"Lie Detector" questioned as federal spending soars
OKLAHOMA CITY —
The polygraph is commonly referred to as a "lie detector." Critics of the device say the biggest lie is that it works, while supporters say it's an essential crime-fighting tool.
"It's a joke to call it a lie detector and it's foolish and dangerous for the government and the criminal justice system to rely on it for anything," said Doug Williams who teaches people how to pass a polygraph.
Williams wasn't always the anti-polygraph crusader he is today. He spent the first few years of his career as a police officer who actually ran polygraph exams for the Oklahoma City Police Department. "I knew it was really, really good at getting confessions," Williams said.
The tipping point for Williams came when he listed to private polygraph examiners boast about the number of for-profit tests they ran and when he discovered he could manipulate the results of a standard exam.
"Basic biofeedback, just calm yourself down on the relevant questions and think of something frightening on the control questions," Williams told Fox 25, "And lo and behold I could control every tracing on that chart."
Williams wrote manuals on how to beat the polygraph and testified before congress to help pass laws banning polygraphs by private employers. However, the exam is still required as a condition of employment by many law enforcement and government agencies.
Williams told Fox 25 the federal government spends $150 million each year on polygraph exams for various agencies that use it as a condition of employment. He says that money essentially funds ways to bypass discrimination laws.
"I have one thing on my bucket list and that is to destroy this industry, this insidious, Orwellian instrument of torture to make everybody quit using it," Williams said.
"In the hands of some guys, some examiners, it's probably not more than chance they get the correct answer," said Bill Brown a former FBI polygraph examiner, "But if you know what you're doing and have the right equipment and you understand what polygraph is, it's extremely reliable."
Brown says the polygraph measures the "fight or flight" response; a function of the autonomic nervous system and uncontrollable. He says people he's tested that tried to control their responses during the test ended up revealing much more than they intended. "It's my belief when you try to manage one the other three are exacerbated, they're made even more emblematic."
"When your mouth says something your mind knows is not soyour mind has to acknowledge it's not so," Brown said. Brown said his research into the polygraph has shown it is a scientifically sound instrument in the hands of the right examiner.