back to article 'Beat the lie detectors' trainer sentenced to 8 months in jail

An Indiana man was jailed for eight months on Friday for charges arising from allegations he coached federal job applicants and criminals on how to beat lie detector tests. Chad Dixon, 34, Dixon had previously pleaded guilty to the charges of wire fraud* and obstruction of an agency proceeding** on 17 December last year, but …


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  1. Cliff

    Polygraph as God

    As I understand it, the more you believe in the polygraph's effectiveness at seeing inside your soul, the more effective it is as you play your tells under the all-seeing eye. Bit like God watching you disapprovingly. I'm sure there's some correlation, even a fairly decent correlation, but is there any proof of effectiveness?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Takes practice

      But beating or confusing the machine is easy.

      Most questions are yes or no,

      So when asked, 'did you have an affair?'

      You pause change the question in your head to 'is your name Bart Simpson?'

      Or use simple arithmetic substitute the question for your own question 'is 2+2. 5?'

      The answer no.

      Unless you are Bart Simpson.

      Hold on a minute, I'll tell you some other stuff, someone's knocking on my door....

    2. andreas koch
      Thumb Up

      @ Cliff - Re: Polygraph as God

      Well, if your understanding is correct and it's a belief thing (and that sounds quite reasonable to me), then it follows that if he would have programmed an iPhone app that would have taught how to beat a polygraph, it would have worked even better. And he would probably have got away with it, There's a lot of apps that are just digitised snake oil and no one cares.

      Let's meet at the patent office, we're going to be rich!

      1. Cliff

        >Let's meet at the patent office, we're going to be rich!

        >>Let's meet at the patent office, we're going to be rich!

        If only I wasn't campaigning against the fuckedupness of USPTO and their having given up to all intents and purposes!

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: >Let's meet at the patent office, we're going to be rich!

          The USPTO hasn't "given up" it has been instructed to function exactly as it does by its political masters. The US economy is running in patent troll mode. Hadn't you noticed?

          1. Tom 13

            Re: The USPTO hasn't "given up"

            Yes it has, and to some extent that came before the political master threw in the box of monkey wrenches. So we're double whammied on that front.

        2. The First Dave

          Re: >Let's meet at the patent office, we're going to be rich!

          Think of it as an each-way bet then.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: @ Cliff - Polygraph as God

        I assume part of the service he was offering was to connect the customer to a lie detector and practice the techniques in question.

        It's one thing to know the techniques and another to be able to apply them (and have the confidence that you can apply them, too).

        For example, if you're hooked up to a heart rate monitor, it's very easy to control your heart rate by simply thinking about it. After 10-20 minutes of practice, most people can raise or lower their heart rate by ~10 BPM just by thinking about it. But it's almost impossible without the feedback of a monitor. And making an iPhone app that tells you to just use your brain to lower your heart rate wouldn't help.

    3. Scroticus Canis

      Re: Polygraph as God

      Well Cliff the motto in US courts is "In God We Trust" so that should give an insight into the mind set. People with faith in deities tend to have faith in other things proven or not (as in the case with polygraphs). Hi ho!

      Anyways, just pop a couple of beta-blockers before the test and you confuse the shit out of the machine. Pop a Valium as well and your double insulated. Easy - don't even have to control breathing or heart rate.

  2. John H Woods


    In the UK polygraphs appear to be the reserve of reality TV shows. I was particulary amused by Jeremy Kyle using polygraphy to determine which of 7 people had stolen some money, assuring us that the "Lie Detector" was "90 to 95% accurate". I don't believe that for a moment, but even if it were, the chances of any 7 tests being accurate is less than 70% at best and could be worse than evens.

    I can understand how they can be used as interogation tools, but the idea that they can be used in evidence simply smacks my gob.

    1. Peter2 Silver badge

      Re: Sceptical

      The UK teaches the scientific process to children at school. This makes it difficult to sell Polygraphs in the UK since one of the first questions asked tends to be "how does that work".

      When you realise that it relies on people having responses to a question like a faster heartbeat then you realise that it's just a modern equivalent of voodoo. There is no proof that lying results in an increased heartbeat (and having worked with pathological liars i'm certain that it doesn't!) but even if it did actually work in the first place a statistically significant amount of the population will have done sports to a degree that requires you to learn to control your heartbeat, which screws metrics being used by the polygraph!

      I know how to control my heartbeat since it's an essential skill for accurate shooting.

      1. Tom 13

        Re: it relies on people having responses

        You should note the plural in your statement. It does work to some extent, but has limits. The limits are that it works mostly on honest people who are trying to do the right thing and not so much on pathological liars. Which makes it misleading as a tool for securing agencies and businesses. On the other hand, if you are looking for people who will be able to convincing lie without other tells, it could be a useful tool.

        In short, the guy this article is about is probably a louse, but I don't think he should have been put in jail for the charges on which he was tried.

    2. kain preacher

      Re: Sceptical

      In the US they can not be used in in evidence.

      1. John Smith 19 Gold badge

        Re: Sceptical

        "In the US they can not be used in in evidence."


        But I'll bet they will royally stuff you working for a govt job.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Sceptical

        There are lots of places in the USofA where DNA is inadmissable... ???????

    3. C 18

      Re: Sceptical

      >...even if it were, the chances of any 7 tests being accurate is less than 70%...

      If it's 90 to 95% accurate for one test, surely it becomes more likely for an accurate result the more tests that are done, not less likely?

      Skepticism and Probability classes were running simultaneously perhaps?

  3. JeeBee

    "US Customs and Border Protection polygraphs about 10,000 applicants a year and credits the technology with uncovering 200 wrongdoers, normally people who have had an association with either drugs or people-smuggling, since the tests became compulsory two years ago."

    Is that a 1% success rate? 200 "wrongdoers" over a two year period from polygraphing 20,000 people.

    What's the false positive rate and false negative rates?

    Polygraphs are at best stress detectors, and for many of these tests it is natural to assume the person being questioned would be stressed. The fact that the US uses them is very telling of the anti-science society in power over there, that is pushing the country further and further behind more agile competitors in the global economy.

    1. Jamie Jones Silver badge

      " Is that a 1% success rate? 200 "wrongdoers" over a two year period from polygraphing 20,000 people."

      The article says 10,000 people, but even so, that would only be the success rate if all of the people tested were also "wrongdoers"!

      1. PassiveSmoking

        success rate?

        It's not a 1% success rate, it's a 1% hit rate. How many of the 1% were actually truthful and how many of the 99% who passed were liars?

        This is one of the reasons why polygraphs are so insidious, they dress up random noise in the garb of seemingly respectible statistics

    2. Fehu

      Lie detectors? Not really.

      I held a management position in a company where I handled large sums of cash on a routine basis. Consequently, I had to take a polygraph every six months to make sure I was the kind of person they wanted to continue to employ. Because I was still quite young and the job paid very well, I routinely spent much of my salary on loose women, alcohol and casual drugs. I just wasted the rest of it. At any rate, I passed every polygraph except one. The reason I failed that one was because the person administering the test sprang an unexpected question on me. He asked "Have you ever done anything that you are ashamed of?" I laughed and said "Where do you want me to start?" He said that indicated that I had something to hide. I told management that I thought he was joking and that the test was over when I laughed. I didn't get fired and passed several more of the tests before leaving of my own accord for a better job. Take away: polygraph == snake oil.

    3. Tom 13


      Actually, that statement is almost completely meaningless. They don't define the meaning of "uncovered," they don't define the process, and they don't list the raw data. So you can't even reliably claim a 1% success rate. And as you correctly note, it doesn't even seem to acknowledge the problem of false positives.

  4. Hyper72


    I believe that technically he was not convicted for teaching how to beat the lie detector but for telling people to lie while under oath.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Technicality

      Yes, I have a hard time understanding exactly what they might have charged the guy with.

      Teaching someone how to "cheat" a lie detector test doesn't seem to me something that could qualify as illegal in an context.

    2. Jamie Jones Silver badge

      Re: Technicality

      Thanks for the clarification.

      However, whilst this makes the case less shocking, and although what he did was morally questionable at best, it still seems to me to be quite a draconian law.

      It's not as if the guy was a doctor or police officer, or anyone else in a position of authority and trust.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Technicality

      ...and Lawyers don't do this as a matter of routine?

    4. Tom 13

      Re: Technicality

      That's a fine belief, but where's the evidence for this? Unless he explicitly tells them to lie under oath and they have evidence of it, I wouldn't convict.

      And I'm the sort who thinks public executions should be brought back as a deterrent.

  5. Jamie Jones Silver badge

    proof readers?


    " Teaching countermeasures against polygraph techniques in itself is not explicitly illegal in the US, although the recent case raises questions about the law around teaching polygraph countermeasures. ®"

  6. lunatik96

    Teaching people to pass lie detector test is illegal?

    The police lie all the time, so do judges and lawyers. I guess they don't like the competition. A lie detector test is not even allowed as evidence in court, so what is the real problem? This fascist regime in which we live just can't allow anyone to even hint that they are smarter than the idiots who run everything.

    I am not a lawyer, but I bet a few carefully placed words could have averted all of this legal infarction.

    1. Jamie Jones Silver badge

      Re: Teaching people to pass lie detector test is illegal?

      I thought lie-detector evidence was admissible in American courts. Am I wrong?

      1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Re: Teaching people to pass lie detector test is illegal?

        You can volunteer to take a test as a stunt and the prosecution can use your refusal to take a test but the result isn't admissible.

        However it is used for government security vetting but regular companies can't use it internally

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Teaching people to pass lie detector test is illegal?

          Aldrich Ames, Larry Wu-Tai Chin and others have shown how effective the polygraph is for vetting. < / sarcasm >

        2. Tom 13

          Re: Teaching people to pass lie detector test is illegal?

          I think it's admissible so long as neither party objects, which pretty much negates its already negligible relevance. Given that, I think the whole thing should be excluded from both courts and security screenings.

    2. Don Jefe

      Re: Teaching people to pass lie detector test is illegal?

      The police and to some extent lawyers not only lie, they are trained to lie in order to get a confession or admission.

      Interesting Fact: A super shitty side effect of being trained to lie and to spot liars (it's the same training for both skills, you just switch roles) is that you get progressively worse at both. The longer you apply your training the more apt you are to distrust everyone (or think you're fooling everyone). When determining if someone is lying you unconsciously sacrifice your 'gut feeling' and default to examination of physical expressions of fear, nervousness and guilt. It doesn't work well. The moral of the story is that the old grizzled cop who says he "can always tell if someone is lying" can't; at least no better than flipping a coin.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Win on Appeal?

    Since polygraphs are not considered evidence in law, this chappy was tried and convicted for training someone to defeat a non-functional test. At best it is a dubious conviction, and at worst plain "NSA-ism". No wonder we don't trust the police powers too much!

    Of course, this could backfire if the ACLU joins the case. The whole idea of polygraphs as a test might get thrown out as illegal or unenforceable.

    1. Paul Hovnanian Silver badge

      Re: Win on Appeal?

      "Since polygraphs are not considered evidence in law, this chappy was tried and convicted for training someone to defeat a non-functional test."

      Doesn't matter. Its interfering with law enforcement. It would be the same thing as pointing out to a potential john that the lady sitting across the bar was not a prostitute, but an undercover officer.

      It doesn't matter that the lie detector is fake. Its a tool used to intimidate the suspect (or job applicant) and elicit truthful testimony. In the USA, police are allowed to lie or otherwise use trickery to obtain evidence or confessions. This is just one method of doing so.

      1. Tom 13

        Re: Win on Appeal?

        I'm a hard right law and order advocate. I have no problems with police lying to catch bad guys. I even support waterboarding in the context of international terrorism.

        I would categorically and without hesitation void any and all convictions and suspensions based on polygraph exams. It's no better than putting radium and a detector in a poison gas device and distributing them at random public intersections claiming they are mind readers and will kill those engaging in seditious thinking.

    2. 100113.1537

      Re: Win on Appeal?

      The offense was to encourage people to lie - nothing to do with the lie-detector itself. Besides, doesn't the story say that he pled guilty? Hard to appeal that.

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: Win on Appeal?

        "The offense was to encourage people to lie"

        Now, that's the bit I find most strange about this whole story. It appears to be legal to teach people to "defeat" a polygraph. He advertised his services. People came to him. They'd already decided to lie, almost certainly before they decided to seek out his services.

        The only explanation I can think of is that he worded his advert poorly and crossed the line there.

        If he did that in the UK, he'd probably get a slap on the wrist from the ASA and told not "to use that advert in that form again"

      2. Tom 13

        Re: ...pled guilty? Hard to appeal that.

        Good point, and I missed that on the first read through.

        My initial interpretation was that he had previous convictions for fraud and this was a new trial at which he was convicted. On reading it again I see the correct interpretation.

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Win on Appeal?

        "doesn't the story say that he pled guilty?"

        Well, if he'd pleaded inncocent, he would probably have got 30 years in chokey.

        The plea-bargaining system forces people to plead guilty even if they aren't, for fear of receiving a much larger and disproportionate penalty.

    3. Hayden Clark Silver badge
      Thumb Down

      Re: Win on Appeal?

      No, he wouldn't. Whatever it says on the charge sheet, the actual crime was "making the Feds look stupid". No defence against that, as any counter-argument worstens the offence!

  8. Henry Wertz 1 Gold badge

    Luckily for everyone else...

    Luckily for everyone else, the employee polygraph protection act prohibits all employers *except* federal agencies from giving polygraph tests. The government exemption was really meant so people could get polygraphed when getting secret clearance and so on, not to go around polygraphing every new hire as they are doing now. Given the current sense of paranoia in the US, and bad job climate, I know that even minimum wage fast food jobs would probably be giving every applicant lie detector tests if they were not prohibited, which would be quite dehumanizing for everyone involved.

    1. Don Jefe

      Re: Luckily for everyone else...

      You're supposed to post your Employee Polygraph Protection Act poster (available free from your local library, agricultural extension office (oddly), courthouse, post office or IRS office, if you're looking for one :) in a "conspicuous place".

      Most people put them next to their business licenses, EOO poster and minimum wage poster; somewhere between the janitors closet and the Rancor pit where nobody ever goes.

      I bet every, or nearly every, business has one posted, somewhere, but nobody ever sees it and wouldn't know they are protected.

  9. Grifter


    Penn & Teller Bullshit episode on polygraphs, that is all.

  10. Justicesays

    Voodoo vs Voodoo

    The polygraph is just the same as a magicians trick, or a seance etc. Various props and acting are used to condition the subject to believe that lying will be detected, so that when they do lie, their stress levels will go up as a result of the tension build up. Conditioning your society to believe in them as well helps to start the whole process.

    Then of course all the "Beat the lie detector" tricks work exactly the same way, the "Magic feather" effect.

    Because you believe that doing this "trick" enables you to lie undetected, you don't get stressed when lying.

    The actual trick itself doesn't matter at all, it just allows you to sidestep the conditioning.

    Teaching more that one "trick" adds confidence as the subject can suppress their doubts in the efficacy of their feather by trying a different technique if the "Polygraph technician's" performance starts to overpower their belief in the "feather".

    Unfortunate that the Federal agencies have taken the wrong stance with this, by imprisoning someone who says they can let you pass the test, they have verified the "feather" must work in the minds of future customers.

    1. Gav

      Re: Voodoo vs Voodoo

      Unfortunately it's even more messed up than that.

      Thinking that the detector *might* detect a lie, even when they are telling 100% truth, may be enough to increase some people's stress levels and give a false positive.

      Other people may find the whole process stressful, regardless of whether they are telling the truth or not, but on occasions manage to calm themselves at all the wrong questions.

      Other people may still be worrying more about their last answer, than the current one.

      Other people are pathological liars who can sail though any lie without a slightest flicker.

      Other people can be totally delusional and think they are telling the truth, when it's entirely false.

      The whole process is such complete bullshit and full of holes that it is worthless.

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "prosecutors argued that Dixon should be jailed for at least 21 months as a deterrent to others and as punishment for “teaching others how to lie, cheat and steal"."

    All right, so every politician is going to serve 21-months? The dinosaurs in there teach the newcomers how the game is played.

    "Federal District Judge Liam O’Grady said: "There’s nothing unlawful about maybe 95 per cent of the business he [Dixon] conducted” but found criminal fault in his willingness to assist would-be applicants and others to lie to federal agencies, the Washington Post reported."

    So it is a criminal act to lie to federal agencies? So when will the head of the NSA be serving his time. He has been caught a few times recently; he says the NSA doesn't do such and such and then it turns out they did. In fact, the NSA told its own employees on how to word things so the FISA court would not know the truth. Seems to me that the government does exactly what Dixon did.

    1. Alan(UK)

      21 months in prison?

      I thought that prison was the place where you learn how to lie, cheat, and steal.

  12. Richard Wharram

    Polygraphs are bullshit.

    And that's it.

    1. Don Jefe

      Re: Polygraphs are bullshit.

      I'm not sure you're telling the truth.

    2. Tom 13

      Re: Polygraphs are bullshit.

      You shouldn't compare polygraphs and male bovine waste. Male bovine waste can be used as fertilizer and is therefore beneficial to society.

  13. SirDigalot

    snowden would have taken a polygraph

    as part of any classified clearance if i remember correctly, not chances are a the time he was honest and had no intention to undermine the usa, however...

    i think people with clearance are also required to submit to polygraphs every year or so or at least at a regular interval.. ( please correct me if i am wrong)(actually why did i say that this is el reg commentard section i will be corrected even if i was right *LOL*)

    Either way they are crap..

    and yes it will never ever work with compulsive or pathological liars my daughter is one, we can catch her 100% red handed (evidence and everything including video) doing stuff she knows she shouldn't (or not doing something she should) and she can look us in the eye and lie so convincingly she actually upsets herself and believes she is telling us the honest to goodness truth, (genetic trait from the sire, he does the same) if you firmly believe what you are saying and doing is right or true then no stupid machine will detect it same as when someone firmly believes "god" made them do it... totally bonkers, but to them, they are not lying so will never be found as such by questioning.

    1. Tom 13

      Re: snowden would have taken a polygraph

      IIRC Snowden was being polygraphed and that was part of what tipped him off that it was time to leave.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Polygraphs usually work because

    most people believe in them. People who read The Reg are far more scientifically knowledgeable than the average person and thus the skepticism here is not reflected amongst the general public, in the US at least, where a sizable majority believe they work.

    Those who believe that they work will feel anxiety when lying during a polygraph exam, which will be reflected on the polygraph's readings.

    I would think the best way to teach someone to beat a polygraph would be to have them actually professionally polygraphed in an exam that has no consequences if they fail, as many times as is necessary. Once they are able to demonstrate to themselves that they're able to lie successfully they would feel less anxiety in lying in an exam that counts and be more likely to beat it.

  15. Thomas Allen

    You could join Scientologists and practice with the e-meter, same thing. No surprise actors and actresses can "clear" - practiced at saying other's words as their own.

  16. Winkypop Silver badge

    RE: Polygraphs usually work because

    "...people believe in them"

    This is also how religions "work".

    1. Don Jefe

      Re: RE: Polygraphs usually work because

      The free market and capitalism 'work' on belief as well.

  17. Andus McCoatover

    Scientologists beating a path to his door?

    Just wondered....

  18. Scott Pedigo
    Big Brother

    The guy should have denied ever having done anything of the sort, and offered to take a lie detector test to prove he was telling the truth.

  19. Commenter44655

    More clients

    So, he teaches criminals how to beat the lie they put him in with a bunch of new clients, erm, I mean, criminals?

    This'll probably be the easiest (and most profitable) 8 months this guy has done...

  20. herbturbo

    In the land of the free...

    It seems like you can go to prison for just about anything.

    1. This post has been deleted by its author

  21. P Saunders

    If he had preface his training with...

    "Should be used only for entertainment purposes" he would have avoided all the heart ache.

  22. .stu

    oh the irony

    If only he had polygraphed his "clients" he would have found them out to be federal agents and avoided all of this.

    I really don't understand how it can be just to punish someone for teaching others to lie, when the method used to catch him involved lying and deception.

  23. The Jase

    Don't work

    Polygraphs don't work.

    Any employer that insists on one clearly has fuck all understanding of science and odds are the place is a blame culture based one, rather than solutions based. I'd never work for a place that insisted on them, ever.

    Example of why polygraphs are FAIL:

    You are anti drugs, like very. One question is "do you use drugs?"~

    To which you answer "no". But its an insulting question and pisses you off.

    Later on the question is repeated. The reaction will be stronger because its more of an accusation then.

    Mind you, they're a good interrogation tool.

  24. spudmasterflex

    Now I know

    How the Scallies on Jeremy Kyle pass the test.

  25. Miek

    How to beat a lie detector (or at least conceal a lie) . Simply "Freak Out" for every question asked. You won't get the job, but, the polygraph test results will be meaningless to them.

    1. Don Jefe

      "Have you ever been involved with anything illegal'?

      Are aliens illegal? They come to my cabin at least once a week. Sometimes they ask me questions and sometimes they probe me. I've lost my stoat. Do you have it? What Have You Done With My Stoat!

      1. Miek

        I'm sorry Don, I mistook your Stoat for a Weasel ...

        1. Lghost

          "I'm sorry Don, I mistook your Stoat for a Weasel ..."

          How ?..weasels are weasly distinguishable from stoats..a stoat is stoatly different...

  26. dwieske

    polygraphs don't work, what's next, jailing a pastor because he prevented "the wrath of god" for someone who cheated on his taxes?

  27. Javapapa

    Took a test once, never again

    Process is like this, at least for a 24 hour retail shop:

    1. Run through the list of Yes/No questions, first few are innocuous to get a baseline, no recording.

    2. When they ask something like, "Did you ever steal anything?", you admit your transgressions, notes taken.

    3. Repeat step 2 until you forget. Feelings of shame and embarrassment (unless you enjoy being a thief).

    4. Hook up skin galvanometer, pulse monitor, and one more sensor which I have forgotten.

    5. Repeat the question list.

    6. When they reach the embarrassing question, they ask, "Besides A and B, have your ever stolen anything?"

    7. You think of something else, go back to #6, until you get pissed off, and say "No" even though you did.

    8. Feel the sweat squirt into your palms, hear the needles swish, (this was in 1974, mind you), and know you fail the test. Resist punching out the examiner and leave.

    The test penalizes people who have good memories and who have consciences. Psychopaths should pass easily, as will Alzheimer patients.

    I once advised a young woman who was applying to the FBI. At about step 7 she realized that padding an expense account, although advised by her supervisor to do this, was actually wrong. Good Catholic girl tried to bluff her way past, failed. She later became a successful MD.

    Now I've read the CIA doesn't care about your sins, they just want you to confess all and show you trust them with your soul. They can always use a good thief.

    1. Richard 12 Silver badge

      Re: Took a test once, never again

      You're making the fundamental error of assuming they actually work, when they don't.

      The only way they do work is when the testee thinks they work - much like Napier's soot-stained cock.

  28. Furbian


    Anyone remember the film 'Cypher', where David Hewlett acts a human lie detectors and succeeds (though doesn't manage to stop the chap) where the other techniques had failed? Just thought I'd mention a good film related to lie detection as I leave the discussion forum...

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