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Wednesday, December 07, 2005 | The wife of an old shipmate loves to tell the story, “When we were in line at the San Ysidro checkpoint, Keith warned us not to make jokes because they will send you to secondary inspection and you just won’t believe what all they will inspect.”

Here’s another un-testimonial: “Its most obvious use is as a coercive aid to interrogators, lying somewhere on the scale between the rubber truncheon and the diploma on the wall behind the interrogator’s desk. It depends upon the overall coerciveness of the setting.”

That was written by a guy who knew what he was talking about, former CIA agent Aldrich Ames. Ames betrayed his country from 1983 until 1994 by selling some of our most highly guarded secrets to the Soviet Union. During that span he was routinely given polygraph tests. In some cases it indicated he might be lying but Ames lied his way out of them.

Thanks to Ames, 14 agents who trusted us lost their lives.

That’s not to say that the polygraph doesn’t catch people. Navy Cryptologic Technician 1st Class Daniel King was held in jail for more than 500 days from 2000 to 2001 accused of having sold a compact disc filled with secrets to Russia. He was jailed based on nothing more than the machine that made those squiggly lines. Finally, the case was dropped without a single charge actually being filed. His attorney, Jonathan Turley, told me the government wasn’t even sure a CD was missing.

The sailor lost a year and a half of his life. In addition, he will spend the rest of it trying to live down the findings of a machine that was supposed to read his mind. The stigma of a failed polygraph test just won’t go away, even though it carries no weight in courts.

But given the explosion of technology, isn’t all that behind us? Can today’s polygraphs actually work as touted? I asked one of our country’s top scientists, my good friend Dr. Elie Shneour. Elie was recently head of the San Diego County Science Advisory board and also runs La Jolla’s Biosystems Research Institute. He has written on lie detectors many times, and has also been my speaker on the subject at the San Diego Association for Rational Inquiry.

My friend doesn’t seem to think progress has reached the lie detector business yet. Elie told me, “The polygraph as it has been applied since its inception remains close to a lie misleadingly claiming to be able to detect another lie.”

So, fellow San Diegans, rest easy. Homeland Security has a lie detector to catch lactating ladies and other nefarious people at the border.

Keith Taylor is a retired Navy officer. He can be reached at KRTaylorxyz@aol.com.

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