The Truth About the Polygraph
VANESSA: I had a lot of apprehensions when I had my first polygraph.
SOO: Initially, I felt very nervous.
REBA: I wasn’t sure how invasive it was going to be.
SOO: You see the … see the polygraph on TV.
GREG FOKKER [Clip from Meet the Parents]: Now, these aren’t a hundred percent accurate, right?
MOE [Clip from the Simpsons]: Unhook this already, please? I don’t deserve this kind of shabby treatment! (BUZZER)
REBA: My biggest fear would be that I would say something that would cause them to say, “Oh, we … we don’t think she’s the right person.”
AGENT SCULLY [Clip from The Simpsons]: Do you understand?
HOMER SIMPSON [Clip from The Simpsons]: Yes. (EXPLOSION)
VANESSA: I thought I was going to be in the polygraph for, like, hours, like maybe even days. (LAUGHS)
SCOTT: I had a lot of weird ideas about what was going to happen.
VANESSA: They strap you in, and it’s this dark room and this light is on you.
JACK BYRNES [Clip from Meet the Parents]: Don’t worry, you’ll enjoy this.
CURTIS: I had heard that they would tell you, “we think you’re lying.” They would basically stop the polygraph … interrogate you. …
SCOTT: I imagined it being like an electric chair or something like that, you know? And every time I said something that they didn’t believe … that they were going to zap me.
MOE [Clip from the Simpsons]: I’m going to sit at home alone and ogle the ladies in the Victoria’s Secret catalogue. (BUZZER) Sears catalog. (DING)
REBA: I had heard from … long time ago … that they had asked some very “strange” questions, lifestyle questions …
VANESSA: I thought, “If they ask me if I speed, I’m, like, failing this for sure.”
SCOTT: I was … I was a wreck when I went into my polygraph. (LAUGHING)
KENNY: Everyone comes in hearing all sorts of stories. Good stories, bad stories.
JEAN: Most of the time they listen to information that is not correct, and they come in probably more nervous than most examiners would want them to be.
HEATHER: I think most people are nervous ‘cause they want to do well, but they don’t really know what to expect.
SCOTT: People are always curious about what goes on in the polygraph, and what does this do, and what does this mean, and why are you doing this and …
KENNY: A person needs to understand exactly what they’re getting into, why they’re getting into it, and what exactly is going to happen. And that’s what we as polygraph examiners are there for.
JEAN: When a person first comes in for the test, many people are under the assumption that they’re going to just have to sit down in a chair and be asked questions and answer them.
HEATHER [in video clip]: (speaks beneath Jean’s voice over) … Come with me please.
HEATHER: All of the polygraph examiners really try to make a person feel more at ease, just trying to talk to them and find out, you know, what they are thinking about … what are they worried about … and trying to make them feel more comfortable about it.
HEATHER [in video clip]: Soo, feel free to have a seat in this chair …
SOO [in video clip]: Great.
JEAN: What I do at the beginning is I tell the person exactly what’s going to happen.
HEATHER: (speaks beneath Jean’s voice over) I’m Heather, I’m going to be your polygraph examiner today.
JEAN: They will know ahead of time everything that’s going to happen before it happens. There will be no surprises.
HEATHER: Once they get into the polygraph room we’re going to take some time to go over the consent form, make sure they understand what they are signing, ‘cause that’s very important that they’re not signing a document they don’t fully understand.
HEATHER: Basically, what this states is that you voluntarily consent to take the exam, that your rights are protected by the Fifth Amendment and by the Privacy Act. …
JEAN: … Which basically means that we do not disseminate any of that information outside of official channels …
HEATHER: (speaks beneath Jean’s voice over) … it doesn’t go to family, friends, or anyone else … (speaks beneath Scott’s voice over)
SCOTT: We video monitor and audio record interviews, uh, for both of our protection.
HEATHER: (speaking beneath Scott’s voice over) … this is the microphone … (speaking beneath Scott’s voice over)
SCOTT: I want to make sure that I am capturing everything correctly that you said. It also allows you the comfort of knowing that I’m going to be a professional.
HEATHER: (On screen speaking beneath her own voice over)
HEATHER: We start by talking about what the scope of the test will be, the different types of questions.
SCOTT: And the questions that I go over and define for you in the pretest, they’re not going to change. That’s what I’m going to ask you for every test. So I want you to be able to say, “Ok, I know what’s coming, so, it’s time to just go through and get through the test.”
HEATHER [on screen]: That question will be, “have you engaged in espionage against the United States?” And you’re going to answer …
SOO [on screen]: No.
HEATHER [on screen]: Any concerns or questions about that?
SOO [on screen]: None whatsoever.
HEATHER: We go through their forms with them. We go over the instrumentation, how everything works, what the process will be …
HEATHER [on screen]: The blue cuff over there you’ve seen a dozen times … and that just records heart rate and blood flow.
HEATHER: We do a practice test to help them to get used to what the actual test will be like and then we typically go into test.
SCOTT: The actual testing portion of the polygraph is the shortest part of the entire process.
SCOTT [on screen]: Have you provided classified information to an unauthorized person?
REBA [on screen]: No.
SCOTT: The test lasts 5-6 minutes in duration. You’ll just be answering straight “yes” or “no.” We run anywhere from 3-6 charts. We repeat questions just to make sure that I’m not basing everything on one question and one response.
SCOTT [on screen]: Have you had secret contact with a foreign national or representative.
REBA [on screen]: No.
JEAN: If we see anything that is of concern on the test then, or, we identify as a possible problem, we will discuss that with the person and give them an opportunity to resolve that issue.
REBA [on screen]: OK, so did I pass?
SCOTT [on screen]: Well right now it has to go through quality control … (speaks beneath Jean’s voice over)
JEAN: We do not give the final result while the person is there in the office … the reason being that all of the information has to go through a quality control process before the final determination is made.
SCOTT [on screen]: (speaks beneath Jean’s voice over) … Can you take a look at these charts for me? … (speaks beneath Jean’s voice over)
NSA REVIEWER [on screen]: Oh, sure. (Scott and NSA Reviewer continue conversation beneath voice over)
SCOTT: Polygraph is designed so that there’s not just one person that’s making a final call on the information that’s gathered during the test. It goes through a quality control process with very seasoned examiners. They haven’t met you. They don’t know who you are in the room. They haven’t sat with you for however long it takes to go through the exam. And they’re able to look and see, with an unbiased eye, whether or not there’s anything there that’s of concern. And so by offering an answer to you about the results of your test right at the end, it would really be, uh, kind of shortchanging you.
SCOTT: It’s not the end if you don’t get through your first exam.
HEATHER [on screen]: All right, Soo, thank you very much.
SOO [on screen]: Thanks, Heather.
HEATHER [on screen]: Have a good day.
SOO [on screen]: Bye, bye.
SCOTT: Nine times out of ten really, if you don’t get through your first exam, you’re going to come back for another exam. And that’s because we understand what it is to go through a polygraph and how nerve-wracking that can be and how hard it is to kind of really absorb everything and so we want to give you every opportunity to be able to come in and successfully complete it.
REBA: The whole process was much easier than I expected.
CURTIS: It was actually very calm, quiet, comfortable and actually not a bad experience at all.
SOO: Overall, I thought the experience was not alarming … it was a lot easier than I thought it would be.
CURTIS: They were actually very good at helping me relax, telling me the questions and helping me get through the polygraph.
VANESSA: Don’t always listen to the stories that people tell about polygraph.
REBA: Relax, speak your mind, tell the truth … it’s going to be fine. There’s nothing to worry about.
SCOTT: For more details about the polygraph ask your representative for a copy of this pamphlet. It contains detailed information about pre-test preparation, health considerations, and answers to frequently asked questions.
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