The contribution of Body Language in dealing with Terrorism and Crime
By Andreas Venetis
Founder & CEO
Venetis Consulting & Training Services
In 1989, the FBI had arrested a person for espionage against the USA. After a large number of interrogations, the investigators could not get any information about his possible partners. “They tried several times to persuade, by citing his patriotic and humanistic feelings – that he could save many human lives – but they didn’t get any extra information about his partners. At the end of the interrogations, they decided to make a last attempt through the use of body language. “They put names of possible partners on 13-centimetre tabs. In each tab that showed him (total 32 to 33), they asked him to tell them in general what he knows about each individual.
They knew for sure that in the past he had been associated with them professionally and they assumed one of them might have also been his partner in this case of espionage. During the interrogation process, they weren’t paying any significant attention to his verbal answers, since they had not been able to get any information from his words. But, they focused observing his facial expressions.
They observed that while they showed him two specific names, on the tabs, his eyes first opened wide, then through the contractions of the eyelids they diminished, and finally his pupils looked elsewhere as if he felt a threat from these two names. This could be interpreted maybe because they had threatened to kill him if he ever spoke about them. In a subsequent investigation of these two individuals, they admitted their participation in the espionage case. «From the unconscious contractions of the suspect’s eyelids and eyes, which happened as a reflex, independently of his will (through the limbic system, especially the tonsil), led to the elucidation of a national security case for the USA (Navarro, 2007, p. 173)
Οn the contrary, the cerebral cortex plays the basic role in all brain functions, such as memory, attention, perception, thoughts, language, and consciousness helps us consciously check and decide what to say. Eyelid contractions, which cover part of the eyeball, are automatically controlled by the amygdala.
When we see something that interests us, the eyelids extend upward and the eyes open wide; when we do not want to see something or we do not like what we see, the eyelids twist and the eyes “diminish”. When we do not want to see something, our pupils turn elsewhere (sometimes the whole head) or even close our eyes – for example, in the incident of a terrible accident or during a horrible spectacle. All of those become “reflex”, spontaneous and unconscious, coming from the amygdala. An example of amygdala-function, from which someone can get important information, is a case of espionage reported by writer Joe Navarro during his service with the FBI (Navarro, 2007, p. 22)
During the incidents, I faced while I was working as the security director at a Casino, the aversion of gaze was the first thing someone did when I showed him the item he had stolen. There was a series of soothing moves that followed and, at the end, the most obvious movement was the excessive look in the eyes with the palms open, a move that states “I have nothing to hide”, as the suspect was trying to convince me that he had not steal it.
In a case where an object of high value was stolen by a member of the staff (and while there were indications, but not cameras evidence), during my conversation with the suspect, I noticed that she constantly had her fingers braided with each other, which is a classic stress indication, as it will be discussed in the following chapters. She quite often covered her neck area with her hand – a characteristic women’s move when they feel insecure, threatened or stressed, and at the same time she had a great difficulty in breathing, while she was saying: “I didn’t steal it” (all the above-described moves are typical stress indications).
However, her verbal denial was not accompanied at the same time by the negative movement of the head, as it is customary. Instead, she first said “no”, without beckoning at the same time, as it is normally expected; and then, at the end of her verbal denial, she made the negative head move. In short, what she was saying verbally in relation to what her body was saying was asynchronous. To me, this was a strong indication that something wasn’t right. After fifteen (15) minutes of conversation, she admitted that she had stolen it. Stress, whether you are a spy, a thief, or an aspiring assassin, is expressed in a similar way by all people. And this is because we are biological human beings with the same internal organs and biological functions. The only thing that changes is the frequency of the movements, depending on the stress degree someone has, but also on the sex (if one is male or female).
***The article is a small part of my Thesis on ”The contribution of body language in dealing with terrorism and crime: A comparative analysis of international cases” and the picture used for the article is from the incident taken one min before the assassination of the Russian Ambassador Andrei Karlov***
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