Doug Williams (@DougWilliams_PG) is an ex-cop on a 40-year crusade against what he calls the “evil, insidious Orwellian polygraph industry” that landed him in federal prison for two years.

What We Discuss with Doug Williams:

  • How does the so-called “lie-detecting” polygraph test actually work, and how easy is it to fool?
  • Why is private industry in the United States forbidden from using polygraph testing to screen job applicants, whereas the government relies on it?
  • How dangerous is it to national security that this reliance hinges on trusting technology contemporary with (and arguably as complex as) the invention of the toaster?
  • Why polygraph testing has more in common with pseudo-sciences like phrenology, conversion therapy, and dowsing than disciplines verifiable by the scientific method.
  • How Doug wound up serving two years in a federal prison for teaching people how to beat polygraph tests with a method not dissimilar to body control taught to expectant mothers in Lamaze classes.
  • And much more…

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On old episodes of The Twilight Zone, Rod Serling made us aware of a fictional realm existing somewhere between science and superstition. On this episode, ex-cop Doug Williams teaches us how thousands of lives are ruined every year by a very real menace that occupies a similar space: the polygraph test. Billed as a “lie-detector,” there’s never been any scientific evidence to prove the efficacy of polygraphy in rooting out true deception — only the trappings of nervousness and anxiousness any normal person might feel under the scrutiny of intense questioning and the say-so of an “expert” who may actually be paid more by the failure than the success of any given subject.

According to Doug, polygraph accuracy is about 50 percent — the same as your average coin toss or consultation with the neon-announced psychic on the wrong side of the tracks. And while private industry in the United States is now forbidden from using polygraph testing to screen job applicants, the government relies on it and some states allow its results to be admissible in court. The thing is, with the right know-how, anybody can learn to trick the results of a polygraph test in their favor and potentially get away with murder or gain access to national secrets — just ask Edward Snowden, Aldrich Ames, or Doug Williams. Listen, learn, and enjoy!

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Transcript for Doug Williams | The Truth about Polygraphs and Lie Detection (Episode 291)

Jordan Harbinger: [00:00:00] Welcome to the show. I’m Jordan Harbinger. As always, I’m here with producer Jason DeFillippo. On The Jordan Harbinger Show, we decode the stories, secrets, and skills of the world’s most brilliant and interesting people, and turn their wisdom into practical advice that you can use to impact your own life and those around you.

[00:00:19] We’re going to help you see the Matrix when it comes to how these amazing people think and behave and teach you to become a better thinker. If you’re new to the show, we’ve got episodes with spies and CEOs, athletes and authors, thinkers and performers, as well as toolboxes for skills like negotiation, public speaking, body language, persuasion, and more. So, if you’re smart and you like to learn and improve, then you’ll be right at home here with us.

[00:00:42] Today, on the show, the polygraph test is an object of fascination for several reasons. Is there really a machine that can tell when we’re lying? We’ve been relying on the polygraph machine and the polygraph industry for decades to make sure that our government and law enforcement agencies hire the right people, but how accurate is this test? Today on the show, Doug Williams, he has dedicated the past 40 years to fighting the polygraph industry, even did time behind bars as a result of this battle. After a career as a cop, personally administering thousands of polygraph examinations, now his mission is to destroy the four-billion-dollar polygraph industry.

[00:01:21] I’ve actually read the legal documents in this case. I read the briefs and the motions and the ruling by the court, and Doug is a passionate crusader against what he sees as a huge fraud perpetrated upon everyone who relies on these tests to keep them safe and offer them a fair shake at making a living. This goes way beyond the sentiment that this machine isn’t perfect. Doug will argue that this machine is actively causing harm to both individuals and national security, and we’ll get into this on the show today.

[00:01:50] If you’re wondering how I find all these interesting personality types to say the least, well, it’s because of the network that I’ve built around this. I’ve got systems and tiny habits. You can build a network for your personal or professional reasons. Get ahead at work. You can make some new friends or just keep in touch with people you’ve lost touch with. Check out Six-Minute Networking. It’s a free course. It’s over at By the way, most of the guests on the show, they subscribe to the course and the newsletter, so come join us and you’ll be in great company. Here we go with Doug Williams.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:02:24] So Doug, give us a little bit of your background. You’re not just some conspiracy theorist who decided to die on the hill of the polygraph. You’ve actually got quite a bit of experience with the device in the process.

Doug Williams: [00:02:35] Yeah, I’ll say I’m the only licensed polygraph examiner to ever tell the truth about the so-called lie-detector. And the matter of fact is I was the first — and still the only one — to do that. But yeah, I had some experience with it. My experience with it dates all the way back to 1966 when I was assigned to the White House Situation Room working for President Johnson, where I handled all the eyes for the president’s messages for some three and a half years there.

[00:03:04] Prior to going on that assignment, I had to do a very serious background investigation that took a number of months, and then just prior to walking in the White House for the first time, I was taken over to a basement office in Georgetown in Washington, DC and was given a polygraph test by a CIA agent. It’s quite a strange situation, but yeah, my experience with the polygraph goes all the way back to 1966. Then in ’69, I had to take another polygraph test in order to become a police officer with the Oklahoma City Police Department. Then in 1972, of course, I was sent by the police department to the National Training Center Of Lie Detection in New York City, where I became, according to them, an expert polygraphist.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:03:49] Is it polygraphist or polygrapher?

Doug Williams: [00:03:53] I think more correctly charlatan, con man, thug. A polygraphist, so what does that mean? I’m a professional watch you breathe, watch your heart beat, watch your fingers sweatist.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:04:05] We’ll get into what the polygraph actually does and does not do. I do want to go a little bit further into your background. You were a cop for 10 years and you got into the polygraph in the first place. Why? Because you were learning interrogation or something like that? How did you even come into contact with the whole machine, the whole concept?

Doug Williams: [00:04:21] Well, it’s odd but it’s a quick way to make sergeant, basically. I was tooling down the hallway there at the police department and had about three years under my belt. It was a long haul to make sergeant, long haul. I was tooling down the hall and see this notice that they want a polygraph examiner. It was an instant pay raise to sergeant. I said, “Well, sign me up,” and I went in and really got serious about applying for that job. I mean, I went and memorized every possible question that could be asked during the interview process and then I’d sit in front of the mirror for hours and practice my presentation, making sure my countenance was right and all that. Anyway, long story short, I got the job, I got the position. They sent me to polygraph school and I ran a polygraph test for them for about seven years after that.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:05:06] So, you were running background investigations on police officers, or are you interrogating suspects, or who are you graphing at this point?

Doug Williams: [00:05:13] It was both. By far, the majority, I’d say, well over 60 percent of the tests were pre-employment polygraph examinations. Other percentages of it were just normal criminal tests and then you have your internal affairs investigations for misconduct and all that along with city employees as well as other police officers. And then, of course, I could make a lot of extra money on the side by running these things off duty, which I did quite frequently to help my income. It was quite a lucrative scam. I mean, even now in the United States federal government, we spend upwards of four billion — billion with a B — four billion dollars on this nonsense.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:05:52] So you decided that this was bunk at some point, but how did you come to the conclusion that the tests themselves were not reliable?

Doug Williams: [00:06:00] I knew from the get-go they weren’t. I knew from the very first day of polygraph school that, that machine down there in front of me was ain’t no kind of way a lie-detector. What it was a reaction recorder. Now it’s true, and everybody knew that about 50 percent of the time when your heart starts to beat fast and your blood pressure increases and your breathing becomes erratic and your fingers start to sweat, well about half the time that’s because you’re lying your ass off. But unfortunately, half the time is not from that. It’s from misplaced guilt, the tone of the examiner’s voice. Hell, even being upset by being asked an accusatory question. A lot of those things cause a reaction and it’ll brand as a liar, so I knew right from the get-go we didn’t have a lie-detector here. What we did have though was a legal rubber hose, a psychological billy club that I could use to great advantage to coerce and intimidate people into giving me confessions and admissions of wrongdoing, which I did for about almost six or seven thousand tests.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:07:03] It sounds like what you’re saying is the more honest you are or the more nervous you are because you’re honest, the less likely you actually are to pass; you’re more likely to fail. And people maybe who are well-practiced liars, they can beat the machine because they can trick the reader.

Doug Williams: [00:07:17] Absolutely right and you’ve nailed it.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:07:19] So how did you learn how to trick the machine yourself? You know, we’ll get into how it works and everything, but how did you eventually learn, “Hey, I can even trick this thing?”

Doug Williams: [00:07:28] Really kind of an interesting story. We were having a choir practice one night. That’s a parlance from cop talk to say, “Oh, he was out at the local cop bar getting drunk and talking bullshit to one another.”

Jordan Harbinger: [00:07:40] Gotcha.

Doug Williams: [00:07:41] And a boy was talking about a chase he got into it. He said, “Man, we were chasing this old boy.” He said, “My partner was driving. He was shooting at us. I was shooting at him, and hanging out the window, and he was shooting at me. We were going over a hundred miles an hour, my partner lost control of the car.” He said, “Went out across this bar ditch and tore through a barbwire fence.” And he said, “Man, so the pucker factor was getting away on up there soon, man. I was pinching donuts out of that seat.” And I got to thinking about that because I had been asked a lot of times whether I could beat the test, knowing how it worked and everything. And I thought, well. I know what it measures. I mean, and I know I can control my breathing to some degree. I can control my respiration and breathing, but how do I control my heart rate and my GSR, my sweat activity on my fingers.

[00:08:28] The next day I go back to the office and all I got to do all day long was messed with that polygraph. So I thought, wait a minute, that pucker factor, I wonder. I wonder. So, I hooked myself up to the damn polygraph and sure enough, I tightened up my anal sphincter muscle like I was trying to stop a bowel movement, just like you do when the pucker factor hits you. And that pucker factor was a common phrase back then from Vietnam and from the police department anytime the stress level got up, what they call a pucker factor — your butthole puckered up. That was a normal physiological reaction to keep you from defecating all over yourself when you’re under stress. So I tightened my anal sphincter muscle up like that. Whoa, lo and behold, right there on that polygraph is the most profound blood pressure and pulse rate increase you ever saw, just a perfect, perfect cardio tracing, along with an accompanying GSR tracing. Then all I had to do then was to just mimic an erratic breathing pattern, which I knew how those looked. So then it was a simple matter on a relevant question, all I had to do was tighten up ye olde anal sphincter muscle and do a little bit erratic breathing pattern, and I could show a magnificent reaction. And then on a control question, all I had to do is just think of lying on the beach and relax and I could be nice and calm during the control question. And that’s of course how they score it if you have a reaction on a relevant and you don’t have one on a control, you’re a liar. If the reverse is true, you’re telling the truth. So my only job then is to manipulate this reaction at the appropriate time and prevent a reaction at the appropriate time and I got this sucker whipped, which was, of course, very easy to do, and I could teach someone how to do it in five minutes or less.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:10:05] When you say GSR, that means galvanic skin response. That’s the sweating from your fingers and then, of course, the machine is measuring your breathing. I’ll get into this in a little bit because I think this starts to get confusing. So you learned how to trick the machine by hooking it up to yourself and using visualization techniques and scrunching up your anal sphincter muscle and things like that. What was the breaking point at which you said, “You know, to hell with this, I’m not going to keep doing these tests,” and you resigned from the police force? What got you out of the police force?

Doug Williams: [00:10:37] There wasn’t any real dramatic thing. It was kind of a combination of things. It was like, yeah, I was raised down there at Galveston and I used to go down there and watch those big ships. They have a line on a ship. It’s called the Plimsoll line. This is really an emotional thing for me. You’re talking about something that happened over 40 years ago and it still bothers me because a lot of what I’m doing and a lot of what I started to do was to make restitution for all the things that I did and the damage that I caused running these damn things. I’m thinking back on this, and it’s difficult. So you’ve got this Plimsoll line. It wasn’t so much one thing, Doug, that caused Doug to quit being an asshole. It was a complete, thorough understanding that if I kept loading up all this crap into myself, if I kept doing all this shit, that sooner or later my old ship is going to be full of crap and it is going to go below that Plimsoll line and is going to sink and I can’t let that happen. So I had to quit being an asshole and start being a champion for truth, justice, and the American way.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:11:48] Yeah, exactly. I mean, it seems like you had a crisis of conscience over this. I mean, you realized, “Look, I’m just kind of screwing people out of a job. It’s arbitrary.”

Doug Williams: [00:11:58] This is the very definition of arbitrary and capricious.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:12:02] So what is a polygraph test? What does it measure? Sweat, heartbeat — it just measures that. It doesn’t measure lies. It just measures a physical response to anxiety and nervousness.

Doug Williams: [00:12:14] That’s it. That’s all it does. It measures the autonomic nervous system response to stress. When you’re under a stressful situation, you’re confronted with a stressful stimulus of some sort. Your body releases a shot of adrenaline. That then causes your body to have a physiological reaction, which is commonly referred to as the fight-or-flight response. This prepares you to do one of two things in response to this frightening stimulus. You will either fight it or you will flee from it. This response is your body’s preparation to do one of those two things. It is not a 95 percent indication of deception as these charlatans in the polygraph industry would have you believe.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:13:00] So that’s a little scary, and we’ll get into that in a little bit, of course as well about what this actually does. But like you said, this is a psychological billy club used to intimidate people into a confession. It’s not a lie-detector and it shocked me doing the research for this that the basic technology for the polygraph hasn’t really changed much since 1921 when this was invented. I think the only appliance we’re still using besides the polygraph that was invented around 1921 is a toaster.

Doug Williams: [00:13:29] So you saw that Penn & Teller: Bullshit! show too, huh?

Jordan Harbinger: [00:13:32] You know it. You know it. I love those guys. I’ve had Penn on the show and I thought what was invented in 1921 and sure enough — the toaster.

Doug Williams: [00:13:40] Yeah. It’s really pathetic when you stop and think about how much weight is placed on that, and it’s a fraud that’s been perpetrated on this country and on the American people for almost a century now. It’s been really at its zenith for the last 50 years, where it’s been just terribly, terribly abused. It has taken on a power that really it should never have. But you know, it’s typical of what’s going on right now in this country. I mean, if my prosecution under Operation Lie Busters and I defy anybody to look at that record and see how I could possibly have been charged with anything, let alone five damn felony crimes. Look at Operation Lie Busters but the whole thing, the whole point of Operation Lie Busters is the rise of the — I hate to use it because it’s so overused but it’s an appropriate term — the deep state. If these polygraph thugs and charlatans in the government polygraph industry are not representative of the deep state or the administrative state or whatever you want to call them, I don’t know what it is. They make up their own rules. They make up their own procedures. They bring people in. Everybody that has a job with law enforcement or intelligence or has a job with a private industry contractor that requires a government security clearance — and there are millions of them, by the way — they had to submit to these damn witchcraft procedures in order to get and to keep that job. A lot of times they have to take it every three to five years. These thugs in the polygraph industry can call you a liar. They don’t have to offer any evidence whatsoever to back up that claim, and there is no appeal from their decision. So not only are you denied employment because this thug has said you had a reaction that indicates deception, but they actually put your name on a blacklist and you’re not allowed to apply for a job again with the government until you are able to successfully pass a polygraph examination, which of course you will never do again because they’ve already called you a liar once.

Jason DeFillippo: [00:15:42] You’re listening to The Jordan Harbinger Show with our guest, Doug Williams. We’ll be right back.

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Jordan Harbinger: [00:18:40] So the test doesn’t work because it’s based on a false scientific premise. If you have a reaction that indicates deception or that you’ve lied, then you aren’t telling the truth. You’re saying that’s not true. There is no response that says that you’ve lied. There just isn’t one set of responses that indicates that.

Doug Williams: [00:18:59] Right, there’s no Pinocchio response. Your nose does not grow every time you lie. I said that the percentage that I gave earlier is very accurate. About half the time that reaction does, in fact, indicate deception. Half the time it does indicate nervousness, the rage of having been asked the question, misplaced guilt, any number of innocent stimuli can cause the exact same reaction that would brand you as a liar. It’s just absurd to rely on it to that degree. It should never have been placed in that position of importance, but bureaucrats love this kind of stuff because they can say, “Okay, well, I would love to have hired you, but we can’t do it. You didn’t pass the polygraph test, so there’s nothing I can do about that.” And then you’ve got the polygraph guy, which they make certain they have just the right guy running that polygraph, by the way. In fact, Sullivan, I forget his first name, Sullivan, he’s a retired CIA polygraph examiner that wrote a book sometime back that’s called The Gatekeeper. He described himself as being — and that’s very accurate — he was a polygraph examiner for the CIA. He was in fact a gatekeeper — that’s how he saw himself, and that’s how they see themselves — they’re gatekeepers. They keep the right kind of people in those jobs so that their agency doesn’t fall into the wrong hands. And so they’re the gatekeepers and they’re the ones that say whether you did or did not pass. It’s not because I don’t like your little smug little yuppie look there, Jordan. It’s because you did not pass the polygraph test, so I can’t have you working for the CIA. It’s not because you’re some kind of little smart ass that won’t get along with the rest of us old boys around here. It’s because you couldn’t get past the polygraph.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:20:35] Right, that’s John F. Sullivan. He wrote that book, The Gatekeeper. So to highlight your point here, if they’re saying that the polygraph is 95 to 98 percent accurate, and you’re saying it’s 50 percent accurate, that’s a big gap in percentage. So if it’s 95 to 98 percent accurate, then that must mean that there’s a physical response or set of physical responses that happen 95 to 98 percent of the time that would indicate deception.

Doug Williams: [00:21:01] And parenthetically, if it were an accurate scientific experiment, it would be a repeatable thing. In other words, it would be repeatable over and over and over and over again, but it’s not that way. It is not repeatable, and that’s why it’s a pseudo-scientific instrument.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:21:18] Right. So therefore, the polygraph cannot be that accurate and other things can bring up similar physical responses.

Doug Williams: [00:21:25] And then you add on one more killer, which is the coup de grâce for the whole damn thing if you’ll think about it, when they prosecuted me for teaching people, an undercover federal agent — two of them, actually — how to control every tracing on the polygraph chart and beat a polygraph test, that right there is prima facie evidence, the polygraph is absolutely worthless as a lie-detector, and to continue to use it as such is a fraud. In other words, if I can teach you how to control every tracing on the polygraph chart and produce a perfect truthful chart, whether you’re telling the truth or lying, that’s evidence the polygraph is worthless as a lie-detector. Period. There is no other side of the story.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:22:08] So a lot of other things can bring up similar physical responses. The tone of voice of the interrogator, general anxiety, nervousness, rage at being asked a certain question, embarrassment at a certain question, and there is an interesting experiment at this photography company several years ago. This was in the 60 Minutes piece that you were involved in. They did this to Diane Sawyer and company, set this up to investigate the accuracy of the polygraph machines. Can you tell us about this? This was a fascinating little experiment.

Doug Williams: [00:22:35] Let’s just cut to the chase on that, and that was in 1986. That was very helpful, too, by the way, for getting the Employee Polygraph Protection Act passed, which I was lobbying for at that time. It was passed into law in 1988, which outlawed the use of the polygraph in the private sector, but that was 1986. The bottom line of the whole show was — listen to this — three out of three polygraph examiners from different polygraph companies called three separate, innocent, truthful people liars on a crime that never even happened.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:23:08] Let me give the backstory and we can link to the video in the show notes, but essentially this fake crime that never happened, they had said — 60 Minutes crew had said — “A camera’s been stolen from the company. We’re going to call these polygraphists in to interview the employees.” They picked three random employees and each polygraphist called a different person a liar for the same crime that never even happened. They primed these polygraphists to think it was a certain person each time. They would say, “Well, we think it was Dave,” and then they would magically find that Dave was the one that was deceptive.

Doug Williams: [00:23:40] Yeah, and the whole thing was started when I was talking to the producer. 60 Minutes doesn’t just bring you on TV. I mean, they do in-depth stuff. They check you out 10 ways from Sunday and do pre-interviews and everything else. One of the pre-interviews, I was talking to Diane Sawyer and one of the producers, Gail Eisen, she’s a great producer by the way. Anyway, they were talking about, “What’s the worst thing about it, Doug?” And I said, “Well, it’s just, can’t say what’s worse, but it’s really bad when they use it to call in their test results.” And they said, “What?” I said, “Yeah, if you want somebody fired, you just call your polygraph guy and say, ‘I’m sending you a liar over’ and he’d say, ‘Okay, well send him on.’ And then, of course, he’ll be a liar and then you’ve got a reason to fire him.” And she said, “It can’t be that bad.” And I said, “I tell you, it is.” So we go through this whole thing. I mean, we go up there. They flew me to New York City. I was working as a little local pastor and going to seminary and working as a local pastor in a little country church, so I had a lot of free time on my hands during the week. They’d fly me to New York City Sunday night after church. And then I would stay the whole week there and then they’d fly me back for Saturday night, go to church on Sunday morning and fly back. I think it was six weeks we did this.

[00:24:48] Anyway, we go through this whole setup and we got down there and they said, “We want to do investigative reports.” So they called me down there and Diane Sawyer and Gail Eisen get together with me and they say, “You know when you said that you could call in a test result?” I said, “Yeah.” They said, “We want to put that to the test and see if that’s actually true.” And I said, “Go ahead. Yeah, sure.” And they said, “Well, you’re going to have to help us prove it.” I said, “What do you mean?” They said, “Well, you’re the detective. You’re the police officer. Let’s set it up. Let’s do a set up here, let’s do a sting deal on them.” We went in there and we cut holes in the walls and put microphones in the ceiling, all kinds of stuff. Did a big deal on it. Then we called the three polygraph examiners from three separate polygraph firms. We called the first one in. I didn’t know he was going to call three at first. I thought I could make the point with just one. And then we call one in and he goes through the whole thing and all the people that we were using were actually employees of a popular photography magazine. They were actual employees, and we used them as guinea pigs and told them we’d give them 50 dollars if they could pass the test on a crime they never even did. So they’d be happy to do that.

[00:25:50] The first guy comes in and we had the assistant producer — she was acting like she was the personnel director or whatever. She didn’t say anything other than, “We’ve got a $700 camera missing. We don’t know who is responsible. We think maybe Pam did it.” So he goes out and he tests, I think, five people. He comes back. He’s 100% sure that Pam did it. And so I’m thinking to myself, “Look, I made my point.” And so we go in there and Gail says, “Well, that’s a good start.” I said, “What do you mean?” She said, “They’ll say it’s just an anomaly if we just use one.” And so we go back to Yellow Pages and get the next biggest polygraph firm, bring them in, and do the whole setup again. A few days later, and sure enough, this time we use Stan or whoever. He picks Stan and I’m thinking, “Well, I’ve definitely made my point now.” I just looked at Gail and she looked at me and I just knew. I said, “So we’re going to do a three of them then?” She said, “Yep. Go get another guy out here and do the same damn thing.” And then after he’d run through all five of them and he came back out and picked the one that we said he’d pick, then Gail says, “Hey, you think you go in there and beat him?” I said, “Sure.” So they go in there, “So we got another guy we want you to test.” I get the camera, the Nikon camera with a zoom lens. I have it in my possession in my briefcase, and I walk in there and I lied to that guy about everything, including my name. And when it’s all over, they have him on tape. I’m coming around the desk, he’s shaking my hand and telling me I’m the most honest person he ever tested.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:27:19] Wow. So they didn’t show that. They didn’t show you going in there.

Doug Williams: [00:27:23] No, they couldn’t get it past their lawyers.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:27:26] Right. That makes sense. That’s really incriminating if you went in there with the skills and broke the thing down. But it sounds like the test is heavily predicated on the person administering the test and that their bias may actually be what drives the results of the test, not the test itself, especially given what we saw on 60 Minutes.

Doug Williams: [00:27:43] Well, yeah, that’s it. As I said before, this is going to be the basis of a lawsuit, one of these days, against the bastards. It is the very definition of arbitrary and capricious. It is not based on any fact whatsoever on any scientific principle whatsoever. It is absolutely, totally arbitrary and capricious.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:28:06] So if this is the case, if the test is heavily predicated on the person administering the test, that is terrible because we’re going to find all sorts of bias: racism, sexism, stereotyping, in addition to letting people pass because they’re either good liars or the polygraphist liked them for some reason — they were friendly or nice or charismatic — and that is very troublesome.

Doug Williams: [00:28:27] Indeed, it is troublesome to the nth degree, and I have been harping on this for over 40 years now. My 40th anniversary was the 19th of July of this year.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:28:41] Paul Ekman said the fear of not being believed looks the same as the fear of being caught. If that’s true with the polygraph exam, we’re in trouble. Because that means that innocent people who are worried they’re not going to be believed are getting labeled as liars. And we’ll get into exactly why that’s an extremely troubling problem for the federal government in a minute. But I want to ask you this. You’d mentioned that one of the key problems with the polygraph — the test itself — is you cannot create a control question that elicits the same emotional response as a relevant question. Can we define what control questions are and what relevant questions are? Can you give us an example of this?

Doug Williams: [00:29:18] Yeah. Let’s explain that phenomenon by using this example, Jordan.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:29:24] Sure.

Doug Williams: [00:29:24] Let’s say you go home tonight in your nice little gated community there in your wonderful area of California, wherever that may be, and you’re relaxing and you get a knock on the door and it’s two well-dressed detectives from the LAPD. And they’re saying to you, “Mr. Harbinger, we need to have you come down the station. We’ve got a complaint lodged against you from Susie, the 10-year-old next-door neighbor, and she says that you have molested her, and so we’re going to ask you to come down and take a polygraph test so we can help you clear your name.” So you go down there and here’s an example of the problem with control and relevant question techniques. So they’re going to ask you all the questions — these are relevant questions and you know very well what the relevant questions are going to be because they’re going to be all the elements of a terrible, terrible crime of molesting a 10-year-old girl. You can just imagine what those questions might be. Then we’ll intersperse between those relevant questions about whether you molested Susie or not. We’re going to intersperse these control questions such as, “Have you ever deliberately hurt anyone?” “Have you ever lied to anyone in authority to keep from getting in trouble?” or “Have you ever lied to someone who trusted you?” Now I don’t care how creative you get or how much of a creative writer you are or how imaginative you may be, you will not ever be able to devise a control question that has anywhere near the same emotional impact of “Did you put your finger in Susie’s whatchamacallit?”

Jordan Harbinger: [00:30:55] Right, you can’t design a question that’s going to be as shocking as a relevant question, and so it doesn’t matter if the person is telling the truth or not, they’re going to have a shocked response to that question. You can’t really —

Doug Williams: [00:31:07] You’re going to go crazy. I mean, just the mere accusation alone, you’re saying, “My God. Just the accusation alone is enough to ruin me. I’ll never be the same. What am I going to do?” Your heart’s going to be beating fast, your blood pressure — and any time anybody asks a question like that, it’s just the horror of even thinking about such a thing is going to cause you to withdraw in shock or be repulsed by it, and that in itself will be a reaction that would brand you as a liar.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:31:32] I find it interesting that many other countries actually don’t use the polygraph at all. How did these things get a foothold in the United States?

Doug Williams: [00:31:40] Thugs and charlatans. I mean, that’s the ones that started it. The guy who originally invented it tried his best to stop people from using it. Anybody that’s ever taken a polygraph test or been around any polygraph guys, you know the type, I mean they’re the very definition of thugs and bullies or else they’re those mealy-mouthed little jerks that just try to sneak around and trick you into making some sort of confession, but they’re not the most noble and stalwart of people. I guarantee you. And those that are that get into that profession soon leave it or just turn into outright drunks.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:32:11] Are polygraph exams banned anywhere? I know they’re banned for evidence at trial because scientific evidence has to be generally accepted by the scientific community. This is the Frye rule, and they are not admissible in court because they are not considered scientifically sound.

Doug Williams: [00:32:27] Well, except in some circumstances. Unfortunately, in our state, The Land of Enchantment in New Mexico, the state law, at least, allows them to be admitted into evidence as direct evidence, even over the objection of the other side. The state of New Mexico allows them to result in evidence, but we’re trying to make some changes in that. But for the most part, it’s not allowed in evidence.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:32:50] So, you testified in 1985 to prohibit polygraph use in the private sector. It’s now banned for use in the private sector. You actually got an award from the ACLU for this. Why was this allowed for government and national security employment when it’s banned from use in private employment? Usually, for the government or for courts to ban something for use in the private sector, there has to be massive, massive overreach. So the fact that they’re still using it in government employment, it actually seems quite backwards. Usually, things are not allowed in government or official use, but we don’t regulate the private sector. This is the other way around.

Doug Williams: [00:33:30] I lobbied heavily for that law. In fact, I helped draft the original Employee Polygraph Protection Act back in 1985 when I testified in Congress in support of it. I went to DC numerous times between ‘85 and ‘88, but we ended up having to make that compromise. Otherwise, Reagan would have vetoed the bill and we didn’t have enough to override the veto.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:33:50] So you supported banning this in the private sector. I think the problem with this being used in government is 70 percent of people denied employment with the government are denied based on a failed polygraph exam. If that’s accurate — I saw that in your work — if that’s accurate, that is astounding, because you cannot apply again, because you’re blacklisted.

Doug Williams: [00:34:10] It’s not my stats. That’s their stats and actually, it’s very conservative for a lot of them. I just wish, Jordan, that you could hear — bear in mind that I’ve been doing this for 40 years now. I just wish you could hear some of the literally thousands, thousands of stories that I’ve heard from people whose lives have been ruined by these con artists. They’re perpetuating a terrible fraud. They’re damaging literally millions and millions of people in the process, and they really don’t give a damn how many people get hurt as long as they can continue to unjustly enrich themselves. Now that’s wrong and what’s even worse is the representatives who have abdicated their responsibility of oversight to make sure that stuff like this doesn’t happen.

[00:34:54] We’ve let the administrative state, the deep state, whatever you want to call them, take over the government. I mean, they run the damn government. And if you think they don’t, you try to just protest. Some little thing that you think is wrong, like perhaps using a polygraph to fail 70 percent of their applicants and show people to set up a little business and say, “Okay, 70 percent of you guys are going to flunk, so let me bring you in here and show you how to get past this thing where you can at least produce a perfect truthful chart.” Now, I didn’t think it was incumbent upon me to do a background check, make sure those folks weren’t lying, but evidently, it was because I got thrown in prison for doing it. But they put me out of business, a perfectly legitimate business of teaching people how to control themselves. Hell, I was just teaching basically a takeoff on the Lamaze childbirth thing. Teaching them how to relax on relevant questions and show a reaction under control questions. It’s so utterly simple. I’m tempted if I can dig it out, finding that little tape that they played of me training session in court and just putting it on my website to say, can you believe, number one, that it’s this simple to beat the test, and number two, that they threw me in prison for teaching it to somebody? It’s a painful thing to hear the stories of people’s lives ruined and it’s even more disgusting to realize that our representatives have allowed this to happen.

Jason DeFillippo: [00:36:19] You’re listening to The Jordan Harbinger Show with our guest Doug Williams. We’ll be right back after this.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:36:24] This episode is sponsored in part by HostGator.

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Jordan Harbinger: [00:37:42] this episode is also sponsored by Skillshare. Getting out of the rut. Staying creative is easier said than done, especially with a busy schedule. So maybe you want to get back into an old passion or maybe you want to learn something new. Skillshare is an online learning community for the creator in all of us. Thousands of classes in photography, creative writing, design, productivity. Jason, what are you digging into his Skillshare right now?

Jason DeFillippo: [00:38:03] Currently, I’m watching video editing with Final Cut Pro X from beginner to YouTuber by Ali Abdaal, and it’s a really great primer if you’re new to final cut like I am, and this guy just teaches you in a very specific way, like all the main things you need to learn with no fuss, no muss, no BS, and it just gets you up to speed, which is exactly what I want from a Skillshare course. This was fantastic.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:38:26] So you’re going to become a YouTuber. Is that the plan?

Jason DeFillippo: [00:38:28] No, I don’t plan on becoming a YouTuber. I’m a little old for that, but I do need to do some video work and this is getting me up and running fast.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:38:36] Well, I think that it’s amazing that something like this exists and everybody will say, “Well, wait, what about other sites that have free video courses?” I challenge you to go and find those and tell me how long it takes you and how broken those things are and how many upsells that are at the end of each one. Skillshare doesn’t have any of that crap because it’s a community and everybody there is trying to make the viewer happy, not just jam as many ads for crap in each video because it’s a private site. So, that’s important, I think, and that’s really what makes Skillshare different as well. Plus the variety. Jason,

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Jordan Harbinger: [00:39:26] This episode is also sponsored in part by Better Help. You’ve heard me mention therapy on the show. I’m a huge fan of therapy, especially for sane people, and I’m highlighting that because therapy is what keeps you sane when the cracks are starting to show you, you get a little pressure, you get a little depression, stress, anxiety, relationships stuff, your sleep is not so good, trauma, anger, family conflicts, grief, self-esteem. Humans are complicated. You can connect with your professional counselor in a safe and private online environment. Everything’s convenient. That’s the key here. A lot of people don’t go to therapy because I get a call around, I got to find someone, I got to make an appointment, I got to drive across town in traffic and then I got a park. You can do this from your freaking car during your lunch break cause it’s right from your phone. Of course, it’s confidential. Get help at your own time, your own pace, video, chat, phone, text, whatever you need. And if you don’t like your therapist and who can blame you, sometimes people just don’t click, just get a new one anytime, no extra charge. It’s a great option and honestly, we’ve got a little discount for you. So go check it out right now, Jason.

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[00:40:42] Thank you for listening and supporting the show. Your support of our advertisers is what keeps us on the air. To learn more and get links to all the great discounts you just heard, so you can check out those amazing sponsors, visit Jordan Don’t forget the worksheet for today’s episode. That link is in the show notes at Jordan If you’re listening to us in the Overcast player, please click that little star next to the episode. We really appreciate it. And now for the conclusion of our episode with Doug Williams.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:41:13] So when you apply to the government, if you’re one of the 70 percent of people that fail the test when applying for a government job, you get blackballed. You cannot apply again and the only evidence needed to blackball you is the polygraph itself. And there’s no appeals process, which is really scary. You can catch a bad day. You can get to somebody on the wrong side of the bed. They can decide to fail you because they decide you’re lying. They don’t have to exactly show what it is. They just give their general feeling based on the reading. It’s not scientific and then you can’t appeal it. And now you can’t go back to your other job. You’re just blackballed from government for life and your career is ruined.

Doug Williams: [00:41:50] Exactly. And then you go in there and just imagine yourself with an advanced degree in some sort of computer science or some sort of nuclear physics or something like that. And you go in there and you’ve got this meathead who’s lucky to have a GED, who has a training from a polygraph school that lasts approximately the same amount of time as it takes to get a barber’s license. He’s sitting there running you through a process that you know very well is just absurd. It’s not based on any realistic — and you’re supposed to sit there and take that shit seriously, and you’re supposed to go along with his little program and jump through his hoops and then pass his little test in order to get a job that you are by far prepared to do. It’s just astounding how evil it is.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:42:37] It’s not just that the test is useless. It’s worse than useless because it classifies truth-tellers as liars. I found this in a Bloomberg article, and I think this is very interesting. The author writes: “‘How many people working for foreign governments (so, spies) apply for those jobs? If you’re looking for something that only occurs one-tenth of one percent of the time, running a test that’s 90 percent accurate doesn’t help you.’ Depending on where you set your threshold, you either miss most of the spies or you cast suspicion on tens of thousands of innocent people. Sometimes you do both.

‘We don’t know how many good people we lose, and we don’t know how many bad people have gotten through and haven’t gotten caught. And we don’t know whether the polygraph is at all predictive of either of those outcomes.'”

We’re throwing out good people. We’re not catching spies. We end up with a problem on both sides of the coin. It’s actually worse than not doing anything at all. I think we’ve seen this. Some critics might say something like, “But haven’t these tests caught spies and criminals?” And the answer is maybe not.

[00:43:43] We see from John F. Sullivan, the top CIA polygraphist, he said himself, it’s more art than science, and he can tell when someone is lying, but we know scientifically, we can’t tell by looking or watching someone, whether they’re lying. It’s a coin flip. He even admits the test can be beaten and he’s been beaten on previous occasions, giving the test himself. Looking at it from a national security angle, Aldrich Ames, he passed multiple polygraph tests before being caught spying for the Soviet Union and the Russians. Cuban double agents, many of them have passed the polygraph. The more I research the polygraph, the more astounded I am that we still use it. It’s just so clearly a psychological lever and not a deception detection machine. And further, it sounds like the industry has incentive to catch people, because if they can justify their contracts with the agencies and the government, it doesn’t matter who they catch in their net. They don’t even know. They’re just guessing. It doesn’t matter who they catch in their net. I think many of them don’t know what they’re doing and many of them probably do and just don’t care. If each test is 2,200 bucks, then they have an incentive to fail people. If you’ve got to test five, 10 people for the same position, you get paid five, 10 times as much money per position, so you have to keep testing candidates until you find someone to hire. This is how the company makes money. They don’t care that they’re ruining these other nine people’s careers in the meantime. They’re getting their check.

Doug Williams: [00:45:03] Exactly right and with everybody knowing that this is a fraud, with everybody knowing and the National Academy Of Scientists to sit, and particularly with regard to pre-employment, which is at issue here, that it truly is no more accurate than the toss of a coin because even at its best, a single issue test — “Did you steal that 10 grand or didn’t you?” is not really that accurate. Maybe 70 percent. But when you’re dealing with numerous relevant issues as in a pre-employment test, literally hundreds of questions that could be relevant, there is absolutely no way you can say that a polygraph is accurate and reliable as a detector of deception or as a predictor of activity. You know, it’s laughable. If it weren’t so serious, it’d be laughable. I remember Clapper, the Director of Intelligence guy. He was talking about when they were expanding the use after Snowden, they’re expanding the use of the polygraph to more people, he made the most absurd statement I’d ever heard. He said, “We’ve got to increase polygraph testings so as to avoid the next Edward Snowden.” And I thought to myself, “Well if that’s the case, how come he didn’t avoid the first Edward Snowden? Because he took two polygraph tests and aced both of them, fully intending to go do what he did.”

Jordan Harbinger: [00:46:25] So you get set up for witness tampering and mail fraud. It’s strange that they pick those charges, but I guess you got your retainer through the mail and they counted the federal agents as a witness, which is a little bit of a stretch, of course. Here’s the thing though, that gets me on this. There are other ways to make money and state the case that the polygraph test doesn’t work aside from training people one on one. So if you, Doug, are trying to protect the United States against the dangers of using a test that might let in bad people because the test itself is flawed, why enter into a situation where you’re training people that you know are bad? Undercover agents who said they’re criminals, they took bribes. Why train these guys to enter into or remain in positions with Customs and Border Patrol or some other agency knowing they’re planning to misuse that authority? Isn’t that also bad for the country? Doesn’t that disregard public safety?

Doug Williams: [00:47:14] But that wasn’t the case with these guys, nor was it the case with any of the other ones. As a matter of fact, they know it wasn’t the case. When they came in with that search warrant, they got a search warrant from all my computer stuff too, and they got the records, believe this or not, of almost 5,000 of my customers. And then over the next two and a half years, they sent literally hundreds of FBI agents out all across the country interviewing — I’ve got the types of these interviews — interviewing all these people and they started off by saying, “We’re not after you; we’re after Doug Williams,” and they ask every single one of them, “Did Doug Williams ever tell you to lie or did you ever tell him you were going to lie?” And without exception, the answer was “No” to both questions. They had no evidence that I had ever committed any crime, that I had never, ever taught anyone who told me they were deliberately going to lie. And in these two present cases, there was no evidence that I had even done that. Period.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:48:14] What types of techniques, then, can beat the polygraph? First, we need to know how the machine works, right? It records the fight-or-flight response. And what are the techniques that then beat this machine? The idea here that you can just squeeze your anal sphincter and show a stress response, of course, they have pads on the seat to measure that, but the other idea that you can use visualization techniques, essentially meditation techniques to relax during the control questions, there’s no science here in detecting that. If it’s so easily beaten, then even if there is a little bit of science there, it’s in terms of detecting the response; it’s very flexible. There’s no science in detecting the deception itself. Simply to show no reaction on relevant questions and then react to the control questions and to be able to pass that way, that is extremely dangerous. It’s actually shockingly simple to pass the polygraph. And for your purposes, we won’t go into those details here because they’re not necessary, but you could easily find this, and we’ll link to some resources in the show notes for people that are curious.

Doug Williams: [00:49:13] All you got to do is go to and link on all the videos. I’ve been doing this on national television since 1985.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:49:21] We can certainly do that.

Doug Williams: [00:49:22] To throw me in prison for teaching a federal agent something that was easily accessible by five minutes on Google.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:49:29] So I did read your legal motion and it requests that the Department of Justice Inspector General investigate this, and you state that using these damages national security because they’re inaccurate. It proves that they’re inaccurate because you can reliably teach people to beat them, or you could before you were restricted from doing so. But the information is, of course, already out there from multiple sources.

Doug Williams: Yeah.

Jordan Harbinger: So why are you appealing to the court to let you continue to work in the polygraph field? What work do you want to do that you’re restricted from doing?

Doug Williams: [00:49:57] Oh, I want to go back to giving polygraph test preparation training again.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:50:00] And why do that instead of just campaigning against the test?

Doug Williams: [00:50:04] Because that’s the only thing that works for most people. Most people don’t care. They say, “Well, that’s great. You’re trying to get some legislation passed and all that, but I’m trying to get a job right now and I’m telling the truth and this damn machine won’t let me have the job, so I’ve got to figure out how to control this machine.”

Jordan Harbinger: [00:50:20] I know that the agents who prosecuted you were later removed from their positions at Customs and Border Patrol because — was it because they were spending time investigating you instead of investigating complaints against other officers?

Doug Williams: [00:50:31] Yeah. They had over a hundred of them that just didn’t ever get investigated. They spent all their time and energy investigating me. 100 different federal agents, 30 different federal agencies. Hell, they had all the names of people that got my training. They were sending them out all over the government to all the different agencies that were represented there. And then the other agencies were saying, “Man, we don’t want to know about all this. Who cares what — and plus these people got a right to privacy. What are you talking about? So what are you going to do? You’re going to send out the name of everybody bought this book and what are we going to do about that, then?” They got all mad at the Customs and Border Patrol guys for doing it in the first place and removed them from their position and all that. And then the one that was the main guy in charge, he ended up in DC and then gave him plenty of time to lobby with the public integrity section of the justice department to talk them into coming after me, which of course they did.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:51:22] So how do we finally get rid of the polygraph? How do you see this ending?

Doug Williams: [00:51:27] Oh no, I think the best thing to do it would be to throw Doug Williams in prison. I’ll say, this solves the problem. Of course, throw his ass in prison and prohibit him for another three years after that from any form of polygraph-related activity. Well, hell, we’re safe then! The country is in good hands. Oh, wait a minute now. Doug Williams is, I’ve got to finish his supervised release in about nine months, so do you suppose he’s going to have a big grand opening for the polygraph test preparation and training? Maybe this adds a little bit of intensity or whatever to that motion to see if perhaps we should investigate whether or not we’re wasting a lot of money relying on this last vestige of witchcraft to protect our national security and the integrity of the criminal justice system. Maybe Doug’s right. They threw him in prison for it, so he must be right. Plus to prevent him from starting business up in just a few short months, maybe we should investigate this. Mr. Inspector General from the DHS, you’ve already investigated the guys behind Operation Lie Busters. Would you bring us up-to-date on your reporting? Oh, wait a second. These are the same ones that were behind this prosecution of Doug. I thought you put a stop to that when you removed them from their positions with the CBP? But evidently not. Oh well, we’ll see how it all comes out but I haven’t found my motion yet because I’m about half scared to cause for fear of them coming back and no telling what all they can do to you anymore. You can’t make up a story about the United States federal government that is so bad that I would not believe it.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:53:01] Doug, thank you so much. This is enlightening. I didn’t know the test was one, so easily manipulated and two, so basic in so many ways. It’s a little scary and it’s really a shame how many lives can be ruined by something as subjective as a polygraph with absolutely no recourse.

Doug Williams: [00:53:19] That is a shame indeed.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:53:21] Thank you very much for your time and for your candor and for fighting for something you believe in so strongly.

Doug Williams: [00:53:26] Well, thank you for letting me say my piece, Jordan.

Jordan Harbinger: [00:53:32] Big thank you to Doug for coming out today. A lot of you might be wondering why isn’t what the government did to him — putting him in prison — a violation of his right to free speech? Well, teaching these techniques isn’t free speech because free speech has to be public and have a broader value. And I know you can argue like, “Well, look, he’s showing that this test doesn’t work in national security,” but what he did that was a crime — according to the court — once you’re training someone one to one, supposedly for purposes of defrauding someone, and that’s what the government was going to show here, you’re aiding and abetting a crime. That’s different. So if he was teaching this on the Internet only to a wide platform of people and saying, “This shows how the test is flawed,” that’s proof. But once you’ve got people in your kitchen taking a polygraph, and you’re teaching them how to beat it for purposes of getting a job with Customs and Border Patrol, you’re not showing the world the test is invalid. You’re showing maybe one person that it is, but you’re also training that one person to defeat the test in order to get a job and possibly commit crimes. I know what some of you are probably thinking, and I can’t say I disagree, but I also understand why he was put in prison and also it sounded like his legal defense was completely incompetent. I think he should’ve gotten parole for this. I honestly think that they did come after him because he embarrassed the wrong people, if you want my two cents. In any case, links to his stuff will be on the website in the show notes.

[00:54:59] Also in the show notes, there are worksheets for each episode, so you can review what you’ve learned today here from Doug. We also have transcripts for each episode, and those can be found in the show notes as well. I’m teaching you how to connect with great people and manage relationships using systems and tiny habits over at our Six-Minute Networking course, which is free over at Now don’t kick the can down the road and procrastinate on this whole thing. The number one mistake I see people make is not digging the well before they get thirsty. Once you need relationships, you’re kind of late in the game to make them, you’ve got to start from scratch. Procrastination leads to stagnation when it comes to your network. That’s true for personal or business reasons and these drills take freaking five minutes a day. Quit crying. I wish I knew this stuff 20 years ago. It’s not fluff. It is crucial and it’s all free at And most of the guests on the show, they subscribe to the course and the newsletter, so come and join us, you’ll be in smart company. In fact, why not reach out to Doug? Tell him you enjoyed this episode of the show. Show guests love hearing from you, and you never know what might shake out of that. Speaking of building relationships, you can always reach out and find me on social @JordanHarbinger on both Twitter and Instagram.

[00:56:09] This show is created in association with PodcastOne. This episode was produced by Jen Harbinger and Jason DeFillippo, and our engineer is Jase Sanderson, show notes and worksheets are by Robert Fogarty, music by Evan Viola. I’m your host Jordan Harbinger. Our advice and opinions, and those of our guests are their own. And yes, I’m a lawyer, but I’m not your lawyer, so do your own research before implementing anything you hear on the show. Remember, we rise by lifting others. The fee for the show is that you share it with friends when you find something useful or interesting, that should be in every episode. Please share the show with those you love and even those you don’t. In the meantime, do your best to apply what you hear on the show, so you can live what you listen, and we’ll see you next time.

[00:56:51] For those of you who are interested in going to prison with me on February 26, 2020. I am going to bring a bunch of you to an educational program for prisoners at their graduation, so it’s a big deal for them. This is such a life-changing and fascinating event. I have a little bit of additional details. I’m going to be emailing the interest list about this. You can get on the interest list by emailing me at it’s going to be February 26 near Lake Tahoe, so kind of near Nevada, kind of near California. This is a unique event that Hustle 2.0 has never done in the past, but I’ve done the prison thing before. We’re not winging that registration is open right now to a limited number of people. It’s going to be around a thousand. We’re trying to get it below that. That provides a 12-month scholarship to one incarcerated student enrolled in Hustle 2.0 at High Desert Prison. We don’t get any kickbacks. Don’t worry. You’re going to have to, of course, travel out there and stuff, but I’m going to make this affordable. You get details by emailing and I can’t wait to meet all of you behind bars.

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