How and Why Employees Subvert Bad Corporate Policy Reply

self-interestBy Chris Simmons

Self Interest trumps everything. That is precisely why it’s the 1st Rule of Human Nature.

Despite this fundamental truth, many corporations ignore this core tenet of human nature and are then baffled when they experience poor results.

For example, I recently learned of a major US corporation that pays its staff a daily 10% “punctuality bonus” for being on time. More specifically, it is truly a 10% bonus that supplements the employees’ lower day rate. At first glance, an apparently understandable practice for a manufacturing entity.

This is where self interest comes into play. Like most companies, this firm offers sick leave — but at the employees’ lower base salary. So imagine how employees respond. If you guessed that they came to work sick, you are correct. If you guessed they came in to work sick, clocked in on-time, and then went home on sick leave – you’d also be correct.

It’s easy to see the numerous pitfalls of this practice, including some significant liability issues. No matter how well intentioned, any policy that runs counter to human nature and self interest will be intentionally undermined by those forced to endure it.

An associated truth of human nature is that people focus more on protecting what they have rather than the possibility of a future gain. This is why ads for major sweepstakes now say “You may have already won!,” as this wording enjoys response rates several times higher than “mail in your entry” contests. In a like fashion, this manufacturer could benefit greatly by ending the daily bonus and increasing base salaries by 10 percent.  Punctuality could still be enforced by simply docking an employee’s pay for a late arrival.

Other viable alternatives also exist, which begs the question, why would any firm stay wedded to such a clearly flawed practice?

The Science Behind “Self-Fulfilling Prophesies” 1

By Chris Simmons

It goes without saying that how one person treats another determines how that individual performs. What is not so well understood, especially by bosses and parents, is the legitimate science behind this occurrence.

An individual’s performance goes up or down, in large part, based upon the expectations levied against him/her. When high expectations are placed on a person, he/she will perform better. This phenomenon is called the Pygalion or Rosenthal Effect.

At the other extreme is the Golem Effect, which occurs when decreased performance results from low expectations.

The Rosenthal Effect takes its name from a study on student performance, while the Pygalion reference is taken from an ancient Greek legend. In the Rosenthal-Jacobson research, elementary school students were given a disguised IQ test. Twenty percent of the schoolchild were then randomly chosen — and for experiment purposes — identified as “peak performers.” The names of these purportedly high-potential students were then shared with the teachers. During the course of their study, all the schoolchildren advanced academically. However, the falsely labeled “peak performers” universally exceeded all expectations and past achievements.

Part of this phenomenon derives from how we make decisions. The 1st Rule of Human Nature, Self-Interest Trumps Best Interest,” captures the core principle that all decisions are based on emotion, not logic or reason. Furthermore, since Self-Interest is strongly tied to  Identity and Self-Image, the positive reinforcement that comes from high expectations triggers internal motivators that drive one towards the identified goal. Additional research has discovered that these affirmations and positive social interactions prompt a favorable chemical response in the body. This “endorphin rush” makes you feel better (and happier), which legitimately amps up one’s performance and emotions.

Ultimately, the increased performance by the employee/child also alters the behavior of the boss/parent. The leader will invest more time, attention and effort in their protégé, further incentivizing and sustaining the increased performance.

Taken in their totality, these actions create a self-sustaining feedback loop of positive emotions and in short order, this repetition creates a highly rewarding self-fulfilling prophecy. Sadly, the inverse is equally true. As Calvin Lloyd noted, “Nobody rises to low expectations,” succinctly highlighting the crippling impact of negative feedback and the Golem Effect.

What Al-Qaeda Taught Me About the Frailty of Loyalty – Redux Reply

Al-Qaeda in Iraq (Courtesy: Fox News)












This award-winning post was originally published on May 29, 2013.

By Chris Simmons

The most diabolical, manipulative, and extraordinarily successful interrogation ploy I used to interrogate High-Value terrorists in Iraq was the Prisoners’ Dilemma. It LITERALLY never failed. Research the Prisoners’ Dilemma and you will find it called “game theory.” I can assure you its use is neither theoretical nor game-like. It appeals to the strongest and basest instincts in all of us – self-survival –by pitting members of a group against one another for a reward.

More was always better with this technique, but a two detainee minimum was sufficient. In our case, we always began our “theater of the mind” in the Black Room, so named as its floor, ceiling, and walls were painted matte black. We’d also found a way to give the room a slight echo-effect, which many found unsettling. Having captured several Al-Qaeda associates (all believed to have similar information) in a given raid, we would move them from their individual cells to the Black Room. While being moved, our detainees wore blacked-out goggles to increase stress and anxiety.

My guards would place the detainees against opposing walls. Once everyone was in position, they would quickly and briefly lift the detainees’ goggles so they could see their associates. In an amazing performance, one of my staff – in a very calm and confident voice – would then tell the group they needed to listen carefully as we were about to make a limited-time offer. They were told we knew who they were and that they shared similar experiences and knowledge. As a result, we explained, there was no need for us to question all of them. So, the first one (or two, or three – depending on group size) to cooperate would receive lenient treatment and be quickly released. The others would be identified as “uncooperative” and held indefinitely (Note: We were under no obligation to be truthful with our High-Value Individuals).

Pacing back and forth down the center of the room, my “choreographer” would then announce that all those ready to cooperate and be quickly processed for release should raise their right hand – NOW. Since our performance was based exclusively on auditory cues, nothing was left to chance. Regardless of whether anyone raised their hand, my “choreographer” would then loudly announce “Alright, we have one…now two..” (Note: His response was tailored based on group size).

Extra guards we had stationed in the Black Room would then noisily shuffle off, creating the illusion of cooperating detainees. The words and sounds exploited their worst fears. Within seconds, hands would go up (if they hadn’t initially). Paranoia soared as the sound of more exiting detainees echoed throughout the room.

In some cases, every detainee volunteered, creating a vicious race to see who could reveal the most information the fastest. For any that were left, we would wait until the room was again silent and as their goggles were lifted, tell them what their eyes knew to be true –several (if not all) of their colleagues had abandoned them. Invariably, the previously reluctant detainee(s) would suddenly agree to “take the deal.” The cut-throat competitiveness of the Prisoners’ Dilemma also precluded detainees from the self-defeating response of lying to one of my interrogators. It simply did not occur.

The most striking and disturbing aspect of this questioning technique was how quickly self-interest shattered not just the existing cohesiveness of the detainee group, but even their individual values, beliefs, and identities. Blood-ties and Al-Qaeda service together meant little when pitted against our appeal. On every occasion, primal self-interest trumped loyalty and collective needs, not it days or weeks, but in just a few short hours.

Spy Catcher Chris Simmons on Hartford’s Fox CT 1

Chris Simmons is an internationally known authority on espionage issues, especially Cuba’s intelligence services.

Simmons was the lead military official involved in the May 2003 expulsion of 14 Cuban spies serving under diplomatic cover, the third largest expulsion of diplomats in U.S. history. As a result of Simmons and other agents actions, Alberto Coll, a professor and former deputy assistant secretary of defense was arrested.

Simmons served in Grenada, the Balkans, Iraq and Afghanistan and interrogated more than 732 terrorists and other “high-value individuals” throughout his career. He was part of the special operations unit “Task Force 6-26″ and spent a total of 28 years in government service.

For more information visit

(Courtesy:  Fox CT)

How and Why Unrestrained Self-Interest Cripples Organizations…And Why The Bosses Let It Happen 4

By Chris Simmons

At one time, the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) reorganized, combining the Counterintelligence and Counterterrorism entities into a single unit called the Force Protection Division. Concurrent with this merger was the Agency-wide appointment of a “Collection Manager” within every division. The latter initiative was intended to improve the quality and quantity of DIA’s global intelligence collection. The goal was to have a highly-trained specialist in every division to help teach, mentor, and guide analysts. This would allow analysts to write highly-focused “information needs” so the field collectors could get the best possible answers.

I was assigned this duty and my boss gave me the support and free rein to get results. Analysts and collectors are two very different breeds and often have little understanding of the other’s wants and needs. Amazingly, despite this lack of understanding, the success of both groups is absolutely interdependent.

Analysts are ravenous consumers of raw intelligence and they often have insatiable appetites. Unfortunately, they can be lazy — content to write their analytic prose with snippets of juicy intelligence pulled from the torrent of information flowing from their computers. Too make matters worse; all too often they are graded on the volume of their products rather than their quality.

In contrast, collectors often feel like well-fertilized mushrooms because they are ignored and otherwise kept in the dark by analysts. Trained at great expense, these collectors can invest great resources (sometimes at considerable risk) to get the information their portfolio insists the analysts need, only to hear nothing back from headquarters. Imagine how a collector feels when after months of reporting on all manner of topics, they finally receive a message back from Washington. It reads, “I’m giving your last report a grade of C+. Now go get more.”

Collectors are graded on both the quantity and quality of their reporting. The latter comes from the grades they receive from analysts. A good analyst provides a collector with detailed feedback on their report. He/she is told what can be confirmed or refuted, as well as what information is so unique that it’s not known whether its true or not. If reporting on one topic has reached the saturation point, they are told that and redirected towards other pressing needs. A great relationship between an analyst and a collector(s) in the field can lead to some amazing results.

It can also lead to a phenomenon called “capturing the collector.” This occurs when an analyst aggressively feeds a collector with everything needed to generate more focused field reports. It’s not even important that the collector always get good grades, simply that they know somebody values what they do and that they will receive consistent feedback. Understandably, over time, collectors will curtail reporting of areas where they receive no feedback and increase coverage of topics where their hard work is appreciated.

We were blessed in that the Force Protection Division featured a large pool of gifted analysts passionate about the Counterintelligence and Counterterrorism fields. As a result, we – collectively – were able to capture collectors on a scale never previously imagined. We didn’t just bring individual collectors into our fold; we were able to “recruit” entire teams of field reporters.

One year after Collection Managers where established in every analytic division, our office produced 25% of all collection requirements levied by the Agency. Our efforts legitimately redirected a large segment of the Agency’s collectors to work extensively – or exclusively – on our topics. To put this imbalance into perspective, our division constituted just one-quarter of one percent of the entire Agency.

Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA)

Furthermore, in one instance, we teamed up with a reportedly underperforming collection base working in what we believed to be a target-rich reporting environment. We promised them we would provide written evaluations on 100% of their reporting on our subjects. We were true to our word and over the next 12 months, this base published over 250 reports on our equities. They were subsequently recognized as “Collector of the Year” which only amplified our global influence.

I always assumed at some point, someone in the hierarchy would tell us to “throttle back.” We were fundamentally shifting the focus of not just our collectors, but other Defense Department collectors too. Those instructions never came. Quite the contrary – DIA’s Collection wing loved that we were taking care of their people. We received similar praise and support from the military services and other national agencies as well.

National Security Agency (NSA)

In a sense, we were totally out of control and the Agency leadership and others could not have been happier. Even the other analytic divisions, whom we assumed would complain because we were reducing their percentage of collection efforts, were happy. After all, they weren’t being constantly badgered to increase the evaluation of field reporting.

Despite my pleasure in our unprecedented successes, a part of me always hoped that an Agency chieftain would one day cite us as the model for all others to emulate and in doing so, increase the depth and breadth of collection across the board. It bothered me that we had co-opted the entire system to do our bidding. It wasn’t rationale, it wasn’t logical, and perhaps, wasn’t in our national interests.

But it was in my self-interest, as well as that of my fellow Counterintelligence and Counterterrorism analysts, our bosses, collectors everywhere and their bosses, and so on and so forth. We justified it by arguing that if other analytic entities were doing their job, we would not have captured so many collectors. To our mind, their lack of effort should not count against us or the noble work of the collectors in the field.

Our de facto control over DIA and large swath’s of the Defense Department’s collection program remained unchecked until the Agency eventually ended the practice of division-level Collection Managers. In the associated reorganization, the Agency also broke apart the Force Protection Division. The Spy-Catchers and “Terrorist Hunters” – two sides of the same coin – became bitter rivals. The outcome was less than optimal….

Failing to Foresee the Inevitable: How & Why Al Qaeda Turned On Assad 1

By Chris Simmons

“The enemy of my enemy is my friend.” So thought Syrian President Bashar Assad when he allowed Al Qaeda (AQ) to create and sustain a “Rat Line” funneling a torrent of foreign fighters into Iraq. Now the stream has reversed course and AQ-trained and equipped fighters are flowing into Syria to fight with the Al Nusra Front. Benefitting greatly from the terrorist group’s extensive infrastructure in Iraq, its Syrian-based affiliate has swelled to 6000 fighters since its establishment in January 2012.Not surprisingly; Al Nusra seeks to replace Syria with a Sunni Islamic state.

For nine long years (2003-2011), Assad allowed AQ foot soldiers to fly into Damascus. There they entered an intricate network of safehouses whose staff smuggled them covertly into northeastern Iraq. Assad helped AQ kill Americans to undermine the US effort in Iraq. According to US media sources, no other leader in the Middle East did more to aid AQ operations in Iraq than President Assad. Yesterday The Washington Times cited retired US General John Keane as claiming even Syrian Intelligence was involved with directly helping AQ in its deadly mission.

Now his former “friends” have used their expertise to create the most powerful force within the diverse array of Syrian opposition groups. Combat seasoned, well-armed and disciplined, the Al Nusra Front has already proven itself capable of coordinated operations with other opposition entities. More importantly, AQ has the ability to make things much worse for Assad. US troops have left Iraq and Baghdad’s military does not threaten AQ the way American forces did. Additionally, AQ has increased the resources available for reassignment to Syria by recently freeing many of its captured combatants from Iraqi jails.

For unknown reasons, Assad did not anticipate AQ’s likely responses to a political opening occurring in Syria. In his dangerous game of “Human Chess,” he not only failed to understand his supposed ally, he also focused solely on his next move instead of his next several moves. President Assad never understood that while his self-interest and that of Al Qaeda’s did overlap on the sole issue of killing Americans, their overall interests could not have been more divergent. Their previous collaboration was merely a short-term marriage of convenience and as so often happens, the divorce has proven itself quite messy.

The 7 Warning Signs That Someone is Trying to Manipulate You Reply

By Chris Simmons

Any attempt to manipulate another individual is directed not against one’s logical/rationale persona, but rather their emotional side. An objective, sterile appeal is inherently doomed because it provides no reason for “buy-in” or commitment. As a result, your adversary (for lack of a better word) must appeal to your emotions in order to gain advantage over you.

The individual seeking to exploit you will almost always target one or more of several emotional themes. The seven “hooks” of manipulation are:

  1. Ego:  “Everyone knows you are the most talented programmer in this company. That’s why you should talk to the boss about all the problems in the new software. She’ll listen to you.”
  2. Love:  “Who told you I was out with John last week?  If you loved me, you wouldn’t say that. I would never betray you or do anything to hurt you. I thought we shared something special.”
  3. Likability:  “Don’t start having second thoughts now. We need you to stay the course. Everyone is counting on you. Don’t back out on us. Everyone will be so disappointed”
  4. Curiosity“Come on, do it. You only live once! Haven’t you always wanted to be a cliff diver? It will be a rush. You’ll never get another chance to do this. Just do it!!!”
  5. Intimidation“What’s your problem? It’s not that big a decision. Stop being a jellyfish and show some backbone!”
  6. Guilt:  “Seriously?  You think I broke my old phone on purpose so you’d have to get me a new one? I’m hurt that you would even think that.”
  7. Fear“The family that was here this morning really loves this place and they made a verbal offer at full asking price. If you’re serious about this gorgeous home, I need a really good written offer today or it will be gone.”

By recognizing a manipulator’s feelings-based appeal and the “hot buttons” he/she will push, you can avoid being their puppet.  Their high-pressure tactics are designed to disrupt your thought process, that is, the integration of relevant facts with self-interest and your associated emotional needs and wants. To defeat their abusive maneuver, remain calm, remove their emotive red herring from consideration, and allow yourself the time to make a reasoned, well-informed decision.

“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.

The Crazy Professor and “Machine Gun Hill” Reply

By Chris Simmons

Major Gunsberg was one of my History professors when I was a cadet at the Virginia Military Institute (VMI). The Major taught an infamous but highly desired, year-long course called The History of Warfare. Having served two tours in Vietnam as an Infantryman, he brought an edgy, philosophical, yet confrontational style of teaching to the classroom. It was pure theater and it kept us challenged and engaged.

Every day, Major Gunsberg tormented us with the same scenario:  You are leading an Infantry unit. You’ve just been ordered to take a hilltop so well fortified it is now called “Machine Gun Hill.” It’s a daylight attack. No artillery or air support is available. The hill offers no cover or concealment, so friendly casualties will be high. It cannot be bypassed – it must be captured. Pausing long enough for the words to sink in, he would then ask:  “So, how do you capture “Machine Gun Hill?”

Every possible answer we provided was wrong. Finally, on the last day of class, he told us the secret. We had been looking at the problem too narrowly. The only way to lead our men on a charge up “Machine Gun Hill” was to give them a cause in which they could believe. When committed to a cause, Gunsberg assured us, people freely make amazing – and sometimes life ending – sacrifices.

I was reminded of Major Gunsberg years later while running interrogation operations in Iraq. Many of the lower-level terrorists we’d captured began telling us they were fighting neither for Al Qaeda (AQ) or Islam. They explained to us that they did not hate Americans or members of the coalition forces. They fought because AQ had inspired them to fight for a cause – a cause worth dying for. It was a brilliantly cost-efficient and effective marketing strategy.

AQ recruiters had begun canvassing villages where poorly or uneducated residents had long ago abandoned all hope of a better tomorrow. Focusing on the young men and women, AQ wasted no time reinforcing the hopelessness of their lives and their village. The locals had little or no formal education, no schools, no hospitals or clinics, and in all likelihood, would die an early death from diseases that are treatable or preventable in many places of the world. To the young, impressionable men and women of the village, AQ’s grasp of the obvious captured their attention because the recruiters trafficked in that dangerous emotion called hope.

Their offer was surprisingly simple. If enough of them joined AQ, they would become the saviors of their village. They would do what none of their ancestors could accomplish – provide a better life for their family and the village. If enough volunteered, AQ pledged to drill a well and build a school, or at least provide a visiting teacher on a regular schedule. Likewise, an AQ medic would provide medical care for the volunteers and their families. Once again, if enough volunteered, medical care would be provided to the entire village. In some cases, a clinic was built. Recruits were told if they died serving with Al Qaeda, their families would be taken care of for the rest of their lives. By volunteering, the young men and women became immortal in the eyes of their families and friends. The message resonated and brought in a lot of “foot soldiers” to the cause.

AQ ensured they kept hope alive by fulfilling their promises to the villagers. These recruits fought us not because they believed in AQ, but simply because it provided a better life for their family while making them village heroes.

A cause to believe in – an inspirational albeit sometimes deadly thing indeed!