Polygraph examiner: It's standard to ask your client two questions

Worth noting, given today’s testimony by Christine Blasey Ford on her polygraph exam, and the surprise of others that it only consisted of two questions. According to the man hired by Ford’s attorneys to administer the polygraph exam, that’s exactly what he’s supposed to do with alleged victims, especially when they’re clients. “You don’t give polygraph tests to victims, you represent victims,” former FBI polygrapher Jerry Hanafin told Shannon Bream last night on Fox News.  “You believe them unless you have some corroborating evidence you don’t believe.”

Doesn’t that negate the purpose of a polygraph? Hanafin says no:

Perhaps this is standard operating procedure for conducting friendly polygraphs, especially when dealing with clients, but that doesn’t make them very reliable. When law enforcement conducts polygraphs to establish credibility of non-clients, they don’t just stick to two questions; they ask specific and repetitive questions to test for signs of deception. That is what gives polygraphs the limited credibility and facility they have.

Even if one accepts Hanafin’s claim that it’s SOP to test each claim with only two questions, there are a series of claims within this allegation that should have been tested. In fact, there were discrepancies between the two letters Ford wrote detailing the allegation, plus other significant discrepancies that became known later. Testing those discrepancies in a polygraph might have been very telling, but that’s not what Hanafin was hired to do. He’s there to represent a client. That doesn’t make Hanafin dishonest — in fact, he’s honestly sticking to his duty as part of Ford’s legal team to present her in the best possible light. And he’s being honest with Bream here about his role, too.

That’s the important point to remember whenever anyone claims to be telling the truth based on a polygraph administered by interested parties. Hanafin wasn’t brought in to broadcast “the truth,” but to provide an argument that his client is credible. Mission accomplished, mainly because people continue to (a) overvalue the effectiveness of polygraphs and (b) misunderstand them as a scientific process. If nothing else, perhaps this will teach us a few lessons about the reliability of polygraphs and the ease in which they can be manipulated.

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