Since taking office, Donald Trump has waged a war against the so-called “fake news” media. Trump’s definition of fake news is a bit convoluted, but nearly every outlet that has run stories critical of his administration has earned the moniker at some point. One symptom of Trump’s campaign against the media is his harsh stance against leaking information to the press. While past administrations have taken a more nuanced approach to leaks, Trump frames all leaks as a danger to national security and has praised Attorney General Jeff Sessions for cracking down on White House leaks.
Recently, Sessions announced a new strategy in his war against White House leakers. Axios reports that the Attorney General is considering using a polygraph test to root on members of the National Security Council, as he believes the leaks originate from within the NSC.
Sessions’ plan would be to have interrogators sit down with member of the NCS — there are more than a 100 of them — and ask them questions about the recent leaks regarding transcripts of Trump’s phone conversations with foreign leaders. He chose to focus on those leaks because he believes the pool of people with access to them is small enough that he can manage. Beyond that, it is also likely that this plan, which is a bit extreme, will face less opposition if he goes after the transcript leaks, as even some Democrats feel they should not have leaked those.
However, there is one major flaw with Sessions’ plan. Polygraph tests, commonly known as lie-detectors, are notoriously inaccurate. The American Psychological Association warns that there are “few good studies” that validate polygraph tests. Due to their unreliability, many states do not allow the results of polygraphs to be submitted as evidence in courts.
‘The accuracy (i.e., validity) of polygraph testing has long been controversial. An underlying problem is theoretical: There is no evidence that any pattern of physiological reactions is unique to deception. An honest person may be nervous when answering truthfully and a dishonest person may be non-anxious. Also, there are few good studies that validate the ability of polygraph procedures to detect deception. As Dr. Saxe and Israeli psychologist Gershon Ben-Shahar (1999) note, “it may, in fact, be impossible to conduct a proper validity study.” In real-world situations, it’s very difficult to know what the truth is.’
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