Much of the trouble we have in peace time and in war, in politics and in business ventures, is due to talented and ruthless liars. It looks like we may finally have a technological way to effectively deal with them.

Image credit: NoLieMRI

Written by Dagny D'Anconia

Monday 13 February 2008

It seems we have been fighting an ever rising tide of ruthless world class criminals and deceivers in positions of wealth and power. Joel Wade has said my articles "give him the willies". I agree. No matter who is elected President, he will have to deal with rogue intelligence agencies, dishonest appointees, corrupt politicians, and outright traitors.

Well, here is some good news for once. A new technology is being brought into use that has the potential to revolutionize crime fighting, political battles, intelligence gathering, the war on Islamofascism ... nearly everything that matters to us.

When Jack Wheeler disclosed it way back in October, 2001, in Interrogating Osama, the technology was in its infancy. Now it is commercially available.

For centuries, people have wished for a reliable lie detector. Polygraphs have about a 60% success rate - so unreliable they have been excluded from courts of law and have only limited use. High definition thermal imaging, voice stress analysis and facial microexpression are about equally unreliable.

The problem with these technologies is that they look at physical attributes of mental processes. While people can learn to control their blood pressure, heart rate, breathing, and galvanic skin response, it is a lot harder and likely impossible to control the mental act of lying itself.

Fortunately it is now possible to watch the mental process of lying itself using Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging or fMRI.

Lying is a mental act in two main parts: Deciding not to tell the truth, and deciding to tell a lie. When those portions of the brain are active, there is increased blood flow there, and the blood flow has a magnetic resonance signal that can be detected. Thus with fMRI these two lie events can be observed. The accuracy is reported to be 80-96% - and likely to improve as the technology is further developed.

Two competing companies are currently selling lie detection fMRI services: No Lie MRI in Tarzana California, and Cephos in Pepperell Mass. They are providing their services and competing against each other.

California entrepreneur Joel T. Huizenga says that his No Lie MRI Inc. will serve government agencies and "anybody who wants to demonstrate that they're telling the truth. "Veracity Sciences is a division of No Lie MRI, Inc. focusing on developing implementation and application of No Lie MRI software for use by the U.S. military, government agencies, law enforcement agencies, and foreign governments.

Currently many government agencies use the discredited polygraph methods for lack of anything better. Agencies currently using polygraphs are the Justice Department, Department of Defense, Department of Homeland Security, Department of Energy, Treasury Department, and the Intelligence Community. Yet there is interest in the fMRI technology:

"The Pentagon has supported research into high-tech lie detection, including the use of fMRI. The major scientific papers in the field were funded, in part, by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, which develops new technologies for military use, and by the Department of Defense Polygraph Institute, which trains lie-detection experts at Fort Jackson, South Carolina. (The Polygraph Institute underwent a name change in January -- it's now the Defense Academy for Credibility Assessment -- apparently in deference to new technologies such as fMRI.)"

Although both companies are pursuing a range of customers, Cephos seems to be more oriented toward civil cases. CEO Steven Laken says "There are some thirty-five million criminal and civil cases filed in the U.S. every year. About twenty million are criminal cases. So let's just say that you never even do a criminal case -- well, that still leaves roughly fifteen million for us to go after. Some you exclude, but you end up with several million cases that are high stakes: two people arguing about things that are important."

Not everyone will be in favor of this technology. Those who make their living by lying may be particularly set against it. Legal battles to try to kill the technology may be ahead. Some consider the fMRI to be too intrusive and a violation of privacy:

Last June, the ACLU filed several Freedom of Information Act requests in an attempt to learn more about the government's involvement with the technology. Chris Calabrese, an ACLU lawyer, said that the CIA would neither "confirm nor deny" that it is investigating fMRI applications; the Pentagon produced PowerPoint presentations identifying brain scans as a promising new technology for lie detection.

Calabrese went on, "We were motivated by the fact that there are companies trying to sell this technology to the government. This Administration has a history of using questionable techniques of truth verification."

A real lie detector (or truth verifier as some like to call it) would be a wonder for the rule of law, but a disaster for the legal profession. If all a person has to do is answer the questions and the matter is settled, then a lot of lawyers would be out of work. There are many applications:

Unfaithful spouses, hidden assets in a divorce, murder, rape, theft, insurance investigations... Much of the legal profession would be rendered irrelevant. But getting rid of some lawyers and improving the functioning of the legal system is only the potential beginning.

Imagine presidential debates where we could see which candidate would be willing to answer relevant questions under fMRI and which would not. Would the results be more effective in swaying voters' opinions than a pile of political advertising? Would political criminals like the Clintons not even bother to run for office?

After all, Hillary has said, "You can look inside my mouth if you want." Why not then her brain?

Consider how it could impact our foreign relations. What if Nancy Pelosi was challenged about her ties to the PKK? What if we could identify moles in our own government. What if we could ask people in the Iraqi government about their ties to insurgents and about who they are really working for?

The whole debate about torture of detainees would be rendered antiquated and irrelevant. If they say they are innocent, and are willing to undergo fMRI to prove it, they would be let free.

Another possibility is the use of incentives to get terrorist suspects to break - both positive and negative such as waterboarding. The fMRI would then be used to verify they are not playing us.

In addition, it could be used in a more terrifying way as an adjunct to torture/interrogation as Jack suggested back in Interrogating Osama.

Consider some of the high profile cases of abusive prosecution: The Duke lacrosse case would have ended before it began if this technology were employed. Those who are innocent on death row would be freed, and the guilt of those left behind on the row would be assured. It would change the whole death penalty debate. The justice system which is currently clogged and dysfunctional might work a lot better.

Our military personnel who are accused of a crime could be vindicated if innocent instead of subjected to media harassment, trial, and risk of imprisonment. No longer would our foreign policy be held hostage to claims from enemy liars.

The same benefit applies to shutting down enemy liars in the US including many Democrats in the "Culture of Corruption" scheme. Republicans threatened with costly lawsuits by Democrats could put an end to the abusive prosecution and frivolous but devastating lawsuits.

There should be a fMRI machine made available 24-7 in the White House. Wouldn't it be interesting to see who dares who to answer questions about their personal sources of funding, their loyalties, and their contacts. Bye-bye leaks - and large weasel factions of the CIA. It could be part of the standard vetting process for secure positions.

The exam is like an MRI. The first 5 minutes is used to position the person properly. The next 5 minutes is involved in mapping the brain anatomy. Then questions appear on a screen and the person presses a yes or no button. Images are sent to the company (No Lie MRI or Cephos) via internet and analyzed there with their proprietary software.

For No Lie MRI, the turn around is real-time. For Cephos, it is anticipated to be printed out and sent to the indicated person. In Cephos's case, they are targeting civil cases and the data would be sent to the requesting attorney. An attorney would order the test and be sent it, much like a physician orders a regular MRI tests.

It costs $30.00 a minute for a No Lie MRI, with a session expected to cost about $1,800. Given what could be at stake, it is a small price to pay.

There are limitations. A person has to lie still for the duration of the examination and press buttons. Thus it is inherently voluntary. A terrorist could not be forced to lie still or push buttons (unless you use Jack's methods!), but it could verify he was telling the truth if he did agree to cooperate.

fMRI lie detection still needs to be tested on a wider range of people - professional liars, brain damaged people, the very young and the elderly, etc. Research is no doubt ongoing, but now that it is a commercial venture and patents are filed, much of the research may be kept in house. Thus additional support form the academic community may be scarce. However, some very respected names in the field are already associated with each of the companies.

Much of the trouble we have in peace time and in war, in politics and in business ventures, is due to talented and ruthless liars. It looks like we may finally have a technological way to effectively deal with them.

The truth shall make you free...



By the way, I do not have any financial interest in either Cephos or No Lie MRI.