February 2, 2004 3:37 PM   Subscribe

An encounter with the polygraph. A soldier and translator describes the consequences of failing an FBI polygraph examination. [Via TalkLeft.]
posted by homunculus (10 comments total)
Polygraphs are phrenology with electrics. Why does these charlatanry enjoy such "respect" in the US? Consign this nonsense to the dustbin of history.
posted by meehawl at 5:34 PM on February 2, 2004

I find it pretty amazing, not only that the polygraph was given such weight in the article, but that not tripping the polygraph was automatically considered to be sign that the test-taker was using counter-measures.

Now, if counter-measures are so effective at nullifying the polygraph, doesn't that automatically imply that the apparatus is intrinsically unreliable? also does it not risk reporting false positives as much as it will false negatives? What does it say then about the organizations that (foolishly) rely on it?

Given that polygraphs are widely used to screen FBI, CIA and other intelligence-related personnel, I think there's cause to worry.
posted by clevershark at 7:12 PM on February 2, 2004

My dad tells me a story about how my grandad was accused of stealing something (the exact details elude me at the moment) but the cops asked him to take a polygraph test (this was in the 60s) and he agreed because he was innocent. The polygraph found him guilty and so he was arrested and thrown in prison. They later caught the real thief robbing someplace else and he admitted to stealing what my grandad was in jail for. My dad won't ever take a polygraph and I won't either.
posted by BackwardsHatClub at 8:27 PM on February 2, 2004

Frankly, I don't want to work for any employer which makes such measures necessary. If they feel that my word, and their knowledge of my character, is insufficient and requires a poly to back it up, they can take a long walk off a short pier. Which is why the only way you'll ever find me with a secret-type clearance is if I'm an elected official(a very unlikely scenario).
posted by ehintz at 8:46 PM on February 2, 2004

I find it scary that such mumbo-jumbo is treated as if it's science by agencies like the FBI and CIA (not to mention the plain-old police). I understand that they use the polygraph as an intimidation tool as much as anything, but still...damn. It's little different from their using psychics or astrologers.
posted by biscotti at 8:57 PM on February 2, 2004

I knew someone who works for a company that required polygraphs a the time he was hired. He couldn't pass it until one day, they called him when he was stoned out of his gourd and passed with flying colors... go figure.....
posted by Eekacat at 11:50 PM on February 2, 2004

About a decade ago when I was working for Radio Shack, the store I worked at was broken into after I had closed for the night. A month later, the security investigation arrived.

After many questions, they asked to see my house, which I allowed. Fortunately, my roommate at the time, who was a junkie, hadn't left his rig out. Then they asked me to take a polygraph. Like others, I thought "I'm innocent, no big deal."

So, on the appointed date, I trundle down to the RCMP station. I was completely unprepared for the test. I found the introductory questions that are supposed to clear your mind intrusive and unnecessary. (Further, as if I'm going to tell a cop, who was filming the whole procedure, that I smoke pot, or was sometimes bad when I was a kid, even if he says nothing unrelated to the question will ever be shared wiith anyone else.)

Ultimately the examiner came to the conclusion that he thought, but wasn't sure, that I hadn't done it, but that I was hiding something.

I felt humiliated by the whole experience, which ultimately poisoned my relationship with the company.

Lessons learned:
1. Keep receipts for everything you buy from the company you work for.
2. If asked to do a polygraph, quit, or make them fire you. If your word isn't good enough, it's better for both you and the employer that you be elsewhere.
3. Never trust a junkie. (But that's a story for another day.)

Subsequently I learned that after checking my house, they were already pretty sure I hadn't done it, and that the polygraph was just a precaution. Take your precaution and shove it up your ass, Franco! All this, by the way, for what was essentially a minimum wage position.

(A fair bit of swearing has been removed from this post. I'm surprised to find I'm still pretty angry about the whole experience.)
posted by alex_reno at 11:10 AM on February 3, 2004

Given that polygraphs are widely used to screen FBI, CIA and other intelligence-related personnel, I think there's cause to worry.

After the events of the past few years, I have very little faith left in the FBI, CIA, and other intelligence-related agencies. There might still be plenty of hard-working, smart, dedicated people working there, but the institutions themselves are pretty clearly broken. It's time for a fucking housecleaning.
posted by mr_roboto at 11:12 AM on February 3, 2004

Obligatory Skeptic's Dictionary link about the polygraph. (There are plenty of links to visit at the end of that page.)

I consider the polygraph to be just like the Myers-Briggs personality tests used to deny people jobs.
posted by madman at 2:22 PM on February 3, 2004

alex_reno, you may be pleased to know that the RCMP no longer use polygraph tests.

I recently applied for a position with the RCMP which required a security screening. I'd been warned by others that I'd need to take a polygraph test but when the day of the interview arrived there was no polygraph in sight. Just a man whose 30 plus years of experience taught him how to read someone like a book.

After the interview I asked about the various lie-detector machines. He said the RCMP no longer uses polygraph machines as they are highly unreliable. He thought even less of the new electronic devices/phones/glasses that analyse the tone of your voice.
posted by Monk at 9:55 AM on February 4, 2004

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