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Bowe Bergdahl had just been released by his “captors” in Afghanistan in exchange for the release of 4 high value Gitmo prisoners when a major media outlet asked me to review some of Bergdahl’s writings. In particular they wanted to get a sense of Bergdahl the man.
I decided to approach the process of reviewing the limited amount of Bergdahl’s writings from the stand point of an interrogator preparing himself to sit down and talk to the man. How does he think? How does he perceive himself? How does he see the world around him? What drives his behavior everyday and in particular what is his reaction to events that cause him stress and how does he handle himself in those situations? What was his state of mind and was his behavior intentional when his disappeared from his unit June 30, 2009?
Immediately after reading Bergdahl, I was struck by the observation that this is a man who did little more than “dream about life” but had no effort and had no initiative or self discipline to strive to make those dreams come true. He makes references to himself as a lone wolf in a dark world. He sees little or nothing in the world that is for him as if he is disappointed with life and wants to find it’s beauty but would barely turn himself in that direction to go find it. My perception is that looks at himself as a Knight without a Lord or Ronin – the Samurai without a master.
Bergdahl’s problem however with being that Knight or Samurai is that he dreams of the role BUT expects someone or something else to do the work to turn him into those romantic figures. In a very telling passage in some of his writing Bergdahl berates the Army and the US mission in Afghanistan. His remarks present the image of himself and his fellow warriors as nothing more than frightened cowards hiding from children behind sandbags. In all reality, Bergdahl has just described himself. Bergdahl wanted to “Be all [he] could be” but the blames the Army for not “making” him into that warrior that he doesn’t have the discipline to do himself.
Starting on June 9, 2009, Bergdahl’s writings took on a significant change. He began writing to his friends stateside in a crude code making remarks that it was not safe to talk about what he was going to happen. He hints at his plans that he knows are wrong and is concern about how others will perceive those plans. He was full aware that what he was going to do was wrong and could bring the world down on him. As an interrogator, I will make an analysis of a subject’s behavior on the basis of “plan of action continuum” that investigators use to analysis everything from serial crimes to active shooters to acts of terrorism:
In my opinion, Bergdahl’s actions of walking away from his unit on June 30, 2009 was done with well-planned intent. From June 9 when the dialogue of his writing’s changed until June 30, 2006 when he walked away, Bergdahl planning and preparing. Almost like a person ready to commit suicide, Bergdahl was saying his good byes, giving away his belongings, tying up loose ends, closing out the books. It was not on a whim but with deliberate intent. Bergdahl was “suiciding his current life” because it brought him no joy and no one was going to take him by the hand and lead him on the journey to find his dreams – a journey for which he had no initiative to take on his own.
In my opinion Bergdahl was not just some unfortunate soldier that due to some random set of circumstances that wandered into the hands of the enemy. He finally developed enough initiative to take action and that was to walk away from a situation where no one would “make” him into something and find another situation and give someone else to opportunity to create his life for him.
I’m done reading…time to interrogate the deserter, Bergdahl.
Just my opinion…let me hear yours.
Stan B. Walters
“The Lie Guy®”
If you write a book, you have a right to lie. At least that’s what Lance Armstrong’s attorney’s say about his autobiographies. Lance Armstrong is being sued by his book publishers for $5 million dollars plus damages for the massive lies he wrote about in his books.
I find it very interesting that Armstrong’s attorney Jonathan Herman says “People don’t always have to tell the truth.” I guess it doesn’t matter that he duped the publishers and millions of readers in his books “It’s Not About the Bike” and “Every Second Counts.” The argument is that he didn’t fraudulently mislead anybody to buy his books through some form of false advertising campaign. The publisher’s attorney Kevin Roddy says “He cheated on bike races to sell books and he published books in order to cover up cheating. We think they are intertwined.”
I wonder if Armstrong’s attorney would be so cavalier about lying if it was a witness he was deposing? Would he be so generous if a witness lied on the witness stand? I guess as long as I feel “justified” in the situation I am authorized to lie. That’s the same logic people use with they commit all types of crimes, fraud, deception, even sabotage and espionage!
In my mind, this is just another example of Armstrong’s grossly over blown ego and that he can do anything he wants and can find ways to justify his actions. Lying, not matter the situation is ALWAYS done for selfish reasons. Even the little white lies we tell in social situations. What I worry about are the lies that are designed to “hide” a wrong, “hype” the image of oneself, or to “harm” another.
In my mind, chronic lying (hide, hype and harm) is a sign of a MAJOR character flaw on the part of the liar. It would be my opinion that Armstrong has some major character flaw issues!
Don’t you find it amazing that liars are so good at rationalizing and justifying their behavior? Isn’t amazing that some people go out of their way to enable these people to keep getting away with victimizing others?
I guess some people just prefer to be lied to because they hate hearing the truth as much as some people fear telling the truth.
Well … at least that’s my observation anyway.
Stan B. Walters, CSP
“The Lie Guy®”
One interview and interrogation training course is NOT a vaccination! Just because you took one course on the topic doesn’t mean you don’t need or won’t benefit from any more follow-up training. More often that not investigators and especially their administrators maintain the philosophy that once you take a course on interview and interrogation, you don’t really need any more training on the topic for the rest of your career.
The last 10 – 12 years has seen an enormous amount new research and legal rulings on interview and interrogation. To maintain a high level of proficiency and reduce personal legal liability, investigators should be constantly studying and researching interview and interrogation research as well as their particular field of expertise. A VERY large majority of the research has proven that many of our detection of deception techniques are absolutely wrong! Unfortunately misdiagnosis of deception signs is one of the leading causes of false confessions. Even more disturbing is how many people teaching interview and interrogation have been ignoring the empirical research and are responsible for continuing to perpetuate myths about deception and interrogation.
Questions the professional interviewer & interrogator should ask themselves -
- Am I dedicated to being the best in my field including my interview & interrogation skills? Am I a “virtuoso” in my field or am I just average?
- Am I spending 30 – 60 minutes per day reading about interview and interrogation or about my area of specialization?
- Have I ever spent the equivalent of the cost of a gourmet cup of coffee on educating and improving myself and my knowledge base?
- How long ago did I take any training or refresher training on interview & interrogation?
- Have I really looked at the true “source” of my interview and interrogation training? Is what I am being taught supported by empirical evidence or is it just anecdotal. As business expert Mark Sanborn wrote in his latest business book “Up, Down or Sideways,” despite popular belief “data is not the plural of anecdotal.”
- Am I learning for the future? The more you learn, the more you know what you are going to need to learn to be able to adapt to what you will encounter in the future.
If nothing else, there is one more VERY good reason to read, research and study our interview and interrogation skills. We dramatically improve our chances of success in the interview room and in the field.
Mark Sanborn wrote “The more you learn, the more you develop behavioral flexibility that provides you a distinct advantage over your competition.”
Interrogation techniques taught to investigators run the gamut of styles and philosophies. Certain styles have a higher tendency of showing up in false confessions cases. One of the characteristics of those flawed techniques is the use of false evidence as a tool to get the subject to confess.
There are numerous “problem” interrogation techniques that teach and support the use of false evidence to put pressure on the subject. Suspect techniques tend to also recommend tactics that include suggesting unnamed witnesses, the presence of surveillance cameras when none exist, DNA, fingerprints, footprints, making up file folders purportedly filled with evidence, labeling DVD’s of video tapes with the subject’s name and more. This is typical of high pressure interrogation methods which in and of themselves have a high correlation with false confession.
A documented tactic used by some problem interrogation methods that has been shown to have a very strong correlation to false confessions is the use of the high pressure tactic of suggesting that the subject has a memory problem. There is empirical evidence that one of several common denominators found in false confessions is referred to as “memory distrust syndrome.” In many of these cases the subject need not have a “high suggestibility rating” as described in extensive research on false confessions. Using high pressure tactics, guilt assumptive techniques dominated by leading questions, interrupting the subject, short answer questioning techniques, combined with the interviewer suggesting the subject may not be able to trust their memory is a deadly combination.
Empirical studies of interrogation techniques that capitalize on false evidence do promote false confessions. Such tactics will also contaminate the statements of uncooperative victim’s and witnesses.
Our law enforcement training academies and corporate loss prevention training associations would do well if they would familiarize themselves with the techniques that promote such tactics. They are exposing themselves, their academies, their investigators and their companies to the risk of liability by training their personnel in methods and interrogation techniques that are now being made illegal in many countries.
I think it’s time we paid more attention to the interrogation methods we teach. Are we just training our personnel in a technique because of the name or more importantly, are we really aware of the the moral and legal ethical problems that exist due to the content of the training.
Of course, this just my opinion on the topic.
One of the most persistent myths about signs of deception is that a break in eye contact is a sign of lying. NOTHING could be further from the truth. The sad part is that law enforcement academies keep shooting themselves in the foot by perpetuating the myth.
I recently read an article posted on PoliceOne.com (an excellent site I might add!) submitted with a title that screamed “The eyes have it: How to detect deception: If there is a #1 rule in the interpretation of non-verbal human behavior, it is to look for breaks in eye contact.” In my opinion the article was loaded with unsubstantiated declarations and anecdotal evidence as proof positive that breaks in eye contact are the number 1 sign of deception.
The sad thing is, the author trains not only law enforcement and criminal justice agencies as well as loss prevention and risk management professionals. He also professes that he teaches material suitable for “certification.” Based on the content of the article, it is obvious that he has never read single piece of social-psychological research because if he did he would learn that what he is professing “as an authority” is pure bogus myth. Conservatively speaking, there are now well over 30 plus articles outlining empirical evidence that refute his claim. Well… we should won’t want “science” the get in the way of our pre-conceptions!
In the meantime, interrogators and their agencies are being dragged into court for seriously flawed and contaminated victim and witness interviews and severely flawed interrogations including false confession cases. A good portion of the problem can be traced back to courses taught in our academies that espouse such unsubstantiated, disproven, baseless and scientifically inaccurate content that in my opinion borders on the side of negligence.
My message to academies to bring this type of crap into their training schedule should be more diligent about the content and the supporting documentation to avoid this type of drivel.
Of course, this is just my opinion but I would like to hear your point of view including your experiences with the same type of problem.