Monday, September 14, 2015

Tl;dr - Pinocchio's Nose

The Walt Disney Company

Annually my husband was subjected to a polygraph in the course of his work in the Intelligence services. I asked him if the examination bothered him.

"Ah...the first one was terrifying," he told me, "but after that, it was just part of the routine."

"Well, would you think "mental colonoscopy" was an appropriate name for the process?" I asked.

My husband stopped watering the plants and asked, "What the hell are you reading?"

I was thumbing through "The Intelligencer - Journal of U.S Intelligence Studies." It arrives quarterly and can be very entertaining reading. Shaking off the pedantic style formerly used in the publication, the editors have added more book reviews and notices about intelligence and terrorism in recent documentaries, TV shows and movies. They've even added obituaries which in the case of old spies can be riveting. If you're looking for ideas for fictional characters this is a rich source: codebreakers, Seals, counter-terrorism experts, OSS agents, crypto-security officers, cryptologists, crypto-linguists to name a few. 

Betty McIntosh interested me. She died at the age of 100 in June. A journalist, she worked as a reporter in Hawaii during Pearl Harbor and covered the event after which she joined the OSS. She was active in "MO" or Morale Operations where she created disinformation or fake reports, documents and postcards which were intended to undermine Japanese morale. Black Propaganda, they called it - she worked closely with captured Japanese soldiers who were artists in civilian life and willingly offered their talents to the allied cause. After the war, she ended up at Glamour magazine (what a change) and later back in Washington DC with the State Department and the United Nations. She wrote a memoir "Undercover Girl" in 1947. I looked it up on Amazon and it sells for about $120.00. I'd love to read it, but not that much.

"Spyball" is one of the shows they reviewed in The Intelligencer - a short, it debuted on ESPN in July but you can play it below from YouTube. The film is about Moe Berg who spent 15 seasons in the major leagues before taking up espionage for the government. Berg was a linguist/lawyer/.243-lifetime hitter whom Casy Stengel called "the strangest man to ever play the game of baseball.

But I digress - everybody lies, of course, and every day. Some of us have longer noses than others. I've known people who could never tell the unvarnished truth about anything. If you waited with them for 10 minutes somewhere, they would make it 15 in the re-telling. I guess some would call this by the less offensive description - exaggeration. My father, a lawyer, was forever reigning in my story-telling and cautioning me about accuracy. On one particular occasion when I was about ten years old, I ran into the house and said with excitement, "Dad, there's a million kids in the back yard!" "A million?" he repeated and went to the window to count. I was mortified and he needled me about my counting ability for quite a long time afterward. The lesson sunk in....funny how some learning sticks more firmly than others. Maybe because of the embarrassment factor. Despite all of the painful lessons, I still fight the temptation to use exaggeration for emphasis; after all, a million kids is so much more impactful than ten.

Richard was not one of those who fainted and slid out of his or her chair or who vomited upon questioning during his polygraphs. Some do. In "A Life of Spies and Lies: Tales of a CIA Ops Polygraph Interrogator" author Alan B. Trabue remembers, "There were examinees so stressed, they spewed vomit across the examination room. Terrified examinees fled the examination while others were so angry they refused to leave. Angry subjects waited in the parking lot after their polygraph interviews to confront their examiners as they left the building."

The level of stress from the test for many people is unbearable. I'm not judging here; I've never taken a polygraph test - still on the face of it, you'd think only those who have something serious to hide would be the ones who would react to "the box" in such an extreme way.

    Polygraph technology hasn't changed much since its invention. Results are not considered reliable enough for admission in court. In fact, the National Academy of Sciences recommended discontinuing their use by the federal government in 2002. You can read the report here

    An interesting website on the anti-polygraph side is The group's objective is the complete abolishment of polygraph testing from the American workplace. Sounds like a good idea to me.

    Do you want to know if someone is lying? Go online and look at the billions millions thousands of articles about how to detect a liar, most of them compiled by people targeting potential women readers who want to know if their husbands are cheating. But here's a list of tips from the CIA, who should know more about this than any other source:
  • Behavioral pauses or delays
  • Verbal versus non-verbal disconnect
  • Hiding the mouth or eyes
  • Throat clearing or coughing
  • Hand to face gestures
  • Grooming gestures
Original Pinnochio drawings

JICYI (translation: just in case you're interested.  The Intelligence services excel at turning every phrase used more than thrice into an acronym) Richard was recently approached by a young family member, currently in high school, considering a career in Intelligence. Turns out there's a great booklet available from the AFIO (Association of Former Intelligence Officers) online at

Is this blog entry becoming Tl;dr? 

"too long; didn't read."
1. The inability to accept, understand or pay attention to information when not separated by a header.
2. The ability to arbitrarily read 400 small posts but not a long one.
3. A sign of ADD or lack of reading capability.
4. A very cheap response and an indication of lack of wit.
5. 90% of the time: A lie.
6. A desperate attempt at a comeback used by people who just can't think of one.
7. Usually used by people who've been torn apart verbally but want one last attempt at looking witty.
8. Total failure at #7.
7. A sign that, not only is someone too lazy and stupid to read but, clearly, too lazy and stupid to even type out four words indicating such.
9. Collect every "tl,dr" post online, and you'll have a good estimate of the number of lazy idiots on Earth, who currently have Internet access.
10. Should really be:
"Too Lazy, Don't Read."
".....I got nut'n!" 

1 comment:

  1. I hear that the tests are fairly easy to beat. You put a tack in your shoe and step on it for every question including the control questions in which you are actually telling the truth. I find the intelligence field fascinating and have long enjoyed reading about Berg and Wild Bill Donovan.

    I never find you too long and always find your writing interesting.