It has been several years since antipolygraph.org first appeared on the world-wide-web. From almost any perspective, this site has had a real affect on the polygraph community and has unquestionably affected how we do our business. As the name implies, antipolygraph.org is antagonistic to the forensic assessment of credibility in its design and stated purpose, but has it truly been as damaging to our profession as its founders intended?
As a polygraph examiner, instructor, and researcher, and as a current officer of the American Polygraph Association (APA), I would like to take a moment to discuss what I believe to be the true effects that the website has had on the APA, the international polygraph community, and to polygraph as a scientific pursuit. I would like to begin by stating the purpose of this article is not to attack this website or its founder, Mr. George W. Maschke, in any way, but to explore as objectively as possible, the actual results of Maschke’s efforts and the state of affairs in the polygraph community as things stand now. To best appreciate the effects of antipolygraph.org, one must understand how Maschke became so hostile towards the use of polygraph in the first place. According to his website, in May of 1995, Maschke, a reserve U.S. Army intelligence Captain and Arabic speaker, was administered a pre-employment polygraph examination by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). The FBI polygraph examiner ultimately determined he was deceptive to the relevant test questions and conducted a post-test interview in an attempt to resolve the outcome of the test. Apparently for Maschke, the information gleaned from his polygraph examination and interview ultimately resulted in his disqualification for employment with the FBI.
Undeterred, Maschke, underwent polygraph examinations with other agencies, aggressively continuing his attempts to gain access/employment. However, in the end, it seems those examinations also did not go particularly well. Unfortunately for Maschke, the Army’s Central Clearance Facility later revoked his security clearance, which in turn caused him to be ineligible for promotion from captain to major which finally led to his discharge from the U.S. Army Reserve. During this time, Maschke launched several unsuccessful appeals of the results of his various polygraph examinations, while concurrently studying all he could find on polygraph theories, operations, procedures, and applications. Maschke eventually moved to the Netherlands and acquired employment with an international commission formed to work closely with representatives of the Iranian government to process civil claims against the Iranians. Maschke continues to live and work in the Netherlands, in this capacity, and it is from this place that he first created and now manages his anti-polygraph website. Over the years, Maschke has worked diligently from his home in the Netherlands to collect and post to his website any and all materials he could obtain addressing polygraph methods and applications. He has acquired and posted open source materials and aggressively pursued more sensitive polygraph information through the use of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), materials gained in civil court cases, as well as myriad of other more creative means.
Over time, Maschke’s website became a comprehensive repository of polygraph information and is utilized today by many as a source for polygraph research data. In fact, I regularly direct examiners requesting federal polygraph training materials to Maschke’s website, to preclude them having to go through the arduous FOIA process. The federal training materials found on Maschke’s website, though An Analysis of the Effects of Antipolygraph.org on the Polygraph Community Keith Gaines VP Government not generally current, are reasonably helpful. Of course, Maschke uses his website as far more than a simple repository for information. A cursory review of his main page reveals Maschke uses his presence on the internet in a wide variety of ways. An example would be an online petition Maschke initiated about five years ago to implore the President of the United States to halt the use of polygraph screening in the federal pre-employment process. I believe that to date, Maschke has received a total of 1280 signatures from individuals who appear to agree that polygraph screening is not a good idea. Interesting though, when one “does the math” the following reality begins to emerge. Maschke claims to receive hundreds of thousands of “hits” a year to his website and I personally believe this number is probably accurate. Accordingly, I would conclude that 1280 signatures collected over several years actually represent a ridiculously small percent of visitors to Maschke’s website. Therefore, the lack of greater numbers of signatures certainly suggests to me that the general population does not as a whole opt in to the belief that polygraph screening should in fact be abolished. Of course this is very reassuring to those of us involved in this important work and once again shows that level of assistance to the polygraph profession that Maschke has in fact provided.
Of course, since most petitions that reach government officials at the national level require hundreds of thousands or even millions of signatures before they are taken seriously, I am not optimistic Maschke’s petition will receive any significant attention. Maschke has also used his website to encourage/persuade individuals into participating in an prolonged class action federal lawsuit that he was convinced would result in a court imposed ban on pre-employment polygraph testing by federal law enforcement agencies. I understand each of the plaintiffs, to include those prodded by Maschke, paid many thousands of dollars to retain a high profile Washington D.C. lawyer to bring the suit. Unfortunately for the plaintiffs, the court sided with the right of federal law enforcement to administer polygraph examinations to their applicants. This not only vindicated the practices of federal law enforcement agencies, but by extension provided significant precedent for local law enforcement as well. As a federal polygraph examiner, I appreciate each and every dollar these people paid, for their investment helped establish the legal precedent codifying the government’s express right to utilize this critical screening tool. Perhaps the most significant unintended affect of Maschke’s efforts against the polygraph community lies in the considerable advances which have been made in the field of polygraph countermeasure awareness, detection, and mitigation.
Early polygraph training taught very little about countermeasures, except to be assured that we would “know them when we saw them.” The research and study Maschke conducted when writing his e-book, “The Lie Behind the Lie Detector” established that this belief was in fact a misconception, that certain specific measures could be taken by a polygraph examinee that could potentially mislead the unsuspecting polygraph examiner to the wrong diagnosis. The attention Maschke has helped to focus on the countermeasure issue has had the very positive effect of inspiring the polygraph profession to aggressively tackle this concern. Countermeasures research is ongoing, examiners are being actively retrained, and new countermeasure sensors continue to be developed and fielded. As a result, significant numbers of examinees have been caught attempting to employ these tactics and individuals choosing to apply the advice provided on Maschke’s website have been dealt with consistent with the policies of the agencies concerned. Therefore, by having alerted polygraph examiners to action, Maschke has in reality provided a great service to the polygraph community.
The preceding does cause me to reflect on what I believe to be the only real harm Maschke and his website have done and that is the damage he and others have inflicted on the very people he purports to help. The “help” Maschke provides has in fact caused second and third order effects that have been both dire and in some cases, life changing. Maschke may not fully understand the destruction he has wrought by his advice to both deceptive and truthful examinees to attempt to manipulate their polygraph results. In the case of the deceptive, there is clearly no harm done, for they are predictably caught, and in the case of screening examinations, immediately eliminated by most agencies from consideration for employment. The real harm in my opinion is to the truthful/innocent examinee, for before the days of websites such as Maschke’s, these examinees would have cooperated in the polygraph process and in the vast majority of cases, accurately determined to be truthful.
Furthermore, if the examinee were an applicant for employment, he/ she would have likely gone on to begin their desired career of government/law enforcement service. Unfortunately some truthful examinees have now bought into Maschke’s claim that they need to employ his manipulations in order to “ensure” passage of their polygraph examination. These followers have suffered very unfortunate consequences; for once caught, they are normally eliminated from consideration for employment. This poignant outcome is not just a unmitigated disaster for the examinee that has probably just had their life’s dream torn away, but is also a significant loss for the testing agency who otherwise might have gained a well qualified employee. Therefore, it is critically important that every polygraph examiner ensure the people they test are made well aware of the potential pitfalls of following advice that Maschke and others so casually provide. In conclusion, it is clear to me that all the hard work, long hours, and money invested by Maschke, his backers, and friends in their efforts to dismantle our noble profession, have by all measures actually helped polygraph to expand at a most impressive rate. In fact, contrary to eight years of prophecy by Maschke and his followers foretelling the rapid and certain death of polygraph, the use of polygraph around the world has actually increased considerably. For example, membership in the American Polygraph Association has risen from 2043 to 2820. That is an increase of 38%, astounding! Additionally, the number of federal agencies using polygraph in either screening or specific issue testing has risen from 21 to 27, with others poised to come on line shortly. Furthermore, though I don’t have the numbers to substantiate it, I believe the use of polygraph by non-federal law enforcement agencies has also grown considerably. During this same time frame, the use of polygraph in sex offender maintenance programs has exploded as therapists have discovered the immense utility of the polygraph process in assessing the credibility of their clients. Lastly, a growing number of democratic governments around the world have learned the value of polygraph testing in criminal, counterintelligence, and counterterrorism efforts. If the ever increasing numbers of foreign applications to the APA are any indication, these nations are aggressively pursing operational development of major polygraph programs within their jurisdictions.
So next time you click on the anti polygraph website and read the promises of a bloody demise of polygraph at the hand of Maschke and his followers, keep in mind the old Mark Twain quip, “The news of my death has been greatly exaggerated,” and pause to consider the real news that by almost every measure, the polygraph community has flourished, and may actually owe George Maschke a debt of sorts for the many positive outcomes his efforts have brought us.