Get the Truth: Former CIA Officers Teach You How to Persuade Anyone to Tell All (8 page)

BOOK: Get the Truth: Former CIA Officers Teach You How to Persuade Anyone to Tell All
9.24Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

On one occasion, when Michael was working on an espionage case at the Agency, the suspect told Michael that he had been labeled by investigators as a “spy.” Michael knew he had to work quickly to reverse the damage created by that harsh language. This simple exchange did the trick:

They called you a

They called me a spy.

What’s a spy?

I don’t know. I guess someone who sells secrets for money.

You know that’s BS in your case, because we all know you were merely sharing information to help promote the global stability that we’re all working for.

Yes, it was kind of hokey. But it worked.

It’s also important to bear in mind that the use of insulting or offensive language can cause a person to clam up altogether. Michael was once hired by a prominent criminal defense lawyer who was representing a client of Chinese descent. The client was a nuclear physicist employed by a major defense contractor, and he had allegedly provided classified information to Chinese intelligence services. He had been under FBI surveillance for some time, and was photographed and recorded meeting with known Chinese intelligence agents on numerous occasions.

He was brought in for questioning, and for what the FBI fully expected to be a confession, considering the amount of incriminating evidence that had been collected. According to the suspect, when he walked into the interrogation room to be questioned by two FBI agents, one of the agents opened the encounter with the instruction, “Sit over there, Chinaman.”

That treatment contrasted sharply with the respectful approach taken by Michael, whose understanding and sincerity had led the suspect to open up to him much more extensively than he had to the FBI. In fact, when he heard that racial slur, the suspect said he told himself, “No matter how much evidence they produce, no matter how obvious my guilt becomes, I will never, never, never give these two agents the satisfaction of obtaining my confession.” In the end, the government struck a plea bargain that resulted in no prison time for this nuclear scientist who ultimately confessed to passing secrets to China.

* * *

Let’s say it’s Friday night, and you’ve gone with your significant other to see a movie. Being the good moviegoing citizen you are, you turned your phone off when you were instructed to do so by the zombie/cowboy/warrior in the clever spot following the previews of coming attractions. After the movie, as you’re walking out of the theater, you turn your phone back on, and you see you have a missed call and a voicemail from a number you don’t recognize. You’re curious, so you decide to listen to the voicemail—chatting with your significant other about the movie will have to wait. You tap the button on the voicemail screen, and this is what you hear:


• Rationalize the action

• Project the blame

• Minimize the seriousness

• Socialize the situation

• Emphasize the truth

“This is Detective Williams with the State Police. Please call me at this number at your earliest convenience. Thank you.”

Your heart starts beating a mile a minute. Why on earth is a State Police detective calling you? You know you haven’t done anything wrong. You even turn your phone off whenever you’re supposed to. Doesn’t matter. Your heart is still racing.
What did I do?
The fact of the matter is, there are any number of perfectly reasonable explanations for the call that have nothing to do with any wrongdoing on your part. Maybe Detective Williams dialed the wrong number. Maybe he was doing fundraising for the families of deceased and disabled police officers. Maybe there was a burglary on your street, and he was calling everyone who lived nearby to see if they’d seen any suspicious activity. Your mind went to none of those places. You were too busy jumping from bleak scenario to bleak scenario. How are you going to explain whatever they think you did wrong to your significant other and your family? Are you going to need a lawyer? You don’t even know any lawyers. Except that guy at the gym, but he’s an imbecile. Are you going to have to take time off from work? If you do, what should you tell your boss?

By the time you get home, you’re frantic. And it’s all because of a very simple diagnosis. You’ve contracted a mind virus.

Mind virus
is a colloquial term for the psychological discomfort a person feels when he receives information that has potentially negative consequences, causing his mind to race with hypothetical ramifications of the information. We’re all vulnerable to them. There’s no inoculation that can protect us from them.

The mind virus phenomenon is one that will tend to work to your advantage in an elicitation situation, and you can even use it to great effect when the hypothetical consequences are positive. The way to trigger it is by using implicit, rather than explicit, language.

Let’s say you’re a school administrator, and you’re speaking with a student who, according to three of his classmates, had brought a gun into school the day before. The students didn’t report it until today, and a search of his locker and belongings failed to turn up any gun. The most likely scenario, given the information you have, is that the student brought the gun to school yesterday, but took it home at the end of the day and left it there. Still, if he did bring a gun into the school, you need to know.

Now, you clearly can’t say to him, “If you tell me, we’re not going to expel you.” But what you can say is something on the order of, “Our goal here is to get this resolved—to understand why this issue has come up, and to get it worked out.” Then you let his mind take that and run with it. Let him put his own spin on what “resolve” means, what “worked out” means. Then, if he does come out and ask what “resolve” means, don’t box yourself in. You might respond with something like this:

“Listen, ‘resolve’ simply means that we need to understand why this happened. Once we understand why this happened, then we can think about next steps. We can’t even begin to think about next steps at this point, because we have no idea why it happened. We know what, we know who, but we don’t know why. You need to help us understand that. Then we can figure out where to go from there.”

The beautiful part is that if the consequences go against him, he understands that it’s his fault—it’s not your fault, it’s not the school’s fault, it’s not the system’s fault. And he came to that understanding without you having to beat him over the head with his mistake.

Phil used precisely the same strategy in his interrogation of Lee. Clearly, he couldn’t let Lee off the hook, so he let the mind virus do its thing. When he told Lee that getting everything out on the table was the only way to fix the problem, he left it to Lee to put his own spin on whatever “fix” might mean. When he told him that Nate “knows you can do so much good for so many people, given the opportunity,” he let Lee decide whether that meant he still had a future with the Agency. When he suggested that “maybe your Foelandian friends took advantage of you,” it was up to Lee to decide where to take that.

* * *

It’s important to be clear that while the process of building the monologue is, to some extent, a formulaic one, it is not one that allows for any sort of cookie-cutter approach. No doubt, some of the phrases we commonly use are applicable to just about any situation. But what you need to strictly avoid is employing any kind of plug-and-play technique, or creating a monologue that’s nothing but an amalgamation of sound bites. You need to customize the monologue to the individual and the situation you’re dealing with. That effort begins even before you transition into interrogation mode, by ensuring that you’re listening closely and assimilating what the person is saying during the interview. If he mentions in his response to one of your questions that his wife is expecting, or that he was recently laid off, or that money is tight because he has three kids in college, that information can be invaluable in helping you to craft customized rationalization statements that will strike a chord.

It’s also essential to be thoroughly informed about the case facts. In Phil’s interrogation of Lee, he capitalized on Lee’s friendship with Nate. The same strategy holds for any elicitation: The monologue you build needs to be constructed around whatever information you have about the individual.

Suppose you’re an office manager, and you’ve discovered that $50 is missing from the petty cash box. The timing and circumstances are such that it’s almost certain that Sally, an assistant bookkeeper, took the money. You know that she’s a single mom, and that she’s struggling to make ends meet. When you confront her, she denies knowing anything about the missing money. So what you convey to her might go something like this:

“Sally, as I was preparing to sit down to talk to you, one of the things that occurred to me, knowing what I know about you, is why would this happen to her? Why might she do something like this? You know, over the years, I’ve talked to a lot of people who do things for reasons that nobody can justify, or understand. But what if this is a totally different situation? For example, I ask myself, what if I were to go home one night, and my son and daughter looked up at me and said, ‘Mommy, what’s for dinner?’ And I’m confronted with the truth: There is no dinner. There’s nothing in the refrigerator. There’s nothing in the cabinets. There’s no money in my purse. There
no dinner. Would I do something I normally would never do, because now I have no choice? What if I was forced to make that decision? I’m very lucky, Sally. I don’t have to do that. The point I’m trying to make is that if you’ve been in those kinds of situations, we need to know that. We need to understand that. It still doesn’t necessarily turn an unfortunate decision into a good decision, but it helps us understand. Because we all make unfortunate decisions. We make them every day. But what’s important here is to help people understand
this happened.”

Nothing cookie-cutter about that. It speaks directly to Sally’s personal situation, and it’s presented in a way that will connect with her. Of course, it’s not always quite that easy. It’s one thing when the issue you’re dealing with is $50 missing from petty cash. But what if you were investigating an unspeakable crime? Customizing the monologue in those cases requires a lot of experience. Unless you’re in a position like that of a law enforcement officer who is routinely exposed to heinous crimes, or a psychologist who has worked with people who have all sorts of serious problems, it’s hard to imagine some of the things we as human beings are capable of. So it can be very difficult in those cases to create a monologue that’s more than a collection of standard sound bites. You can rationalize, minimize, and project the blame for anything, but for it to be meaningful it has to be consistent with the gravity and case facts of the situation. There has to be a base of rationalizations and defenses to draw upon in order to make the monologue relevant. So experience and training in those areas become essential.

The same fundamental idea is applicable to other, less intense situations. Let’s say you’re a human resources manager, and part of your job is to screen and interview job candidates. Over time, you’ll develop a sense of what people tend to lie about—how they might falsify their résumés, or embellish their education or skill level. So you’ll need to maintain a monologue base, and generate a repository of meaningful rationalizations and other information to draw from during the interview. If, for example, you work for a professional sports franchise, and you find that the candidates who apply for a public relations position tend to grossly exaggerate their list of professional contacts in that sport, you need to be able to manage that. You need to be prepared for that problem to crop up in the interview, because it’s critical that you gain an accurate picture of the connectedness of each candidate so you and the hiring manager can make the best hiring decision. If the issue arises, and you find you need to persuade the candidate to come clean on what his real level of connectedness is, it’ll be very helpful to have a rationalization to draw upon that will help him out. It might sound something like this:

“You know, what we’ve found in interviewing for this position is that a lot of people think they have to have some massive database of high-profile contacts in order to even be considered for the job, so they end up going a little over the top in how they portray their own situation. That’s perfectly understandable, because there’s a lot of misinformation and disinformation out there about what the expectations are. The truth is, that’s nowhere near the top of the list of what we’re looking for. We already have a robust contact database. The right person for this position is someone we can work with to exploit that database, and add to it over time. We want to be able to provide whatever support is needed, but to do that, it’s essential that we have a really accurate picture of what we’re working with. Without that, it’s very difficult to move forward in this process.”

Boom. You just made him see the light.

* * *

The process of interviewing and interrogating children must be executed with extreme care. Children sometimes answer questions they don’t understand, and sometimes provide answers to questions without realizing they’re mistaken. Anyone who deals with children knows that the line between fantasy and reality is often blurred, and what we might consider to be a lie is not a lie in the mind of a child. The monologue must therefore be tailored in a way that takes those factors into account.

Michael was once contracted by a lawyer, whom we’ll call “Mr. Jones,” to interview a thirteen-year-old girl—let’s call her “Paulette”—who claimed to be a victim of severe abuse by members of a satanic cult when she was six years old. It was a particularly disturbing case. According to Paulette, she, along with sixty other children, were subjected to satanic rituals that included rape and torture at the hands of the leader of a satanic cult in California. Some children, Paulette claimed, had been murdered. Mr. Jones was investigating the possibility of filing a class-action lawsuit against the satanic cult, and he saw Paulette as the most credible voice among the children who had allegedly been harmed. Mr. Jones either truly believed Paulette’s story, or desperately wanted to believe it. So he hired Michael to interview her, with the expectation that he would find her to be truthful. That finding would greatly strengthen his case.

BOOK: Get the Truth: Former CIA Officers Teach You How to Persuade Anyone to Tell All
9.24Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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