I’ve known Kent for many years, and we have worked together on various ideas of so-called lie detectors. I and he are both skeptics. I am because I have had them in line with my high falutin’ security clearances and know them to be of no value, and Kent because of his work with interrogations. Buy his new book if you have any interest in this subject.
I’ve had a couple of careers that relied on my expertise in assessing credibility. Throughout that experience, the deception detection fakers were constantly making it difficult to do the job. With their fake methods of monitoring body functions being accepted by the gullible masses, it was difficult to do real-world credibility assessment. Developing my own method, based on the real-world, was the only way to survive and be successful. That experience is captured in the new book: Holistic Contextual Credibility Assessment: A Reality-based Alternative to Deception Detection.
Below are some excerpts.
Methods of deception detection, or practices claiming skill at detecting deception, have a dismal track record. Standard methods of deception detection use techniques of observing or monitoring bodily functions. Academic and practical studies show that such techniques produce results generally no more skillful than flipping a coin. Yet, moving into the heart of the 21st century, commercial and government plans for the next generation of technology-driven attempts to detect deception are nearly all based on non-useful bodily function monitoring. Many current proposed technological solutions are based on monitoring facial expressions, in hopes of catching a micro-second-long expression of emotion, and somehow using that to detect deception, using artificial intelligence. Such attempts are likely doomed to fail, since there is no evidence that facial expressions, or any bodily functions, are reliably linked to deception.
I argue that deception detection is not a useful concept, and that any approach based on monitoring bodily functions is not useful. I further argue that whether the bodily function techniques use technology or supposedly trained experts, none of them are skillful in detecting deception.
Instead, this book advocates for an approach of Credibility Assessment using a method created and proven in three practical domains–intelligence, consular, and commercial executive recruiting.
The method introduced and explained here is Holistic Contextual Credibility Assessment (HCCA). Gathering data and evidence about a subject person from all angles, holistically, is the heart of the method. Acknowledging that people are different in different cultural contexts, and that actions, speech, and attitudes differ from one culture or sub-culture to another is a key concept. HCCA incorporates the concept of context by requiring a practitioner to have contextual competence in the culture or sub-culture of the subject. Logical deduction, along with subjective contextually competent intuition are incorporated in the assessment phase. The results of such an assessment using HCCA leads to a skillful and useful judgement of credibility.
Finally, this book lays out a Credibility Assessment challenge to advocates of methods based on monitoring bodily functions.
HCCA gathers evidence and information on the whole person and the whole situation surrounding the person. HCCA considers the subject in their unique cultural context. The method is a cascading process of gathering, evaluating, assessing, and then judging.
HCCA requires a savvy, aware practitioner to be skillful in gathering evidence and signals, to be familiar with the cultural context of the subject, to use deductive reasoning, and to be comfortable with intuitive signals. And finally, the practitioner must make a judgement based on the holistic view of the subject.
The HCCA method requires practitioner context-specific competence and self-awareness of knowledge and skills, combined with the ability to interview subjects and/or collect evidence, and to apply skeptical and logical reasoning to the entire body of evidence available, remaining open to additional evidence or interpretation of evidence. HCCA requires a practitioner to be realistically skeptical—doubting all inputs, but being open to evidence, and to reinterpreting evidence, as needed.
While various interviewing and evidence gathering techniques can be applied in the HCCA approach, an ideal practitioner would have these traits: skepticism, open inquiry, empathy, rational logic, competence in the target context, ability to apply Occam’s razor, trust contextual intuition, and the ability to explore and explain intuitive conclusions.
The fictional Sherlock Holmes’s deductive technique is similar to HCCA. While Holmes was, conveniently, seemingly expert in the context of every issue he investigated, normal humans are not likely to be. Thus, it is important for HCCA practitioners to identify the contexts in which they are competent (and acknowledge their lack of competence in others).
Whatever interview/interrogation/evidence-gathering technique is used must provide clean and untainted evidence. Traditional Reid Method, or other coercive questioning techniques that manipulate subjects to provide false information cannot be used in HCCA. Gathering false or tainted evidence does not help to assess credibility. Such techniques are not deception detection, nor credibility assessment. They are best considered as coercive manipulative evidence creation. Such techniques create false evidence, leading to false conclusions. Such a method is the opposite of HCCA, which assesses credibility and aims for arriving at the truth.
The book includes several case studies. Real world examples, of both failures of Deception Detection, and successes of HCCA.
Here’s a Deception Detection Failure:
Case Study: Khost Bombing—Failure of Deception Detection
In late December, 2009, at an American base in Khost, Afghanistan, American intelligence officers, their security detail, and allied intelligence officers scheduled a meeting with an asset they believed was recruited and fully vetted. They believed him to be a recruited human penetration of al-Qaeda. The naïve officers gathered together in a festive group to greet the asset, as he stepped out of a vehicle in front of their building. The Americans carried a cake, to celebrate the asset’s birthday. In reality, he was a committed member of jihadist organizations, intent on taking out as many CIA officers as possible. He pressed the button on his suicide bomb device, and seven Americans were reduced to pink mist and chunks of bones.
American intelligence, in an internal investigation of the incident, identified multiple points of failure:
…a litany of breakdowns leading up to the attack at the Khost base that killed seven C.I.A. employees, the deadliest day for the spy agency since the 1983 bombing of the American Embassy in Beirut. Besides the failure to pass on warnings about the bomber, Humam Khalil Abu-Mulal al-Balawi, the C.I.A. investigation chronicled major security lapses at the base in Afghanistan, a lack of war zone experience among the agency’s personnel at the base, insufficient vetting of the Jordanian, and a murky chain of command with different branches of the intelligence agency competing for control over the operation.
Insufficient vetting is an understatement of the catastrophic failure of both the officers and the system.
The suicide bomber made a last testament video, and also left written statements.He revealed that he was working for al-Qaeda from the beginning of his contact with American intelligence. He scornfully detailed how the Americans had paid (or promised to pay) him millions of dollars.
This case provides an unusual opportunity to see inside the mind of a subject who was deceptive from the beginning to the end of his interactions with American intelligence officers. It’s not known whether technical deception detection methods were used with him. But the officers he met and communicated with should have been assessing him from the first to the last meeting. Clearly, their assessments, and any deception detection methods used were deadly failures.
The bomber’s testaments allow an unusual view into the mind of a deceptive human target of recruitment operations. During the course of the development and recruitment by his American human intelligence officers, they were assessing his motivations, his suitability, and his access to desired intelligence. Part and parcel of this development and assessment process is assessing his credibility and detecting deception. After his, and their, deaths, he revealed his true beliefs and intentions. While we can’t see the Americans’ assessments, we can infer that he told them some story about why he wanted to work with them against al-Qaeda. We can also infer that they believed he was telling the truth. The bomber, in his testaments, described how he was offered millions of dollars by the Americans. He said that he preferred to live by his morals. The American officers, the supporting staff behind the scenes, and the counterintelligence bureaucracy responsible for approving this development process and subsequent operational meetings failed to uncover the truth of his beliefs, morals, and problems.
In his videotaped last testament, the bomber, spitting out his words with venom and hatred, said:
And glory be to Allah, when your own belief system is corrupt, you think that everyone else will set off from the same corrupt belief system. They tried to entice me with money and offered me amounts reaching into the millions of dollars according to the man being targeted, particularly the leaders of Qaida al-Jihad in the Land of Khorasan – may Allah preserve them. So, they were offering me millions upon millions, and these weren’t mere empty promises.
Besides demonstrating a failure to assess credibility, we are able to see, from the target’s point of view, what failed assessment of motivations causes. We see the Americans’ mistaken belief that people are motivated by money. This default assessment of motivations is common, and reflects a basic misunderstanding of human needs.
This is possibly the historical low-point of American intelligence vetting and credibility assessment. The bloody debacle was not only a failure of deception detection, but a failure to understand humans and human nature—which should be the core competency of a human intelligence operation.
While past failures wasted millions of dollars and wasted the time and effort of American intelligence, there’s no other known incident that led to so many deaths. Contextual incompetence, lack of street sense, and failure to holistically assess the subject killed seven in Khost that day.
Mazetti, M. (2010). Officer Failed to Warn CIA Before Attack. New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2010/10/20/world/asia/20intel.html?hp
CIA Base Bomber’s Last Statement. The Raid of The Shaheed Baytullah Mehsud. (n.d.). Retrieved September 12, 2023, from https://www.scribd.com/document/27777898/CIA-Base-Bomber-s-Last-Statement-The-Raid-of-the-Shaheed-Baytullah-Mehsud#
And here’s an HCCA success:
Case Study: Volunteer Turned Away as a Faker; HCCA Assessment Correctly Identifies Truth
This case study plumbs the depths of the failure of standard and traditional deception detection and assessment methods.
The foreign intelligence officer approached me at an official US government office. He told me he’d just arrived in my location, as a passenger on the last plane out of his country before international sanctions kicked in. Applying HCCA (I was competent in the two main contextual domains—his home country, and espionage), I invited him into my office. I built rapport quickly. He spent the next three days with me pouring out details about his career spying against Americans and allies.
When he’d approached the US government in his home country, during very turbulent events, they had turned him away. Our main office informed me that the US officers who’d met him did not believe his story, and had quickly ejected him with the instructions to not contact US officials again.
Using the HCCA cycle, assessment followed by judgments, followed by re-visiting issues and questions, my final assessment was that he was truthful and a very valuable source. Besides details of historic operations against American and allied officials and officers (including names of those he’d recruiting, influenced, and manipulated), he revealed his participation in war crimes. He’d been present at planning sessions, along with the highest levels of his government, military, and intelligence leaders. He’d then participated in ethnic cleansing operations.
His participation in intelligence operations against the US and allies included managing an operation that provided interpreters and guides to foreigners (military, diplomatic, and intelligence) who visited the areas of the country his faction controlled. He described how this interpreter and guide operation was actually the first step in recruiting foreigners. The interpreters and guides were actually intelligence operators. Their job was to assess their clients, learning what their desires, motivations, and problems were. This information ultimately led to multiple recruitments of these foreigners.
My main office, however, rejected my assessment. They said they stuck by their assessment from our office in his home country. It was clear that they were covering for the incompetence of their field officers. No amount of bureaucratic back and forth would change their mind. So, the opportunity this subject offered was rejected by my organization.
I realized how important his information and willingness to assist was. My work revealed his main personal problem: separation from his dog (He had brought a girlfriend with him, but left his wife and dog at home). I worked various American and international bureaucratic channels to find the best potential fit for him. Within a week, I’d secured an agreement from an organization dealing with war crimes to hear him out. A week later, he was on his way to an international capital to meet them. Several months later, I heard that he had been accepted as a witness, and would enter the witness protection program. A few years later, he was the star witness against the leadership of his country, who were found guilty of war crimes.
Besides introducing HCCA as a method, the intent of this book is to drive a stake through the heart of the monster that won’t die: deception detection methods based on body-functions. This monster, though repudiated, refuted, debunked, and exposed for the fraud it is, seems to be immortal. It must die. I believe that the beating heart of that monster is in the Paul Ekman Group LLC. With no real-world evidence or proof of efficacy, the claims of body-based deception detection keep coming. We can only hope that will soon end. Because of the power and reach of the Ekman beliefs, I devote a long chapter to Ekman’s beliefs, his claims, and definitive evidence of the failure of the universal-facial-expressions-microexpressions-to-detect-deception ecosystem.
Kent Clizbe has more or less contextual competence in several countries, languages, American and foreign sub-cultures, religious groups, professions, and other sub-contexts.
A very bad bureaucrat, he served in the military and the CIA long enough to gain skills, and be productive, but not long enough to be enculturated in the bureaucracy. He ran his own executive recruiting business, carving out a niche as the only specialist in the world in computational linguistics. Kent’s credibility assessment successes span three domains, including the commercial domain–where he never had to make a payout on his one hundred percent guarantee that his assessments were correct.
Kent is dedicated to driving a stake through the heart of the zombie “deception detection” cult of body measurements and observations. Holistic Contextual Credibility Assessment is the fruit of a couple decades of his experience, research, teaching, and exploration.
Full details at Clizbe’s website.
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Categories: Book review