Just when you thought things couldn't get any weirder, here's something I ran across today that adds to the mountain of gadgets and gizmos intended to smoke out insurgents hiding in plain sight.
FORT JACKSON, S.C. - The Pentagon will issue hand-held lie detectors this month to U.S. Army soldiers in Afghanistan, pushing to the battlefront a century-old debate over the accuracy of the polygraph.
The Defense Department says the portable device isn't perfect, but is accurate enough to save American lives by screening local police officers, interpreters and allied forces for access to U.S. military bases, and by helping narrow the list of suspects after a roadside bombing. The device has already been tried in Iraq and is expected to be deployed there as well. We're not promising perfection we've been very careful in that, said Donald Krapohl, special assistant to the director at the Defense Academy for Credibility Assessment, the midwife for the new device. What we are promising is that, if it's properly used, it will improve over what they are currently doing.
The new device, known by the acronym PCASS, for Preliminary Credibility Assessment Screening System, uses a commercial TDS Ranger hand-held personal digital assistant with three wires connected to sensors attached to the hand. An interpreter will ask a series of 20 or so questions in Persian, Arabic or Pashto: "Do you intend to answer my questions truthfully?" "Are the lights on in this room" "Are you a member of the Taliban?" The operator will punch in each answer and, after a delay of a minute or so for processing, the screen will display the results: "Green," if it thinks the person has told the truth, "Red" for deception, and "Yellow" if it can't decide.
The PCASS cannot be used on U.S. personnel, according to a memo authorizing its use, signed in October by the undersecretary of defense for intelligence, James R. Clapper Jr.
Now, I've been polygraphed before and I gotta tell you, it sucks. I don't like the whole idea of this hand-held lie detector, but I guess I'll hold off final judgment until I see how it works. The Army's bought 94 of the systems and intends to deploy them to Iraq and Afghanistan.
My problem is the device seems to use the same rationale for detecting deception as the full-sized box -- sensing stress reactions in the hands, etc. But if you're an Afghan villager being questioned by American soldiers wearing body armor and carrying rifles -- and oh by the way, speaking to you in a language you don't comprehend -- how are you NOT going to sweat?
It seems like one of those good ideas on paper, but it uses flawed logic to get to the answer.
But still, it's an interesting report...