The CIA’s former chief polygrapher, an ex-FBI counterterrorism expert and a Pulitzer-winning reporter walk into a bar.
Ok, that’s not true. But the three did come together for a panel at IRE’s 2015 conference in Philadelphia called "Interviewing Liars."
Matt Apuzzo, a New York Times reporter who was on the Associated Press team that revealed how the NYPD spied on muslim communities, moderated the panel. He was joined by Don Borelli, who was the assistant special agent in charge of the FBI’s New York Joint Terrorism Task Force, and Dr. Barry McManus, who worked as a CIA polygraph examiner for more than 20 years.
The three of them talked about how to get sources to open up, the upsides and downsides of getting confrontational, and what it takes to bluff a liar.
McManus starts by describing what liars need to do during an interview: create doubt. With that in mind, Borelli cautions against treating an interview as your primary reporting tool. A confrontational interview might be the centerpiece of an article or broadcast, he says, but often it’s all the work before and after an interview that gives an investigation its potency.
Apuzzo knows reporters can make people uneasy. So how do you move past that? Borelli prefers to start with props, like photos, because it makes the source feel like they’re helping you. McManus says the more you know about a source, the easier it should be to find some shared interest or experience that can power the conversation, at least in the beginning.
Venue matters. But how much?
It’s foolish to think people will dish about their workplace when they’re still at the office, Apuzzo says. But, Borelli points out, knocking on someone’s door also has its drawbacks. McManus says that, realistically, you need to be ready to interview anywhere.
Challenge the lies
Sometimes you’ve just got to get aggressive — but recognizing when that will work isn’t so clear cut. Your facts are your leverage, and Borelli describes how he uses them to confront people. McManus cautions against making the person feel cornered.
...or keep your powder dry
Lies give you information too, McManus says. What motivates someone to lie? Who do they lie to? How do their lies evolve? All of that can give you insight into a person. The important thing, McManus says, is to keep them talking.
If you can catch a person changing their answers, you can use that opening as leverage to get the rest of the story. It doesn’t need to be confrontational, Borelli says, especially if the two of you have built up a good rapport.
Presumptive questions are a great tool, McManus says, as long as you’re basing them off facts. If the source recognizes you’re fishing for information, you’ve probably lost whatever leverage or trust you had with them.
Members can download the entire hour-long panel and McManus’ tipsheet here.