by Paul Windsor


Once upon a time, I introduced myself to readers of this 'zine as a lawyer. Around the turn of the millennium, however, I quit the game of Big Law and went to work for Uncle Sam, as an investigator for a federal agency. My responsibilities included (yes, past tense, I've since moved on) conducting both civil and criminal investigations relating to the esoteric and specialized area of federal regulation in which I practiced law. As part of my training for this gig, Uncle sent me down to Glynco, GA in the Fall of 2005 for a week of classes at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (hereinafter "FLETC", pronounced "FLET-see") located there.

The course of training I received was titled "Advanced Interviewing Techniques". Of interest to readers of this 'Zine, in particular, was the class instruction and exercise intended to teach techniques for determining when an interview subject was lying. Many of the techniques taught involved analyzing word use and speech patterns, and are equally applicable to both the written and spoken word.

Before I get to the classroom instruction proper, I'd like to share some personal observations about my week at FLETC, as I expect many of you may find that interesting. Anxious or impatient readers, feel free to skip over the following section and head straight to the next. You won't miss anything about Diplomacy by doing so.

My week at FLETC

FLETC is sited at a repurposed naval airbase in the Atlantic coast, whose biggest claim to fame is that it contains the world's biggest hangar, built for holding zeppelins. The area in which it is located is actually popular with tourists, mostly on account of the islands just off the coast. My accommodation for my week's stay was referred to as a "dorm", and it was precisely the bug-infested, no-TVs $10/night flophouse people said it would be. The dorm I was in was located at the southern tip of the base, and in accordance with the inevitable logic of the government, the classrooms I would be going to were located at the northern edge of the base. There were signs saying "Shuttle Bus Stop", but I was told that was only operative in "inclement weather" and the mild rains of the first few days didn't fall into that category. One chow hall (the military terminology dominated, along with the military quality of the food, also as advertised) for the whole base, located in the center. Consequently, I got to walk a few miles every day as part of the bargain, and as I walked through the dark, cold and rain to my early morning class, by way of the chow hall, listening to young men (and a few women) in uniform chanting as they marched in formation, it was hard not to feel like I'd been inducted.

As someone who was there for only a week of non-physical training classes, I was an anomaly, practically a tourist. Most of the people who were there were young people joining one of the many federal law enforcement agencies (everyone from Border Patrol to Capitol Police to Bureau of Prisons), getting their basic/academy training. In one week, I was called "sir" more times than in my entire life. Those kids would look at me, see the gray beard, middle aged paunch and lack of uniform/fatigues, and automatically assume I was a classroom instructor. I got a lot of undue deference.

The instruction in advanced interviewing techniques was very useful. Mostly, though, I think any civil libertarians among us might have had an infarction at the attitude taken towards little things like 4th, 5th and 6th amendment rights. It was also true that the instruction was heavily tilted towards the presumption that everyone in the room was a badged cop (which I was not). Classroom exercises in confrontational interviews designed to elicit confessions are, after a fashion, entertaining, but I was never going to be in the CEO's or CFO's office, breaking him down into giving me the codes for the offshore accounts. The white collar criminal types tend to be a bit less impressed with the whole heavy cop routine, badge or no badge.

The best thing about the experience was my classmates. It was a small class, but very diverse. We had people there from CIA, FBI, Treasury and the military, but also investigators and inspectors general from a variety of federal agencies under other departments that you don't normally think of as "law enforcement", like Labor and Agriculture. We even had an Air Marshall. I have to say that after hearing a week's worth of his war stories, my confidence level in air travel security wasn't nearly as high as when the week began.

As a more general observation I was impressed with the high level of intelligence, competence. and professionalism surrounding me in class for a week. Not one jack-booted thug in sight. Even the young woman from the CIA who was going to be going from our classroom down to Guantanamo to apply her new skills seemed remarkably normal. I encountered only intelligent professional people gathered for the purpose of improving their skills in federal service, in a very cost conscious environment. It flew in the face of every possible stereotype about federal government one could maintain.

What the Government Taught Me About Lying

Of the week spent at FLETC in training classes on interview technique, a full day was devoted to classes delivering various lessons in how to spot a lie. Iíll begin with the later lessons first, since for my purpose, they are more universal. Those lessons were about paying attention to the way things were being said, rather than what was said. Those lessons apply equally to both written and oral communication. Consequently, those lessons apply to all readers, regardless of whether they favor face to face play, or formats that use written communication.

The first thing one needs to do in spotting a lie is establish a baseline in truthful communication. One does this by asking questions one already knows the answer to, or alternatively by asking questions that there is no point in the subject answering falsely. In a law enforcement interview that is typically done by starting off with basic biographical information and other uncontroversial facts. In Diplomacy, you do that with a little personal chit chat. If possible, engage in some Ďgetting to know youí conversation. If not possible, simply pay attention to the way that your fellow diplomat(s) talk to you from the beginning. Even in the game of Diplomacy, it is rare for the very first thing a person says to be a lie.

Once you have some speech samples collected, the key to spotting lies is to look for changes in pattern. The most common, and the most telltale, is the switch from detailed descriptions or discussions to terse and conclusory statements. When someone is relating a truthful recollection, or an accurate description of their thoughts, it is natural to include a certain level of detail. Whatever level of detail is natural for the diplomat you are playing with is there in your baseline. When the diplomat starts to lie to you, often you will notice a sudden lack of specific detail, compared to what you are used to getting.

The most extreme example of this phenomenon is pointed to in Joel Finkleís ďThe Enemy is OKĒ, in the Pouch Winter 2012 Adjustment issue. In that article, Joel observes that heís noticed that when he asks a fellow player for something, and gets a simple ďOKĒ of agreement and little/nothing else, that usually turns out badly. Heís right, and thereís a reason for that. Itís not that people suddenly become lazy when they lie, and itís not even that they change their patterns of speech based on some deep psychology. Rather, people are usually pretty simple: what they know, they tell you and what they recollect, they describe. In the absence of genuine knowledge and recollection, they donít have much to say, because they donít have any experience or memory to relate.

You wonít always have something so extreme and obvious as the ďOKĒ message to tip you off. But whenever a faithful diplomat switches from wanting to discuss specific moves to general strategies, thatís a warning sign. Whenever a person shifts from detailed descriptions of his conversations with others to brief or conclusory statements, thatís a warning sign. Whenever brevity replaces expansiveness, regardless of the topic of conversation, thatís a warning sign.

A related warning sign arises out of inventing realities, rather than simply describing them. Liars often get their facts and details wrong. Iím not talking about in the obvious sense, that their lies will be contradicted by others, or revealed when the orders are read (or adjudicated). Iím talking about those little slips or errors that are creeping into the conversation. Did he misspeak the key province under discussion? Did he just seem to forget you have a fleet in Belgium, and not an army? Does he not seem to understand that a support he is describing is impossible? Itís because heís making stuff up, and in doing so, the reality heís consulting is the one inside his head, not the one on the board. People who are offering invented alibis will frequently misspeak details, mix up time frames, and introduce other inconsistencies because the story in their head hasnít been fleshed out the way reality naturally would be. Similarly, people who are proposing false plans in Diplomacy donít check the map to be sure they will succeed the same way that people who are proposing real plans do. Consequently, the frequency of those kinds of slips and errors will be greater when they are lying than when they are telling the truth. They arenít invested in the success of the plan, so they donít triple check the map the same way they do when they are making genuine plans.

Another warning sign occurs when the subject of sentences changes or disappears. I donít mean changing the subject, as in changing the topic. We donít need advanced classroom training to know thatís a bad sign. This key is about grammar. When people start to lie, they are inventing a reality they did not, or do not, participate in. Consequently, their grammatical choice of subject will frequently reflect that disassociation. It may be a shift from active voice to passive voice. It may be a shift from consistent use of first person pronouns and point of view to the second or third person. In Diplomacy, it may also be a shift from using names to using country designations, or a sudden shift into (or out of) a role playing persona. When a player suddenly, and inconsistently, shifts the subject of his sentences to a greater degree of disassociation in the actor, or uses passive voice to eliminate the actor completely, thatís a sign that what is being described is in the world of invention, rather than the world of reality.

The impulse for a liar to disassociate himself from the lie comes from other places, as well, and those will have their own tells. Most people, even most Diplomacy players, lack confidence in their lying skills. The harder pressed they feel, the more this confidence wanes. People who find themselves in this position, trying to lie to a skeptical audience, frequent try to bolster their lie by putting it in the mouth of another person entirely. They know that their own credibility is under a cloud, so they try to borrow the credibility of a third party to improve their own. An ally who suddenly, for the first time, proposed to you a tactical plan that heís crediting to another player in the game may genuinely be passing along a proposal, but is more likely trying to play a lie more effectively by attributing it to someone else. The offering of outside authority in any form that goes against the pattern of the baseline, whether it is relating a prior experience or anecdote in another game, pointing to a strategy article, or recommending the plans of another player, is a sign that the player feels the need for that authority. That need could arise from a number of sources, but under the circumstances, the first place you have to expect is the playerís insecurity brought about by his lying.

All of the above principles were illustrated in the course of my FLETC training in the classroom, either with written statements from interviewees or recorded interviews. What follows is more in the realm of theories held by experienced investigators, rather than anything subject to more specific proof or demonstration. These are observations about physical behavior, as related to lying.

As with the spoken word, the best way to go about applying these theories is to establish a baseline. Eye contact is an important cue, for example, but itís not true that people wonít look you in the eye when they lie. Plenty of people are perfectly well capable of doing that. People who are lying to you, however, will self-consciously shift their patterns. As with the spoken word, itís the changes in pattern from the baseline that should concern you. Suddenly holding eye contact when that is not usual is as much a Ďtellí as breaking off eye contact when that is not usual. Also, pay attention to which direction a personís eyes typically dart when you ask them a simple question with a simple answer: up, down, left, right? Is the pattern consistent? If yes, then a sudden change is a dead tell.

Posture can give the same tell. Again, itís necessary to know what is the usual: Arms crossed, or relaxed? Leaning forward, or back? Sitting/standing erect, or slouched? Fidgeting, or still? Itís important to make a mental note of the usual, because when a person lies there will often be a shift. Heís trying to be someone else to you, and will often, consciously or not, attempt to act that out physically as well. Probably the best advice to pass along about physical observation is just pick one thing to focus on. Find one thing, one physical behavior that seems to be repeated consistently. When that thing changes, thatís your best shot at a key tell.

This sort of thing doesnít always work, but Iíll tell you this: more than once while sitting at a poker table, Iíve been very glad to have taken that class.

One technique that was taught for trying to encourage the display of such tells is potentially applicable to the face to face Diplomacy player as well as the investigative interviewer: do what is within your power to physically control the interview. Now, you can't design and furnish your own interrogation room, and you can't smack the little punk playing Austria on the back of his head and tell him to sit up straight and take off his cap. You can, however, strive to be the opposite of a mannered host (or guest) and do what you can to make your opposite ill at ease. If your counterpart likes to leave the room for negotiations, instead of lowering his voice, insist on remaining where you are. If he has a favorite comfy chair, then by all means, insist on going for a walk (itís refreshing, gets your blood flowing, helps you to think). If he paces, insist on sitting (you have an old back injury). If he appears to need his personal space, lean in close (on account of the need to whisper, of course).

The point here is to get your opponent off his game. Disrupt his routine and he's more likely to subconsciously embrace those physical impulses that you can use as tells. That's the theory, anyway. I'm not entirely sure I buy into that, fully. On the other hand, I always buy into the idea that expressing physical dominance during a game of Diplomacy is helpful. You don't have to do that by standing over your opponent and beating your chest. All of the above strategies are ways of physically imposing your will, which potentially softens the ground for imposing your mental will, as well.


The key takeaway here should be that lies can be spotted by looking for inconsistencies in established patterns. The hidden inconsistency in a lie will seep into inconsistencies in other, more visible patterns, whether those be speech patterns or behavior patterns. Even the most skilled, self-aware, and guarded liars canít maintain their vigilance for signs of inconsistency universally over the wide variety of behaviors that will potentially give them away. If you are aware of patterns and vigilant for deviations from the norm, you have a better shot at nailing the liar before he nails you.

Paul Windsor

If you wish to e-mail feedback on this article to the author, and clicking on the envelope above does not work for you, feel free to use the "Dear DP..." mail interface.