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Spy the Lie

February 01, 2012

 Former CIA agent authors book about detecting deception

There's a reason the courtroom oath asks someone to tell "the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth."

It covers just about any type of lie a person might tell, says Michael Floyd, who has spent decades catching lies of commission, omission and lies of influence - trying to convince someone you're telling the truth.

But, Floyd says, that hand on the Bible won't bring out the truth from everyone.

"If somebody thinks it's in their best interest to lie and they think they can get away with it, they will," he said. "As long as the person knows there are consequences associated with the lie being detected, they will exhibit deceptive behavior."

Floyd '92 is a leading authority on interviewing, detection of deception, and elicitation in cases involving criminal activity, personnel screening, and national security issues. He co-wrote "Spy the Lie," which teaches people how to detect lies in their everyday lives.

He served in both the CIA and the National Security Agency, founded Advanced Polygraph Services, where he conducted high-profile interviews and interrogations for law enforcement agencies, law firms, and private industry, and is a founding partner at Qverity, which provides behavioral analysis and screening services for private- and public-sector clients worldwide. His co-authors are his partners Susan Carnicero Don Tennant and Phillip Houston, who also worked for the CIA or NSA.

"Every time we would do a training, people would ask us where they could get more information," Floyd said.

So they wrote, "Spy the Lie." Using examples such as former Congressman Anthony Weiner's public reaction to the Twitter scandal, Jerry Sundusky's odd interview with Bob Costas and O.J. Simpson's interrogation by police after the murders of his ex-wife and her friend, they show how their methodology can detect deception. They also use war stories from their careers.

"We wanted something that could be very practical, understandable and interesting," Floyd said.

Floyd points out there are many myths and misconceptions about lying. Many people assume if someone doesn't make eye contact or appears nervous, those are indicators of dishonesty.

"They're not necessarily, because we don't know the cause of those, we don't evaluate them," he said.

More important is asking the right questions, then properly evaluating the answers, he said.

"If you don't ask good questions, if your questions are ambiguous, any behavior you get in response will be ambiguous," he said.

And if someone doesn't answer a direct question, qualifies their answers ("I'm pretty sure" or "I don't really remember") or acts incredibly defensive, they just might be lying to you.

"Going on the attack is a very effective way to lie," he said.

The book also explores obstacles to detecting deception, including our own tendency to want to believe someone. It even offers a set of questions for parents hiring caregivers for their children or spouses who suspect infidelity.

Everything in "Spy the Lie" is based on years of experience of detecting deception in crucial situations. Floyd began his career as a commissioned officer in the U.S. Army Military Police, serving in the U.S. and Asia. After spending six years on the staff of John E. Reid and Associates as a polygrapher and instructor on detection of deception, interviewing, and interrogation, he served in both the Central Intelligence Agency and the National Security Agency. Over the course of his career, he has conducted more than 8,000 interviews and interrogations worldwide.

It's a paradox that in order to perform his job, he has at times had to practice the type of lying he's an expert at detecting. When he served in the CIA, he wasn't allowed to tell anyone except immediate family where he worked. He couldn't even tell his now wife before they were married.

 "Certainly being undercover is inherently deceptive," he said.

It was after he left the federal government that he and his wife moved to Seattle and he enrolled at Seattle University School of Law. Though he never practiced law, he says law school was a huge benefit. Admitted through the Access Admission Program, he even includes Academic Resource Director Paula Lustbader '88 and Professor Dave Boerner in his acknowledgements in "Spy the Lie."

"I was one of those people who went to law school later in life, and I lacked a lot of confidence," he said. "I felt like I was in over my head. But all the professors, in particular Paula and Dave, were tremendous role models. It is amazing how just three years I was there did impact my life."

Rather than pursue a career in the law, he capitalized on his training and experience in polygraph interviewing and interrogating and founded Advanced Polygraph Services, where he conducted high-profile interviews and interrogation for law enforcement, law firms and private industry.

Floyd remains connected to the law school, and has attended functions in Washington, D.C., and California's Bay area. He lives in Napa.  

He admits it's hard to turn his deception detecting skills off, but says it doesn't bother him.

"It's made me more professionally skeptical of information people are telling me," he said. "If somebody's telling me about their vacation, I don't care if it's true or not."

If fact, he says most people lie on average 10 times a day. That includes lies to spare someone's feelings or offer an excuse - blaming traffic for being tardy to an appointment or telling a friend you have to work late to get out of a social engagement.

"I believe people are basically honest," Floyd said. "If we all told the truth all the time, life would be pretty awful for all of us."

By Katherine Hedland Hansen

-Winter 12-13