Statement analysis takes lie detection to a new level

February 2003 Security Services & Risk Management

The science of statement analysis – or the ability to determine truth and lies from discernable patterns in oral and written statements – is fast becoming accepted as one of the most advanced forms of lie detection all over the world, says Gary Meaker, a specialist in the field and an associate of this country’s oldest corporate security management company, Griffiths & Associates.

"Statement analysis has the added advantage of being admissible in courts of law, as opposed to the more conventional physical lie-detector machines," says Meaker. Started during the last World War by a German code breaker, and subsequently enhanced by an Israeli intelligence expert, statement analysis reveals that each person speaks in their own code or pattern, which enables certain predicative elements within the person's thought processes and manner of speaking or writing, to be identified.

"The science essentially looks for three sorts of 'problem' areas within the statement," says Meaker. "These are a person's willingness to take ownership - or deny ownership - of a particular item or concept; the subconscious attributation of responsibility; and the use of passive language in describing events."

"A liar will give him or herself away not because they want to, but often because they have no choice," he explains. "A person telling the truth is focused on revealing information, whereas a person telling a lie is focused on hiding information, and patterns can be detected if you know what to look for."

Practical examples of where this principle is at work can be seen in how people react to certain situations, or the importance that they themselves attribute to events when recounting their version of events. "It is related to the science of body language and semiotics, or the association of symbolism within language," says Meaker. "A person welcoming the truth moves towards it, embraces it, whereas a person avoiding the truth will turn away, or try to move on quickly to something else." Discomfort with topic is therefore a sure first sign that something is not in order.

"A delay in getting to grips with the issue at hand is another good indicator of a problem," Meaker says. "In 80% of the time where people are lying, they will spend an inordinate amount of time dealing with events prior to the real issue, subconsciously providing for themselves a breathing space to prepare for how they are going to handle or avoid the real issue. Instead it gives statement analysis specialists clear warning that something is wrong."

In addition, even in a denial, people will often admit things in such a way that if the statement is analysed mathematically, they are conceding guilt. "Take the late Hansie Cronje, for example," says Meaker. When confronted for the first time at a public press conference with the allegation of match fixing, he was asked by a journalist if he had discussed match fixing with any of the guys (members of the cricket team).

His famous answer was 'no, I never discussed it with any of the other guys.' "Now, on the face of it, that might seem like a denial. But in fact, he was subconsciously choosing his words very carefully," says Meaker. If there are 'other guys' then it means he was differentiating between 'some guys' and the 'other guys' - in other words, he had already in his own mind divided the team up into two camps, those 'some' with whom he had discussed the issue, and those 'others' with whom he had not. He was therefore technically telling the truth when he said he had never discussed it with the 'other guys' but was also conceding he had discussed it with 'some of the guys' - otherwise why use the words 'other guys' in the first place.

Spot the lie

Another example that readily springs to mind is former US President Bill Clinton's famous answer to the question if he had had sex with Monica Lewinsky. His answer 'I never had sexual relations with that woman' revealed that he had already drawn a distinction in his own mind between foreplay (sex) and full penetrative sex (sexual relations), and that he was therefore telling the truth when he said that he had 'never had sexual relations' with her.

"It was technically the truth, but the fact that Clinton saw fit to answer the question in a way which differentiated between acts, reveals that it was an admission that other things had taken place," says Meaker.

An answer or denial therefore, very often contains an admission of what did happen - the thing to look out for is the way in which the question is answered.

Another way to spot a lie is whether a person accepts ownership of an item or event, or if they deny ownership thereof. "For example, variations in statements using the words 'my' and 'the' are a giveaway," Meaker says. A practical example of this came in a recent case he was asked to investigate concerning a car insurance fraud in Newcastle, KwaZulu-Natal.

The victim claimed to have been hijacked and his car stolen: yet in his statement he continually switched between the use of the words 'my car' and 'the car' - by applying this inconsistency to other facts within the statement, Meaker was able to prove that the car had in fact been disposed of by the claimant, rather than the hijack story which he had invented.

The out-of-place use of passive words or phrases are also sure signs of lies, continues Meaker. "A good case came with the famous incident a few years ago when a Kempton Park dentist had his wife killed," he says.

While the search for the woman was going on, the husband appeared in the media as saying that all he wanted was 'If they could just bring her back, it does not matter if she is missing an arm or an eye' - all this while there was nothing to indicate she had been mutilated. When the body was eventually found, she had in fact been hacked into pieces with a panga, and the husband (who was found guilty of the murder) had, by talking about events in the passive tense, already revealed his guilt in public.

Other methods used in statement analysis include the study of the choice of language and variation in words used: for example, describing a firearm as a 'gun', 'pistol', or 'revolver' within the same statement can indicate uncertainty about certain facts.

Order

The order in which a person states something is also a fine indicator of the value or importance to which they attach to certain people, things or events. "Everyone is familiar with the Biblical story (1 Kings 3: 22) of Solomon and the two women arguing over a baby," says Meaker. What is, however, interesting in that story is when the two women argue before the king: the one says: "The living is my son, and the dead is thy son"; to which the second woman replies "No; but the dead is thy son, and the living is my son." As it turned out, the second woman was lying.

"This one is a classic case of a person making a statement according to the importance they attached to people," Meaker says, "The second women's statement was not first that her baby was alive, but that the other woman's baby was dead, giving the game away for an experienced statement analyst."

Meaker believes that statement analysis is in fact more powerful than the polygraph test, as it tells not only when a person is lying, but also more specifically what that person is lying about and provides a lot of other information hidden intentionally.

"A polygraph is also very intrusive, whereas statement analysis can be done without the person under observation even being aware of the technique," he adds. In addition, there are physical issues with a polygraph: for example, if the person being tested has not eaten, the polygraph readings can be affected by the electrolytic activity in the body, and so on.

Benefits

The only pre-condition for statement analysis is that the words to be analysed - written or spoken - must be original from the person concerned, and not taken down by a third party. "You have to analyse the person's original statement, and not the way it has been interpreted or put into other words by another person," Meaker says.

There is, according to Meaker, an important maxim in statement analysis that is that everybody wants to tell everything to everyone else, even if sub-consciously. "We are designed to live in communities and be social animals, that is our nature," he says. "This comes out whether we like it or not, in the form of communication, and the way in which we communicate reveals far more than what we may actually want known. This has significant importance in so many places in our society; wherever you need to discover the truth or more of the truth, not just what someone is willing to reveal, you can benefit from the principles of statement analysis."

For more information, contact Howard Griffiths, 011 786 8556, howard@griffithsonline.co.za





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