Lie Detector's Shaky Story


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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