If you need to spot a liar, then some former CIA officers are here to help. A Forbes book review of “Spy to Lie” — penned by Philip Houston, Michael Floyd and Susan Carnicero, who have collectively interrogated hundreds of people — reveal some methods for figuring out whether someone is telling the truth.

The first five seconds will tell you a lot. A truthful person will be straightforward, denying the crime upfront. A liar, on the other hand, might convince the questioner otherwise by distracting with truthful statements that make him or her look favorably. The book cites an example in which one of the authors asks about $40 missing from an employee’s wallet. Instead of outright denying it, the suspect lured him to his car filled with bibles. “Every week I take them wherever they’re needed on behalf of my church,” said the suspect, in an attempt to convince the accuser. He ended up admitting that he took the money.

The other tricks liars employ:

  • repeating the question to stall

  • attacking the interrogator

  • complimenting the questioner

  • invoking religion (“I swear to God…”)

  • using qualifiers (“basically,” “pretty” or “usually”)

  • selective memory (“not that I recall”)

  • maligned emotions when answering questions (eg. smiling while denying a homicide)

  • acting like they don’t understand the question

  • looking away when talking

  • nervous ticks, such as throat clearing, swallowing, biting lips and fidgeting (explains why subjects are often sitting on chairs with wheels or swivels)

  • grooming gestures, such as brushing hair or adjusting a tie

  • profuse sweating


And in a textbook example of how to spot a liar, the authors look at the Anthony Weiner case study.

In the book’s most entertaining chapter, the authors retrace the episode of Rep. Anthony Weiner, who in the spring of 2011, repeatedly denied having sent lewd photos of himself to a female college student on Twitter. The authors cite it as a textbook case of deceptive behaviors. From the first day the story broke, on May 27, Weiner repeatedly failed to answer questions in a straightforward way and instead made statements that were true but off point. Weiner also attacked his questioners and at other times bent over backward to be polite. He also tried to change the subject and talk about his impending vote on the debt limit. At one point, Weiner used what the authors call a “limiting” statement, when he replied to one of the queries, “I think I’ve been pretty responsive to you in the past,” limiting his answer with “I think” and “pretty.” Of course, when additional evidence came out, Weiner finally admitted his deception on June 6.

Image: archer10 (Dennis)/Creative Commons