Douglas Williams, perhaps the most prominent foe of the polygraph test in the United States, is going to prison for helping people beat it. The 69-year-old former Oklahoma cop was indicted last November on two counts of mail fraud and three counts of witness tampering. He pleaded guilty in May and got sentenced to two years behind bars on Tuesday.
Williams is the second person to go to prison for helping people fool the test after Chad Dixon, an Indiana man, was sentenced to eight months in September 2013. The two men were among the first targets of what seems to be an Obama administration crackdown, and they might not be the last given that there were about 30 people or groups in the United States offering similar services as of 2013, according to McClatchy.
On his website, Polygraph.com, the silver-haired Williams wrote that he went from "cop to crusader" and offered guides and private lessons on gaming the test. And although he claimed that his goal was to prevent the innocent from being incriminated, undercover officers found that he wasn't all that discriminating about his clients.
Back in the 70s, polygraph tests were a relatively normal screening process for people seeking private-sector jobs. Cops also used them to elicit confessions. It was in that era that Williams started working for the Oklahoma City Police Department and administering them himself. After seven years, though, he was drinking a pint of whiskey per night, according to a Bloomberg Businessweek profile, and couldn't take it anymore. He decided the tests were bullshit, and quit the job.
But when Williams's sister needed advice on how to pass the test in order to work at a nightclub, he wrote her a guide. And after President Ronald Reagan signed a law in 1988 saying private-sector employees, like Williams's sister, shouldn't be subjected to the tests, he set his sights on helping wannabe government workers trick the machine.
As Williams was building his business, evidence mounted that the tests were useless, or worse. Len Saxe, a researcher at Brandeis University, presented a report to Congress in 1983 showing there was no evidence that they actually worked. In a 1998 Supreme Court case, the justices acknowledged as much, allowing states to ban polygraph results as evidence in court.
But 14 years after that decision, law enforcement agencies were still using the test to determine employment eligibility. So in October 2012, an undercover Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) agent called up Williams and claimed to be under investigation by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) for helping a friend sneak contraband through an airport. The undercover officer said that he was guilty and intended to lie.
"What the fuck do you think you're doing dumbass?" Williams said over the phone. "Do you think, do you think you have like a lawyer confidentiality with me?"
"I haven't lived this long and fucked the government this long, and done such a controversial thing that I do for this long, and got away with it without any trouble whatsoever, by being a dumbass," he continued, before helping the man anyway.
On February 13, 2013, another undercover officer inquired about Williams's services, saying he was a cop looking for a job with US Customs and Border Patrol. "If I tell them that I sold drugs in the jail when I was a jailer, can they use that against me?" he asked, according to the indictment. The cop also casually mentioned a past sexual indiscretion with a 14-year-old he'd once interviewed.
"Keep that shit to yourself," Williams replied.
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