Feds criminalize exposing the flaws in polygraphs?

Dear Government, you are caught looking foolish. Throwing the guy in jail is making you look more foolish. This is getting to be a trend. Anyone with the Internet knows lie detectors are garbage.

Indiana man accused of teaching people to beat lie detector tests faces prison time – The Washington Post.

In the eyes of federal prosecutors in Virginia, Chad Dixon is a brazen criminal whose misdeeds threatened border security, state secrets and young children across America. They say he taught convicted sex offenders and aspiring federal law enforcement officers how to cheat their court- or job-imposed lie detector tests — even when he knew that they planned to use his advice for nefarious purposes.

In the eyes of his supporters, though, Dixon is no more than an electrical worker who did some Internet research on polygraph testing. And for offering instructions sometimes as simple as “relax and breathe normally,” he probably will end up in federal prison.

He is accused of teaching what prosecutors term “polygraph countermeasures” to as many as 100 people across the country — among them convicted sex offenders in the Washington area and undercover agents who told Dixon that they would use his techniques to cheat their tests for Customs and Border Protection jobs.

The case has reenergized a national debate on the accuracy of polygraph testing and led to some speculation that federal authorities intend to prosecute those spreading information on how to trick lie detectors.

This piece mentions the McClatchy exposé of a few months back that was CLEARLY a call for polygraph reliance to be tossed out. How can you prosecute those who spread valid information? Good plan, feds. I don’t like his methods but anyone could do this. Shall we all be prosecuted for mind crime?


  10 comments for “Feds criminalize exposing the flaws in polygraphs?

  1. neko
    September 1, 2013 at 4:40 PM

    They aren’t admissible in court in the US for a reason, they proved to be wholly useless nonsense. But, they are still used routinely for screening by other sections of government. Ah, the inertia, and the wonderful hypocrisy.

    Because, bottom line, with a little priming of the tester, these wonderful boxes will give you the answer you want to hear backed with false ring of truth, which is much better than any lie detector if you are already in power.

    Well, one thing, this might be a place where far left and right could come together for a while in congress. If it catches fire in the media.

  2. JC
    September 1, 2013 at 5:37 PM

    One of my favourite classes at Carleton University (Ottawa, Canada) was a Psychology class where the Professor would end each lecture with “a bit of interesting information”. I clearly recall this Professor telling us how to beat the polygraph tests. How is it illegal to learn something about something that has been debunked numerous times?
    agent j

  3. Rich Orman
    September 2, 2013 at 12:33 AM

    Sharon, you really need to correct your headline. It should really read: “Man pleads guilty to wire fraud and is scheduled for sentencing September 6.”

    The gentleman in question, Chad Dixon, was accused of wire fraud (interestingly, the same thing that Brian Dunning pled guilty to) and pled guilty. The essential claim was that he conspired with individuals to teach them how to beat polygraph tests when seeking federal employment, which would have included lying to the polygrapher when asked if they trained to cheat the test. Part of the training he provided, in the words of the government, was to “conceal material information.” According to paragraph 27 of the charging document, he specially told a customer that he should lie if asked whether he received training in countermeasures. According to paragraph 38 of the charging document, he instructed an undercover officer to lie to a polygrapher about illegal drug use. Paragraph 47 of the charging document indicates that Dixon instructed another undercover officer to lie to the polygrapher. The actual charges indicate that Dixon instructed people to lie when seeking federal employment, i.e. to commit fraud against the United States Government. That is the actual nature of the charges, not publishing information on the unreliability of polygraph information. I uploaded the charging document from a publicly available database. Here is a link I have created: https://docs.google.com/file/d/0Bw9A1pR0EQa8ZGRWZEtRLUR4RTA/edit?usp=sharing.

    Here is the plea agreement where he pled guilty: https://docs.google.com/file/d/0Bw9A1pR0EQa8T3VYUUhHV2Y2eEE/edit?usp=sharing

    He plead guilty to wire fraud, and another charge.

    I think that both your headline and story are inaccurate. The original piece that you referenced did not (it seems to me) do its homework, and neither did you in re-printing their tripe.

  4. September 2, 2013 at 2:47 AM

    It’s publicly available information. Once you understand what it is that a polygraph actually measures, the various countermeasures can then be deduced by a reasonably intelligent person. BTW, Penn and Teller actually talked about how to fool a polygraph on “Penn and Teller’s Bullshit”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8NLf7XwLpyQ It’s been on Television for pete’s sake, so it’s hardly a big secret.

  5. September 2, 2013 at 8:49 AM

    Then I’m glad you added the extra information Rich. You don’t have to be so bitchy about it though.

    My point for printing the article was different. A person accused of wire fraud is not news I’m particularly interested in. It was the association with the polygraph that was the interesting point. I’m not a journalist. I’m pointing out other aspects of the story that people should notice.

  6. neko
    September 2, 2013 at 12:35 PM

    Thank you, Mr. Orman, for putting up the the indictment link. It makes interesting reading and is very helpful.

    However, the headline you suggest would imply the interesting part of the case is that someone generically pleaded guilty to wire fraud, case closed. No offense, but that’s a bit misleading, as to my mind is the government’s whole case to begin with. What’s really interesting is the hollow logic behind this application of the law, which the current headline points out much better.

    No doubt this fellow is irresponsible for suggesting, as Mr. Orman says, recommending lying on federal forms, and possibly he belongs in prison, but the central problem isn’t really him so much. I think at best you could convict him on “conspiracy by suggesting the obvious fib”.

    To start, I wonder how you can commit wire fraud against something that has proven to be as reliable as a dowsing rod in blind testing… as the indictment reads:

    “conceal the indicators of deception when the customer is lying”

    Now, that’s pretty sloppy redundancy… deception when lying. Or, is it closer to the truth and quite clever?

    Because, of course, indicators of “deception” in this testing also occur when the “customer” is telling the truth, as we know from other sources. How nuanced! It’s good our law enforcement officials are sensitive to such subtle distinctions. Well, their cognitive disassociations aside…

    So, I imagine the Judge reading this piece of paper has to think, “I’m not allowed to accept the polygraphs as evidence in court, but I’m locking this guy up, for the most part, for telling people they don’t work as advertised and how to get the random results to always be positive.” Ah, the paradoxes of the law.

    I will say this guy should be locked up for being an idiot, though, if he really told the agent to lie about using drugs. Who would answer that question directly?

    That said, although I am part of a shrinking minority that doesn’t use illegal drugs and believes drug use is idiotic ( why would you think smoking unfiltered cigarettes be a useful medical treatment, no matter what plant fibers are burning? you think marijuana doesn’t increase you risk of cancer by magic? or it makes your mind better by melting it? ), I also believe US drug policy is a proven failure by any measure I can find.

    The president himself, and the previous one, and the one before that admit they would have to lie to get federal employment. What sort of hypocrites are we? Is this question really helpful, when most people under 50 can’t answer that question honestly? Does it really have any bearing on how they do their jobs now, if they used a drug once? All we are doing is ensuring the whole federal work force has a majority of people who lie on their job applications in it.

    Aside from the fact that these ‘indicators’ on the polygraph are themselves deceptive, the whole thing looks like a waste of time and energy to me by the folks who are supposedly entrusted with national security, but have confused their baseless or even demonstrably biased personal feelings and judgments as sound government policy.

    If this is what they are doing, I’m not sure who should be charged with fraud here, the accused or the prosecution. Well, OK, I’m being a little cynical but not entirely. I’m sure they mean well. They are still missing the point, I think.

  7. Rich Orman
    September 2, 2013 at 5:57 PM

    Sharon, if McClatchy did a report about someone seeing a bigfoot, or that said that iridology was real, I think that you would not breathlessly report it as truth, as you did here. You made the comment that the government was caught being foolish, as if the assertions in the original article were true.

  8. September 2, 2013 at 7:31 PM

    I’m confused, Rich. There is more than just a McClatchy report on polygraphs that show they are unreliable. The National Research council advised they not be used for the purposes they are now. That recommendation was ignored. (I know your line of work, Rich, so I realized this gets into tricky territory. The social effects are different from the scientific results.)

  9. Chris Howard
    September 3, 2013 at 10:49 AM

    Did convictions, where polygraph tests were used to help determine “guilt”, get overturned, or are those people still incarcerated?

  10. neko
    September 3, 2013 at 4:37 PM

    Hi Chris —

    I don’t think anyone is overturning convictions so easily, or systematically, like say in the drug testing scandal.in the case of Massachusetts “Annie Dookhan”, where they feel compelled to because of the colossal fraud involved.

    The supreme court, being more tolerant of colossal frauds, threw everything back at the states a while ago and left it up to individual federal judges, as well, whether to admit the evidence from polygraphs or not. I would hazard to guess appealing convictions where polygraphs were the key evidence is complicated, but I don’t know.

    As a result States vary. When these cases hit federal court, they will depend on the judge, technically. See the wikipedial page on polygraphs about that. Whether a polygraph is allowed when applying for a federal job or not will vary. There are legal bans, and exceptions to bans, there are legal requirements, and exceptions to requirements for polygraphs.


    Here is an easy to read summary of polygraph law for the layman. IANAL so I can’t vouch for the contents, but they pretty much square with what I have read up till now, and I believe the website in question is written by people who don’t have to type IANAL.


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