Two former CIA agents explain how the techniques they used to catch terrorists and spies can be applied in our daily lives. How to spot a lie and get people to tell you the truth.


  • Philip Houston 25-year veteran of the CIA and authority on deception detection.
  • Michael Floyd Founder of Advanced Polygraph Services, and formerly with the CIA and National Security Agency.

Audio Excerpt: “Spy the Lie”

Read An Excerpt

Excerpted from SPY THE LIE: Former CIA Officers Teach You How to Detect Deception by Philip Houston, Michael Floyd, and Susan Carnicero (with Don Tennant). Copyright © 2012 by Philip Houston, Michael Floyd, Susan Carnicero and Don Tennant. All right reserved. Reprinted with permission.


  • 11:06:54

    MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Former CIA officers Philip Houston and Michael Floyd are among the world's foremost authorities on recognizing deceptive behavior. Houston is credited with developing a deception detection method currently used throughout the U.S. intelligence and federal law enforcement communities.

  • 11:07:23

    MS. DIANE REHMFloyd has trained and consulted with Forbes' top ten families, large corporations and worked on cases involving criminal activity, personnel screening and national security. They're co-authors of a new book titled "Spy the Lie" and they join me in the studio. I hope you'll join us as well. You can call us on 800-433-8850 or you can send us an email to Join us on Facebook or Twitter. Good morning, gentlemen.

  • 11:08:03

    MR. PHILIP HOUSTONGood morning, Diane, thanks for having us.

  • 11:08:03

    MR. MICHAEL FLOYDGood morning, Diane.

  • 11:08:04

    REHMGood to have you both here and I must say I love the title of the book "Spy the Lie," really gets to it. You, Phil, say that all lies fall into three categories. What are they?

  • 11:08:21

    HOUSTONSure, the first category is what we call the lie of commission, Diane. That's the bald or bald-faced lie that we hear about, you know. When the bank robber says, you know, I didn't rob the bank, that's the bald-faced lie.

  • 11:08:39

    HOUSTONThe second is the lie of omission and that's an interesting one because the lie or the deception actually rests with what's not said as opposed to the person actually articulating the lie. You see this in a lot of different instances. I used to see it with my kids when I would -- they'd come home at night and I'd say, where were you? And they would say, well, I was at AB and C. Well, the lie of omission is they're not telling me about D, okay.

  • 11:09:07

    HOUSTONA very interesting bucket of lies also has to do with influence. If you think about it, when you ask a person a question and the facts are not their ally, okay, meaning that the facts have consequences associated with them so they can't share them with you, they have to ask themselves, you know, what am I going to say? What am I going to do?

  • 11:09:31

    HOUSTONAnd what they end up saying are things that are designed to manage your perception. So what they're in essence trying to do is influence you and that bucket is a significant one. We see it a lot, certainly see it a lot in politics as well.

  • 11:09:46

    REHMAnd to you, Michael Floyd, is it true that we commit lies as many as a dozen times a day?

  • 11:09:56

    FLOYDThat's what research has shown, Diane. This would include the social lies that we're all guilty of telling to kind of ease our way through the day so as not to offend people.

  • 11:10:08

    REHMBut you know, a dozen times a day. It just seems like a tremendous amount of lying going on.

  • 11:10:19

    FLOYDWell, we interact with people throughout our day and, of course, the vast majority of our untruths are insignificant in nature.

  • 11:10:32

    REHMSo if somebody says, how are you and you say, I'm fine, when in fact your foot hurts or your relative is very sick, you would put that into that category?

  • 11:10:44


  • 11:10:45

    REHMAnd would you do the same?

  • 11:10:49

    HOUSTONOh, absolutely. We sometimes call them smart lies, Diane, when you come home from work and your spouse says, how do you like my new dress or my new hairdo and you think, oh, my goodness, what do I say? Because, you know, it wouldn't have been your choice. You end up saying you love it and so those are the kinds of things that certainly fit into that category of 10 or 12 times a day.

  • 11:11:09

    REHMSo, Phil, in nutshell, how do you know if someone is lying?

  • 11:11:16

    HOUSTONWell, Diane, first of all, I think it's important for us to understand that no one is a human lie detector. We certainly don't put ourselves in that category. But what we do know is that if we follow certain or a more systematic way of looking at people, that we can do a better job of spotting deception.

  • 11:11:38

    HOUSTONDeception is something that, you know, affects all of us every day and we need to get better at it. What we do is we've developed a model that basically links -- allows the individual to link very reliable deceptive indicators with the particular question or topic that you're talking to the person about.

  • 11:11:59


  • 11:12:01

    HOUSTONWell, let's say, for example, you know, your child comes home and you ask them a simple question, do you have any homework? And as a lot of kids do, they would rather go outside and play or go play video games. And by understanding what the reliable indicators are, both verbal and non-verbal, based on the child's response to your question, you can get a much more effective and much more reliable indication of whether or not they're being truthful, as opposed to just looking at them randomly or looking at them globally.

  • 11:12:37

    HOUSTONYou know, if they're fidgeting or they're just sitting in a strange way or in a closed posture, that doesn’t really tell us that much because we're only guessing at why they're doing that. What we want to see is what do they do in response to any given stimulus, then that's going to be our most telltale sign.

  • 11:12:54

    REHMMichael Floyd, what about lie detectors? How well, how effectively do they transmit whether a person is telling the truth or not?

  • 11:13:06

    FLOYDYou're speaking of the instrumentation...

  • 11:13:08


  • 11:13:08

    FLOYD...itself, the mechanical lie detector? It's a very good question. Research has shown that in the hands of a very skilled polygrapher or polygraph examiner that the accuracy rate is in probably the mid to high 80s. Now that doesn't mean that -- there are 15 percent errors. A lot of those 15 percent actually are inconclusive results. So again, the research is all over the board depending upon what you read, but well-trained, experienced polygraph examiners do enjoy a relatively high degree of accuracy.

  • 11:13:50

    REHMPhilip Houston and Michael Floyd, co-authors of the new book, it's titled "Spy the Lie." They're both former CIA officers and their book sets out to teach you how to detect deception. Phil, you say the trick to your method is training the brain to go into something you call L-squared mode. What does that mean?

  • 11:14:25

    HOUSTONL-squared means simply a reference point for us for look and listen. Whether we realize it or not, the way our brain is wired at any given moment in time we're likely to be either more visually dominant or more auditorily dominant, okay. So for example, your listeners are likely to be more auditorily, you know, dominant at this point.

  • 11:14:48

    HOUSTONBut the problem is because deceptive indicators fit into two categories, verbal, deceptive verbals and deceptive non-verbals, if we're dominant in one category or the other, we're going to miss some key indicators. So we have to sort of retrain our brain a little bit so that when we're talking to someone and we ask them a question that we can key our brain to process and capture both the verbals and the non-verbals at least for a few seconds or that time that's associated with that person's response.

  • 11:15:26

    REHMMichael, do you want to add to that?

  • 11:15:29

    FLOYDNo, I think Phil answered that very well.

  • 11:15:32

    REHMBut timing, you say, is so important?

  • 11:15:37

    HOUSTONYeah, the first deceptive indicator we believe needs to begin in very close proximity to the question itself, usually within the first five seconds or so. The simple reason for that, Diane, is that, as humans, the research shows us that in the U.S., for example, the Western world, we talk at an average rate of about 125-150 words a minute.

  • 11:16:05

    REHMNot I. Another person maybe, but not I.

  • 11:16:10

    HOUSTONBut the second rule really applies to you and that is that the research also says is that we think much faster than we talk so as a person is talking, in reality their brain quite possibly, even probably, has moved on to something else. And the further it gets away from the stimulus, the less likely that what the person is thinking and the behaviors that are being produced is related to the question. So we've got to capture that deceptive indicator in close proximity to the question.

  • 11:16:41

    REHMBut it would seem to me, Michael, that the question itself has got to be the most important resonator of whether that person is lying.

  • 11:16:54

    FLOYDYou're absolutely correct, Diane. In our training sessions, we teach what we call critical energy and a big part of that training has to do with question formulation. We are very conscious of our delivery style. We want the responses that we see to be caused by our question and not an aggressive, assertive, coercive delivery style. As Phil said earlier, it's a cause and effect process and if we ask very clear, concise, single-meaning questions in a very low-key way, we can be reasonably confident that any deceptive indicators we observe are the result of the words as opposed to our demeanor.

  • 11:17:46

    REHMSo if I am sitting across from someone, I pose a single question and that person proceeds to answer me and yet, for example, is not looking directly at me, is shifting with a pen or just looks somewhat distracted, what should I glean from that?

  • 11:18:16

    FLOYDYeah, as Phil said, we're not human lie detectors. What in reality we're doing is we are looking for areas of concern. Now the concern may be due to uncertainty, a lack of confidence or a flat-out lie.

  • 11:18:30

    REHMMichael Floyd and Phil Houston, are co-authors of "Spy the Lie," two former CIA officers on how to detect deception.

  • REHMAnd welcome back. Two former CIA officers are with me. Philip Houston and Michael Floyd they're co-authors with Susan Carnicero. The new book titled "Spy the Lie." They are hoping to be able to teach you how to detect deception. Phil, I'd like to take you back to the world you inhabited when you were in the CIA. The book begins by talking about the difference between most Americans coming to grips with the aftermath of 9/11 and their world.

  • 11:20:53

    HOUSTONSure. When 9/11 happened, people reacted to that obviously in a variety of different ways. At the Agency, the Agency went into high gear immediately on so many fronts, on a global basis. And so we -- those of us who were still in the Agency at that time, everyone pitched in and, you know, even though your job was to do one thing when you came to work that morning, many folks found themselves doing something very different by the end of the day.

  • 11:21:30

    REHMThere was a lot of criticism about both the FBI and the CIA that there had not been sufficient communications between the two agencies and the government and therefore this whole plot had somehow slipped through the cracks.

  • 11:21:52

    HOUSTONRight. In a way, Diane, we think that is a, you know, while it may be valid on some fronts maybe, it's also a bit unfair. The amount of information that both of those organizations collect every day, put through a very rigid analytical process as well as a dissemination process is unbelievable. And having said that, we know also that, you know, both organizations, as well as other elements of government, have worked very, very hard, very diligently since 9/11 to do an even better job of insuring that the right information is in the hands of the right individuals. The people that need to see this.

  • 11:22:39

    REHMDo you think that the agency has been able to upgrade itself and its possible cooperation communication with other security agencies in the government? Michael?

  • 11:22:57

    FLOYDYeah. I think that's a fair statement. It's a heck of a way to have to discover areas that need improvement. Many lives were sacrificed. But as a result of that, certainly I think we are a much safer nation.

  • 11:23:17

    REHMWhen did you leave the CIA, Michael?

  • 11:23:20

    FLOYDWell, I made a lateral transfer from the CIA to NSA, the National Security Agency, and I stayed there until leaving government to go to law school. And then following law school, I had my own business. I decided not to practice law, but to pursue the deception detection profession. And I had a business with offices in San Francisco and Los Angeles.

  • 11:23:46


  • 11:23:49

    FLOYDYes, exactly. My clients were attorneys, defense attorneys, prosecutors, law enforcement agencies.

  • 11:23:54

    REHMAnd what did they have to learn?

  • 11:23:58

    FLOYDThe majority of the cases I got involved in were criminal in nature. And I found myself, over the course of the 10 years, I had my business literally in every state prison in California. Now, Phil likes to jest that it was always on the good side of the bars.

  • 11:24:17

    REHMNow, how about you, Phil. When did you leave the agency?

  • 11:24:22

    HOUSTONI left in the winter of 2002, in late November 2002 and to co-found a company that was focused on commercializing with the agency's blessing, commercializing the detection of deception methodology that we had built. And for about the next eight years, focused almost exclusively on using that in the investor and financial services arena and so we spent a ton of time on Wall Street.

  • 11:24:57

    REHMSo how do you two feel that previous approaches at deception detection are different from what you have put together here, Michael.

  • 11:25:10

    FLOYDYeah, I'm glad you asked me that question. Phil is very modest, but we first met in Chicago at a firm I was doing work at. We trained people to do this type of thing. And in 1980, Phil came through. We were training people for the agency in polygraph, interviewing and interrogation. And back in 1980, we were teaching what is still being taught, but we, me and I think Phil would agree, outmoded techniques. Phil -- over the years, we drifted apart professionally and we reconnected, gosh, 10 years ago again, in that time had taken the methodology to a much higher level. There's probably seven -- what I would call seven distinguishing characteristics that set our technique apart from the other techniques that are out there.

  • 11:26:13


  • 11:26:14

    FLOYDWell, the first would be what Phil touched upon. We certainly do not consider ourselves to be human lie-detectors. As I started to say earlier, we are simply looking for areas of concern. We ask our question, we look for deceptive indicators -- if in using the methodology we see a cluster of behaviors, two or more to a single question, we pursue that. We call that response evaluation and exploration. If you think of an interview as a human GPS, you ask a question, you look for areas of concern that could mean uncertainty, lack of confidence or, as I said earlier, a flat out lie, we pursue that.

  • 11:27:01

    FLOYDIn our pursuit, if the behaviors go away and the answers that people give us make sense, then we move on to another issue.

  • 11:27:10

    REHMWithout identifying a particular organization or corporation or agency, can you give us a specific example of how and when you caught a lie?

  • 11:27:30

    FLOYDOne of the fun things about reconnecting with Phil is from time to time we have an opportunity to work together. And we do work as well for high net-worth families. And there was a particular family we were helping with an investigation a purported listening device was found in the bedroom of a client. And they brought us in to try to figure out what happened.

  • 11:27:56

    FLOYDAnd as it turned out, the individual that discovered the device was the young man who ultimately admitted to us that, yes, he had placed the device in the bedroom. The humorous part of the story is our conversation with the director of security they had sent the device to a so-called expert to analyze the device and they determined that it was probably a listening device of Russian origin. But as it turned out, after just a few minutes on the internet, we discovered that the so-called Russian listening device was merely a flashy blinky light magnetized that was used by recreational divers.

  • 11:28:45

    REHMWhat was the purpose of putting that listening device in that bedroom? Why did the young man expose himself to that kind of risk?

  • 11:28:58

    FLOYDWell, as in many arson cases, it's the hero syndrome. He was somewhat insecure about his job and thought if he could discover this device and bring it to the client's attention, he would then be viewed in a much better light.

  • 11:29:19

    REHMHow interesting. Phil Houston, what does deception sound like?

  • 11:29:27

    HOUSTONThe verbal indicators -- there are quite a few of them. The first one that always seems to jump out at us, Diane, is when you ask someone a simple question and they don't answer the question.

  • 11:29:41

    REHMThere's a pause.

  • 11:29:42

    HOUSTONWell, not just a pause. But they'll give you an answer. They might talk for two or three minutes, but in talking, they never give you an answer. They're not -- they never articulate what you've asked. And sometimes you're just asking a simple question and looking for a yes or no.

  • 11:29:58

    REHMSo do you then repeat the question?

  • 11:30:01

    HOUSTONYou can. You can often do that depending on the situation and how serious. You've got two options, really several options. One is you could repeat the question. We certainly don't let it -- we don't ignore it, as Mike said. We identify the clusters of deceptive behavior and then that tells us. That's a path that we want to explore at some point whether it's right away or certainly before we terminate the interview. The other option is, is to go into what we call the elicitation mode, which is different than interviewing.

  • 11:30:35

    HOUSTONAnd it's different because in elicitation instead of directly asking them a question we've got to persuade you now that it's in your best interest to tell us what it is you've done or what it is you're concealing. Mike often says that that’s the best tool or that's the tool when we go into our real estate sales mode. We're selling 8 X 10 condominiums when we're talking, you know, in criminal, you know, work, so to speak. And it's difficult to convince someone that they need to buy that condominium. So that's another avenue that we can pursue.

  • 11:31:12

    REHMIn the years since 9/11, we've heard far too frequently about the use of torture as a means to elicit information. How successful do you both believe torture is as an effective truth getter?

  • 11:31:36

    FLOYDWell, again, this is just my personal opinion. You can get anybody to say anything if you inflict enough pain. The problem with that approach not only is it questionable morally, is it the information that's obtained is of limited use because people will tell you anything to make the pain stop. So personally I think that the much better approach is the approach that Phil and I have used throughout our careers. And that is a non-corrosive method that has been extremely effective in getting valid and reliable intelligence.

  • 11:32:20

    REHMPhil, as Michael did, can you give us an example from your own experience without particularly identifying the company or the individual of the elicitation that gleaned the lie.

  • 11:32:40

    HOUSTONSure. There are -- we've got numerous instances of those. Gosh, I'm drawing a blank here, Diane, as we speak in finding -- we do this all the time. We spend a lot of time in -- helping investors who either are going to invest in a company or who have a significant stock position. I remember one particular case where the client brought us in and they were a little bit concerned about a relatively large investment that they had made. But they were fortunate enough that the CEO of that company along with some members of his management team, the CFO and the head of investor relations, were coming in to talk to them.

  • 11:33:23

    HOUSTONAnd I remember talking to -- sitting there with our client and this.

  • 11:33:31

    REHMHow were you introduced?

  • 11:33:32

    HOUSTONOh, just as a consultant. Just as a consultant.

  • 11:33:36

    REHMAll right, okay.

  • 11:33:36

    HOUSTONAnd it was kind of humorous though because I had not been out of the Agency too long so I'm still learning the business world at that point. And so, you know, it was always, you know, we've talked to criminals, to spies, to terrorists, you name it. But I remember this particular case about 10 minutes into the interview the client leaned over and said to me Phil, I've got another appointment. I just realized that I've got to go talk to somebody. So can you finish the interview?

  • 11:34:04

    HOUSTONAnd so I remember for a moment just feeling a little bit terrified here that I'm now -- I gotta have this interview with the CEO who knows a ton more about business. But we continued the interview and it was fascinating because he was concealing information about regarding the company's financial performance.

  • 11:34:22


  • 11:34:23

    HOUSTONVery significant information. And he -- it was fascinating to see both the verbal and non-verbals. For example, at one point we asked the most important question. He started to sweep his hand across the table repeatedly, which is what we call a grooming gesture. And at the same time that he was doing that, he was saying some things that were very indicative of deception. And the two results. One is the client, our client got out of that position and number two, that company blew up about three weeks later.

  • 11:34:59

    REHMThe book we are talking about is called "Spy the Lie." And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." I'm going to open the phones now 800-433-8850. First to Cincinnati, Ohio. Good morning, John. You're on the air.

  • 11:35:20

    JOHNHi, Diane. Thanks for having me. I appreciate it.

  • 11:35:21

    REHMSure. Thanks.

  • 11:35:22

    JOHNMy question is how difficult is the language or cultural barrier when interrogating and I assume there was a lot of that with the, you know, the anti-terrorism questioning that you've done. And is that the challenge for you with some of the cells that you speak of.

  • 11:35:44


  • 11:35:44

    FLOYDSure. It's a great question. Certainly language, cultural issues have an impact on our ability to do the work that we do. For that reason the model was developed to overcome that obstacle. The deceptive indicators that we use in our model -- and it's a finite number of indicators -- were developed to be both cross-cultural and gender neutral.

  • 11:36:14

    REHMCross-cultural and gender neutral.

  • 11:36:17

    FLOYDExactly. So we can use these and we did throughout the world.

  • 11:36:24

    REHMSo that you found everything was consistent no matter what the language?

  • 11:36:32

    HOUSTONYeah, absolutely. One thing I learned while working for the government is people are the same wherever they are. We all have the same hopes, the same fears, the same goals.

  • 11:36:42

    REHMAnd women or men are no more capable of deceiving than the other.

  • 11:37:08

    HOUSTONThat's, yes, that's correct. What we found is and research has shown, Diane, that value systems with respect to honesty and lying and deception vary around the globe. The mechanics though of telling the lie are essentially the same. So we focused in, as Mike said, on those indicators that transcend the cultural challenges.

  • 11:37:18

    REHMPhil Houston, Michael Floyd. They're co-authors of a new book. It's titled "Spy the Lie." They are each former CIA officers who've written a book to help you understand when the person you're speaking with is lying. We're going to take a short break here. When we come back, more of your calls.

  • 11:40:05

    REHMWelcome back. Two people are with me in the studio, Phil Houston and Michael Floyd. Together with Susan Carnicero, they've written a new titled, "Spy the Lie." They are former CIA officers, very, very attuned to telling when people are lying. Let's take a caller in Leesburg, Fla. Good morning, Arthur, you're on the air.

  • 11:40:39

    ARTHURGood morning, Diane, good to hear from you.

  • 11:40:40


  • 11:40:42

    ARTHURI have a comment and a question. My comment is I teach people to lie because a huge percentage of our conversations -- upwards of 90 percent -- is based on the emotional context of a situation, whether we say we like something or don't like. And so the answers we give can influence our -- we hear ourselves talk and so we actually are influenced by the negativity within our own voice or whatever.

  • 11:41:14

    ARTHURAnd so the emotions play a huge role in our conversations. And so getting a handle on that can make a huge difference in how we approach anything. If we, you know, if we have a pre-emotion about something that can really damage how we treat it.

  • 11:41:31

    REHMYou know, Arthur, I'm not really getting what you mean when you say you teach people to lie because you think it can be a good thing. What do you mean?

  • 11:41:44

    ARTHURWell, when you -- when you're in a situation and somebody asks, you know, how you're doing.

  • 11:41:51


  • 11:41:52

    ARTHURYou're really feeling really bad at that time.

  • 11:41:54


  • 11:41:55

    ARTHURBut if you say I feel really good. I'm really glad I'm in this situation. That can help you face that situation better. But if you give in to the negative feelings and whatnot, then your mind tends to drop in your alertness level. And, you know, anytime you deal with somebody, if you want to beat them in whatever you're doing, you get them emotional. And their IQ drops and they become stupid.

  • 11:42:19

    REHMOkay, sir, I'll let it go at that. Any comment? Go ahead, Phil.

  • 11:42:25

    HOUSTONSure, sure. One thing that the caller mentioned that is significant is that emotion plays a very significant role in lying. Remember we said earlier that if you're in that situation where the facts are not your ally. So you're not conveying what the questioner has asked you. Instead you've gone into this convince mode.

  • 11:42:44

    HOUSTONYou can only be convincing if you're able to deliver your message with conviction. And that conviction comes from the emotion associated with the message you're delivering. So we often see people who are lying when they're trying to convince us of something. They may get angry. They may get annoyed. They -- you know, they may cry. They use all kinds of emotion to aid them in their lie.

  • 11:43:11

    REHMHere's an email from Doug in Big Sandy, Mont. who says, "What if the person asking the question is lying?" How do you deal with such a situation, Michael?

  • 11:43:25

    FLOYDYeah, I'm not sure where to go with that. A lot of what people think they know about what we do for a living is driven by the media, television shows, movies, approaches of law enforcement where they will use what some call trickery and fabricating evidence and so forth. We just feel that there's a more effective way to operate. And I think that's about all I could say to that.

  • 11:44:00

    REHMHere's what I'm not getting. If you are trying to understand whether a person is lying or not, does one keep persisting? Are there indications like -- you talk about an inappropriate level of politeness, for example? What do you mean by that and what does that tell you about the person you're questioning?

  • 11:44:31

    FLOYDIf it happens in response to the question, Diane, then it's significant. We certainly aren't...

  • 11:44:37

    REHMGive me an example.

  • 11:44:38

    FLOYDSo for -- I'll give you a real case.

  • 11:44:40


  • 11:44:41

    FLOYDI remember interviewing an intelligence source many, many years ago. And I asked him one of the most important questions in the interview. Basically, the question was, have you ever worked for the bad guys? And in response to that -- it's a pretty simple question to answer if you have -- you know, if you haven't done it, right? And in response to that question, he looked at me and he said, that's a really nice suit you're wearing. Where did you get that?

  • 11:45:06


  • 11:45:07

    FLOYDSo inappropriate level -- you know, why is my suit nice?

  • 11:45:10

    REHMYeah, but that's pretty blatant isn't it?

  • 11:45:12


  • 11:45:13

    REHMWouldn't most of us recognize that?

  • 11:45:16

    FLOYDSure. I'll give you another example of an inappropriate level of concern. A number of years ago when, if you remember the Scott Peterson case out in California where he had been alleged to have killed Laci and their unborn child. When he was interviewed in national TV, the interviewer asked him directly -- they said, Scott, all of America wants to know, did you kill Laci? And an inappropriate level of concern he actually, upon hearing that question, he smiled and smiled all the way through his answer. It's almost unconscionable to think that that's how one would respond. What on earth is behind that smile?

  • 11:45:59

    REHMAll right, let's go to Laura in Baltimore, Md. following up on that question. Good morning, Laura.

  • 11:46:07

    LAURAGood morning. Thank you -- thanks for the show, Diane.

  • 11:46:10


  • 11:46:11

    LAURAYou know, I wanted to mention how, in my experience, it's almost impossible to tell when someone is lying much of the time. I wanted to mention Jonathan Powers who passed a polygraph test for, I think, 20 some years lying. And people like Jerry Sandusky who went through his life telling horrific, horrific lies. And I mean, I don't -- I haven't read the book, but I doubt that it really is going to give me a key to tell when someone is lying because I think that's -- that's impossible to tell definitively.

  • 11:46:44


  • 11:46:45

    FLOYDYeah, that's a very fair question. The approach that we use is based not on research, not on academics. The prior books that most people have read have been written by researcher, academicians who mostly have not conducted real life interviews. So these are theoretical concepts. Our book is based on anecdotal experience based on tens and tens of years, I think combined Susan, Phil and I probably close to 90 years of experience. So my point is that what we're presenting in our book is very practical. It works and I think we would ask you to take a leap of faith and read the book and see if it makes sense or not.

  • 11:47:47

    REHMSpeaking of a leap of faith, what happens when someone says I swear to God I did not do that. What does that invocation of religion bring into the discussion?

  • 11:48:07

    HOUSTONAgain talking about that theory of convincing, if we're going to convince someone it's most helpful, not only that we use emotion to support it, but that we're using a powerful message. And what can be more powerful than invoking God or invoking religion. You look in your briefcase and your desk drawer. What have you got in there that tops God, right? And it's something that's very, very serious in our society.

  • 11:48:33

    REHMSo what should I take from that?

  • 11:48:36

    HOUSTONWell, if it's part of a cluster -- in other words, if that invocation of religion is in response to the question -- and going back to what Laura had asked before. She's exactly right. Deception affects people every day. And it's hard to spot. But the reason it's hard to spot is often people are looking in the wrong places. They're looking at someone's overall demeanor or how they're sitting or things that they're only guessing at why they're doing it.

  • 11:49:05

    HOUSTONBut if they can begin to utilize reliable indicators, like the one you just described. If that's given in response to a question and it's accompanied by others of the reliable indicators, now you can say to yourself at a minimum I've got more work to do on this question. I need to ask more questions on this issue.

  • 11:49:26

    REHMOne of the indicators you use is going into attack mode. And here's an email from Donna who says, "Anger is often a reaction to being questioned. Can one tell the difference between an angry reaction from the person who is guilty as opposed to a person being questioned who's innocent, but reacts because that person is upset that one's integrity is in question?" Michael.

  • 11:50:05

    FLOYDSure. There's a lot of ways to take that question, but to be specific, we have found over the years that certainly deceptive people will use anger as a weapon against us. It's typically the last weapon of choice. It's when the facts are not their ally. They are backed into a corner that they have nowhere else to go so they will respond very aggressively. We've seen...

  • 11:50:32

    REHMCan you give me an example out of your own experience?

  • 11:50:36

    FLOYDSure, would be happy to. In fact, we talk about this example in our book, "Spy the Lie," when Congressman Weiner is questioned about having sent the photographs. If you remember that interview and how aggressive he became, he began to attack the questionnaires. Psychologically, he's not wanting to go there. Wants the questioners to back off and not ask him about it. And this is a very effective approach for deceptive people because to the untrained that tends to work. They don't want to confront.

  • 11:51:14

    REHMSo what do you do in a situation like that, Phil?

  • 11:51:18

    HOUSTONThe tip that we would give the people who are listening, Diane, is not to become distracted by the anger. And that's one of the reasons it works on us is we back off because we don't know quite how to deal with it. Instead what we should do is focus on what the person is saying as they're exhibiting this anger. For example, if they are -- if you've asked them a question of wrongdoing, did you rob the bank, okay. And in anger -- they get angry at your question, okay, and they're expressing that anger. What is coming out?

  • 11:51:53

    HOUSTONIf they're focusing on the denial, you know, no, I didn't get -- I didn't rob the bank. I wasn't -- I didn't have anything to do with that. It wasn't me. You've got the wrong person. Those are -- that's more likely to be truthful. Whereas opposed to the person who's showing anger, but at the same time they're making convincing statements. I'm an honest person. How dare you accuse me? I would never do anything like that. Those kinds of things -- if make that distinction it'll often lead you in the right direction.

  • 11:52:22

    REHMAll right, to Little Rock, Ark. and to John, good morning.

  • 11:52:28

    JOHNMorning, Diane, thanks for taking the call.

  • 11:52:29


  • 11:52:30

    JOHNI've had one point and now I've got two after being on hold here for a bit. Earlier in the year, I think one of the most infamous pauses happened when Bob Costas asked Jerry Sandusky about his attraction -- or his sexual attraction to young boys. And, of course, Sandusky paused and then answered the question with a question.

  • 11:52:50


  • 11:52:51

    JOHNA lot of -- you know, there'd been a lot of circumstantial evidence already, but a lot was made of the fact that he answered a question with a question. So I want your experts to comment on that. And then also, you know, listening to people talk about the anger and the reaction to accusations, their thoughts that they might have on Lance Armstrong right now.

  • 11:53:13

    JOHNYou know, despite the fact that he's got several tests in his corner that prove -- or that he's passed, the way that he's reacting to the accusations right now, what sort of clusters are they looking for in that reaction? And then finally I don't know if they could ever come up with something that would help me with a poker game. But if they could, I'd like to have that as well.

  • 11:53:32

    REHMAll right, thanks for calling. You're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." First the Jerry Sandusky pause, what do you make of it?

  • 11:53:44

    HOUSTONWe analyzed the Bob Costas interview and we were very -- I mean, the pause was certainly a significant deceptive indicator that was part of a cluster. And so that was significant.

  • 11:53:57

    REHMBut suppose he had simply been coached by a lawyer to say, no, I didn't do anything of the sort. I mean, that would have been someone who was lying, but had been coached not to lie. How do you get around that?

  • 11:54:19

    HOUSTONIt sounds so easy, doesn't it?

  • 11:54:20


  • 11:54:21

    HOUSTONBut as humans we struggle with lying and there is so...

  • 11:54:27

    REHMEven we do it all the time.

  • 11:54:29


  • 11:54:30

    REHMWe struggle with it.

  • 11:54:30

    HOUSTONExactly. It's very ironic and a bit counterintuitive. But there are so many of these reliable indicators that the moment we focus on one and try to circumvent that one. In this case, the example you used, you're trying to give a good answer so to speak, okay. Then something else comes out. But the other thing, if you use our model that's working against you, is we ignore truthful behavior.

  • 11:54:56

    HOUSTONIn other words, because for this very reason. If you're telling the truth you're naturally exhibiting behavior that looks and sounds truthful. How are you trying to look and sound if you're lying? You're doing things to replicate what you think would be truthful. So we started out the show this morning you said, you know, maybe that person looked me right in the eye. Well, how do we know that that's natural? Or how do we know that they're doing it deliberately?

  • 11:55:23

    REHMHow do you answer the question?

  • 11:55:25

    HOUSTONWell, we tell them to ignore it because it has no value added. It's like the medical model. When you go to the doctor to have your physical they've got to run diagnostic tests to see if there's bad stuff there -- bad symptoms. And we're doing the same thing with this particular model.

  • 11:55:41

    REHMAnd what about Lance Armstrong, Michael Floyd?

  • 11:55:45

    FLOYDWe have, I think, done some analysis of Mr. Armstrong. I personally didn't do the analysis. I'm not trying to dodge the question, but certainly we came to the conclusion that there were some questionable responses.

  • 11:56:02

    REHMHow did you feel about it, Phil?

  • 11:56:05

    HOUSTONYes, Lance exhibiting -- in through looking at a number of interviews over the years, a number of video clips he consistently avoided questions, avoid answering questions. And on key questions -- and in situations where those questions were delivered in, you know, by very credible, you know, interviewers, in a very appropriate and professional demeanor. He would go on the offensive. He would attack them. He attacked some of the regulatory bodies and never really offered, you know, any evidence to the contrary. And so having said that because we're not human lie detectors, what we're saying is that the jury's still out so to speak on Lance.

  • 11:56:51

    REHMPhilip Houston, Michael Floyd with Susan Carcinero have written a new book. It's titled "Spy the Lie." Thank you both for being here.

  • 11:57:05

    HOUSTONThank you so much, Diane, for having us.

  • 11:57:06

    FLOYDThank you, Diane.

  • 11:57:07

    REHMGood to have you here. And thanks for listening, all. I'm Diane Rehm.

  • 11:57:12

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