Inside the CIA's lie detector

In his memoirs, the former pilot Powers described how he was brought into a room where he was confronted with many conundrums. Below is the article by author John Baesler, he is Professor of History at Saginaw Valley Public University (Michigan state) and author of the book “The Truth: The Lie Detector and the Civil War” USA”.

The Powers pilot once went through a lie detector test with a higher bet. Mr. Powers’ case was not common, but the lie detector was considered a useful tool at the time, for many reasons it was necessary to find out the truth.

The invention of the lie detector was an answer to a conundrum of the Cold War: how can Americans fulfill their commitments against a tyrannical adversary without turn yourself into tyranny?

Inside the CIA's lie detector
Pilot Francis Gary Powers holds a model of a U-2 spy plane as he testifies at the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC). (Image source: Bettmann/Getty Images).

To form this particular circle, federal agencies, first and foremost, the CIA, as they began to use controversial technology developed by psychologists in the early 20th century , after which the machine continued to be refined and used by police forces and private businesses since the 1920s.

Measurements in a lie detector typically derive from changes in blood pressure, breathing depth and skin conductivity.. but these measurements have never proved reliable indicators. trust of deception.

Not only are affective disorders difficult in laboratory studies, but such emotions are heterogeneous among individuals and can be mimicked by coping measures (such as self-harm). pinch/pinch yourself before giving feedback).

In large screening trials, it is inevitable that “false positive results” (innocent people are “captured” as fraud). In addition, does lying questions during a lie detector test indicate that the person is not suitable for purely technical issues?

In the final analysis, US security agencies never came up with clear definitions of what personal characteristics a model person should possess. Instead, the polygraph will provide reasons to deny the security risk or deny his/her participation.

The usefulness – seemingly more powerful than any scientific value – has gone a long way to explaining why polygraphs have become a standard tool of the state of US national security. Ky.

The story of pilot Gary Powers and his history with the lie detector is deeply educational. Between 1956 and 1960 24 U-2 flights flew over the Soviet Union and gained invaluable strategic intelligence on Soviet military capabilities.

But on May 1, 1960, disaster struck when the plane piloted by pilot Powers was shot down over Sverdlovsk (today Yekaterinburg). The US government told the story of a weather balloon that went missing and it took place at a time when leader Nikita Khrushchev was presenting the world with the wreckage of the downed plane, and then decided to determine the fate of the American pilot.

Gary Powers miraculously survived and was brought to trial in Moscow and received a 10-year prison sentence for espionage.

In February 1962, Gary Powers was returned to the US by KGB colonel Vilyam Fisher (alias Rudolf Ivanovich Abel). Returning home, former pilot Gary Powers is seen as a hero (but still under suspicion).

Half trusting and half doubting the handover of the Soviets and suspicion from the American public, even the US National Security Agency (NSA) also expressed half-doubt about the intervention of the Soviets. for U-2 flights.

Signals tracked by radar indicated that pilot Gary Powers’ plane had descended to an altitude of 19,812 meters. This altitude makes the aircraft vulnerable to surface-to-air missiles. But pilot Powers firmly denied that he had never lowered the plane’s altitude.

Inside the CIA's lie detector
A lie detector in a test in the 1970s. (Image source: Federal Bureau of Investigation/Wikimedia Commons).

The CIA – fearing for its reputation in the face of pressure from American public opinion – insisted on Gary Powers’ innocence. CIA Director-John McCone formed an investigative committee under federal judge E. Barrett Prettyman to prepare a public statement.

The document highlighted medical tests, physical examinations, an interview confirmed by former pilot Gary Powers “appearing with honesty, frankness…”. Although he was fed up with the cumbersome process of lie detection, Gary Powers was also eager to check it out for himself. Testing is done by a specialist.

Participating in the interrogation, Gary Powers did not show any false positives throughout the examination.

Regarding this test interrogation, pilot Gary Powers recalls in his memoirs: “Frustrated at being questioned about my reactions, I became extremely angry, shouting:

“If you don’t believe me, I’m willing to experiment with a lie detector!” … As soon as the words came out of my mouth, I suddenly regretted saying that. Who is brave enough to testify that they are innocent in front of a lie detector? I feel like I’ve fallen into a trap.”

Since its founding in 1947, the CIA has used lie detectors as part of personnel security procedures to determine the truthfulness of job applicants and employees, as well as confirm goodwill. intentions of the spies.

At the height of the McCarthy doctrine, the CIA increased its use of lie detectors to raise the bar’s standards in public. To its proponents, the lie detector promises to ensure objectivity and fairness along with deterring spies and traitors.

A 1963 CIA ombudsman report emphasized: “We cannot achieve complete security. Our open society has always been resistant to state police measures.”

When challenged by the US congress, the lie detector investigation began in the mid-1960s, the CIA defended this tool in an active way.

In 1980, the Central Intelligence and Security Committee (CISC) emphasized: “The utility of polygraph interviews is part of a confidential treatment and has been demonstrated by practical means. experience…

These practical results plus more than 30 years of experience confirm that the use of machines in security screening is unique and indispensable.”

Even within the CIA, however, there is an opinion that it is best to find candidates and employees based on their test results. Even after decades of using lie detectors, the CIA has not been able to accurately define specific elusive terms such as “routine” and “volunteer” in the lie-detection program.

In 1974, a list of questions from polygraph testers came up with some tough questions, something like: “Will this machine help me get through interrogation to be accepted by the CIA? to work or not?” or “What if I don’t pass?”.

It is also less clear about the relevance from the evidence generated in the polygraph tests. In 1973, the CIA acknowledged the elusiveness of these situations. Until his death in a helicopter crash in 1977, pilot Gary Powers admitted that he was a loyal American for fidelity tests.

And in a declassified report, the Kennedy administration felt that it was important to make sure the public understood Gary Powers’ honesty, and announced that Mr. Powers had passed a speech detector test. lie, this was part of Kennedy’s communications strategy.

Inside the CIA's lie detector
US police use lie detectors to check suspects. (Image source: Yahoo Finance).

Mr. Gary Powers’ experience has highlighted three characteristics of lie detectors used for “national security” purposes by the CIA.

First is the claim by proponents of the machine that the test can be a witness to defend and exonerate loyal citizens and turn out to be less honest;

Second, while the machine is based on voluntary rhetoric, in practice under the pressure of the test also says that people lose their freedom; third, machine-based tests are often a means of concealing rather than revealing the truth of events.

The lie detector also used haunting questions during the Cold War, and the traumatic experiences of the test prompted a wave of protests from currents of American thought.

Journalists Joseph and Stewart Alsop, likened the lie detector to embracing an octopus with electric tentacles that generate overwhelming impulses to appease the octopus machine.

Even the CIA’s former director of counterintelligence, James Olson, called the exams with lie detectors “horrific but necessary”.

“They feel rude, uncomfortable and sometimes humiliating. A very cruel process.” Another burning question: Did a lie detector ever expose a Soviet spy?

It is certain that no spies were caught by the machine, and the most devastating case involved agent Aldrich Ames, when he passed 2 rounds of machine checks when he delivered the “death” information. on U.S. activities in the Soviet Union to information handlers.

While the case of spy Aldrich Ames almost resurrected the reputation of the lie detector, this technology suddenly gained attention after the events of 9/11 and the wars. wars followed in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The lie detector once again emerged as a way to demonstrate elusive values like loyalty when performing risky tasks in employee screening and counterintelligence.

Just as the history of lie detectors has become clearer, US policymakers are placing their trust in the technology to handle thorny political issues, even though they themselves Ask questions about repairs privately.