In a largely safe and pleasant world, we occasionally hear in the news about the fraud, corruption, and terrorism that is threatening our personal safety, our organizations and our countries.
A key tool in this the environment is Elicitation. It is used against us. And we use it against the ‘bad- guys/gals’. So how do you know when it is being used against you to steal your identity, access your business or penetrate national security? The chances are that you won’t. If elicitation is done well you won’t notice it during the episode, and even on reflection won’t walk away feeling that you have been ‘elicited’. So let’s highlight a few features to help you protect yourself.
I define Elicitation as “a process used to draw out information from people, during a communication with a purpose, often without them realizing the elicitor’s purpose for doing so”. This is in line with the National Security Agency (USA) definition which argues that “Elicitation is the subtle extraction of information during an apparently normal and innocent conversation”. And finally, Elicitation is defined as “a technique used to discreetly gather information. It is a conversation with a specific purpose: collect information that is not readily available and do so without raising suspicion that specific facts are being sought. It is usually non-threatening, easy to disguise, deniable, and effective. The conversation can be in person, over the phone, or in writing. Conducted by a skilled collector, elicitation will appear to be normal social or professional conversation. A person may never realize she was the target of elicitation or that she provided meaningful information. (Elicitation Techniques, FBI [accessed 20 Aug 2012]).
It works so easily because many people are keen to be liked, to be polite, to appear intelligent and knowledgeable, to be flattered and praised and to correct wrongs and errors. This exerts an internal pressure which can easily be released by a skilled Elicitor. The Elicitor also needs to be skilled in knowing when others are telling the truth or lying. We cover the 27 indicators of deception in our book, Getting to the Truth, though Elicitation skills are best developed in live practical workshops and real-world contexts. When this is done well the performance of those we train quadruples (see White Paper here ).
If you are a ‘good- guy/gal’, then this can make you a great conversationalist. Conversely, if you feel that you are being drawn into a conversation where you are being probed for information that you really shouldn’t share or that makes you uncomfortable, then keep these points in mind:
- you are not obliged to tell people anything unless there is a legal obligation to do so (verified)
- simply ignore the prompt and move on
- deflect the question with one of your own
- give a non-descript answer
- simply say that you dont know the answer
- suggest you would need to clear this with others before you share sensitive information.
These tips and others can be found in a Homeland Security leaflet, Elicitation_ Would You Recognize It that is not much use to the Elicitor, but a useful guide to those wanting to insulate against the process.
This covers techniques such as:
- Appealing to one’s ego
- Expression of mutual interest
- Deliberate false statements
- Volunteering information
- Assumed knowledge.
If you are a ‘bad- guy/gal’ then I am afraid this will not help you. As when elicitation is applied by those highly trained you will not notice it. And any tactics to defend yourself against a professional Elicitor will mean that you will leak clusters of the 27 indicators used in behavior analysis that are triggered by emotional and cognitive load within 500 milliseconds and are pre-conscious and therefore impossible to control.
Stay vigilant, be curious and don’t abuse such skills if they can potentially harm others.