RRA Solutions

US Polygraph Program Under Scrutiny After Snowden Defection

Voice-Based Technology Demonstrated to be Superior


Lewes, DE -- (SBWIRE) -- 08/06/2013 -- The US Federal Polygraph program, which has played a central role in US security and counterintelligence efforts since the 1950’s, has come under intense scrutiny due to the fact Edward Snowden passed a US government administered polygraph examination and was granted access to highly sensitive secrets of the National Security Agency (NSA). Snowden’s access to sensitive classified information was granted, in large part, due to the results of his polygraph examination. Snowden fled from the US in May 2013 with secret information pertaining to global US Intelligence operations, and he stated it was his intent to expose US Intelligence operations when he applied for his NSA position. Snowden’s ability to defeat the polygraph has renewed the debate about the polygraph’s usefulness as a screening tool for national security applications.

Controversy surrounding the polygraph is not new. The accuracy of the polygraph has been contested almost since the introduction of the device in the 1920’s. In 2003, the US National Academy of Sciences issued a report entitled "The Polygraph and Lie Detection." The National Academy of Sciences found that the majority of polygraph research was "unreliable, unscientific and biased," concluding that 57 of the approximately 80 research studies used to justify the use of the polygraph were significantly flawed. In addition, the polygraph has been found to be susceptible to multiple countermeasures, and the techniques to defeat the polygraph are widely available on the Internet. The National Academy of Sciences’ conclusions paralleled those of an earlier US Congressional report "Scientific Validity of Polygraph Testing: A Research Review and Evaluation.” Similarly, a report to congress by the Moynihan Commission on Government Secrecy concluded that “The few Government-sponsored scientific research reports on polygraph validity, especially those focusing on the screening of applicants for employment, indicate that the polygraph is neither scientifically valid nor especially effective…”

More recently, US-sponsored and funded polygraph programs in both Mexico and Honduras have been shut down by their respective governments, both of which characterized the polygraph as being of little to no value. Multiple agencies of the US government have long understood the inherent weaknesses of the polygraph, which include its pervasive “inconclusive” results and error rates consistently exceeding 20%. Such deficiencies have led a number of federal agencies to fund research to replace the polygraph. The AVATAR kiosk, developed by the BORDERS Project at the University of Arizona, is one such federally-funded research project designed to develop a replacement technology for the outdated polygraph device. The capabilities of AVATAR are largely dependent on voice-based analysis, a technical capability that has long been rejected by the US Federal Polygraph establishment.

However, voice-based technologies capable of detecting deception have been available since the 1970’s, and were originally developed by the US Army. The Computer Voice Stress Analyzer (CVSA), sold by Florida-based NITV Federal Services, has shown the most promise as a replacement for the polygraph. The CVSA has proven its superiority in the field with US police agencies and overseas with the US military. The CVSA is currently used by over 2,000 agencies worldwide, including approximately 1,800 US law enforcement agencies. A recently published 18-year research study also found the CVSA to be highly accurate in detecting stress associated with deception – far exceeding the accuracy of the outdated polygraph. Further, the precision and reliability of the CVSA in detecting truthful individuals was found to be close to 100%. In comparison, a US government developed handheld polygraph device was found to only have a 50% accuracy rate in identifying truthful individuals.

For further information about the CVSA please contact the National Association of Computer Voice Stress Analysts at admin@nacvsa.org.