Honest truth: Iraqis complete polygraph course as part of homeland security
August 4, 2011
BAGHDAD, Aug. 4, 2011 -- A man is escorted in to a small room and is sat down in a cold metal chair. Several beads of sweat are slowly running down his cheeks and the base of his neck. His breathing is constant but heavy. The person who escorted him to the room places a few strategically-placed wires on the ring and pointer fingers of his right hand and quietly takes a seat behind a desk positioned next to him.
For the first few minutes the only sound is that of the ticking clock hanging high on the wall. Tick. Tick. Tick. Sweat begins pooling on the man’s brow. His lips are dry, chapped. He hastily runs his tongue across them in a failing effort to moisten the cracked skin.
The wires attached to the man’s fingers feed into a small laptop computer on the table beside to him. His escort opens a program and with a soft mechanical purr the computer’s hard drive spins to life. On the screen, simulated mechanical arms scribble what appears to be an incoherent black line.
The escort clears his throat and asks the man to say his name. Wearily the man gives his name in full and the virtual needles slow to a less volatile rate. The man’s breathing becomes softer, the pool of sweat on his brow breaks free and runs down the inset of his nose and no more accumulates. For the moment, the man is completely calm.
The average heart rate for a male is between 60 to 100 beats per minute. Several factors which can contribute to an increased or decreased heart rate are: physical fitness, physical exertion, anxiety, or perhaps, in some occasions -- lying.
Twelve Iraqi students from the Ministry of Interior, or MOI, and Ministry of Defense, MOD, graduated a polygraph course designed to expose students to various scenarios to test their abilities to differentiate the truth from lies using a polygraph machine July 31.
The course, which was held at Forward Operating Base, or FOB, Union III, was established as part of the U.S. military’s reposturing efforts to get Iraqis comfortable enough to not only provide polygraph assistance throughout the country, but also to teach these skills to their own people.
Four of the graduating students are certified polygraph technicians and took the course as a refresher. Under the supervision of American Polygraph Association certified instructors with a minimum of 10 years polygraph service, these graduates will return to FOB Union III and teach the first Iraqi-led joint MOI and MOD polygraph course in August.
“We will be like flies on the wall and will pull the instructors aside during breaks if we think there is something they can improve on,” said Chip Morgan, program manager of the polygraph course. “Other than that we are staying completely out of it. It’s their class now.”
The use of polygraph testing is extremely important to the Iraqi government because it does not have a centralized database which holds information on a person’s criminal records or militant activity, said Peter Anthony, director general for intelligence and security, Iraqi Training and Advisory Mission, MOD.
In order to graduate, students were required to participate in 320 training hours where they learned about the history and development of the polygraph, test question construction, maintenance and calibration of the machine, ethics, chart analysis, questioning techniques, legal issues, psychology and physiology.
As a culmination of the course, students were required to perform 25 live tests, closely monitored by instructors, on individuals who were in the process of receiving security clearances, said Anthony.
The students were also required to complete a series of practical exercises that put each of them in the hot seat.
“We had a scenario where each student received an envelope,” said Morgan. “Inside three of the envelopes was $10.” The students were not allowed to tell anyone what they had inside their envelopes and they were not told how many people received the parcels with money.
Throughout the exercise each student was required to examine another member of the class. Those who had money thought it was silly that they were interrogating someone when they knew they were the guilty ones, he added. They had no idea others had money too, it caught them completely off guard.
Practical exercises like this helped teach the students to trust the tool and not base their opinion on what they think they know.
Despite the fact that polygraph testing is not permissible in the U.S. courts system, studies conducted by the American Polygraph Association have shown that when conducted properly, the polygraph test is between 90 percent and 93 percent accurate.
“This should not be the final arbiter of guilt and innocence,” said Morgan, a 31-year police veteran, “but rather as an investigative tool.”
It is very difficult to beat the test, he added. It is more likely to have an innocent person provide a false positive than a guilty person provide a false negative. In other words it is more likely an innocent person will appear guilty because he is nervous and his heart rate is accelerated than a guilty person to appear innocent because their heart-rate is low and they appear calm. The process is set up like this because it’s better to examine a few people more in-depth and find them innocent than have a guilty person slip through the cracks.
While an accelerating heart rate, heavy breathing, and profuse sweating are not absolute indicators of guilt, these 12 graduates are now capable of seeing through the physical signs and are able to ask the appropriate questions to find the honest truth.