An Honest Living

Researchers may have fabricated state-of-the-art polygraph technology, but it can't forge the Truth.

But Raskin didn't want the technology used cavalierly. When the CIA wanted him to develop a similar system for its in-house use at the agency's headquarters in Langley, Virginia, he turned it down. However, another researcher hanging around the project was Howard Ansley. Ansley was with the National Security Agency, a shadowy intelligence organization that, among other things, monitors military satellite communications.

"In the end, Ansley and the NSA screwed us," Raskin says. "They tried to get me to support them and their cronies in some questionable uses of this software, namely pre-employment screening. But they couldn't just take me down into some basement and make me drink whiskey with them in order to get me to say yes. So Ansley and a former student who's now with the Department of Defense took the technology to Johns Hopkins University's applied physics lab, along with huge amounts of government money, and developed a copycat system so they wouldn't have to deal with us out in Utah."

When reached at his Maryland home, Ansley refuses to comment on Raskin's account. "I'm not the guy to talk to," Ansley says. "I'm out of the business."

Raskin did get a bit of revenge. In 1988, Senators Ted Kennedy and Orrin Hatch led a movement to ban polygraphs for pre-employment screening. They were responding to an outcry that the tests were being used not only to weed out potentially dangerous employees from sensitive workplaces such as banks and alarm companies, but also to racially and ethnically discriminate against job applicants. They picked Raskin to testify before Congress on their behalf.

"First of all," says Raskin, "pre-employment screening was coercive. People had no right to refuse. Secondly, it was being done by people with poor qualifications. They'd slap 'em on the machine, ask vague questions and have them out the door in fifteen minutes. That's not how the computerized polygraph system was designed to work. And since companies were paying $25 to $30 a pop, it became very haphazard. It was lousy work."

The Employee Polygraph Protection Act of 1988 was a devastating blow to independent polygraphers, because it also restricted employers' ability to give lie-detector tests to workers already in their employ. The EPPA went so far as to say that employers couldn't even put polygraphs within sight of employees who were suspected of wrongdoing: "Apparently the threat of being connected to the instrument is often effective in gaining information."

The penalty for an employer found guilty of using a polygraph on an employee was set at $10,000.

"It cut APA members out of their fifteen-minute quickies, which was 90 percent of their work," says Raskin. "The APA still holds this against me, even though it helped save the polygraph industry from charlatans."

Chuck Rode acknowledges that the EPPA hurt individual APA members. "EPPA put out of business a number of examiners who relied on private-industry testing," says Rode. "Some adapted, some didn't. If you've got forty examiners in a state and you cut the business by more than half, it's pretty simple math."

Could any of these guys pass their own tests?
Raskin points out that the computerized polygraph instrument doesn't determine the truth in its idealistic sense. It determines what the individual being tested believes is the truth.

In other words, the trick isn't beating the polygraph; as Bill Clinton probably understands, the trick is beating yourself.

Gene Parker is a sincere man. He looks you straight in the eye and goes out of his way--he actually gets up from his side of the table at the pancake house and moves to your side of the booth--to explain passages in a technical document. He insists on picking up the tab (though he loses the battle).

Over the course of breakfast, Parker has thrown out some details that illustrate the complexities of the truth. He has mentioned that he was "one of eight examiners in the world" who trained on the instrument at the University of Utah. David Kircher, Raskin's research assistant at Utah, says that in fact there are hundreds of examiners who are qualified to use the system. However, Kircher confirms that Parker may have been one of only a handful of people who actually came out to the university for an optional one-day course that had been offered to new buyers of the instrument.

Parker also says he was "chief of security for [former Denver mayor] Bill McNichols's administration." He leaves this little tidbit dangling in the cigarette smoke over the table before going on to describe the other assignments he can't talk about for the record.

In Denver, mayoral security is provided by the Denver Police Department, and the DPD has no record of Parker ever working on the force. Calls to individuals who were part of the McNichols administration also draw blanks.

But while "chief of security" might conjure up the image of the head cop flanking the mayor, Parker explains that his company contracted with the city to provide security for several public buildings. While he wasn't part of McNichols's actual security detail, in his mind he was in charge of protecting the city of Denver.

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