Polygraph Critic Charged with Training People to Thwart Polygraphs

A 69-year-old former polygraph examiner for the Oklahoma City police department has been indicted for coaching people to thwart the machines.

A 69-year-old former polygraph examiner for the Oklahoma City police department has been indicted for coaching people to thwart the machines.

WSJ Law Blog (“Critic of Polygraph Tests Accused of Teaching People to Lie to Government“):

For at least the second time since 2012, the federal government has brought criminal charges, accusing someone of training people on how to beat a polygraph test.

On Friday, prosecutors announced an indictment against Douglas G. Williams, a 69-year-old man from Norman, Okla., who’s accused of coaching people “how to lie and conceal crimes” during federally administered lie-detector tests.

Mr. Williams, who operates a company called Polygraph.com, says the mail fraud and obstruction of justice charges leveled against him are an “attack on his First Amendment rights.” The indictment follows the federal prosecution of an Indiana man who received eight months in prison in 2013 after pleading guilty to similar charges.

“This indictment was brought to punish and silence me because I have the audacity to protest the use of the polygraph,” Mr. Williams said in a statement Monday.

Prosecutors alleged that Mr. Williams “trained an individual posing as a federal law enforcement officer to lie and conceal involvement in criminal activity from an internal agency investigation.” He’s also accused of training another person “posing as an applicant seeking federal employment” to trick a pre-employment polygraph examination.” The Justice Department says the two individuals paid Mr. Williams for the services and were instructed by him to deny having receiving his training.

Williams is admitting to the charges. But why is his action a crime? Polygraphs have been notoriously unreliable for decades and their results are inadmissible in court because of that. A campaign to further undermine confidence in the technology is, if anything, laudable.

I can understand it being a crime for Williams’ clients to lie under oath. But teaching people to control their nervousness during questioning.

FILED UNDER: Law and the Courts, Quick Takes, Science & Technology
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Reading through the indictment (PDF) it appears that they are basically charging this guy with being part of a conspiracy to help people lie to obtain Federal employment by teaching them how to deceive the polygraph in order to conceal information that they either (1) left off official employment applications or (2) misrepresented on those applications.

    Both of these were undercover operations in which FBI agents basically told him that they were applicants who lied about/concealed information and were afraid it would come out in a polygraph. That’s where they’re trying to get him, no so much for the fact that he’s teaching people how to “game” a polygraph.

  2. Critic of Polygraph Tests Accused of Teaching People to Lie to Government

    Quick! See if Gruber was one of his clients!

  3. James Joyner says:

    @Doug Mataconis: That makes more sense but I’m still not convinced that should be a crime. It’s too tangentially related to actual criminal activity to me. I get that conspiracy to commit a crime is itself a crime—but the conspiracy was hatched by the FBI, not the accused.

  4. @James Joyner:

    I’m not convinced either and, of course, Indictments should always be taken with a grain of salt.

    The other thing to note is that, like many Federal criminal cases the core charges here basically involve FBI undercover stings. I don’t object to this as an appropriate law enforcement tool, but I do sometimes wonder at how frequently the Feds seem to rely on them, especially in terrorism cases, and the extent to which the cross they line into entrapment.

  5. Mikey says:

    @James Joyner: The FBI didn’t do anything wrong here. Obviously Williams’ prior clients aren’t going to come out and say anything, so how else are they going to find out if he’s actually breaking the law? The indictment is pretty specific as to what the UC agents told Williams that he was willing to help them cover up. They didn’t push him into doing anything–he could have bailed at any time, but he went forward in assisting them to conceal things like getting oral sex from a 14-year-old girl.

    Regardless of one’s opinion of the accuracy of polygraph testing, at this point it’s still part of the hiring and security clearance processes, and I don’t think it’s particularly good to have someone training people under consideration for high security clearances to cover up stuff like serious felonies or maybe affiliation with a foreign government or terrorist organization.

  6. CSK says:

    I think polygraph results are admissable in court IF the defendant (the subject of the polygraph test) agrees to testify. That seems to be true in Massachusetts, anyway.

  7. george says:

    Training people how to beat a very iffy procedure should actually be considered a public service rather than a crime.

    Put it this way – any system that can be beat by this kind of training is worthless to begin with; he’s doing them a favor by pointing that out.

  8. Eric Florack says:

    here’s the issue…..does his action in training people to thwart lie detectors, threatening the government? Specifically governmental power? Follow your nose.

  9. Mikey says:

    @george: You’re assuming his “training” had effectiveness beyond fattening his bank account.

  10. Pinky says:

    @Doug Mataconis: Yes. This is like claiming that a getaway driver was charged with carpooling.

  11. george says:

    @Mikey:

    You’re assuming his “training” had effectiveness beyond fattening his bank account.

    Fair enough, though if his training wasn’t effective then they shouldn’t be going after him in the first place. In fact, they probably should be encouraging him – it can only help them if wanna-be cheaters have a false sense of confidence.

  12. george says:

    @Eric Florack:

    here’s the issue…..does his action in training people to thwart lie detectors, threatening the government? Specifically governmental power? Follow your nose.

    In this case its hard to say, simply because the polygraph is normally so unreliable that his actions are probably just adding a bit more noise to an already extremely noisy signal. Not sure if it actually makes any difference to the gov’t at all – though maybe some folks in the department get a kickback from the folks running the tests.

  13. Mikey says:

    @george:

    Fair enough, though if his training wasn’t effective then they shouldn’t be going after him in the first place.

    Of course they should. That a person’s attempts in conspiring to defraud the government may be ineffective doesn’t mean they are not criminal.

  14. george says:

    @Mikey:

    Of course they should. That a person’s attempts in conspiring to defraud the government may be ineffective doesn’t mean they are not criminal.

    Even when the fraud involves pointing out that a process the gov’t is using is so flawed that its basically fraud itself?

    I’d be much more worried about the gov’t using pseudo-science as part of its procedure (what’s next, using astrology?) than about someone giving classes on how to neutralize said pseudo-science.

  15. Mikey says:

    @george:

    Even when the fraud involves pointing out that a process the gov’t is using is so flawed that its basically fraud itself?

    Except that’s not why he was prosecuted. He was prosecuted for conspiring with job applicants to lie on their applications and hide criminal actions they admitted to Williams they had done, like assisting with smuggling narcotics and sexual acts with an underaged girl.

    He can run his website all he wants, asserting the flaws of polygraph testing, that’s no problem. It’s when he is actually working with people to help them perpetrate fraud and conceal criminal acts that he breaks the law.