Colonel Mustard, in the Study, with a Rope…

The ability to detect anomalous behavior by orienting on the suspect, while observing his body language during questioning is a well-known technique used by criminal investigators. Today’s soldiers have learned to use similar techniques to detect deceit or make sense of patterns when they are on combat patrols.

Recently, as part of a field study, I observed a patrol debrief where Army soldiers were reporting that they had detained a suspicious person at a vehicle checkpoint (VCP). The squad was operating in a complex environment and used their sensemaking skills to identify and characterize suspicious behaviors. I found their methods fascinating and wanted to learn more about the incident.  So afterwards, I pulled the Squad Leader aside asked him to describe how his squad was so sure when they cuffed the right individual.  He replied, “it is not so difficult if you know how to make sense of the situation”. To the Squad Leader the threat was obvious that once you put all the indicators together a behavioral pattern exists.

He reported there are obvious and subtle indicators that make up the pattern. For example, when local Security Forces stopped the vehicle, four occupants get out of the vehicle while it was searched. Three of the men congregate while their vehicle is searched and the fourth man stands away from the group. When approached and questioned, the “loner” exhibits nervous behaviors, which might be normal. But what clinched it for the Squad Leader was the suspect’s unconscious efforts to conceal intent. When asked what he is doing traveling along this road, the suspect looked down and to the left suggesting he was searching for an answer.   He also unconsciously pointed away from the Soldier with his right foot and tapped rapidly, indications that he wants to move away quickly.  The suspect then responded to questions with “verbal diarrhea”. During the questioning, he would touch his nose or cover his mouth as we spoke.   One saw redness around the suspect’s cheeks, a histamine effect, while he slowly rubbed his hands together pondering his next move.   It didn’t take more for the Squad Leader to conclude that this man’s behavior was off the baseline and provided ample justification to detain the suspect for further questioning.

There is considerable evidence that Infantry squads have developed and are using reasoning skills everyday to improve the accuracy of their predictions of who might be telling the truth or represents a threat.   The use of questioning skills combined with sensemaking skills makes squads more effective at detecting threats and taking actions in high-risk situations.

-Bill Ross


About the Author:


Cognitive Performance Group, LLC is a woman-owned small business with offices in Orlando, Florida, and Cleveland, Ohio. It was founded by Dr. Karol G. Ross, Jennifer K. Phillips, and William A. Ross. The three CPG Principals developed the concept for a company to support cognitive performance improvement in industry and government. (more...)

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