A polygraph, or a lie detector, as the people call it, has become firmly established in the life of the Ukrainians when it was ordered to all the employees of the new power structures, like those who must fight corruption, take the polygraph. This spring, when Nadiya Savchenko was accused of developing a plan to undermine the building of the Verkhovna Rada, the lie detector is in the spotlight again: Savchenko had already taken it twice.
And recently, the winners of contests for positions in the State Bureau of Investigation were dealing with the testing on the polygraph and the results were quite unexpected. Therefore, Ukrainians first of all are interested in whether this device is as accurate as they say about it, or whether there is some opportunity to hide some secrets from it.
It is enough to google the word “polygraph” or the phrase “lie detector”, as the search will give you hundreds, if not thousands of results. First of all, it is offered a whole complex of polygraph examinations from checking the incorrect spouses to the company’s employees in order to identify “clipped pigeon” from competitors among them. As it is said, any kind of service for your money. On other websites, the device itself is offered, if there would be a desire to buy. On some other websites, it is taught how to cheat.
However, those, who want to try to deceive the polygraph should take into account that the principle of the device is the measurement of physiological changes in the human body by such parameters as pressure, pulse, respiration rate and galvanic skin reaction, by which its electrical properties are understood. And, as the executive director of the All-Ukrainian Association of Polygraph Analysts Volodymyr Vedmid notes, it’s not easier to deceive the lie detector than to deceive… the refrigerator.
“Do you have flu or high blood pressure? Let the verification wait!”
The story of the relationship between Nadiya Savchenko and polygraph looks like a detective story: we have conducted one study – for several months there was no result. They were going to conduct it the second time when she had been starving for more than three weeks. Since she had a fever, tachycardia, after 3 hours the questioning of Savchenko on the polygraph had to be stopped, although there were still a number of tests not passed. It was postponed for several days, and Savchenko was asked to stop hunger at that time, otherwise the results, experts say, would be incorrect.
We asked the expert whether long-term starvation or some kind of disease could be an obstacle to psychophysiological study on a polygraph. As the leading researcher of the laboratory on the problems of pre-trial investigation of the educational and scientific institute № 1 of the National Academy of Internal Affairs of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Ukraine Oleksandr Motlyakh explained to Opinion, such studies really cannot be done during hunger-strike. In general, there is a whole complex of not even contraindications, but rather reservations, when a person cannot take a polygraph. First of all, we are talking about those, who have mental illnesses and disorders and severe diseases of the respiratory and cardiovascular systems.
Those, who are under the influence of alcohol or drugs. As well as in a state of hangover. So as people “in a state of indisposition, fatigue or severe exhaustion of the body and psyche”. This is stated in the instruction for polygraph examiners. Research is also carried out if at that time a person has sharp pain, if a person has to snuffle, a temperature, a strong cough, that is, the symptoms of any colds, including flu. Allergies, a rash on the body, which is very itchy can be a hindrance. “Even if a person, knowing that it is necessary to undergo such a study, is greatly agitated and suddenly her blood pressure rises or a person, immediately before a test, drank sedative medications or any other potent drugs,” the expert-polygraph examiner continues, “we are saying that she or he cannot take a polygraph now, and we set another time”.
How to distort test results
As for the results of the psycho-physiological examination of Savchenko, the Prosecutor General Yurii Lutsenko stated that polygraphists reported that Nadiya Savchenko had received special training, how to behave during a polygraph test so that the results were incorrect. According to him, “the technicians and experts, who serve this process, reported the impossibility of obtaining an answer to the reaction. My subordinates and experts say that this is the case when a person was specially trained to prevent the results of a lie detector”.
This, according to Israeli polygraph examiner Mordi Gazit, who worked for a long time in the service of polygraph testing of the Israeli police, and then opened his own firm in Tel Aviv to conduct checks on the lie detector, is possible indeed. After all, according to him, “when a person goes through the test, tries to change the normal reaction of the organism or tries to control it, the data goes distorted, and the polygraph operator, trained to detect such unnatural physiological reactions, can easily notice this”.
However, there is a lot of information on the Internet that it is possible to trick a polygraph, one just needs to know how to do it. One of the options is to grease the palms heated in hot water, even though it’s a hand cream. “This is already a counteraction to the implementation of polygraph studies, Oleksandr Motlyakh explains. “There are several methods: medical, pharmacological, mechanical. A person, who shows interest in such things is interested in any way to bypass the polygraph and mislead the customer of this procedure. Individuals, who managed to bypass this procedure sometimes give their own recommendations to others how to do it. But you should understand that there are much more professionals and the lie of one lucky candidate can be expensive for someone, who was given such “slippery” advice”.
Often the polygraph specialists themselves give such advice on the Internet. “We specifically check people, who come to us, are they in a mood for positive cooperation or they are cunning,” the polygraph examiner explains. We are interested in the state of their health if there were no injuries, and also whether they used some alcohol, drugs on the eve, whether they were interested in how to bypass the polygraph etc.. As for the palms, the thing here is that when we connect the sensors, the places of their connection on the human body are wiped with an alcohol solution. By the way, I am often asked whether it is possible to trick a polygraph. So, you can trick a polygraph examiner, if he is not competent enough, but not a polygraph”.
The doll… did not let to get a job
As it is known from open sources, the private business of the USA suffers from thefts, therefore annually loses up to 40,000,000 dollars, but thanks to the use of polygraphs, many thieves were brought to light and half of the stolen was returned. In the United States, millions of such inspections are carried out annually, and psychophysiological studies on polygraphs are mandatory for certain categories of civil servants. And in most states, the results of a polygraph test – with the consent of both parties – can be recognized as arguments in court.
European corporations also suffer from financial fraud and estimate similar losses as 2-7% of annual monetary circulation. Therefore, in the EU countries, they also use the capabilities of a polygraph to protect their business from dishonest employees. In Ukraine, however, people used to trust people, devices are not in mentality, the lie detector is treated with caution. However, Oleksandr Motlyakh notes, in many cases, the polygraph really helps to get rid of a number of problems. Although, it also happens that it creates them to individual people.
Most often the polygraph is used for personnel selection of specialists. “Once we had to test a person, who was getting a job. She had a wonderful reputation, she was going up on a career ladder, she was a generator of ideas, in a word, a leader in everything,” the expert remembers, “she did not go through the polygraph for one simple reason. The employer wondered whether she had dealt with a theft or not. When during the pre-test conversation (and such conversations is an obligatory element of the study) she was asked about it, she said “no”. And when she was taking the polygraph, they asked a question, and her reaction showed that she had something to do with stealing. What is interesting, the woman was just as surprised as we were, no one understood what was happening. And then suddenly she remembered that in her childhood – when she was playing with the girl-friends in the sandbox – she liked the doll of her neighbor, and she stole that toy. That is, it turned out that the memories of childhood played an evil joke with her, the memory remains”.
In addition to personnel screening, they are also involved in testing teenagers’ by polygraphs. Let’s say that the parents brought the schoolboy to find out if he is related to the sale of drugs. When the guy was just asked about it, he said that he did not know anything about it. And in the office with the polygraph examiner – after he was explained how the research and sensors are being carried out (and there are 5 such sensors, connected to a body), how they fix the reaction of the organism, and the lie is always accompanied by a specific reaction, the guy confessed and promised that he would never do that again.
For the time, during which the polygraph is used, the specialists were convinced that the reliability of the results of such studies is quite high. According to the expert Volodymyr Vedmid, polygraphists can provide the result only when the minimum reliability of 85% is reached. It happens that the reliability is measured at 97-98%. Interestingly, the reliability of the other examinations – handwriting, traceological, which examines various traces, medical – does not exceed 80-90%. As for the polygraph examinations, the polygraph examiner notes that “the decision is made by the expert on the basis of his own analysis of the instrument’s testimony, as well as the subjective conviction that the expert has formed on the basis of observations of the person, knowledge of the case, reactions and experience”. A polygraph is, in fact, an indivisible complex consisting of a computer, which includes a set of sensors, and a polygraph examiner, who often also has the education of a psychologist or a lawyer.
There is no single law
“The polygraph device is used in more than one hundred countries of the world, and it is regulated by legislation only in two: Lithuania and Moldova,” Oleksandr Motlyakh, a lawyer-polygraph specialist, continues. “For example, in the USA, Canada or China, a polygraph is used massively, but it is not necessary to regulate it legally, because the results of conducted studies of people are not something special. But the domestic officials focus on the lack of a legislative regulation of this activity (by the way, the relevant bill has been developed for a long time and now the authors are finalizing it), which serves as an argument for them in refusing to use the results of special studies, conducted by polygraph specialists. That is, they consider forbidden what is not written in the law”.
And the attitude in Ukrainian society towards this device, the expert notes, is ambiguous. Basically, a negative perception was formed back in Soviet times and came by inheritance to us. Then the polygraph was associated with a “monster”, which adversely affects the state of human health. He was compared to hypnosis, which sends a person into a certain trance and makes her or her confess to what she does not suspect. Therefore, polygraphologists were accused of quackery and put pressure on them. “All this was a form of the ideological power struggle with progressive, innovative technologies that allowed the then totalitarian system to keep society in obedience and fear,” the expert notes. “In fact, studies using a polygraph were systemic in the activities of the former Committee for State Security of the USSR. This “state machine of safety”, taking as a basis advanced technologies for the use of polygraphs abroad, under the leadership of the then chairman of the Committee for State Security, Yurii Andropov, in 1975 created in its structure a special purpose laboratory No. 30, in which they actively used polygraphs to fulfill the strategic tasks set for by the Communist Party”.
Today, this device is also used not only for, for example, modern businessmen to protect themselves from people of competitors that may be the same drivers or gardeners. For example, in the selection of candidates for the State Bureau of Investigations, the task before polygraph examiners is to test candidates with the purpose of revealing in them signs of concealment or distortion of personal data, certain biographical facts, disclosure of information constituting state secrets, official or confidential information, as well as having debts or financial obligations, involvement in acts that provide legal responsibility; the establishment of possible criminal offenses committed by a person in the past; clarifying the question, like, was a person involved in corruption schemes, structures, groups, did he or she abuse power and official position in previous places of work, what purpose do they set before the newly established structural subdivision.
It’s not a secret, the expert explains, a significant number of practitioners are moving to new structures, as high wages, a rapid career growth and promotion are announced. And there are those, who were fired from the system of law enforcement, judicial bodies, prosecutors, the State Criminal Executive Service of Ukraine, the State Fiscal Service of Ukraine, etc. through certain abuses. Therefore, a scientifically-technical device polygraph brings to light. But it should be remembered that no one has the right to force anyone to undergo tests on a lie detector. This step is completely voluntary.
Text by Larysa Vyshynska