq and Gitmo — despite Pentagon studies warning that the machine’s chances of spotting the truth are worse than “flipping a coin.“
VaderLeia.jpgBackers of voice stress analysis assert that liars leave hints of fibbing in their speech — hints that can be decoded by computer algorithms. The official-sounding “National Institute For Truth Verification,” a company marketing the machine, claims it has become “the truth verification device of choice in the law enforcement community… [and] is also being utilized by the US Department of Defense in the global war on terrorism.” (original emphasis)
According to the company, its military involvement began in September, 2003, when it was invited to Guantanamo Bay, to help with “acquiring and validating much needed information from the foreign detainees… Success was immediate, when less than a week after the training a terror suspect who had alluded his interrogators for months admitted to terrorist links after being administered a CVSA [computer voice stress analysis] examination.“
From there, company representatives moved to Baghdad, to train members of the Defense Intelligence Agency and U.S. Special Forces. “A terror suspect who had alluded his interrogators for months admitted to terrorist links,” the institute claims. Again, this happened “less than a week after the training.” Invitations to work with the Marines, U.S. Central Command, Army intelligence units followed shortly thereafter.
All this military interest comes a bit of a surprise. Because a 2002 study, funded by the Department of Defense Polygraph Institute, found “dismal results” for voice stress analysis, “both in the system’s ability to detect people actually engaged in deception and in its ability to exclude those not attempting to be deceptive,” according to the lead researcher, Washington University psychology Mitchell Sommers. “In our evaluation, voice-stress analysis detected some instances of deception, but its ability to do so was consistently less than chance you could have gotten better results by flipping a coin.“
Another Defense Department study, from 2001, added, “no effect was seen in the CVSA data.” A third, from 1996, agreed with Sommers that the device’s results were “not significantly different from chance.“
But just because the machines don’t work doesn’t mean they don’t have some value as an interrogation tool. For those who believe in the omniscience of American hardware, a polygraph test can be absolutely terrifying. Hey pal, the machine says you’re hiding something. Might as well confess.
“It’s not science. It’s not technology,” Steven Aftergood, with the Federation of American Scientists, told me last year. ““But it’s sometimes effective theater.“
University of Arizona psychology professor John JB Allen recently added, “Guilty folks who believe the technique will unveil their evil-doings may confess to receive gentler treatment. But unfortunately, innocent individuals with few resources have also been known to confess under conditions of duress.”

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{ 17 comments… read them below or add one }

David July 7, 2005 at 9:19 pm

Yeah, this isn’t high technology, it’s high psychology. If they want to go high tech they need to start using real-time brain-scanning using Magnetic Resonance Imaging. Here’s how you could do it:
1. pinch the terrorist really hard.
2. ask him if it hurt while scanning his brain activity.
3. whether he says yes or no, you now have data showing activity in his brain when he’s truthful or lying.
4. start asking him intelligence questions and compare the related brain activity to the “pinch” test.

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Robert Johnson July 8, 2005 at 11:10 am

The LVA, is another permutation of the Israeli “Truster” which has been sold in US airline and gift catalogs for years as a gimmick. The comany that distributes the LVA also makes a device called the “Love Detector.” It seems all this company is interested in doing is ripping people off. This Israeli technology has been discredited for a number of years, and is not used within Israel. It is also not used by US law enforcement, except by a few departments who have LVA marketers working for them. I attempted to obtain the USAF Research Laboratory study mentioed above by Curt Diemer, but was told by the USAF that no such study is published. If such a study exists I would like to obtain a copy. I have been a long-time contributor to the website http://www.antipolygraph.org, and personally I believe none of these lie detector systems work as stated. They have all failed, especially the polygraph.

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Me July 8, 2005 at 2:27 pm

“As this newer technology comes on the market additional testing and research will show that it is more effective as an interrogation tool than CVSA.” How do you know what future testing and research will show?

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ted July 10, 2005 at 11:45 am

These devices rank right up there with Vitamin O and scientology on the scam meter.

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CWO Canto July 11, 2005 at 9:31 am

My good CPT Richards —- I believe you meant SNAKE OIL SALESMEN. Scammers never seem to disappear from our market-based society, and it appears they will make any outrageous claim to dip into the government till. Perhaps LVA should team with Haliburton. Then they could join the king of scammers. What a sorry group of losers.

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anonymous troll July 11, 2005 at 9:37 am

As the recpient of an extensive 5 day polygraph examination evolution in a matter potentially involving national security, I can state unequivacally that the value of traditional polygraph examination techniques (galvonic skin reponse, blood pressure, breathing rate and volume) lies purely in the relm of interrogation. I should probably add that I am *NOT* a pathological lier (*smile*). That is to say, they have very little to do with determining the direct “truth” of answers to specific questions. This becomes absolutely clear when investigators start lying you to about your results (and if you’re *really* good a reading people (BTW a good cop can beat a polygraph any day of the week) you can tell when they know they’re lying to you and when they haven’t fscking clue)
.
The value of voice stress testing (and other passive techniques) lies directly in their inaccuracy.
I can also add that passive methods are being use in conjunction with being strapped into “The Chair”. I’d really be interested in knowing where that data goes once it is collected (it is uploaded after the session and perminently logged with the transcript from the session) and who gets to look at post facto known “truths”.
As everyone knows, the best policy is to tell the truth and take the high ground whenever possible.

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By The Mark July 18, 2005 at 11:14 am

If you want the truth, load your glock 9 with a dum-dum. take two of the culprits you want to interigate. ask one question, “Who’s first”? it works everytime

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Hazel Faith cardente September 28, 2005 at 2:13 am

Hi! Im living in Norway, but where can I do the Lie Detector’s test? That is very important for me! Help!
Thank You!

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M. Blackson April 11, 2006 at 10:17 pm

I have been doing CVSA examinations for four years now for the Sheriff Department that I work for. I have not had training with the polygraph, but I know that the CVSA works. In Law Enforcement or Military, if you have a tool that works, use it. CVSA works.

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Ontario Emperor August 14, 2006 at 12:41 pm

The cited studies are all several years old. Has anyone done a recent study using the latest technology? I read a WSJ excerpt on Suspect Detection Systems that still cited telatively high false rejection and false acceptance rates, but certainly better than flipping a coin.

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P. Long August 26, 2006 at 2:47 am

Give it up, VSA supporters. I underwent a VSA interview as part of a background investigation about four years ago with a qualified operator. I “failed” on the control question “Are you wearing shoes?” All subsequent answers read false. Voodoo is voodoo, no matter how many blinking lights it has…(I got the job, by the way)

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Chuck Dockrey September 29, 2007 at 9:29 pm

This is towards CW3 Bell, US Army comments about the results of the voice stress test. It is amazing to me how he makes a jump from a voice test machine to a liberal making bad comments about the military. Not all liberals think the military is bad or knock the military, and if he would look at the test results he has a 50 percent chance of getting it right. Flip a coin and save us some money and get rid of the machines. Tell these uneducated morons he catches he has a black box that can tell if he lies and if he does not tell the truth he will go to GitMo, hell, I will will confess to killing Hussien myself. You are banking on a career of law enforcement using this machine when you get out of the military. Read the results of the science on these machines. They are not any better than voodoo. Look at the science. Good science should not lie, but he still wants to believe. There are other factors that are making him convinced these machines are telling him the truth. I don’t what they are because I am not there, but if I said I loved G.Bush, Jr, I am sure I could get a $40 million dollar grant to prove you wrong.
I will stick with the science and not what I want to believe.
CJD

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