Polygraph Paranoia (and RC4, sunspots)

The American government recently went into conniptions over the idea that people were buying books on beating the polygraph “lie detector.” To the point that various agencies created a McCarthy-era “black list” composed of everyone who’d bought them — after raiding the man who sold the books.

And, other stories from around this time[1] suggested that the NSA had put its domestic surveillance mojo to the task too… looking for people that visited an anti-polygraph website and making sure they got asked about their visits there during the next “lie detector” examination.

Why the paranoia? After all, what’s the point of relying on a security device if it could be beaten so easily you’d need to blacklist everyone who looked into the subject?

That would be like keeping someone away from your doors just because they learned how to pick locks. Or keeping Feynman away from your safes… Hmm, maybe I understand the thought process here.

Nevertheless, this subject goes a little deeper and gets a little more interesting. I spent a while learning about it back in the day. Never had to put that knowledge into practice, but two things stick out in my mind:

a) Years later, a professional polygraph examiner’s bravado, “all that’s crap, let me hook you up and I’ll prove it — the only thing is, there has to be something real at stake, no games.” Yeah, I declined that offer.

b) Aldritch Ames’ instructions from the KGB, when he went to his handler and said “I’ve been passing you all these secrets, now my CIA polygraph is coming up, can you give me any drugs or gadgets to beat it?”

The KGB said, “Not necessary, comrade. Be treatink machine like friend, warmink your heart to it, and it will be returnink ze compliment.” In other words, chillax, man, be cool, and everything will be OK.

And the KGB’s advice worked. Wonderfully. Ames passed his polygraph, and many more after.

Ultimately the polygraph is a battle of minds between polygraph operator and victim– or subject. The polygraph operator is trying to project a certain reality on the victim… “If You Lie, YOU WILL REACT.”

The more the operator succeeds in this, the better the reactions. If the subject of the examination “sees the machine like a friend,” and has the benefit of self-insight and self-control (which, as Snowden illustrates, is one useful thing the CIA inoculates into its people)… well, then the machine reports exactly what the subject wants.

Because at the end of the day, the machine is just reporting what the subject’s body is doing, and what the subject’s body is doing can be controlled by the subject.

(And if there’s one thing the literature on hypnosis has taught us, it’s that there’s no such thing as a truly involuntary reaction. You can stop your own HEART, fer crissakes. Or raise burn marks and blisters on your skin. Probably even stigmata! Do not try these things at home.)

This is also, I think, why the polygraph examiner of a) insisted on it being a “real situation.” When there’s something at stake, you can create — you have, almost by default — fear. Fear creates psychological vulnerability, making it much easier for someone else to impose their view of the world on you… and impose upon you the view that When You Lie, You Will React.

(We all know the famous Goering quote about controlling people by telling them they’re being attacked, right? Same deal. FEEEEAR! FEEEAR THE TERRORIST! THEY’RE COMING TO GET YOU AND RAPE YOUR WIMMIN!)

On the other hand, in a “game” situation, with nothing at stake, it’s a lot harder to have any fear. And you also don’t have nearly as much of a “victory” payoff to get the operator’s dominate-must-dominate reptilian brain excited and smelling blood.

Therefore, on an organizational subconscious level… I suspect that all this polygraph paranoia is as much about people learning the real degree to which they can control themselves. Once you learn that trick, a lot of the traditional techniques of social control go right out the window. And boy, do government agencies like being able to control!

(Bonus points to anyone who turns this into a liberal-arts essay on abortion.)

[1] https://antipolygraph.org/blog/2013/10/20/is-antipolygraph-org-being-targeted-by-the-nsa/

Yes, RC4 is probably broken. Looks like Appelbaum was right. http://blog.cryptographyengineering.com/2013/03/attack-of-week-rc4-is-kind-of-broken-in.html

Ages ago I noted a loose historical correlation between sunspots and human events, in the direction of fewer sunspots correlating to more “power to the people.” Well, the sun just lost its spots. Anyone feel empowered yet? http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052702304672404579183940409194498


“U.S. agencies collected and shared the personal information of thousands of Americans in an attempt to root out untrustworthy federal workers that ended up scrutinizing people who had no direct ties to the U.S. government and simply had purchased certain books.

Federal officials gathered the information from the customer records of two men who were under criminal investigation for purportedly teaching people how to pass lie detector tests. The officials then distributed a list of 4,904 people – along with many of their Social Security numbers, addresses and professions – to nearly 30 federal agencies, including the Internal Revenue Service, the CIA, the National Security Agency and the Food and Drug Administration.

Although the polygraph-beating techniques are unproven, authorities hoped to find government employees or applicants who might have tried to use them to lie during the tests required for security clearances. Officials with multiple agencies confirmed that they’d checked the names in their databases and planned to retain the list in case any of those named take polygraphs for federal jobs or criminal investigations.

It turned out, however, that many people on the list worked outside the federal government and lived across the country. Among the people whose personal details were collected were nurses, firefighters, police officers and private attorneys, McClatchy learned. Also included: a psychologist, a cancer researcher and employees of Rite Aid, Paramount Pictures, the American Red Cross and Georgetown University. “

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