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Monday, May 01, 2006

Quote du jour

[T]he real utility of the polygraph machine, or "lie detector," is that many of the tens of thousands of people who are subjected to it each year believe that it works--and thus will frequently admit to things they might not otherwise acknowledge during an interview or interrogation.
From a WaPo article: Polygraph Results Often in Question. The subtitle to the article: "CIA, FBI Defend Test's Use in Probes." Well, of course they do. As a way to find the truth, polygraphs suck. As intimidation, however, they rock.
But even critics of the polygraph concede that it can help managers learn things about employees that would otherwise remain hidden. That aspect of polygraph testing lies at the heart of its continuing appeal, said Alan Zelicoff, a former scientist at Sandia National Laboratories who quit because he believed that polygraphs are unethical.

Although polygraph tests involving national security are supposed to be about a handful of questions involving espionage, Zelicoff said the tests take hours: "In each and every test, what happens is after question two or three the questioner will pause and very deliberately take a long hard look at the chart and take a deep breath and sigh and say, 'You did really well on question one, but on the second question, about whether you released classified information, I am getting a strange reading. Tell you what--I am going to turn the machine off and I am going to ask whether there is something you want to get off your chest.'"

"That is what the polygraph is about," said Zelicoff, who has testimony from several employees who are angry about the tests. "It is about an excuse to conduct a wide-ranging inquisition."
I would go one step further. As with torture, the point of the polygraph is not really to discover the truth--it is simply a method of intimidation. The real target isn't the person tied to the machine; it's all the others who might be tempted by their consciences to blow the whistle on some nasty thing the government is doing."

Former NY Times columnist William Safire, who could be a total idiot about some things (such as the alleged tie between Iraq and 9/11), was spot on when it came to polygraphs. Along with fingerprints and I'm sure many other tools, they rely on unwarranted public confidence to increase both the control and the apparent credibility of the police state.