The Liar’s Law of Attraction 2

By Chris Simmons

Individuals sometimes withhold information for any number of reasons. That said, there is an easy way to discover when you are confronted with a lie of omission. When discussing events or people with a counterpart, your colleague will generally pay equal attention to all the “unknowns.” However, if the other party shows a heightened interest in any area(s), it is probably because they are already familiar with the person/event.

For example, an office manager gives a supervisor five resumes and asks her to run the hiring action. As she flips through the resumes, she lingers on one of the candidates. Noticing her action, the manager asks; “You don’t know any of the applicants, do you?” “No,” she answers, “I was just trying to get a feel for how long I should set aside for this.” Satisfied with her answer, the manager walks away. However, her behavioral “tell” indicates there is a strong likelihood she did recognize a name from the resumes, although it is not known whether the individual is a friend or an enemy.

Familiarity will always capture a larger share of our attention, regardless of whether the item of interest is a person, place, thing, or event. Use the “Liar’s Law of Attraction” to identify a lie of omission and pair it with an appropriate line of questioning to discover the whole truth.


He Almost Got Away With It… Reply

By Chris Simmons

A few years ago, I had the privilege of attending a “Statement Analysis” course taught by Don Rabon, the (then) Deputy Director of the North Carolina JusticeAcademy. Don is so gifted in the field of verbal forensics that his books on interviewing and interrogation are considered “must reads” by many within the law enforcement and intelligence communities.

In his lectures, Don convincingly argued that not only did every word have meaning, but its placement within a sentence told a story. He built upon his assertion by informing us the location of every sentence within a paragraph was relevant as well. We spent several days using his techniques to examine court testimony and other written or recorded statements and identify the truthful and dishonest segments.

During this class, one of his teaching points struck a chord as it beautifully demonstrated the impact of a single word. His tale, based on the recent investigation of a car fire, is reconstructed below:

Police Officer:  “Sir, can you tell us what happened?

Car Owner:  “Well, I’d been relaxing at home drinking beer and watching football — there are some really great games on today. By the time all the one o’clock games were over, I was pretty much out of beer. So I figured I’d run up to the convenience store and get some more before the four o’clock games got well underway.”

“Since I’d been drinking, I wasn’t about to get behind the wheel of a car, so I walked to the store. I bought my beer and headed home. When I got here, my car was already burned up. That’s when I called the fire department.”

Police Officer:  “Sir, turn around and place your hands behind your back. You are under arrest for arson….”

While the subject’s overall statement is built to deceive, one word stood out. Which utterance was it?

The word was “already,” which revealed the subject’s foreknowledge of the event. More specifically, this word indicated NOT that the subject was surprised by the fire, but simply by how fast his car had been incinerated.

Other indicators of deception abound. Note how little of the subject’s statement answered the police officer’s question. The officer did not ask him what he’d been doing that day, he simply asked about the fire. To this simple question, the subject provided a 105-word response, of which only ten words concerned the actual fire (less than 10%).

Notice also that not only is his reference to the fire buried near the end of his narrative, but that it is sandwiched between two positive affirmations, i.e., that he didn’t drink & drive and that he is the one who called the fire department.

Contrast the subject’s declaration with what an innocent person would likely have said.

Police Officer:  “Sir, can you tell us what happened?

Car Owner:  “I have no idea. I’d been home all day. I went to the store for a few minutes and when I got back; my car was a smoldering heap. Unbelievable.”

In this scenario, the distraught owner led off by directly answering the police officer’s question:  he/she didn’t know what caused the fire. The subject then provided some context before again addressing the fire by declaring exactly what he/she witnessed. They then closed with a statement of disbelief. (Note:  The statement of an innocent person will often be significantly shorter than someone trying to conceal misconduct.  Additionally, an innocent party will frequently make repeated references to a crime, whereas a guilty person will minimize the event. Here, the innocent person made a very concise 30-word statement of which 10 words (33%) addressed the fire).

In this true-crime story, the arrested man pled guilty to arson and attempted insurance fraud.

Indiana Man Accused of Teaching People to Beat Lie-Detector Tests Faces Prison Time Reply

By Matt Zapotosky, Washington Post

In the eyes of federal prosecutors in Virginia, Chad Dixon is a brazen criminal whose misdeeds threatened border security, state secrets and young children across the United States. They say he taught convicted sex offenders and aspiring federal law enforcement officers how to cheat their court- or job-imposed lie detector tests — even when he knew that they planned to use his advice for nefarious purposes.

In the eyes of his supporters, though, Dixon is no more than an electrical worker who did some Internet research on polygraph testing. And for offering instructions sometimes as simple as “relax and breathe normally,” he probably will end up in federal prison.

Dixon, 34, of Indiana, pleaded guilty in December to wire fraud and obstruction of an agency proceeding and is scheduled to be sentenced Friday in federal district court in Alexandria. He is accused of teaching what prosecutors term “polygraph countermeasures” to as many as 100 people across the country — among them convicted sex offenders in the Washington area and undercover agents who told Dixon they would use his techniques to cheat their tests for Customs and Border Protection jobs.

The case has reenergized a national debate on the accuracy of polygraph testing and led to some speculation that federal authorities intend to prosecute those spreading information on how to trick lie detectors. Though Dixon appears to be the first charged publicly, others offering similar instruction say they fear they might be next.

“I’ve been worried about that, and the more this comes about, the more worried I am,” said Doug Williams, a former police polygraphist in Oklahoma who claims to be able to teach people to beat what he now considers a “scam” test.

In court filings, prosecutors said Dixon developed his polygraph countermeasures largely based on materials he took from Williams’s Web site. Williams — who declined to comment on Dixon’s case specifically — has written books and appeared on national television programs criticizing lie detectors and telling people how to beat them.

Teaching about the flaws of polygraph testing is not inherently illegal. The test monitors a variety of physical responses — such as breathing and heart rate — and Williams and others preach that you can manipulate it by artificially provoking a physical reaction when you’re supposed to, and keeping your reactions in check when you’re not.

Whether the measures are effective is a matter of debate. Barry Cushman, president of the American Polygraph Association, said hands-on training, with feedback, on countermeasures has been shown to work sometimes in laboratory settings. But mere instruction, video or written, is unlikely to succeed, he said.

Dixon was charged after he helped undercover agents learn to cheat the test after they told him specifically that they intended to lie as they applied for federal jobs. Nina J. Ginsberg, Dixon’s attorney, wrote in court filings that much of what Dixon did was legal and that prosecutors were using “hyperbole” in describing his crimes.

“While understandably unpopular with law enforcement and other government agencies, polygraph countermeasures training is widely available and unless the person providing the training knows that the countermeasures training will be used to commit a criminal offense . . . it is protected First Amendment speech,” Ginsberg wrote. “Like it or not, providing polygraph countermeasures training, even to the most despicable among us, is not a crime.”

Dixon declined to comment for this story.

According to prosecutors, Dixon charged his customers $1,000 a day or more for hands-on training, advertising on his “Polygraph Consultants of America” Web site that he could help people appear to be truthful on a test, then traveling across the country to meet those interested in his services. Among his 69 to 100 clients from late 2010 to April 2012, prosecutors said, were unqualified applicants for federal law enforcement jobs and convicted sex offenders — including a former English teacher at a middle school in Rockville who was convicted of sexually abusing a 12-year-old boy and had to take polygraph tests as a condition of his parole.

Perhaps the most outlandish examples of Dixon’s training, though, came when undercover federal agents approached him for his services in late 2011 and early 2012. When one agent posing as a Customs and Border Protection applicant told Dixon his brother was a member of the Zetas drug cartel involved in “drugs, extortion, murder [and] kidnappings” — and that he routinely let his brother use his identification — Dixon told him to reference the man only as a “distant relative” and say, “Look, I don’t really know what he’s into,” prosecutors wrote.

Ginsberg wrote in court filings that Dixon trained only between 50 and 70 people and that most of them were preparing for marital fidelity polygraphs. She estimated that there are at least 30 others offering services similar to Dixon’s and that none of them have been charged.

“Mr. Dixon has done nothing that warrants the government’s attempts to make him the poster child for its newly undertaken campaign to wipe out polygraph countermeasures training,” she wrote.

George Maschke, whose Web site offers similar information on the flaws of polygraph testing but does not offer hands-on training, said he was troubled by Dixon’s case. “It seems to me that they’re going after critics of the polygraph and then fabricating a crime to prosecute where there had been no crime to prosecute before,” Maschke said. “Free speech is important, and I don’t think explaining to people how the polygraph works, including its vulnerability to countermeasures, should be criminalized.”

Dixon, a father of four, wrote in a letter to the judge that he was “disgusted” with himself and that he did not realize initially that what he was doing was criminal. He wrote that some of his “countermeasures” were as simple as “to relax and breathe normally on relevant questions.”

“I was so dead set in my mind that this machine was bogus and I think this mind set made me feel that what I was doing wasn’t illegal and wasn’t that bad,” he wrote.

Prosecutors have asked that Dixon serve between 21 and 27 months in prison, though preferably at the “low end” of the range. His sentencing is scheduled for 9 a.m. Friday.

The Challenges of “Imagined History” – Part II Reply

By Chris Simmons

Recently, I introduced my loyal readers to the concept of “Imagined History.” We now need to revisit this issue so I may add additional depth and context to this important subject.

“Imagined History” does not occur for singular strategic issues like the American Revolutionary War. Quite the opposite, it occurs simultaneously on as many as four distinct levels: societal, regional, special interests, and personal. Over time, these overlapping narratives weave real events together with perceptions, assumptions, personal preferences, misinformation, and disinformation. The result is a distorted world view with significant consequences.

Perhaps the penultimate case study in “Imagined History” is the very fractured worldview held by Cuban Master spy, Ana Belen Montes. The highest-ranking Cuban agent ever caught and imprisoned by the United States, I led the Defense Department’s months’ long interrogation that followed her arrest. Never before had I witnessed an individual so completely able to rationalize and (mentally) segment events. In some arenas, she even held beliefs and values that contradicted one another. I believe it was this imagined history that enabled her to thrive in a world of massive self denial.

I observed many other spies, as well as innumerable Al-Qaeda terrorists, display similar patterns of anti-social behavior paired with belief systems derived from a multi-tiered integration of imagined histories.

In more “everyday” situations, the dangers of this phenomenon arise from the impairment of personal interactions. The filters and biases created and sustained by these imagined realties guarantee the misinterpretation of others’ actions and intentions. In some scenarios, the intensity of these filters and biases render one unable to anticipate the future behavior of others. This can eventually constrict one’s choices so severely that you are left simply reacting to circumstances created by everyone else.

Evaluate the means, motives, opportunities, and demonstrated behavior of others and their intentions will reveal themselves. However, one must be free from filters, biases, and imagined histories to succeed in such behavioral analysis.

Author’s Note: Disinformation is false or inaccurate information deliberately spread with the goal of making legitimate information useless. It is inherently different from misinformation, which is spreading information that is unintentionally false.

The Challenges of “Imagined History” 1

Refusing to let facts get in the way of a good belief system

By Chris Simmons

I’ve long witnessed a widespread phenomenon I call “Imagined History.” Simply put, it is one’s past as we would have liked it to have been. It’s a perverse form of nostalgia in which we look back and see our actions – and those of our ancestors — as more enlightened and nobler than they actually were.

Wars provide virtually unlimited opportunities for us, collectively, to whitewash our past and re-invent ourselves. For example, Americans’ perceptions of the Revolutionary War — THE event that gave birth to the United States — are grossly distorted. I offer as evidence three fundamental truths about the war to which most present-day Americans are oblivious.

1. An estimated 70% of all colonists opposed or were neutral on the issue of independence from Great Britain. Thus, the present-day liberty of the United   States rests, in part, squarely on the shoulders of a small group of malcontent colonists.

2.  I said in part because long forgotten is the role that France, Spain, and the Netherlands filled in secretly providing supplies, ammunition, and weaponry to the revolutionaries starting in early 1776. More specifically, France provided 90% of the gunpower used by the patriots throughout the war. As a result, George Washington’s triumph at Yorktown was as much a French victory as it was “American.”

3.  The October 1781 surrender of General Cornwallis at Yorktown did NOT end the war. The conflict dragged on for two more years before finally ending with the September 1783 signing of the Treaty of Paris.

Poet Lucille Clifton was right:  “the saddest lies are the ones we tell ourselves.” History itself is neither good nor bad. Events – life-altering or mundane – occur because of the means, motives, and opportunities capitalized upon by individuals. Recasting these actions to make us feel better about ourselves or others actually has a long-term debilitating effect. When we deceive ourselves about where we’ve been, how can we really understand who we are?

Additionally, when we fail to accept the past as it actually occurred, we sabotage our ability to foresee opportunities and challenges. Having lost this “forecasting” skill, we become unable to shape our future and fall victim to our imagined histories.

Lie-Detection Made Easy: Using a Single Comment to Get the Truth 1

By Chris Simmons

You will be lied to today, most likely several times. Wouldn’t it be nice to protect yourself against the pervasiveness of everyday deceptions?

You can, with a maneuver known as the squeeze play. This technique uses a single sentence to force your suspected liar into making an unforeseen, split-second decision. The tactic does come with a price, however, as your response to the other person’s lie is itself a lie.

As an overly protective father with two lovely daughters, I may have been guilty of using this practice once or twice over the years. Imagine, if you will, a new beau takes my oldest daughter to the nearby theater. I great them at the door as they return home much later than expected. Before he can say anything, I welcome them back by saying “I figured you’d be late since Route 7 was closed because of a bad accident.”

So begins the squeeze play. I know there wasn’t an accident on the nearby highway. However, it can be a dangerous road, making my statement plausible. Now her prospective suitor has a life-changing decision to make. He can choose wisely and deny seeing my mythical accident before explaining why they are late. Or he can choose poorly and claim it took them forever to find an alternate way home because the accident tied up traffic for miles in all directions.

The squeeze play works in virtually any scenario simply by changing the false data introduced. If the other party correctly notes that your comment is incorrect, you can deftly extract yourself with a simple “I must have misunderstood (misheard, etc)…”

Conversely, if he/she opts to lie, you’ll see two distinct responses. First, they will hesitate deciding how to answer. Secondly, they will either “buy-in” to your false fact or try to change the topic. Regardless of their choice, you always walk away knowing the truth.

Three Simple Steps to Becoming More Influential – Instantly! Reply

By Chris Simmons

Think Strategically

Be more successful in getting everything you want by remembering that all communication is theater and every personal interaction a distinct performance. While this may sound like an overstatement, step back and think about it for a second. In one manner or another, all encounters have a set, costumes, sound effects, lighting, acting, and dialogue. While some performances may be more “bare bones” than others, increased audience engagement and recall occurs by integrating as many senses as possible into a performance (i.e., sight, hearing, touch, taste, and smell).

Understand The Redundancies in Spoken Communication

While it may seem counterintuitive, the pathway to influence comes not from speaking, but from listening and observing. To paraphrase Mark Twain, “No one ever learned a damn thing while they were running their mouth.” Or more to the point, as Steven Covey so famously said “”First seek to understand, then be understood.”

As humans, we are born to over-communicate. In fact, every time we speak, we broadcast our message in three distinct manners. Our words provide the verbal content, while non-verbal communication provides both auditory and visual cues. More importantly, non-verbals generally convey 60-93% of the intent and meaning of a spoken message. Non-verbals consist of utterances and body language. Utterances are the speed, pitch, tone, and volume of what is said, as well as any non-words that may be included (a sigh of exasperation, for example). Body language consists of both intentional and involuntary gestures and physical responses.

Take These Three Steps to Increased Influence

  1. Listen to the words.  Understand that every word has meaning, as does its placement within a sentence or paragraph. Generally, the initial word(s) in a sentence convey the bulk of the message. For example, to say “Tomorrow, I need to head back to school,” emphasizes the timing of the event. In contrast, “I need to head back to school tomorrow,” emphasizes the focus on the speaker.
  2. Watch the body language. Do not assume that all gestures mean the same thing. Observe others long enough to create a “baseline” of their normal mannerisms. Any subsequent anomaly displayed by their body warrants attention. For example, imagine a meeting during which a colleague offers to partner with you on a project. Then, after making the offer, he/she proceeds to lean back and interlace their fingers behind their head. This would generally be an anomaly due to the disconnect between a seemingly genuine offer and a gesture that is a classic sign of perceived superiority.
  3. Take note of the utterances. The manner of delivery is everything. The words “I love you” can be said in every fashion from soft and romantic to mockingly and dishonest.

Ideally, the three communicative streams compliment and reinforce one another. Their purpose is to ensure a message is clearly received and understood. In doing so, they provide a behavioral  “cluster” which paints a much more precise image of the speaker’s intent, areas of interest, and sincerity. Conversely, when the verbal and non-verbal worlds collide, always trust the latter. The body hates deception and will always provide a physical response to reveal the truth.

“Schooling” Al-Qaeda: How We Learned to Terrify Terrorists Reply

By Chris Simmons

In Iraq, I led interrogation operations so feared by Al-Qaeda that they dubbed my interviewing center, “The Cemetery” and “The Devil’s Den.” The terrorist group’s fear was well founded, as our success rate in getting useful information from detainees was unprecedented, exceeding 99 percent.

This achievement came about because I ensured every one of my people understood that interrogation is not about the physical act of talking to someone. Interrogation is a performance – it is theater of the mind.

We are all familiar with the adage, “Perception is reality.” I believe this axiom doesn’t go far enough. Perceptions, be they short-term or permanent, are living “beings.” They can grow, shrink, bend, twist, or die. For us, perception management was a key tool in mentally wearing down detainees before we ever spoke to them. A premium was placed on their perceived self-interest and total lack of control.

For example, a classic resistance technique used by detainees was to focus on anything that had a schedule. The predictability of routines was often quite reassuring. It could also help measure time or provide a comforting feeling of stability.

We shattered this detainee countermeasure by eliminating every trace of patterns. Watches, clocks, and all verbal references to time were prohibited. Our guards did not appear to keep a set schedule and equally important, seemed to randomly move to other shifts. We began feeding detainees two to six times a day. Detainees were also arbitrarily removed from their cells and taken to the toilet. To complete the effect, the location where our guests were quartered had no windows or doors to the outside world.

For our detainees, time ceased to exist. From a psychological perspective, this is critical as the brain – when striped of any means to measure time – actually compresses it. I recall one detainee who, six hours after arriving at my facility, was absolutely convinced he had been with us for three days.

Another protocol we developed to sow mistrust and further wear down detainees was to change at least one standard procedure on a biweekly basis. You see, when we finished questioning a detainee, we would often transfer him/her to the prison at Abu Ghraib. This compound essentially operated as a “catch and release” program. Prisoners were required to be released within six months of their arrival. This enabled Al-Qaeda to establish a “snitch line” within the stream of prisoners being steadily released.

In this manner, the terrorists sought to maintain an awareness of our latest interrogation procedures. They then shared this information with other terrorists in an effort to make their resistance (after capture) more successful. By training its members in our procedures and routines, Al-Qaeda became more effective in defeating my interrogators. However, the afore-mentioned biweekly changes negated Al-Qaeda efforts. For example, if we held a detainee for several weeks, he/she experienced several of our new procedures. The detainee then went to Abu Ghraib where he/she was debriefed by other Al-Qaeda members and their “new” information passed to a soon-to-be released snitch. This step could take days-weeks, possibly allowing us to introduce yet another new tactic. As a result, Al-Qaeda was suddenly playing catch-up.

This also opened the door to us applying more psychological pressure on detainees, as we could then estimate what U.S. tactics they had been taught based on their date-of-capture. This enabled us to confront the detainee and tell them we knew Al-Qaeda had trained him/her that we would do “x, y, and z.” We then lied to the detainee and told him/her we stopped using those tactics a long time ago. We would tell the detainee that Al-Qaeda taught them these old procedures because they were incompetent, grossly uninformed, or simply because they viewed their personnel as “disposable.” We then appealed directly to their self-interest, asking them why they should remain loyal to an organization that had so clearly betrayed them.

For the most part, interrogation techniques have changed little over the last millennium. That said, our ability to get valuable information from detainees far exceeded every other organization in Iraq. While many items factored into our success, the three key components were:

  • Our creative latitude;
  • The speed in which we could move from one tactic/procedure to another, and
  • Our willingness to take calculated risks.

As any fan of American football will tell you, the only thing that matters is the size of your “Play Book” and your ability to execute the plays.

Analysis of Alex Rodriguez’s Press Conference Reveals Guilt, Intent Reply

By Chris Simmons

Yesterday, ESPN covered the press conference of Alex Rodriguez (“A-Rod”) regarding his suspension by Major League Baseball (MLB). He is accused, in part, of obstructing MLB’s investigation into player use of performance-enhancing drugs. As expected, the media event didn’t shed much light on anything until A-Rod was asked if he had any regrets over the way things have played out recently. This was his answer:

“I’m sure there’s been some mistakes made along the way. We’re here now. I’m a human being…I’m fighting for my life. I have to defend myself.” (Source:  Washington Post)

What appears to be a very simple response actually contains a wealth of insights.

Trained investigators know that every word has meaning, as does the placement of a word(s) within a sentence and paragraph. A-Rod’s comments actually reveal four very distinct messages:

MESSAGE 1:  ““I’m sure there’s been some mistakes made along the way.”

This sentence fulfills multiple roles. First and foremost, it is a statement of fact and as such, a “soft admission” of guilt. [a “hard admission” would be “I did it”]. Pay particular attention to the reality that a soft admission is not quantifiable. It is a mechanism to gently admit guilt without revealing the scope of the misconduct.

A-Rod’s comment also serves as a bridging statement, setting the stage for the transition from his past denials to future hard admissions. This bridge also opens the door to deflecting statements (e.g., “I’ve already said mistakes were made. This is old news”), a useful tool in damage control.

MESSAGE 2:  “We’re here now.”

Having made his soft admission, A-Rod hopes to put the past behind him and move on. He seeks to avoid making hard admissions, which generally come with accountability and consequences. In essence, this can be seen as a de facto negotiating position. He sees himself as having taken some responsibility with his soft admission and would like to resume playing baseball without further injuring his reputation.

MESSAGE 3:  “I’m a human being…”

The subtle theme here is human fallibility and is intended to remind the audience “we all make mistakes.”

MESSAGE 4:  “I’m fighting for my life. I have to defend myself.”

In a very hard transition, A-Rod justifies and rationalizes his lack of cooperation with the MLB inquiry. He goes from quasi-apologetic (without actually apologizing) to defiant. In these two brief sentences, he makes it clear to MLB that he has no intention of cooperating.