Month: May 2020

Deception: Verbal Behaviour

This is the final of three posts for improving front end capacity to prevent and detect predatory physical access and programs access attacks to critical infrastructure facilitated by bogus documents. The potential of security and front line employees face-to-face with would-be attackers is often underutilized. Hereafter this article refers to security and front line employees screening for access to privileges, benefits or services as agents. The training and skills development resources to vest in these agents is contingent upon the threat and potential outcome from a security compromise.

Agents at the point-of-contact are the primary (in the first instance) information gatherers for organizations.  It is the point of intersection between the predator and the organization where they have least control over the ruse, and they know it. Risk in this context is a feeling. Automated registration systems are more efficient if the critical infrastructure is willing to accept the additional risks. Science is pretty clear that the farther away humans are from face-to-face transactions, the easier it is cognitively and thus, the more they cheat.

Quick Review

Agents are dependent on identification and other documents to make business decisions about people the don’t personally know.  Visual (nonverbal) information is processed through the prism of emotions. This automatic/experiential information processing system deep in the brain alerts conscious awareness of things to be attracted to, things to avoid, and things that are novel. Verbal information is processed in a different region of the brain. Beyond the scope of this post, the two information processing systems are connected by a neurotransmitter pathway of neurons and they influence each other depending on the circumstances in the outside environment.

It is reported from meta studies that the best results in deception management are from a combination of nonverbal and verbal red flag cues. Consequently, improving capacity to detect attacks begins with agents establishing a verbal/nonverbal behaviour baseline in order to observe the behavior of others reacting to agent authority. There is a caveat: Sometimes a nonverbal reaction is not a nonverbal response to a question, or other action. It can be a response to something else that was triggered in long-term memory.

Information Gathering by Agents

How information is gathered at the point-of-contact has implications on data collection accuracy, down the road at getting to the truth if agent concerns are escalated for more in-depth review, and in the most egregious cases to its suitability in civil and criminal proceedings.

The agent’s role is different from that of the public police. Police interviewing and interrogation skills training sometimes mission creeps into private sector interviewing training. Person’s of interest interviewed by police do not have to disclose information they feel will cause them harm. Therefore investigators are trained to develop rapport at the front end of the interview.

Agents are in a different, more advantageous situation. The person they are gathering information from wants something and cannot obtain it, without providing the agent all information the agent needs to make their decision. The agent’s role is more consistent with how the likes of psychiatrists and social workers gather information in a process for assessing the reliability of declarations and statements made to them.

The open-ended question

The tool of every professional information gatherer is the open ended question. It forces an interviewee into a editing process. They must choose what to say, and what not to say. Language leaks. Verbal red flags manifest in the structure of language the interviewee uses as they fabricate a story, avoid disclosing something, or even in specific words used to define the relationship they have with the documents they present. For example, there is a difference in relationship between “my’ document and “the” document. The real question is why is the relationship distant? Is it because it isn’t their document, or are they upset about it for some reason?

In everyday conversation with folks we listen to content – what was said. When language is ambiguous or there is information missing from the story, we cognitively fill in the blanks. Agents can’t afford to do this. Agents listen to context in responses to their questions – how things are said. They cannot make excuses for an interviewee when there is ambiguous or missing language.

Very Important Rule for Agents

There is nothing worse for business than false negatives – accusations about reliability that are unfounded.  Beliefs can be scary things. If someone believes their job is to root out deception, they will find it where it isn’t. If someone believes one particular group is more predatory than another, they will find problems with that group they won’t with other groups and that are unfounded. Bias will keep them from digging deep for clarification.

Here is a nugget:  Because the interviewee must provide all information the agent expects, the agent should begin every interview with total belief in what the person is telling them. The interviewee’s reality, whether they can be truthful or must be deceptive in order to get that which they seek, will show up in the structure of the language and words they use, and in nonverbal behaviour if there is mounting cognitive stress. 

A mindful infusion of science. A well thought out skills development implementation plan combined with practical escalation protocols for more in depth review. Doing this inside a learning culture. All of these things can improve physical and financial security at critical infrastructure. We can prevent more attacks before the occur, and increase the certainty of catching some predators the act. We can reduce the number of poor judgments which result in loss of reputation, trust and sometimes financial costs from torts where judgments have been egregious.


Deception: Nonverbal Behaviour

Risk appetite at Critical Infrastructure depends on the the level of threat and anticipated outcome of a security compromise. The outcome was catastrophic from terrorist boarding airplanes in Boston [2001] and crashing them into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a field in Pennsylvania.

There was a lot of political noise post-911. What to do about terrorists boarding aircraft using fraudulently obtained identification cards?

The Congressional Reaction 

The political response, in lieu of seemingly impossible logistics of a National ID Card, was to tweak the security requirements for State issuing of driver’s licences and identification cards with REAL ID.  A post implementing review of REAL ID was undertaken by the U.S. General Accounting Office. The first audit results were published under title, Counterfeit Identification Raises Homeland Security Concerns [2003]. Another study published in 2009 reviewed the progress of individual states in complying with the REAL ID regulations.


The outcome is not all that promising for security. Desk audits found a general inability to detect deception with counterfeit and forged documents presented to security and immigration at airports and at Departments of Motor Vehicles (DMV) across the U.S. State compliance with REAL ID is not consistently applied across each State.

The reality, when someone presents a Certificate of Birth, of which there are 7,000 plus issuers in the US, at a DMV service outlet as proof of status, it is a genesis document for a variety of other means of identification. With a birth registration system designed for the conditions of 1907, no provisions were made to include a biometrics directly linked to the birth record. It remains the same to this day. Secondly, out-of-state deaths are not correlated with in-state births.

So, what is left?

Outside increasing the effort to commit personation and identity fraud, and which is beyond the reach of those depending on these documents, what is left is to increase certainty of catching predators in the act. They are at their most vulnerable while presenting fraudulently acquired, forged, and loaned/stolen genuine documents at the point-of-service to complete their ruse.

Ability to identify red flag indicators of deception is a learned and honed skill.  People higher on the emotional intelligence scale have a better chance of success in maintaining focus over longer periods of time, and better equipped to pick up on the emotions of others.

Back to Affective Realism

The previous post, “Affective Realism“, poured the footings for deception risk mitigation. This metaphor high-lights the most fundamental building block of deception management.

This post posits nonverbal behaviour as a component of assessing the reliability of statements and declarations made at the point-of-service in the deception management game. Assessing nonverbal behaviour can be complicated and fraught with variability. It refers to communication distinct from speech. It is taken generally to include facial and eye expressions, hand and arm gestures, postures, positions, use of space between individuals and objects, and various movements of the body, legs and feet.

Nonverbal behaviour communication can be generated deliberately, the behaviours can be culturally nuanced, and they can be triggered my emotions from below levels of conscious awareness.

The complexity here is that the emotionally triggered nonverbal behaviour can be for something totally unrelated to a request or question posed.

Context is Everything

Nonverbal behaviour must be interpreted contextually: “Depending on or relating to the circumstances that form the setting, in this case, for a security screening event.”  And as learned in the last post, nonverbal behaviour is interpreted through the prism of emotions, as well as beliefs and biases. One can see that is not a precise, nor absolute science. It is fraught with variability.

This does not mean throwing nonverbal behaviour out. It for certain means assessing with humility. When something appears to be aberrant, or out-of-sequence, it is mistake to jump to a conclusion that there is deception. It is something to potentially action with followup questions at the point-of-service or, optionally, to escalate for more in-depth review.

What’s Next?

Meta studies of the research resulted in no single nonverbal or verbal clue as a reliable indicator of deception. The probability of detection increases when clusters of indicators are present (DePaulo ‘et al’, 2003; Masip, ‘et al’ 2005; Vrij 2006; Sporer & Schwandt, 2006,2007).

A future post scans verbal behaviour.

Affective Realism

“We do not passively detect information in the world and then react to it — we construct perceptions of the world as the architects of our own experience.”

Researchers on affective realism are arriving at a consensus that, at any  given moment, emotional state influences perception of information received through sensory channels, with the exception of smell which has it’s own channel.

These early findings have broad, real-world implications that extend from everyday social interactions, to situations with more severe consequences such as:

  • When judges or jury members have to evaluate whether a defendant is remorseful;
  • During police time-sensitive judgment to discharge a firearm in environmentally negative conditions; or
  • When front line employees are making judgments about people they don’t know, who are presenting documents for access to critical infrastructure, to board airplanes, and in other similar circumstances.

Being competent at interpreting what is behind the curtain in the behaviour of others is complicated. There is no absolute. There are many factors to consider and to scientifically research, which will undoubtedly lead to new discoveries.