- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 14, 2001

Barry Colvert, the 35-year FBI veteran hired to give Rep. Gary A. Condit a polygraph test, has won national acclaim as a lie-detector expert — even teaching others to give the test.
He served as the bureau's primary polygraph examiner for more than 16 years, until his retirement in 1997. His cases have included successful findings of lying by spies John Walker, Jonathan Pollard and Aldrich Ames. He also testified in the only federal prosecution of a defendant indicted for murder in which the victim's body was never found.
Mr. Colvert was hired by Mr. Condit's attorney, Abbe Lowell, to administer the test. The Washington lawyer yesterday said the California congressman passed, with the test showing his client had nothing to do with Chandra Levy's disappearance, did not harm her or cause anyone else to harm her, and did not know where she could be found.
But federal authorities and others warned yesterday that despite the competence of the polygraph examiner, the tests are not always conclusive — even when others are allowed to review the raw data from individual tests, as Mr. Lowell has offered.
They said tests sometimes are questioned because examination interpretations are subjective, and because different people react differently to lying. They said the tests are not perfect and that the machines can be fooled.
Frank Horvath, criminal justice professor at Michigan State University and past president of the American Polygraph Association, said polygraph tests are used by lawyers for their advantage.
He said he assumed that to be true in the Condit test.
"Lawyers usually go through an independent examiner before they allow police to test their clients," Mr. Horvath said. "If they pass, everyone in the world knows about the outcome. If they don't, no one knows an exam was given; they say they are unreliable and try to not let it be introduced into evidence. It is unfortunate, but it happens."
Even if a client passes a polygraph test, Mr. Horvath said the questions asked must be considered, along with who administered the test, and under what conditions.
He said polygraph test accuracy is also debatable, adding that most professionals believe the tests have between a 70 percent and 90 percent accuracy rate.
"No one disagrees that it works. Where there is disagreement is over how well does it work and under what conditions," he said.
The federal sources also noted that it is unusual for the person conducting a polygraph test not to have consulted with police before the examination, as in Mr. Condit's test.
In 1998, based on the findings of a lie-detector test conducted by Mr. Colvert, former Teamsters President Ron Carey denied under oath before a union watchdog agency any wrongdoing regarding suspected fraud in his re-election campaign.
Mr. Carey swore he never embezzled any money from the union to help finance his campaign and knew nothing of a scheme to do so. Mr. Colvert said at the time Mr. Carey had passed his test with flying colors and there were no "indications of deception."
A year later Mr. Carey was indicted on charges of perjury and making false statements during the investigation of his re-election, and currently faces a federal trial. He was ousted as president of the union after court-appointed investigators determined he was guilty of "extraordinarily serious misconduct" and had lied concerning his knowledge of the scheme.
The goal of a polygraph test is to determine whether a person is telling the truth or lying when answering certain questions. Law enforcement authorities said a polygraph operator attaches four to six sensors to a person during the test, which records signals from the body on a single strip of moving paper.
The sensors, authorities said, usually record the person's breathing rate, pulse, blood pressure and perspiration.
After asking a series of three or four simple questions to establish the norm for a person's sensor readings, the polygraph operator will then focus on the questions pertinent to the inquiry. During questioning, the person's signals are recorded on the moving paper.
A significant change in a person's vital signs — faster heart rate, higher blood pressure, increased perspiration — are indications that the person is lying, although that determination is often subject to speculation and the operator's ability.

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