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St. Petersburg Times
October 16, 2001
Making a Living by Finding Liars
By Valeria Korchagina

MOSCOW - It's no secret that the country's high-tech military plants have been forced to churn out pots and pans to make ends meet. But the connection between military and civilian technologies works both ways, and once-classified devices have found their way into the commercial sector.

One example is the ultimate spy-story phenomenon of the 20th century: the lie detector.

Although the use of lie detectors, or polygraphs, is mostly confined to law enforcement agencies, starting at about $100 a pop, ordinary people with doubts about anyone from potential employees to antsy spouses can also take advantage of the device.

Civilian demand and a decade of drastic underfunding from the state have lured many experts from the KGB, now the Federal Security Service, or FSB, out of their top-secret offices. Among them is Vladimir Korovin, a 49-year-old human-resources officer at a large production firm in Moscow, who spends his days truth-or-daring job applicants, as well as private clients.

Korovin left the FSB in 1995 to join the tax authorities, where he screened staff and would-be employees, weeding out those linked to the criminal world or other potential risk groups, like gamblers or drug addicts.

Three years later, Korovin was invited to join the infamous security service of Vladimir Gusinsky's MOST Group, where he got the chance to apply his expertise on a vast scale.

"We had some 10 to 15 people going through our office every day. Altogether, I probably screened about 3,500 people," Korovin said in a recent interview. As many as 25 percent of applicants proved to be hiding important information, he said, from lying about their education and the reasons for leaving previous jobs, to secretly working for competitors or having a criminal record.

Korovin first saw a lie detector in 1979. He was fresh out of medical college when the KGB recruited him for what it called "research and medicine-related work." In fact, his job focused on studying bodily reactions to emotions, particularly those related to lying, and the role of polygraphs in this process.

"Back then, it was a top-secret topic," Korovin says. "Official science denied the whole concept, but the KGB was interested in it because lie detectors were used by our opponents and could potentially help in counterintelligence."

The polygraph, developed in 1904 and adopted by U.S. police 20 years later, registers changes in heartbeat, breathing, blood pressure and skin reactions.

The idea of finding the truth by observing physical reactions is hardly new.

In ancient Rome, body signals were used to test for chastity. While one person measured a woman's pulse, another called out the names of different men. A sudden jump in the woman's heart rate at the sound of a particular name served as indication of a love affair.

Today, jealousy is still a driving force behind lie-detector tests, according to Igor Razygrayev, a hypnosis specialist from the Association of Healing and Creative Hypnosis, who offers clients polygraph tests for around $300.

Despite the high cost, a number of people have sought Razygrayev's help to solve problems at home.

"[Requests] are often related to jealousy or theft by family members," he said. "People turn to us to prove to their spouses that they're faithful or to find out who took the money from the hiding place under the mattress."

Experts warn against trying to trick the polygraph. Though studies on ways to cheat the machine are largely classified, Korovin and Razygrayev insist it is nearly impossible to deceive a detector.

Both men said emotional responses recorded by the polygraph can be unrelated to lying - a person could just be extremely nervous or, at the other extreme, a completely calm pathological liar - but with careful preparation, the results can provide vital signs that a person is withholding information.

The main preparation involves assessing the subject's emotional state. Also, questions are discussed in detail to avoid ambiguity and generalizations.

The use of lie detectors is only partially regulated in Russia. Law enforcement agencies have their own internal rules about them, and although information obtained using a lie detector is not admissible in court, it is used in police investigations. In the private sector, there are no regulations. But screening is less common there than in the public sector, Korovin said.

"I suppose there's the problem of introducing [lie detectors]," he said. "Imagine a company's been around for five years. Bosses find it impossible suddenly to present staff with the idea of screening everyone with a lie detector."

But the polygraph does have some less intrusive applications.

Korovin, for instance, has helped a number of businesses combat internal problems, such as theft.

"A couple of years ago, we ran a series of screenings among staff at a large supermarket chain. And soon enough the number of missing items dropped to almost zero," Korovin said.

"When people know there could be a test, they think twice before taking something," he added.

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