A former FBI spy catcher shows how to read body language

Originally published at: https://boingboing.net/2019/05/21/a-former-fbi-spy-catcher-shows.html

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Remember Kids!

NEVER talk to the FBI without your lawyer present, and without your lawyer making a recording!




ah - behavioral phrenology?


From what I understand that is also a good way to make the FBI decide that the interview is just not worth it in most cases as well.


How is he at reading the body language of polygraph testers?


What’s his false positive rate?


I don’t think we should have a lot of faith in his knowledge of non-verbal communication.

His credentials, according to Wikipedia: “After earning a B.S. degree in Justice Administration from Brigham Young University and a Master of Arts in International Relations from Slippery Rock University, he worked as an FBI special agent and supervisor in the area of counterintelligence and behavioral assessment for 25 years”.

This means he’s not a scientist, he’s a spook. His knowledge of human behavior isn’t built on rigorous experimentation and evidence gathering. It’s built on the geopolitical agenda of the United States.

During his career, it never mattered whether his methods were based on fact, only whether they got the results that his bosses wanted; his knowledge was only ever tested against whether it accomplished the counterintelligence policy agenda.

In other words, his “expertise” isn’t optimized to get at the truth, it’s optimized to get at whatever J. Edgar Hoover’s successors wanted it to. And I find it hard to believe that the FBI has put the pursuit of truth above all else, so I find it a stretch to call this guy an “expert” (which is what Wired has done).


Thanks for the recommendation. I just checked out Joe Navarro’s book from the library. Good so far, now that I’ve gotten past the, “This is what I’m going to tell you and this is why it’s important” intro.

I’m an expert fly catcher, I kid you not.

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A friend and colleague with a few psychology research graduate degrees from a reputable research university told me about interviewing with the FBI once for a behaviorist spook position. During the interview she asked what theories and evidence bases were guiding their methods and, so she relates, their eyes got very large and they got very quiet.

She’s a professor now. :slight_smile:


So, I’ve never heard of Joe Navarro before reading this today, but I do think that decades of interviewing people professionally gives a person some insight, some of which may be useful. Also, I think he would not completely disagree with you, as he notes in his book:

There are no nonverbal behaviors that, in and of themselves, are clearly indicative of deception (Ekman, 1991, 98; Ford, 1996, 217). As my friend and researcher Dr. Mark G. Frank repeatedly has told me, “Joe, unfortunately, there is no ‘Pinocchio effect,’ when it comes to deception” (Frank, 2006). With that I must humbly concur. Therefore, in order to sort fact from fiction, our only realistic recourse is to rely on those behaviors indicative of comfort/ discomfort, synchrony, and emphasis to guide us. They are a guide or paradigm, and that is all.

A person who is not comfortable, not emphasizing, and whose communication is out of synchrony is, at best, communicating poorly or, at worst, being deceptive. Discomfort may originate from many sources, including antipathy between those involved in the discussion, the setting in which the conversation is held, or nervousness during an interview process. It can also, obviously, be a result of culpability, guilty knowledge, having to hide information, or plain lying. The possibilities are many, but now that you know how better to question others, recognize their signs of discomfort, and the importance of putting their behaviors into context, at least you have a starting point.


Really want to know this man’s opinion on the shape of people’s heads and how that implies to their criminal nature.


Thanks for looking into this. Refreshing to see his self-awareness.


I think that finger he’s holding up means we’re number 1!

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I agree totally. I’m still suspicious of his insight, however, because I believe it is geared toward the very specific goals of FBI counterintelligence, which are not always altruistic.

Can you please post a selfie so I know whether or not your statements are trustworthy?

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Pretty darn sure this is the kind of bullshit that cops think makes them super smart but ultimately just kills black men.


Just talk to a teenager’s mom. They know more about body language, I am pretty sure.

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