Tag Archives: Computer Voice Stress Analyzer

Government Funds Program to Develop Voice Stress-Based Vetting Technology Despite Fact Technology Already Exists

Would it surprise you to learn the federal government has been spending millions of dollars to develop a voice stress-based credibility-assessment technology to vet foreign individuals seeking entry into the United States from places like Syria? Hardly. But it might surprise you to learn the money has been spent despite the fact that kind of technology already exists and has proven itself over and over again in places like Afghanistan, Iraq and Guantanamo Bay.

AVATAR – University of Arizona BORDERS Program

AVATAR – University of Arizona BORDERS Program

During an exhaustive four-year investigation of the federal government’s use of credibility-assessment technologies, including the polygraph, I found numerous individuals — most of whom worked with or for government agencies — eager to disparage the idea that one can detect deception by measuring stress in the human voice. Toward the end of my investigation, I learned about a government-funded effort at the University of Arizona to develop a voice stress-based technology despite the fact such a technology already exists and has proven itself to the point that more state and local law enforcement agencies use it than use the polygraph.

Slightly modified with the addition of links in place of footnotes for stand-alone publication, details of my brief electronic exchanges with a man involved in the aforementioned research at the U of A appear below as excerpted from my second nonfiction book, The Clapper Memo:

Click image above to order a copy of The Clapper Memo.

Click image above to order a copy of The Clapper Memo.

If, as polygraph loyalists have claimed for decades, it is not possible to detect stress in the human voice, then why have so many taxpayer dollars been dedicated to pairing the study of the human voice with credibility-assessment technologies?

Seeking an answer to that question, I contacted Jay F. Nunamaker, Ph.D. and lead researcher at the National Center for Border Security and Immigration  (a.k.a., “BORDERS”) at the University of Arizona in Tucson.  In reply to my inquiry August 6, 2012, Dr. Nunamaker shared details about the project.

He began by explaining that the program has received funding from several sources, including — but not limited to — the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA), the National Science Foundation (NSF), and no fewer than three branches of the U.S. military.

Next, he described the history of the project.

“We started down this path to develop a non-intrusive, non-invasive next-generation polygraph about 10 years ago with funding from the Polygraph Institute at Ft. Jackson,” he wrote.

Ten years?

If, per Dr. Nunamaker, the effort began 10 years ago at Polygraph Headquarters, that means it got its start at about the same time the 2003 National Research Council report, “The Polygraph and Lie Detection,” was published and offered, among other things, that the majority of 57 research studies touted by the American Polygraph Association were “unreliable, unscientific and biased.”

In a message August 31, 2012, Dr. Nunamaker offered more details about his research.

“The UA team has created an Automated Virtual Agent for Truth Assessment in Real-Time (AVATAR) that uses an embodied conversational agent–an animated human face backed by biometric sensors and intelligent agents–to conduct interviews,” he explained.  “It is currently being used at the Nogales, Mexico-U.S. border and is designed to detect changes in arousal, behavior and cognitive effort that may signal stress, risk or credibility.”

In the same message, Dr. Nunamaker pointed me to a then-recent article in which the AVATAR system was described as one that uses “speech recognition and voice-anomaly-detection software” to flag certain exchanges “as questionable and worthy of follow-up interrogation.”

Those exchanges, according to the article, “are color coded green, yellow or red to highlight the potential severity of questionable responses.”  Ring familiar?

Further into the article, reporter Larry Greenemeier relied upon Aaron Elkins, a post-doctoral researcher who helped develop the system, to provide an explanation of how anomaly detection is employed by AVATAR.

After stating that it is based on vocal characteristics, Elkins explained a number of ways in which a person’s voice might tip the program.  One of his explanations was particularly interesting.

“The kiosk’s speech recognition software monitors the content of an interviewee’s answers and can flag a response indicating when, for example, a person acknowledges having a criminal record.”

Elkins clarified his views further during an interview eight days later.

“I will stress that is a very large leap to say that they’re lying…or what they’re saying is untrue — but what it does is draw attention that there is something going on,” he said.  At the end of that statement, reporter Som Lisaius added seven words — precisely the intent behind any credibility assessment — with which I’m certain every [sic] Computer Voice Stress Analyzer® examiner I’ve interviews during the past four years would agree.

To even the most-impartial observer, Elkins’ explanations confirm beyond a shadow of a doubt that BORDERS researchers believe stress can be detected in the voice utterances of individuals facing real-life jeopardy.

NOTE:  Though I tried twice between August 2012 and February 2013 to find out from officials at the BORDERS program how much funding they have received from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and all other sources since the inception of the program, I received no replies to my inquiries.

To learn more about why federal government agencies are funding this kind of research despite the fact a polygraph replacement already exists and has proven itself in a wide range of applications, one must understand that a technological “turf war” is to blame and has been raging silently for more than 40 years.  Details of that turf war can be found inside The Clapper Memo.

It comes highly recommended. ORDER A COPY TODAY!

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Missouri’s Justice Problems Extend Beyond Municipal Courts

EDITOR’S NOTE: Especially in the St. Louis metropolitan area, the state of Missouri’s municipal court system has been in the news a lot lately — see here and here — for all the wrong reasons. The state’s family court system, however, has not received nearly as much attention; therefore, I decided to fill the void.

Family_Court_Nightmares_Logo

Largely due to the almost-nonexistent news coverage about it, family court was a place foreign to me until a few years ago when, at the request of a friend, I attended a child-custody hearing involving a thirty-something couple who had recently battled their way through a messy divorce.

In this case, the husband seemed to hold all of the cards: he owned a thriving business; he coached youth sports; and he was perceived by many as a pillar in the community. His stay-at-home-mom wife, on the other hand, handled the equally important but often-overlooked responsibilities associated with caring for the couple’s many stair-step children, bi-products of a decade of wedlock. Financially speaking, however, she contributed nothing tangible to the family’s bottom line.

During the morning portion of the hearing, I sat quietly in the back row of a Saint Louis-area courtroom, taking notes and not speaking with anyone in the courtroom. Seated a few rows in front of me were two women, one of whom I determined to be the wife and the other her friend. Across the center aisle that separated the two seating sections and functioned as a kind of subliminal barrier between the litigants, the husband sat amidst a small group of people that included members of his side of the family and friends.

After what turned out to be an uneventful ninety-minute session, a midday break afforded each person inside the courtroom to take a break and grab something to eat, breathe some fresh air and/or take a restroom break. Some may have taken advantage of several items on the unofficial menu of opportunities.

Upon entering the courtroom after the break, I noticed the wife’s female friend had been replaced by another for the afternoon session and that the two had taken my back-row spot on the left side of the gallery seating. Because I preferred to sit with my back near a wall, I relocated to a back-row seat on the other side of the room, two rows behind the husband and his group.

Several minutes passed and, after apparently growing tired of waiting for the judge and the attorneys to return to the courtroom, the wife and her second friend decided to step into the hallway outside the courtroom. Soon after their departure, time and curiosity seemed to get the best of the husband, and he turned to face me.

“You’re not a private investigator, are you?” he asked, seemingly unconcerned about how odd the question seemed in light of allegations made against him by the mother of his children.

“None of your business,” I replied, prompting a chorus of hoots and howls—as well as some well-placed glares—from members of the husband’s group.

A few more minutes passed, and the husband’s snappy-dressed lead attorney—a man of average height and above-average girth—exited the judge’s chambers and walked back into the courtroom. The husband approached the attorney and engaged him in muffled conversation during which both cast suspicious glances in my direction. Those glances were followed a few seconds later by a bluster of high drama.

The animated attorney came barreling down the center of the courtroom, walking directly toward me and speaking loud enough so that everyone in the room—and, perhaps, everyone in the courthouse—could hear.

“Are you harassing my client?!” he bellowed.

Before I could respond to his obvious intimidation tactic, the attorney shouted again, this time toward the bailiff seated behind his desk near the front of the courtroom and only a few feet from the judge’s now-empty bench.

“Bailiff, this man’s harassing my client and following him around! Can we have him removed?!”

Before waiting for the bailiff to respond, I spoke loudly in an attempt to defuse the situation and rebut the attorney’s false and malicious claims.

I told the bailiff the attorney’s allegations were absurd, that I had not made any attempt to harass his client and that I had had good reason to change seats—which I explained to him—during the break.

Perhaps smelling a rat in the attorney’s grandstanding, the bailiff did not have me escorted out of the courtroom. Instead, he simply asked me to move to the other side of the aisle and to refrain from interacting with anyone in the court room.

While the husband’s attorney had succeeded in creating a scene, he had also succeeded in creating a great deal of doubt in the minds of everyone inside the courtroom who was not an officer of the court or a supporter of his client—me.

Did his well-to-do, college-educated business owner client, who coached youth sports teams and donated money to charities for abused children, deserve any key role in the lives of his children? After observing the attorney’s courtroom antics, I was leaning against his client. Then I interviewed his client’s wife.

In graphic detail, she alleged, the man she had married ten years earlier had sexually molested several of their children during the previous decade. She also told me how he had once confided in her the details of how he, as a child growing up in a neighboring state, had suffered sexual molestation at the hands of his adoptive parents.

After catching him in the act of sexually molesting one of their children, she waited until he had gone to work the next day and then fled. She took her children to a shelter for abused women in a nearby community. When he learned what she had done, he immediately transferred the bulk of the money in their joint bank accounts to one over which he had sole control. Then he hired the high-priced attorney whose courtroom antics I described earlier.

In an effort to prove to others that she was telling the truth about her husband, the woman subjected herself to an exam conducted by a state-certified examiner using the Computer Voice Stress Analyzer, the same non-polygraph credibility assessment technology highlighted in my second nonfiction book, The Clapper Memo (May 2013), and featured prominently in my first crime-fiction thriller, The National Bet (November 2014).
Based on the results of her CVSA exam, the examiner determined she was not being deceptive when she answered key questions about the allegations she had made against the man who is now her ex-husband.

When the woman tried to show the results of the exam to the family court judge overseeing the custody case, the judge dismissed them out of hand and, in doing so, ignored the fact the man who had administered the exam — while acting in his capacity as a private business owner — was a full-time employee of the State of Missouri whose job description included conducting CVSA exams on a regular basis as part of state-sanctioned criminal investigations.

Perhaps, the judge was unaware CVSA technology had been used successfully by Defense Intelligence Agency officials to interrogate members of Saddam Hussein’s inner circle (a.k.a., “The Deck of Cards”) as well as detainees at Guantanamo Bay. And maybe he was unaware CVSA technology is used by several states to periodically monitor convicted sex offenders. Sure, it’s possible he’s ignorant about the existence of the technology; however, based upon what I’ve learned about the family court system in Missouri since the courtroom episode described above, I think that’s an extremely remote possibility.

Adding insult to injury, the judge went on to give the father equal custody of the couple’s children in what is known as five-two-five custody arrangement. That means the alleged the alleged child molester was given unfettered access to them two days every week and four days every other week. As far as I know, he’ll continue to have such access until caught by indisputable video evidence or eyewitness testimony and convicted by a court — and a judge — willing to act on the evidence.

The words above will appear as the preface in my upcoming third nonfiction book about another Family Court case I’ve followed for more than five years. It’s a story to which I’ve applied the same journalistic skills that prompted David P. Schippers to describe my second nonfiction book, The Clapper Memo, as representing perhaps the most thorough investigative reporting I have encountered in years.” For those not familiar with Schippers, this might help: he served as the U.S. House of Representatives’ chief investigative counsel during the impeachment of President Bill Clinton.

For links to other articles of interest as well as photos and commentary, join me on Facebook and Twitter.  Please show your support by buying my books and encouraging your friends and loved ones to do the same.  To learn how to order signed copies, click here. Thanks in advance!

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Most of the Great People I Met in Orlando Were Cops

Police officers across the country have received a lot of negative attention in the press in recent months, but I’m not going to add to it here. Why? Because I met some of the most interesting and dedicated people in the world Monday and Tuesday in Orlando, and most of them were law enforcement professionals of one type or another.

Chad Jeansonne (center) received the 2014 James L. Chapman Award for Excellence Tuesday from the National Association of Computer Voice Stress Analysts. Shown with him are previous award recipients Marigo Stathis and Bob McCarty.

Chad Jeansonne (center) received the 2014 James L. Chapman Award for Excellence Tuesday from the National Association of Computer Voice Stress Analysts. Shown with him are previous award recipients Marigo Stathis and Bob McCarty.

I met approximately 80 of them after traveling to the Central Florida city to speak Tuesday afternoon during the 2015 CVSA Advanced Examiners Conference at Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort. Most represented law enforcement, corrections and other agencies from across the United States as well as Canada, Mexico and a handful of other countries, but all were familiar with the non-polygraph credibility assessment technology known as the Computer Voice Stress Analyzer — or CVSA. Why? Because they are experts in conducting CVSA exams as part of criminal investigations, pre-employment screenings and efforts to monitor certain types of parolees, including sex offenders.

After I spoke for about 45 minutes on the CVSA-related subject matter of my second nonfiction book, The Clapper Memo (May 2013), I think they learned even more.

Following my presentation, one CVSA examiner received an award.

Bunkie (La.) Police Detective Chad Jeansonne received the 2014 Professor James L. Chapman Award for Excellence from the National Association of Computer Voice Stress Analysts. Named after a man recognized as the world’s foremost expert on the use of voice stress analysis before he passed away unexpectedly in April 2012, the award is given annual to an individual recognized for “Excellence in Research and Contributing to the Worldwide Body of Knowledge Concerning Voice Stress Analysis.”

In the photo above, Detective Jeansonne is flanked by yours truly and by Marigo Stathis, the neuroscientist from Baltimore who worked with Professor Chapman to complete his groundbreaking CVSA study shortly before he died.

Jeansonne is one of the many CVSA examiners I interviewed by phone during the four-year investigation that preceded the book’s release, so meeting him in person was nice.

In addition to Jeansonne, however, I also met several other individuals in person for the first time after interviewing them years earlier about their experiences as CVSA examiners. They included: Mike DeFrancisco, a fire/arson investigator from Columbus, Ohio; Bill Endler, one of the most-experienced CVSA examiners and instructors in the world; and Stathis.

Among the many others I met were two Canadians, Don Wiebe, one of the world’s leading interview and interrogation experts, and his business partner Bob Wall, a highly-decorated interview and interrogation expert with more than 30 years experience. I also Mike McQuillan, a retired Prince George’s County, Md., homicide detective who now serves as a CVSA instructor.

Of course, there were others. At the end of my two-day tripe, however, I can assure you I will share many more CVSA-related stories in the not-too-distant future, thanks largely to the folks named above. So stay tuned!

The only downside of the Orlando trip involved returning to the St. Louis area this morning to find the temperature in low double-digits.

Weather Comparison 1-7-2015

Returning to the St. Louis area from Orlando required getting used to what felt like a 71-degree difference in temperatures.

To learn more about The Clapper Memo, order a copy today!

UPDATE 4/19/2015 at 1:23 p.m. Central: Check out the limited-time free-books offer here.

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Nonfiction Book Excerpt: ‘Truckloads of Bad Guys’

EDITOR’S NOTE:  Slightly modified for stand-alone publication, the excerpt below from Chapter Six: ‘Truckloads of Bad Guys’ of my second nonfiction book, The Clapper Memo, provides insight into how one non-polygraph technology repeatedly proved its value to warfighters in ways polygraph technology simply has not.

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While serving in countries like Afghanistan, Iraq, Kuwait and Qatar, “Joe,” a member of an Army Special Forces Group (SFG) trained in counterintelligence and as an interrogator, used the Computer Voice Stress Analyzer (CVSA) to interrogate various types of people. Among those he questioned were third-country nationals (TCNs) seeking employment at U.S. bases, captured enemy combatants and others deemed to pose possible threats to U.S. and allied troops.

Regularly working 18-hour days during a five-year period beginning in 2004, Joe used CVSA to conduct nearly 500 interrogations — more than any other individual in the U.S. military and nearly half of the total number of exams conducted by Army SFGs during that time period.

Following his retirement from the Army, Joe spoke with me about his firsthand experiences with CVSA on the condition I not reveal his real name. After I agreed to his terms, he shared four true stories.

The first story Joe shared had to do with an old building in the Baghdad area to which Special Forces (SF) operators brought detainees upon returning from a mission. Known as “The Barn,” it got its name, Joe said, by virtue of the fact it had several rooms that looked something like horse stalls.

Located in the same neighborhood as the facility housing the Iraqi Special Operations Forces (ISOF — a.k.a., “Iraqi Commandos”) — and members of the U.S. Special Operations Forces (SOF) from all branches of the military, The Barn operated like a police station in many ways, Joe said. It had a booking room, evidence room, holding cells and interview rooms, thanks largely to doors being added to the stalls to provide some degree of privacy when SF operators brought detainees to the facility.

Joe and his colleagues had to be very careful there, he said, because “as the lawyers got involved in this deal and the more time went on, it was more like trying to convict somebody in court than it was to pull a terrorist off the street, or a bad guy off the street.”

Part of being “careful” involved providing medical treatment.

“The doc would check ‘em out, (because) they got banged up a little bit whenever we came to get ‘em,” he continued. “They would address all (of) their wounds and stuff like that.

“We could hold ‘em there up to a couple of days before we had to make a decision on whether to transfer to our detainee facility, go to (Camp) Cropper, release to the Iraqis, so forth and so on. There were about five different ways we could go with them from that area.”

That was the first place where they used CVSA to interview detainees, he said, adding that they often had “truckloads of bad guys” coming in there and only two counterintelligence or two human intelligence (HUMINT) agents there to handle the load.

“When you’re trying to figure out how not to cut the bad guy loose and keep the good guy in custody, CVSA was an invaluable tool,” Joe said, explaining that CVSA enabled them to answer questions such as, “Do we have the right guy sitting in this cell?”

“We would get their initial statement when we brought them in,” he said. “Then we would come back a day or two later with the CVSA and vet that story.

“We weren’t determining guilt or innocence,” he continued. “What we were determining was, ‘Does this guy need any further work or warrant any further effort on our part to try and extract any intelligence from him?’”

Though he was involved in bringing detainees in from target sites, Joe noted that military intelligence people processed detainees through, got their initial stories and so forth.

“I didn’t want to be involved with the processing of them, because I would run into them again later if they were to be developed into a source; then I would run them for further targeting.

“So I didn’t want them to know who I was. I was just some dude with a mask that came to their house. They didn’t have any clue who I was in case I had to meet them later in a different capacity.”

Upon detecting my interest in his stories about happenings at The Barn, Joe made a point of clearing up some of the lies circulating in the press about mistreatment of detainees by U.S. forces.

“The very first thing that they get after they come in and they get their photos — and, of course, we make sure that they’re absolutely clean for our own safety — (is) they go to their stalls, they’re given water, the Iraqi soldiers feed ‘em Iraqi food,” he said. “They’re able to be escorted to the bathroom, they’re no longer blindfolded, the whole deal.”

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Click image above to read more, including several endorsements, about the book.

As for the rumors that inspection teams were not being allowed into the facility because detainees were being beaten there, Joe said The Barn wasn’t inspected because it was a holding facility for further transfer and, as such, wasn’t subject to inspection.

The reason they were successful at getting information from detainees wasn’t because they tortured them, he explained, it was because they did the opposite as a condition for using CVSA with success.

“I couldn’t even put a number to the man-hours CVSA has saved me,” Joe said. “There’s no way to check or vet or verify any information in a country where every ID is fake, all the government systems are down, people who are enrolling in government systems aren’t enrolling under true names in case (someone) ever digs up their old names — you know, they’re trying to get a new start at life.

“There’s just no way to check anything over there other than some type of truth-verification system.”

On more than one occasion, Joe said, CVSA played a direct role in saving American and Iraqi soldiers’ lives.

On one such occasion, Joe used CVSA to help identify an infiltrator.

“We were getting ready to hit a target,” Joe said. “It was a time-sensitive target.”

Joe explained that two Iraqi brothers were playing key roles in the operation. One was with Joe and his men, while the other was on target with the bad guys and reporting back as to their location, the exact time when a meeting was to take place and when the “good guys” could go in and snatch up some key players on the other side.

While they were waiting, Joe said, a call came in, advising them that the meeting was going to take place in one hour.

“Everybody scrambles, and the only people that knew, up until this briefing, that this was even on the target deck and that these sources existed, were Americans,” Joe explained. “Once we briefed the target to the Iraqi leadership, they broke away and they went and briefed their guys.”

From the time Joe’s team was notified, briefed the Iraqi leadership and released them so they could brief their own guys about the mission, he said, 40 minutes had elapsed.  Then, another phone call came in from the brother working in the enemy camp, Joe said. His message was urgent: “Hey, man, they know you’re coming! They’re hauling ass right now! Somebody called ‘em and told them!”

“So we lock everybody down that had knowledge to that point,” he explained. “When we locked everybody down that had knowledge to that point, you’ve gotta remember, it’s me and another guy that are getting ready to go and investigate this.

“So, we’re sitting there, and they blow this,” Joe said. “At this point, I go to find out who knows, and the pool of individuals who could possibly tip the target was 96 individuals.”

Joe said they decided to lock down all 96 potential turncoats in the conference room at the theater. Working without sleep during the next 48 hours, they “CVSA’d” every one of them, asking if they had attended the briefing or made any unauthorized phone calls.

At the end of that, we had three people that couldn’t clear the charts,” Joe said, “It was the lieutenant colonel, the sergeant major, and his driver.

The only reason the driver was snared, Joe said, was because of the rule that, once the target is called, nobody was supposed to have a cell phone.

“The colonel told the sergeant major to call the people on the target and let him know that we were coming,” Joe explained. “The sergeant major told the driver to go get his phone and bring it to him. The driver didn’t know what he was using it for.

“Basically, we took a 96-man suspect pool, narrowed it down to three individuals, and then confirmed… that the results of the CVSA were correct by breaking those guys in interrogation afterward.”

Despite the fact that thousands of examples like the one above prove CVSA far more accurate and effective than the century-old polygraph as an interrogation tool, the Department of Defense banned its use for the third and final time in 2009. During an exhaustive four-year investigation, I tried to find out why it was banned. I share my findings inside The Clapper Memo.

To read more about Joe’s experience with CVSA and what I uncovered during my investigation, order a copy of The Clapper Memo.

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