kw: book reviews, nonfiction, intelligence services, detection
Ten years ago I saw an interview of Art Linkletter on the occasion of his ninetieth birthday. He was asked how he could get children to open up the way they did for him. He said, "I'll tell you, but you won't be able to do it. They have to know that you are on the same mental level." I had an eerie feeling of déja vu as I was reading Spy the Lie: Former CIA Officers Teach You How to Detect Deception by Philip Houston, Michael Floyd, and Susan Cernicero, with Don Tennant. Yeah, I could read all about it, and I can understand all the principles involved, but having the right mental and emotional equipment to make it work for me? Well, It is kind of like teaching a fish to fly.
The authors frequently stress the need to avoid being judgmental. I have been told I am a natural-born Pharisee, and Judge is my middle name. I wear my heart on my sleeve, and it doesn't take much to make me frown. It became clear within the first few chapters that "the Model" is a stimulus-response system, and is designed for interview situations. The stimulus is a question. The cluster of behaviors that your "subject" makes are your data to determine greater or lesser likelihood of deception. There is no certainty either way, of course, unless you can elicit a confession. And even then you have to watch out for pathological confessors. Every time there is a sensational theft or murder, the police have to deal with a rash of people who "come forward" to "confess", who are really just hungry for attention and publicity. I suspect the authors interviewed few such people, because their subjects were applicants for the CIA or for promotion within it, or foreign "assets" who were suspected of being double agents, or were otherwise in need of vetting.
On the other hand, they provide a running commentary upon the televised interviews of several famous cases, among them Anthony Weiner and Jerry Sandusky, showing how they tried to deceive their interviewers. It is clear that it takes a clear strategy, and a practiced facility in ignoring behavior that is not directly related to the question, to dig out attempts to misdirect or mislead you. For most of us, we are most likely to get in an "interview" situation if we feel the need to ask our teen about drug use, or if we need to hire a babysitter. The authors provide possible scenarios to help us prepare (but remember my Linkletter moment).
A comforting element is learning that reading Spy the Lie will not help a perpetrator learn to beat a skilled interviewer. The Model relies on the way our mind and body work together, particularly when we need to keep our story straight. It is said that while we all lie, some folks lie constantly, just to keep in practice. But in the presence of these folks, even secret agents, who must lie to stay alive, when they have something extra to hide, cannot hide everything. My Mom used to say, "Remember Lincoln: You can fool some of the people all of the time, and you can fool all of the people some of the time, but you can't fool ME!" I wonder if the authors got some of this stuff from their Moms.
The three CIA authors founded QVerity, which provides training in interview techniques and deception detection in particular.