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How Aldrich Ames Beat the Lie Detector Test

Updated on March 19, 2012
Aldrich Ames
Aldrich Ames

Who is Aldrich Ames?

During the mid 80s through the mid 90s (the height of the Cold War), the Russians paid $4.6 million dollars to Aldrich Ames.

Ames was a spy (CIA Agent) who later pleaded guilty to espionage, which involved selling secrets to the Russians.

In conjunction with selling out his country, Ames' greatest claim to fame was that he passed at least two lie detector tests while he was selling secrets to the Russians.

How the Lie Detector Test Works

The lie detector test is based on four emotional components. Interpreting or appraising a stimulus, subjective feeling, the occurrence of various psychological responses, and the occurrence of overt behavior(s). The following is a breakdown of how these emotional components work to power the lie detector test:

Interpreting or Appraising a Stimulus

In this component, Ames would have to have fielded questions such as "Have you ever sold secrets to Russia?"

Subjective Feeling

This component will measure whether or not Ames felt guilt or fear when giving answers to the questions he was asked.

Occurrence of Various Psychological Responses

In this case, if Ames felt guilt when asked a specific question, his feeling of guilt would have been accompanied by psychological responses such as sweaty palms, high blood pressure, increase in heart rate, etc.

Occurrence of Overt Behavior

This component would detect and measure whether or not Ames displayed any overt physical behavior such as facial expressions or tics.

The Theory Behind the Polygraph Test

Lie Detector tests are based on the theory tat, if a person tells a lie, he or she will feel some emotion, such as guilt or fear. The feelings of guilt and fear will be accompanied by involuntary physiological responses, which are difficult to suppress or control and can be measured with a machine called a polygraph.

A polygraph is about the size of a notebook computer. It measures chest and abdominal movement during respiration, heart rate, blood pressure, and skin conductance.

Sometimes, the machine will measure changes in the sweating of the palms and fingers that accompany emotional experiences and are completely independent of perspiration under normal temperatures, this is referred to as the galvanic skin response.

Back to Aldrich Ames

As you can see from the information above, it would be quite difficult to beat the polygraph. Scant details were released about how Ames accomplished his feat.

We believe Ames studied the theory behind the test and he accomplished the seemingly insurmountable task of controlling emotions and responses that are involuntary for the vast majority of us.

Currently, Ames is serving a lifetime sentence for his crimes against his country. However he did it, we do know today that Aldrich Ames successfully passed two lie detector tests with a mouth full of lies.

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