Like all habitual liars, I am terrified of getting caught out in a fib. And yet I jumped at the chance to undergo a ‘CIA style’ lie-detector test. I'm a big fan of Homeland, and who wouldn't want an all-expense paid, unmarked flight to Pakistan (minus the waterboarding)?
Unfortunately my rendition was to be less than extraordinary, taking place down a rainy London street, just off Piccadilly Circus. I am dragged into the chamber by two (questionably accented) CIA agents to meet my interrogator. According to his business card, he is a private detective who also offers “Integrity Tests” (honeypot traps for cheating spouses). Still, he seems friendly enough, and when has a journalist ever gotten into trouble for associating with private detectives?
There are dozens of supposed tricks for fooling a lie-detector. One is to keep your buttocks tightly clenched throughout the questioning, but frankly I don’t have the muscle tone. Aldrich Ames, the notorious CIA officer who was exposed as a Russian spy, passed two polygraphs simply by getting a good night’s rest and avoiding caffeine. I am an insomniac with a Diet Coke addiction, so that wasn’t an option.
In the end, I decide to follow the example of Brody from Homeland. The double agent for Al-Qaeda passed the test purely through the strength of his convictions and his blazing red hair. Well, at least I have the hair.
A monitoring band is fixed to my arm, the detective makes some adjustments to his laptop, and the questions start.
What is my favourite TV show? “Breaking Bad.” Lie.
I grit my teeth. "Fine, ok, it’s Don't Tell The Bride" Lie.
Wait, what? Yes it is. Does this box know me better than I know myself?
Moving on. Have I seen every episode of Homeland? "Yes." Lie.
Oh yes I have, every nail-biting moment. Something is wrong here.
It turns out my frazzled lifestyle may have made me immune to the test. It uses voice stress analysis to detect when you are lying. But I always sound stressed. Of all the liars in London that day, I am apparently the most difficult to read. False negatives and false positives abound. We change subjects.
Have I ever stolen stationery from the office? "No." Lie.
"OK, yes, but not from my current employer." Lie.
I remember the mighty fort I built from Radio Times post-it notes. The machine is catching on.
Do I make a habit of lying like that? I'm feeling a bit stressed now (my answers are being broadcast out onto the street) so crack a rubbish joke to break the tension.
"Yes, lying is central to my job as a journalist." True.
I have made a huge mistake.
I think of my editor and an industrial tribunal and start panicking. "I'm joking." Lie. "I always tell the truth in my stories." Lie. "It's a journalist's job to tell the truth." Lie.
I can’t win. No matter how much I think I'm telling the truth, the machine insists I'm 'Stressed/Unsure'. I am stressed and/or unsure. We start in on the personal stuff.
Have I ever lied about my age? I double-bluff, try to get a false negative. "Yes." True.
My interrogator has me on the run. Like a CIA black-ops squad, he moves in for the kill.
Have I ever cheated on my partner?
"No no no no."
If anyone needs me, I'll be in Guantanamo Bay.
Homeland Season 2 is released on Blu-ray and DVD on September 23rd. Season 3 will air on Channel 4 from October