Continuing the series on estate security in executive protection...
Is this an eccentric billionaire who knows the principal and is just stopping by unannounced, or are they someone with malevolent intentions?
...Yes, you've probably already experienced asking yourself this question.
One of the biggest challenges for the individual estate security officer is the unknown visitor.
You (likely) already have a plan in place if someone shows up unannounced. But what is your plan for screening them?
- What questions do you ask them?
- What signs do you look for to detect deception?
- How do you elicit information from them?
There are a number of in-depth articles about security questioning online, but I’m going to attempt to summarize all of the most critical ideas in an analogy.
Security Questioning and the Chinese Board Game “Go”
(“Go” is like checkers, but it’s played on a 19x19 board, and it requires more strategy)
Just like no two games of are Go are ever the same, no two instances of security officers questioning people are the same. Each interaction between security and their interviewees is different, and it should be treated differently based on the specifics of the situation. However, just like Go, there are rules or guiding principals that give order to our process.
Our guiding principals are these:
(1) We begin with general questions, then we move to specific questions based on the interviewee's answers. In effect, we are tailoring our next move (question) based on the opponent's previous move (answer).
(2) In security questioning, we only “lose” if we let the interviewee evade our questions or dominate the conversation.
Example Exchange Between Security and Interviewee
Below is a simple (fictitious) example:
*Unknown visitor parks near estate and begins taking pictures of residences*
Security: Hi, can I help you?
Visitor: No, I’m just admiring your neighborhood.
Security: Why are you taking pictures?
Visitor: I am an amateur photographer, it’s just a hobby.
Security: Oh, cool. What brings you to this area?
Visitor: I take mostly pictures near the coastline.
Security: What are other coastline communities do you visit for pictures?
Visitor: I like Santa Monica, San Clemente, and some others.
Security: I’m going to San Clemente Beach next week, where’s a good place to get food in that area?
Analysis: If this visitor really spends time in San Clemente, he ought to be able to identify a popular restaurant in the area. And if “amateur photographer” is just a cover, he likely did not research or rehearse answers about restaurants in San Clemente. This is only a sample, and the security professional can continue asking more and more specific questions until he or she has enough information to make a sound judgement. All of the interviewee's statements can be easily corroborated (maybe by spending 2 minutes on Yelp, searching for restaurants in San Clemente). Plus, the security officer can take into account the interviewee's non-verbal cues. This ought to give security an informed perspective about the visitor.
(Perhaps an alternative line of questioning would have been for the security officer to leverage his or her own knowledge of digital photography by testing the interviewee's expertise about his own camera/equipment.)
Not satisfied with my example? Check out the below link.
What is it About Specific Questions?
First, asking narrow questions tests the validity of the interviewee's pretext/cover story because it is difficult to pre-script answers to these questions. Second, answering specific questions requires more mental and physical energy (thinking + wordy explanation), thus giving the security officer an advantage in observing the interviewee's verbal/non-verbal cues.
Simply stated, we're focusing our attention on two things:
- Interviewee’s answers: are they consistent, can they be corroborated, did we undermine their cover story with our series of questions?
- Interviewee’s demeanor: are there potential non-verbal or verbal indicators of deception present?
Disclaimer: These are just general guidelines. And you should note that anyone honest or otherwise, may feel nervous or angry when they are questioned about something. So, all factors in the situation need to be considered!
Indicators of honesty
- Relaxed, open, up-right posture
- Calm demeanor
- Straightforward answers
Indicators of deceit
- Defensive or overly polite
- Uneven posture
- Orients body away or creates barriers
- Excessive movement (itching nose, grooming, etc.)
A Word on Elicitation
Merriam-Webster defines elicitation as follows: ”to call forth or draw out (something, such as information or a response).” Here is a short, introductory list of notable techniques that people use to draw information from others. It's important to be aware of these, as a criminal could use them to victimize you, or you may potentially use them to thwart a criminal's efforts.
Summing It All Up
Security questioning is multifaceted. We have to be clever enough to ask the right type of questions (testing the person's cover story), while observing their demeanor (before, during, and after the approach).
I'm not the world's authority on security questioning, but also, it's not rocket science! If you check out the links at the bottom of this article, and incorporate some of these ideas into your day-to-day activities, you'll be security questioning with the best of them.
Thanks for reading!
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To read more about security questioning, I recommend these links:
About the EP Nexus Blog
The EP Nexus executive protection blog, is a comprehensive resource for security professionals involved in executive protection, protective intelligence, threat assessment, and related fields.
Launched in March of 2016 as a resource for executive protection professionals, command center gurus, and close protection know-it-alls, EP Nexus is quickly becoming a resource for those seeking to quench their thirst for executive protection reading.
The most popular section of the blog is Executive Protection Hacks. EP Hacks is a series in which we address complex topics (one topic per issue) in a convenient collection of tools & writings. I am actively collaborating with industry leaders to produce future issues. If you're interested in taking an active approach in moving your industry into the future, contact me below.
Outside of EP Hacks, I explore the following topics in writings, tutorials, and webinars: online tools for executive protection professionals, open source intelligence investigations (OSINT), threat assessment, protective intelligence, travel security, and more.
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